Several years ago I took a flight out of O’Hare bound for Hartford. I was pleasantly surprised when we actually pulled away from the gate on time. However, after rolling out toward the runway we moved off to the side where, oddly enough, we began watching plane after plane roll right past us on to the runway and then take off. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before people started getting irritated. After a while the captain informed us that even though we should be in the air we couldn’t take off because the plane’s compass had “gone dark.” He went on to explain that if we did take off it would mean that we would be flying “blind.” I quickly thought to myself, “I’d rather walk.”
Regrettably this is the condition of a lot of churches today. They have lost their direction and are flying blind. If you were to ask the average church member or lay leader what was their church’s purpose, you would probably get dozens of different and unrelated answers, and maybe a few glazed-over looks. Often when a church senses that maybe it’s off course or floundering the leaders call in church consultants. They see these hired guns as “experts” who will help get them on the “right track.” One could legitimately ask, however, that if these people are really experts, then why aren’t they out in the trenches leading vibrant churches? Churches pay these groups a lot of money, and the routine is often the same. Generally speaking, they first request that you gather up some data for them, which usually involves gathering up the demographics of your church and surrounding community, and also a list of your current programs, your leadership structure, and lastly your financial situation. After a while they eventually roll in and lead a seminar or two, make a few suggestions, help you launch a few new programs, then suggest a few aesthetic changes, and lastly they take your money. Usually it isn’t long before you gain some new people (usually refugees from other churches), and then you also lose a few others (those that don’t like the new changes or atmosphere). But when it is all said and done, after about 2 years no one can identify whether or not any really meaningful changes have occurred, and many still don’t know what your church is all about.
Well, here’s a free “church consult”; however, it is not without cost—it will cost you both time and a great deal of risk. It starts by gathering your entire church leadership together for a mandatory meeting, maybe even a retreat. That means gathering all the elders, deacons and deaconesses, the pastoral and support staff, the Sunday school teachers, and the youth and children workers. Gather yourselves altogether in one room and ask yourselves three simple questions. First ask yourselves, “Do you love one another?” I don’t mean do you “like” or tolerate each other, but do you sincerely love one another in the same manner as the Lord loves all those around you. Jesus said that if we truly love one another with the same affection that he loves us, then the world would know that we are truly his followers (John 13.34-35). And make sure you don’t marginalize Jesus’ standard of love. Loving like Jesus means that you are willing to sacrifice for those that partner with you in ministry, that you are willing to forgive them when they offend you or let you down. It means being willing to invest in their success and openly encourage them. Just know that Jesus lavishly loves everyone surrounding you, and he is messy with his love, extending grace at every opportunity for those who will trust, believe, and risk in his name. If the answer is either no, you’re not sure, or that you’re not willing to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to create that kind of ministry culture, then stop reading right now, do a web search and call some group of “experts,” start gathering the necessary data, and lastly give them the Lord’s money. Then after 2 years let me know if anything they suggested has made any lasting and meaningful impact upon your fellowship and its extended ministries.
The next question is this, “Do you love God’s word?” More specifically, “Do you trust and believe in it, both individually and as a group?” The easiest way to answer this question is to simply examine your church or denomination’s statement of faith while you are altogether. Go over it line by line and discuss what is says, ask what it means and what it doesn’t mean, and then ask is there any biblical support for each tenant and sub-point. And also ask whether it truly focuses on what Jesus and the apostles taught that the church should focus upon, as well as what believers should regularly live out and proclaim. And lastly, ask if it leaves out anything that is essential to authentic biblical Christianity? If you sincerely engage in this test then you will probably discover one of three things. First, you will find out who really believes and is passionate about the word of God, who is not sure about it, and doubts it altogether—but be forewarned, you may not like what you see. Or two, you will discover that it’s you who should be looking for a new church home. This is assuming that you discover that your current “fellowship” has no intention of conforming their practices to biblical standards. Or three, your church will discover anew what it supposed to be emphasizing and doing. In other words, maybe the Holy Spirit will light a fire within the leaders of your fellowship. It’s just that simple. Jesus stated that those who are truly his disciples “abide” in his word, and the result is that they would experientially know truth and freedom—freedom in their walk with him and freedom from the passions of this world (John 8.31-32). In a similar manner, Paul exhorted Titus to teach that which was consistent with “sound doctrine” (Titus 2.1); and he told Timothy to remain faithful to the “sound teaching” that he had received from him (2 Tim 1.13). The point is that spiritually healthy pastors, elders, deacons, and lay leaders love God’s word, and are authentically interested in learning what it means, how to live it out, and how to share it with others. And lastly, they emphasize that which the word of God emphasizes rather than some obscure or strange pet theology.
Finally, “Do you regularly pray together for that which glorifies God and magnifies Jesus for who he is and what he’s done? Before you answer this question, you should know that praying in “Jesus name” is not another way of saying “amen.” It means praying for that which is consistent with all that Jesus taught and modeled. Moreover, it means praying for that which Jesus prayed for with the same humility and dependence upon God. And lastly, it means praying for those things that honestly bring glory to God and his kingdom. In other words, would the answers to your prayers move others to authentically magnify the name of Christ and his gospel? Jesus said that the hallmark of true disciples is that they are continually abiding in Him and experiencing effective prayer that results is the constant production of fruit that glorifies God (John 15.7-9). That does not mean that they are regularly receiving material gain or experiencing their “best life now,” but that they are worshiping God through Jesus and advancing the cause of Christ, which is the gospel.
Now if you find the answers to these questions are “no” then you are simply presiding over an “organization” rather than an “organism.” A true Christian fellowship is a living entity, it is an organism. Paul refers to the church sometimes as a “body,” or at other times as the “bride of Christ.” I think one of his points is that a local church is a living thing, not a finely tuned organization absent of genuine love and spiritual life. But if you find that the answers to all three questions are “yes,” then you have a spiritual treasure; in other words, God has greatly blessed you and your fellowship. Moreover, if God is in your midst, then by all means call in some consultants and have them evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it. Who knows, they may be able to help you strengthen some of your weaknesses and reveal some of your blind spots. Heaven knows I’m not against getting a fresh perspective or new ideas. They may actually help you identify some missed opportunities to reach others for Christ. But if you’re not willing to get together and sincerely raise and answer these three hard questions, then hiring some high-priced experts isn’t going to substantially change anything, but it will lighten your church’s checkbook. And in the end, most of those who serve and attend your fellowship will continue to be directionless; they will be flying blind and simply going through the motions—and there’s nothing attractive or compelling about that.
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Monte Shanks, Copyright © January 26, 2018, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.