There are common struggles shared among people who have chosen to go into church leadership. Ministry in the context of the church, in today’s context, is interesting because people can become so busy, disinterested, and over stimulated by production that their worship experience suffers because of their expectations.
New churches are being started all over the world, and this is a great thing, but many pastors and church leaders struggle to keep going because there is the obligation to constantly be on the cutting edge of creativity and technology. In some ways, this is great, because the Church should be the leader in innovation. In other ways, this can stifle progress when we make worship into something we try to get people to come to instead of training people to treat corporate worship as a collective out-pouring of love, support, and gratitude in response to a God who is all-powerful and good.
Unfortunately, church for many has become an elite club that focuses on recruiting instead of the power of the kingdom. Marketing has replaced getting into the lives of people one by one, and technology has pushed a desperate reliance on God’s provision aside. Now, instead of agonizing seasons of prayer to grow a church, we can spend a few hundred dollars on a great marketing campaign and get people in the doors. No suffering needed. Sure, people hear the message, but we need people to see the message too.
Now, before you think I am against churches that are heavy into these things, let’s be clear. There are so many congregations that are growing because they are able to combine attraction with authentic discipleship…it is the ones who rely on the former that, I believe, grieve the heart of God.
So, what types of things make churches grow? I don’t know if it is possible, today, to give a definitive list that is universal in every case, but I think it is easier to list the elements of the early Christian faith that spurred rapid transformation. What can we learn from the first Christians? What did they experience that served as a catalyst for their population explosion (in a spiritual sense)?
I think there are 5 things (among others) that grew the early Church.
- Selfless Dedication – When researching the behavior of early believers, you will find many instances in which these pioneers of the Gospel behaved in a manner that did not immediately benefit them. “They dedicated themselves to…” was the theme of their life, and they found that serving God meant serving people selflessly. The book of Acts shows us that their work consisted of feeding, healing, assisting, and giving.
- Unified Mission – When Jesus ascended to Heaven, there was an agonizing period of waiting as the disciples prayed and sought God’s next instruction. Their first mission was prayer and waiting, and when the Holy Spirit invaded their hearts, a compulsion for service, worship, and growth was added to their goals. Sure, they had disagreements among them, but they did not check each other’s political affiliation before going into spiritual battle together.
- Urgency of the Call – When the Holy Spirit took control of their lives; obedience was not a hobby that they participated in when they had time. All of their time, talents, and treasures were surrendered to God and His purposes. In today’s context, churches attract many people, but often the worship community becomes part of a series of hobbies that people do when there is time in their schedules. What would happen if God asked you to change your schedule for Him instead of finding a place for Him to fit? What if church was not the first thing to go when you felt overloaded?
- Emphasis on Connection – When this movement was young, people became grafted into a larger family. This family was one that was not based on genetics, but based on common goals, the need for care, and a desire to share love. It was an extended family that shared each other’s belongings, disciplined each other’s children, and tended to each other’s crops. Imagine if we were truly welded together as a family, instead of being associated with a place that “has a great Children’s program”. Connection and care means that programs are added bonuses and not the central means of ministry.
- Common suffering – These people had to be tightly knit in the context of community because they were all victims (or victors if you think about it) of abuse and systematic punishment. The government that controlled most of the world looked at these early Christians as rebels whose faith threatened the Roman lifestyle. This was certainly not intentional, but for every person that dropped what they were doing to follow Jesus was one more person that did not contribute to the common political machinery that was the Roman Empire. To them, this threatened peace. So, the Roman response included execution, exile, and slavery. Faith, however was too important to abandon.
My prayer is that we will see growth in the church today that mirrors the vibrancy of the early church. Not growth that is exactly the same (because God is making all things new) but one that will wake us up from a sleep that has been going on far too long.
Love you all.
What type of things do you daydream about? When it comes to your life’s vocation, do you look forward optimistically or are your prospects grim? Before I go on let me emphasize that no matter what your circumstances may look like, God can bring about new beginnings, second chances, and fresh direction. “Never give up” is not always an accurate charge, because sometimes we are called to abandon our temporary desires and pursue His heart. When we do this, we realize there is more abundance on this route than the path we thought we desired. “Never give up”, however on pursuing God’s best.
The journey ordained by God will not always be new and exciting, or easy to navigate, but it will always be blessed. Therein lies the problem, at times, with pursuing God’s dream for our lives. So many people have programmed their minds and hearts to follow that which is new and exciting…essentially striving after the “godly” thing instead of the “God” thing.
If you are a Christian, you know that it is easy to start believing that the only sign that the Holy Spirit is active is the warm fuzzy/ goose bump-y feeling we often get during our favorite worship song. When we no longer feel that, it is tempting to move on to find it again. A mature Christian has realized that the Holy Spirit is always active in the midst of obedience, devotion, and rest in God’s promises.
So, back to the original question. What do you daydream about? Before I started the church that I lead, I had certain desires and dreams for what it would look like. I had small prayers like, “God, if you could just send us 50 people…” and I would fill in the possibilities. Then God did send that many. Then 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, etc. Each time my prayer would evolve to accomodate the next numerical tier. At the beginning, it was never enough. My old prayers involved begging God to help us not lose “momentum” so we would continue to grow. All of my results were based on numbers and the feeling I got when I saw the numbers increasing. When we didn’t see times of massive growth, i found myself feeling as if I failed (and satan always wants us to rely on our own resources). It is a cycle that many leaders find themselves in. My mindset had to change.
Guess what??? I am now happy to report that my church is old news. Yes, you read that correctly. We are old news. We have been around for almost 5 years, and we are not the “next newest thing”, and it feels fantastic. While, at the beginning we saw many people who came because of the excitement of “newness” (which actually was helpful for the mission), we now see those who are hungry for fellowship, servuce and growing deeper with Jesus. It is great. It is where we need to be. We definitely have much to improve, but we can now do so in a healthier mindset.
If you have been wrestling with the concept of starting a new church, allow me to extend some wisdom to you. Church planting is exciting, hard, frustrating, and overall worth every minute. If you learn to move away from the mentality of merely attracting more people with ellaborate programs, complicate structures, fancy lighting, the newest technology, and crowd gathering messages, then you will realize that God is waiting for you to be faithful and dedicated to truth. People need to be welcomed, accepted, and given a space for transformation through God’s word. Don’t allow yourself to gravitate to “what’s working” thus constantly being distracted from genuinely loving people.
God has blessed me with an amazing church, and I constantly thank Him for it. As pastors we need to start finding peace in the mission instead of our ellaborate daydreams. Then, we will know what joy looks like in ministry.
Keep fighting brothers and sisters. Love you all.
I am a young pastor. I have limited experience on many levels, and because of that I know that there are not many who would give much weight to my words. Years ago, as a student, I could have told you what type of church I wanted to work in, and the type of people I wanted to minister to. I wanted to be a part of a church that had some history; that had thriving ministries, and had enough money in the bank to cushion any hardships that may come their way. I wanted plenty of people to pick from when it came to having a need for volunteers and I wanted a church that was progressive and valued new ideas. I had so many ideas (if money was no object and people were abundant of course). Back then, my idea of success revolved around shrinking seating space, and expanding offerings. In fact, if everything worked out well, then I may get into a church that had excellent music, incredible preaching, and a flexible congregation that really wanted to try new things.
Over a period of time, as I grew in confidence and knowledge, I began to have complaints. My first church was somewhat small, and didn’t really have much of a budget for the youth program I was leading so I often sat in my office and felt sorry for myself and blamed everything else for why my ministry wasn’t growing. I began to become jaded about the church for various reasons (they still sing from hymnals, they sat in pews, they needed new carpet, they didn’t have a very nice website). Surely all of these things PROVED they didn’t want to grow. If they valued ministy, then they would pay me more so I could do more things. I would sit around, in a mental autopilot, waiting for things to change so that “real ministry” could begin.
After being a youth pastor for a while and seeking more education, I started to realize the horrible faulty thinking I had come to believe. I realized I was the problem…not the old furniture or traditional music. It was ME. My heart and mind needed to conform to God’s.
Then, God called me to start a new church. At first, my thoughts revolved around ways this new congregation could be cutting edge, different, and set apart from any other church in town. If it was different and exciting, then people would come to my church instead of any other. If you know me now, you may be surprised that this was my thought process, because over the last 5 years God has completely transformed my heart and now I desire to lead a church much different than the one I used to crave. I have a new desire.
Now… I want to lead a church who:
…cares more about the broken than looking all put together.
…welcomes the single parent, widow, and widow and desires to be a source of encouragement for them
…prays for those who do not look, smell, or sound like them and embraces them with compassion
…will give up their comfort and be sacrificial for the advancement of the kingdom
…will put God’s word into action
…will do things that are bad for business but great for relaying the gospel
…will welcome the abused, rejected, oppressed, and hated
…will hate sin so much that they are willing to be grace agents
…will seek what sacrifice truly means
…will welcome the sinner no matter what their sin, and treat them with respect and dignity
…will follow God into the darkness; ready to be the light
…will do everything they can to see other churches grow
…will accept the fact that the Church must be real and transparent
…will not be a different person in the seats than at home
…want passionate worship instead of manufactured praise
…want to serve more than want to be served
…understand that “being fed” means feeding too
…want imperfection in-process instead of processed perfection
…desire God’s will to be done no matter church size, money in the bank, or political climate
…look at the world around them with love instead of bitterness
THAT is the church I want to lead.
I’m sure glad I do 🙂
On a daily basis, hundreds of questions come to mind about this faith that I profess. As a pastor, sometimes it is hard to admit that there are times that I need to be intentional about my spiritual growth. This type of progression doesn’t come naturally, because I think humanity’s natural tendency is to follow that which is comfortable and easy. “Comfortable and easy” has me written all over it. Even though this is the case, there are frequent occasions when I need to get real with myself and ask the hard questions. Allow me to take the time to invite you into my own growth process for a few minutes…It is possible you may have to ask yourself these questions too.
Among hundreds of others, I think there are 7 Questions Christians Need to Ask Themselves.
1. Why Do I Follow Jesus?
I often think about the stories in the Bible about the amazing miracles Jesus accomplished. Whether it was turning water into wine, healing a sick person, or making food appear when supplies were limited, each time He performed these feats His “fan base” would grow considerably. People would follow Him around and immediately come to His side when He showed them something incredible. This was great, but I can imagine that many followed in hopes that He would do these great things for them. In today’s Christian culture, there are many who simply follow Jesus because they want to have their eternal destiny “locked in”. I am not diminishing this concept, but I fear that if this is the only reason we follow Jesus then our faith becomes about what Jesus has or can do for us instead of the light we should be in the darkness.
2. What Gives Me Joy?
So many Christians get the concept of happiness and joy mixed up. In our most immature state, it is easy to want to “abandon ship” when a series of tribulations come our way. I often get discouraged about things that simply do not affect the flow of the kingdom AND, I tend to forget that God has answered much bigger prayers in the past. I have seen miracles and He has spoken to me. Wretched, poor, nothing-to-offer; me. What brings me joy is a delight in knowing that the same loving force that created the universe has everything under control, and loves me…even when I am experiencing temporary chaos.
3. What Am I Doing to Grow?
Do you think farmers get upset because their crops need water and sunlight? Do you think they feel as if it is legalistic to assume that their livestock need fed in order to eventually feed the multitudes? Of course not! A good farmer does what it takes to make sure they are planting and harvesting as much as they can each year. They take advantage of the fertility of their land so that their yield will be bountiful. When a pastor stands up in front of his or her congregation and talks about “legalistic” things like spiritual disciplines (scripture reading, giving, community worship, prayer, etc) they are simply teaching their people how to effectively feed their soul. They are teaching the farmers to farm and experience their own personal harvest. Do we, as Christians, rely on one hour every week as the sole means for our spiritual growth, or does it carry throughout the week?
4. Have I Sacrificed Anything to Follow Christ?
Now, please hear me when I say that this is not a question I publicly ask to send the accuser your way. I think it is a genuinely innocent question that all need to ask themselves. Whether it be in the areas of time, talent, or treasure can we really think of a time in which we had to release something we valued to God? Sometimes we think that we are being persecuted because someone made fun of our prayer time before our lunch break, or we see the direction the government is going in a certain political area…but…what would our faith look like if it was all we had left? Many do operate this way. Just something to ponder…
5. Do I Value Comfort Over Christ?
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people complain about the taste of the communion wafers at various churches I have attended. Really?!?!…Really?!?! We are remembering a time in which Jesus just got done saying “goodbye for now” to His followers and indicated death was coming, AND for some reason we complain because of the taste of a cracker. Okay…that part of my rant is complete, but in all seriousness, when God asks us to become uncomfortable for His purposes, how do we react? Do we disobey, or give our all?
6. How Do I Treat Non-believers?
It may come as a surprise to many, but non-Christians have no reason to act like Christians. Yep, you heard correctly. So, with this as an understanding, why do we base our judgement of non-Christian behavior using Christian values? Granted, I believe that Christ-following is the source of an abundant life, but we can not expect people who don’t know Him to fully live as if they do… God has sent the Church into the world to serve these people regardless. They are human. They are loved by God. We were in their shoes too at one point. Do we treat people who don’t know Christ with compassion, understanding, and love? Or, do we spit venom at them to inflict mortal wounds? Sure, we must share Christ with all, and be the light of Jesus in this dark world but do we really accomplish this when people flee from our sight when they learn our affiliation?
7. How Important is My Faith?
Assuming that mostly Christians are reading this blog today, the question I have is about how we view the priority of our spiritual life. Ask yourself if your faith is a hobby, habit, or a hunger. When we look at things in this way, it will help us honestly evaluate our relationship with God. Whether it comes to church attendence, giving, prayer, or general growth, can we honestly say that we have a hunger for the things God considers a priority. Is our faith a hobby that we take part in when we don’t have anything else to do or when everything is running smoothly? Is it a habit we have always taken part in, but there is no real meaning attached? Or, do we have a deep hunger for God’s spirit to guide, grow, and send us daily?
When we take the time to honestly evaluate our faith, things can get rather hairy. It may cause us to *gulp* change some things and go a different direction. This is just how it works. Trust God to reveal the sharp edges He wants to chisel as you ask these questions.
Keep Him the center. The world is at stake. Hell hates it when you do.
Love you all
My son asks so many questions. Most 3 year olds do. It seems to be their job. Some answers to the questions are really easy and others really stump me. There are questions that we can answer in a few words and there are others that we know the answer to in theory but have a very hard time verbalizing. For instance, try telling a 3 year old how his little sister came out of Mommy’s tummy. The words just don’t exist to help him wrap his mind around the concept.
Today, my son asked me a question that I had to really think about. This morning he jumped out of bed, and ran into my bedroom where I was getting ready for my work day. He did not start with “good morning!” or “hello!” but a very random question. “Daddy, do doggies have knees?”
Do doggies have knees? Umm…..I think yes. I really had to picture the canine anatomy for a second to come up with my answer. I told him they did, and he ran away completely satisfied with the answer. I still don’t know what this research project will produce.
This got me thinking about questions we have in our faith-life. Sometimes there are things that we really want to know, but are afraid to ask because we may be judged. We may be looked at as a bad Christian if we have “silly” questions that we genuinely desire to know. Perhaps we think we will even be looked at as immature.
The truth is….a believer who desires to know more about God is one that is growing in their faith. At a faster pace, in fact, than a follower who thinks they know it all.
Do you have the courage to ask, learn and grow? Do you really want to know if doggies have knees? It’s not as silly of a question as you may think.
Have you ever heard something over and over and, after a while, it sounded like nails on a chalkboard? Every once in a while I hear something that does this to me. Many times it is a phrase or piece of advice that is meant to uplift people’s spirits but the central message is against scripture and often harms development.
A few days ago, I happened upon a facebook page that was dedicated to posting different inspirational phrases to uplift people. It was rather pleasant. I decided to scroll down and check out the phrases that have been used and then I saw it…..it was ugly…it was terrible….it was incredibly misleading. It said, “Be a leader….not a follower.” I almost choked on the water I was drinking…..My first thought was “did I read that correctly?” Yes….yes I did.
Now, before you send me hate mail, let me explain why I do not like this phrase.
We always hear stories about great leaders and their influence on others. Whether it be politicians, pastors, CEO’s or supervisors, many of us love the idea of having the ability to lead others. Leaders are visioncasters; they guide cultural change. The purpose of this inspirational phrase is to motivate people to want to change the world, set trends, and be unique. It is misleading.
What about followers? God teaches us in the Bible that followers are equally important. For some reason we have gotten the idea that followers are non-thinking robots and ultimately easily manipulated. This is simply not true.
The disciples are a great example of how followers are needed. I know what you are thinking….The disciples of Jesus eventually became leaders and preached the gospel publicly. This is true but they had to go through a period of sitting at the feet of Jesus to learn and assist Him. They were organized and effective in the ministry because they followed.
Do you feel called to ministry? This is great, but I encourage you to pray about whether God has called you to a formal pastoral ministry or to being a passionate lay person. Pastors yearn for lay people to help implement vision.
Today, instead of seeking to be a leader….seek to be a follower of Jesus…..then simply obey. God will lead you to the opportunties necessary to build His kingdom. If you are a Godly follower others will be influenced by you.
Don’t discount those who follow. They may be specifically called of God to do so.