Prodigal Church

April 26, 2017

My thanks to Jared Wilson, not only for another thoughtful book, but for expressing many of the very things I would like to express.  In his 2015 book, Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo, Wilson has written a book I wish I had written.

Celtic Transformation

I have been mulling on something the late Francis Schaeffer said:

“There are four things which are absolutely necessary if we as Christians are going to meet the need of our age and the overwhelming pressure we are increasingly facing.”

No doubt that the church, in our culture as well as other cultures, faces increasing and overwhelming pressure.  Pressure to cave. Pressure to capitulate. Pressure to compromise.  These pressures come from both  subtle and overt threats from the culture and from the government, as George Orwell predicted in his classic 1984.  Perhaps even more devastating is the subversive seductive pressure. The craving of the church to be “relevant”, to fit in, to be liked, so people will come in great numbers, so we can be considered successful, has seemingly replaced a commitment to faithfulness and fruitfulness.  This mindset seems in line with Aldous Huxley‘s “nightmarish vision of the future” in his opus Brave New World.  And while there is certainly nothing wrong with a desire to be liked, nor to see our churches full, these consuming desires are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, and consequently, I fear, resulting in an increasingly impotent Church.

So what are Schaeffer’s four things?

Schaeffer labeled them Two Contents and Two Realities.

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Blue Construction

As one who has benefited from reading Jim Collins, John Kotter, Stephen Covey, and several other leadership gurus from the business world, I found this quote from Tony Morgan‘s Developing a Theology of Leadership  to be a very helpful reminder and convicting corrective:

It is true that we church leaders can learn from business leaders, but the corporate world should not set the foundation from which we lead. We can also learn from fellow church leaders, but they are also human and don’t provide a perfect model for Biblical leadership. When we look to other leaders, we are essentially holding on to our traditions rather than embracing the truth about leadership found in God’s Word. The Bible needs to become our filter for truth in every area of our life and ministry just because we see others doing it doesn’t mean that’s how God designed it.

Like Morgan, I still believe there is much to be learned from those who are effective in business, government, coaching, and other spheres. But as a pastor of a church – an under-Shepherd of part of the Church that Jesus is building – it is essential that I not fall for the notion that I will or can gain the most wisdom from these sources. I must never neglect or assume what the bible has to say about Leadership. Instead I must constantly submit all ideas of leadership, from whatever sources, to the scrutiny of the Scripture.

Matthew 16.18 reminds me that I am but a foreman, and that it is Jesus who is the architect, developer, and contractor. My job is to follow his design, and his lead.

Germoe Cathedral Impressionism (Slimm)

Anyone who has ever served on a ministry staff for any measurable amount of time knows the twin realities of the incredible joys and the exhausting difficulties.  Perhaps this tension is part of the reason why there is such large drop out rate among pastors and other ministry leaders in the American Evangleical Church.  Ministry is a tremendous privilege, to be allowed to be with people at both their best times and their worst, but it carries with it inevitable frustrations and hurt feelings, which frequently seems to lead to burnout, exhaustion, and isolation.

Part of the problem may be the disconnect between what those in pastoral ministry do, and what those in the congregation assume – and want – their ministers to do.   Just like some of the memes of various professions that one may see on Facebook or some other social medium suggests, there is often a difference.  Misconceptions easily become a source of tension.

Recently I re-read an article by Jason Boyett that I find helpful, reminding me to look at things from the other side: 5 Things Church Members Wish Pastors Knew.  it reminded me of one of Stephen Covey assertions from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:”seek first to understand, then to be understood”. While I may desperately want to be “understood”, I have little to no control about what people may understand about me.  But I do have the ability to try to see things from the other side; to understand why people may not appreciate the same things I do, or agree with all that I may believe and say.

So, for my fellow ministry leaders, here are Boyett’s five assertions:

  1. Who you are reflects upon your membership. Churches reflect the character of its most visible pastors and ministers. “It’s not always fair,” one church member told me, “but people associate churches with the pastor.
  1. Churchgoers have lives (and ministries) outside of church. “I don’t eat and breathe this church,” a parishioner said.
  1. They value excellence but not showiness. Everyone makes mistakes. Every speaker, worship leader, or musician can have a bad day on-stage. Church members realize this, but at the same time appreciate good preparation.
  1. They want to be led…with honesty. Stories abound of churches that embarked on an exciting new vision only to backtrack a few weeks into it for a variety of reasons — too few volunteers, lack of funds, complaints from prominent church members, or some other kink.
  1. Sometimes, it looks like you have it easy. Anne Jackson, the author of Mad Church Disease and a former church staffer, once blogged about the perception — which she felt was well earned — that church staffers can be lazy. The post’s comment section should be required reading for pastors and ministers across the board.

To read more

 

On a Soap Box

I appreciate the practical wisdom Ed Stetzer provides in a post titled: Why I Have No Difficulty Helping “Issue Christians” to Move On.  Few seem to think this way in our consumerist church culture, where numbers are the only measuring stick of success, and faithfulness is but a tool to… well, numerical success – so long as it works.  Pastors are under so much pressure to produce measurable “progress” that it is difficult for many to watch any living, breathing, potentially financial supporting body depart.  Not so much for me – anymore.  I’ve learned, through the pain of many mistakes, some folks just cost too much to keep around.

Does that sound heartless?  Sometimes it still feels that way.  But nevertheless, it is true. Not just for my sanity as a pastor, but for the unity and the peace, and the health of the church,,, some people should move on.

The people I mean are not the poor, or the unkempt, or the socially awkward or even outcastes.  It is not my place to shew them from Christ’s church.  Though the world may see no benefit of having such people around, these are exactly the kind of folks Jesus expressly instructs us he wants to be made at home in any church that belongs to him. The ones I have in mind are not the outcastes, but the self righteous: those who have stumbled upon the one “key” to resolve the worlds problems – and the churches – if only enough people would buy into their one key.  What is the key? Who knows.  I’ve seen all sorts of different sure-fire “answers”.  Sadly, for such folks, “Christ and him crucified”, is never the key.  (See 1 Corinthians 2.2)  Their issue, whatever it may be, is their substitute for the gospel – or at the very least a supplement to the gospel.  (See Romans 1.16; Galatians 1.6-8)

My one caveat about encouraging folks to move on is when the gospel is at stake.  Like Stetzer, if it appears evident that person does not understand the gospel, I am hesitant to have them move on before I (or someone) has opportunity to explain it to them.  Whether the person is not a Christian or a professing Christian who seems to have adopted some issue(s) in addition to or instead of Christ as their identity, their passion, their assurance, I want to make sure the gospel has been made clear.  Once the gospel has been clearly presented, then I go on to explain that our church is passionate about the gospel, and living out the implications and demands of the gospel, that we want no other issue to drive our church.  I invite them to stay IF, now that they understand, they want to grow in this understanding and expression of the Christian faith; but tell them if that is not their desire that they’d be “happier elsewhere”.  (That “happier elsewhere” phrase is one I used to mock when I was in college, when learned that sororities – including the one my wife was in – used this as a polite “line” to cut less-than-desired pledges.  And now I have adopted it. Except… I mean it as no mere polite line.)

Stetzer provides sage advice that I encourage young pastors, and all church leaders to consider, and to appropriately apply.  You will find that in the end you gain from it far more than you lose – both in numbers and in peace.

Researcher Thom Rainer warns of signs of a church that is so inwardly focused that it has ceased to be the church of Jesus Christ and has become, at best, a museum to (assumed) past glories, in which the membership makes up the board of directors.   Rainer writes:

Any healthy church must have some level of inward focus. Those in the church should be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and ministry. Healthy fellowship among the members is a good sign for a congregation.

But churches can lose their outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. The dollars spent and the time expended can quickly become focused on the demands of those inside the congregation. When that takes place the church has become inwardly obsessed. It is no longer a Great Commission congregation.

In my research of churches and consultation with churches, I have kept a checklist of potential signs that a church might be moving toward inward obsession. No church is perfect; indeed most churches will demonstrate one or two of these signs for a season. But the real danger takes place when a church begins to manifest three or more of these warning signs for an extended period of months and even years.

1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.

4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.

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Drilling Down

July 27, 2011

I have greatly benefited from being introduced to Tri-Perspectivalism.   While it is an odd sounding word, as a concept Tri-Perpectivalism is reasonably easy to grasp.  It is a multi-facted perspective, or looking at things from three distinct perspectives, rooted in the personality and offices of Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King.

John Frame was probably the first to touch upon this leadership-personality grid. Dick Kaufmann contributed significant practical insights and applications.  And David Fairchild has taken the whole thing a step further.

Speaking at a conference in Fall 2010, Fairchild explained that there are different types of prophets, priest, and kings. While each individual has a primary wiring (i.e. Prophet, or Priest, or King) each also has a secondary, or modifying, perspective.  Fairchild suggested:

In fact, the secondary perspective is sort of like their delivery method. In other words, you might be a priest and enjoy counseling, but your secondary is king. So you enjoy working with people that need pastoral care by applying wisdom to their particular situation like finances or work related counsel. This is effortless and easy for a kingly priest, but not so for a priestly priest.

Let’s explore some breakdowns:

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