03 December 2013

Moving the Church Foward Faithfully

As a pastor I am constantly considering how faithfully to move the church God has entrusted to my leadership forward.  How can I lead a congregation in need of revitalization and renewal from where it is to where it needs to be?  If you're like me and so many other pastors, you labor within a church that needs desperately to move forward faithfully and attempt greater things for God.  However, you probably encounter the same apathy and contentment with mediocrity that all churches in need of revitalization possess.  You may be in a ministry context that is so mired in complacency and compromise that you don't know where to begin.  I feel your pain, but I believe there is always hope for Christ's churches.  That hope is found in what we call revival.  I don't mean revival services, but true revival of the soul of a church when enough individuals of the congregation collectively become the spiritual critical mass necessary to unleash real revitalization and bring revival to the ministry of the church.

Genuine revival is the work of God.  By the Spirit of God, conviction over the sins of worldliness, selfishness, and complacency take hold of the people of God bringing them to genuine repentance.  This repentance in turn leads them to authentic and grateful worship and sacrificial service.  This turning to God-honoring and focused worship and true service revitalizes the ministry of the church with renewed enthusiasm for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And this revived commitment to ministry fosters a refreshed fellowship centered on the right things.  This is what I earnestly desire for First Baptist Hazard.  I bet you want this for your church too.

Even though I know that ultimately revival is the work of God, I know that God mysteriously uses people, particularly his called-out leaders, to lead revival and renewal.  This is not a contradiction, but a marvelous mystery of His providence.  Therefore, my job is not merely to pray and wait, but to pray and lead.  This still begs the question:  How do I prayerfully lead the church forward faithfully?

The first matter to settle is what I want to lead the church toward.  I must first be wise and biblically faithful about what I set up as the target.  I can't buy into the idea that I can just shoot at any target.  It's not simply about hitting a target; it's about hitting the right target.

The target I want to set up for the church is one that is Gospel-centered, disciple-making, and service-oriented.  The Word of God (i.e. the Gospel) should always be the focus of worship and teaching.  I should desire for my flock to love God's Word and be passionate about the Gospel.  I should desire to see my flock become mature disciples of Christ in both their knowledge of His Word and how they live.  I should expect that if my flock is healthy in Christ, they will give sacrificially and generously of their money, time and effort to demonstrate compassion for others needs and the sharing of the Gospel locally and globally.  I believe that this is the right place to desire to lead the church.  I think this is faithful to God's commission for His church.  Notice, this has nothing to do with simply getting bigger. 

However, I am still left to figure out how to hit the target.  If I know where I need to lead the church, it does me little good if I don't know how to get her there.  My target must be faithful and my methods must also be faithful.  What can I do to move the church forward faithfully?

First, biblical literacy must increase.  The best overall strategy for this is expository preaching and discipleship classes and small groups that focus on the learning the biblical content.  People can't live the Bible when they remain functionally ignorant of its contents and have gross misconceptions of what's in it.  Learning the Bible needs to begin in earnest with our children.  Churches need to utilize curriculum that effectively gets kids familiar with biblical content.  The Gospel Project is excellent material for age-graded small groups and well-run Awana Clubs are good choices for this goal.  Youth ministry has to be Word-focused - the Gospel contained in the Word of God truly transforms young people and gives them a faith that sticks.  I'm still trying to strategize greater ways to create more opportunity for people to simply learn the Bible.
     
Second, expectations of leaders must increase.  Pastors need to lovingly, wisely, firmly and determinedly expect more of lay leaders.  The pastor and staff are just the tip of the spear in regards to leadership for the church.  It's takes numerous lay-leaders to come along side the paid pastors to create a healthy ministry.  The deacons or elders are critical spiritual leadership for the congregation.  These men must be held to a high standard of Christian living and commitment to the Gospel.  They are charged with the spiritual care of the congregation and to be the example of Christian faithfulness.  Directors, team leaders, committee chairs, teachers and others who hold positions of leadership need to be held accountable for the responsibility that has been entrusted to them.  Over time a culture of expectation for leaders needs to emerge as normal.  This does not mean that leaders are those who have spiritually arrived and no longer need grace.  Just the contrary.  Leaders should be those (including the pastor) who exhibit a clear, humble dependence on grace, awe of God, and boldness in the power of God and not themselves.  Leaders have to grow and mature in that grace.  The church should be a safe place for leaders to make mistakes and not get beat up for it.  However, leaders should be committed to grow personally, give the time necessary to lead, earnestly seek God as they lead, and know that they set the example for others.     

Third, a reasonable and rightly-focused plan must be pursued.  It is not a spiritual thing to not have a plan; it is not a guarantee for success simply because you have a plan.  Total dependence on God is always primary.  I must pursue ministry leadership with a humility and personal neediness that makes much of God and His grace and provision and little of my own ability.  However, God has called me to lead. Therefore, God has called me to make decisions about matters.  And if God has called me to make decisions, then he has called me to be intentional about moving the church forward and not to be haphazard about it.  And if God has called me to be intentional about leading the church, then he has called me to have a plan.  However, this plan does not have to come completely from me.  The Bible directs us toward the wisdom of counselors and collaboration.  Other leaders in the church need to help prayerfully develop, buy into, and implement the plan.  The plan must be faithful to Scripture and conform to the purpose of the church.  The plan is just a tool that will be retooled periodically for greater faithfulness and effectiveness.  The plan is not the goal, but it is the method for reaching the goal - a healthy, faithful church.     

Fourth, a commitment to prayer and patience must remain strong.  It is easy to get busy with the business of ministry and forget to feed the soul with prayer and personal devotion.  This can be particularly easy for us pastors if we are not careful.  The subtle slide into self-sufficiency in all our ministry tasks is toxic to our souls.  Leaders, beginning with pastors, must nurture a vibrant personal faith walk with Christ and allow that to flow into all those ministry tasks.  The congregation must always be reminded of the importance of prayer and given opportunities to gather corporately to that singular purpose.  Leadership teams must always remember that their effective leadership is grounded in a commitment to prayer as they plan and strategize ministry. Additionally, leaders and congregations must exercise patience.  Patience in ministry is not despairing, panicking, or allowing fear to hurry you into bad decisions.  Patience is not complacency.  Patience is the ability to treat one another graciously even when our efforts come up short of what we hope.  Patience is celebrating the small things.  Patience is demonstrating a rock solid faith in the Lord as you work in the ministry and wait on Him.  Patience is staying on course and doing the hard work of lovingly confronting compromise and while encouraging greater faithfulness.  Above all, patience is love because we are told love is patient. 

Fifth, an abiding sense of dependence on God must prevail.  I've already hinted at this, but I want to emphasize it here.  Moving the church forward faithfully ultimately and totally depends on the power of God working in people's lives (including mine) in transformative ways.  The key word here is faithfully.  There are big movements and huge church growth experiences that are not necessarily faithful.  In the end those movements have been manufactured with gimmicks, marketing, and strategies that undermine the Gospel rather that lift it up.  Sometimes those methods appeal to the self-centeredness that the Gospel has come to eradicate.  Many times it seems we are building our own little kingdoms, rather than focusing on the dynamics of His kingdom.  As I attempt to lead the church to revitalization I must never forget that I desperately need God and He doesn't need me.  I'm a servant in a position of leadership of others yet always under the One who made me and saved me.  My calling is to be faithful to Him personally, dependent on His grace always for all things, to love His church, to point people to Christ, and work for His glory.

So many churches need revitalization.  My hope is that I and other pastors will be the leaders God has called us to be by moving churches forward, but only in a way that is faithful to the Gospel with which we have been entrusted.

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