DIFFICULT CONTEMPORARY ISSUES FOR CHURCH LEADERS
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. - Psalm 127:1
There are a number of issues surfacing in "church life" as we know it. These were non-issues only a few years ago. However, as we draw closer to the consummation of all things in Christ, there is more revelation and more expectation. Our Father is showing more to His sons and expecting more of His sons. He is no longer quietly enduring the vain labor of men and women. His call to perfection must be met with self-denial, repentance and faith, so that we may go on with Him into His emerging kingdom.
THE ISSUE OF NUMBERS
Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. -Matthew 7:14
21st century western world thinking is that "bigger is better." Our idea of success is determined at least in part by growing numbers of people in attendance. We love the swelling crowds and go into debt to build bigger "barns" to "store" them in. We develop "machines" to keep everything running - and growing. We design and embrace programs to keep them coming. We need them if we are to meet the budget!
When a promising leader emerges, we are threatened by the possibility that he or she may leave - which is very likely the plan of God for his or her life. When people leave, we brand them "covenant breakers" because we were counting on them to help pay the bills. Or, they left a hole in our program staffing. Or both. We break fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who no longer acknowledge our leadership in their lives. (Who, then, is the "covenant breaker?")
We do not see the drive for numbers in the examples of Jesus and His disciples. There was no evidence of personal kingdom building in their lives and ministries. We do see a passion for men and women to seek and find His kingdom. The focus was upon drawing followers after Him, and people always had the freedom to walk away. When they did, the progress of the kingdom was undaunted.
There were no sheepfolds built for goats - no barns for storing chaff. Discernment was sharp, words were clearly spoken and understood, direction was maintained. People were not surveyed before decisions were made. These servant-leaders knew who they were in Christ, so they were not depending upon numbers for their identity. They were unencumbered, free to hear and obey the Holy Spirit.
Our true and secure identity, and the freedom to hear and obey the Holy Spirit, will come through self-denial, repentance and faith as we choose to forsake the numbers game and our own kingdom building, in favor of Gods master plan and divine blueprint.
THE ISSUE OF MOTIVES
My little children, for whom I labor in birth until Christ is formed in you... - Galatians 4:19
Each precious person has been fearfully and wonderfully made - formed in his/her mothers womb by the very hand of God - with a divinely ordained destiny. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
Yet, many leaders seem totally unmotivated (or dont know how) to equip people for the work of the ministry to which God has called them. We seem preoccupied with enlisting people for our own purposes so that we may achieve corporate success. Our goals for people go something like this: first, get them to faithfully attend our many programs and functions and meetings. Second, get them to be faithful in financially supporting "our work" with their tithes and offerings. Third, enlist them to serve our many programs, functions and meetings. And, thats it!
No, thats not it! Thats all about us and not about them at all. What about their destiny? Surely, many of these dear folk have been created for more than ushering, singing in the choir and teaching Sunday school!
Our Prototype, Jesus, and His disciples concentrated on making disciples. Kingdom multiplication and the glory of God require that we labor in birth until Christ is formed in His people. For us to be rightly motivated will require that we see our success is in making others successful in the will of God for their lives. This will require self-denial, repentance and faith. It is personally costly to give ourselves to others for their good.
THE ISSUE OF JOB SECURITY
Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? - I Corinthians 9:7
If we repent, change our focus from growing numerically to discipling a few, how is the pastor to be supported?
This question is complex in nature. When we look in the Book, we dont find any precedent for the "pastor" as we perceive him/her today. We have developed wineskins which lull the rank and file followers of Jesus into apathetic passivity as they pay the preacher to do their Christianity. The people are not challenged by the idea of working out their faith by cleaning buildings, etc. Many do not even want more, because they have no idea there is more. Its a faulty system which is built around an unbiblical concept of the pastor role.
So many pastors have so few people. Consequently, they model poverty, need, discontent, lack, frustration, etc., and they tend to put a guilt trip upon the few followers because they are not giving enough to adequately support them. When this happens, believers will shut down and seemingly not care about the pastor and his needs. Or, they will go somewhere else hoping to not hear constantly about money.
Let me compassionately say that I have been there and done that. Its a trap which the contemporary religious system has set up for us. We need a real boldness to address these issues, to walk in whatever repentance the Lord shows us, as we hear from Him and proceed in faith.
The one who plants a vineyard does not eat from the vineyard for a long time. He must be otherwise employed if he is going to eat and feed his family. It takes years for fruit to come to maturity. For example, it takes three years to get the first peach crop. Yes, it is appropriate for the one who plants a vineyard to eat from the vineyard - eventually. Of course, the size of the vineyard and the environmental conditions will affect the size of the harvest.
My best advice for those who are pioneering is that they work in the marketplace. Not only will you find adequate provision, but you will also find people. And, you need people if you wish to find disciples. Some of the most successful workers in the Kings vineyard are those who are (or have proven) successful in the marketplace. Many who work full time in the marketplace are doing more in the kingdom than those who dont.
THE ISSUE OF THE MARKETPLACE
The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. - Romans 8:19
Old wineskins are breaking daily, spilling the wine, because of an unwillingness (or lack of understanding that they are) to be renewed daily. Change is the order of the day! Beyond change, we are in a time of major transition.
The kingdom is breaking out of the church walls and spilling into the marketplaces of life. Industry, commerce, politics, medicine, science, education, the arts, sports - people in every realm of life and culture are looking for God who is to be revealed in His sons.
Heavily programmed institutional churches are actually in competition with what God is doing in our day. The demands for the time of people to attend and participate in local church activities puts them in a bind and keeps them from where they need to be. Yes, we are to be faithful to assemble. We need fellowship, encouragement, instruction.
However, we also need to be involved in the world around us. We are a city set upon a hill which cannot be hidden. We can no longer hide under the "bushel" of the gathered church. We must gather, get refreshed and equipped, then scatter. There needs to be time to scatter, to be involved in the world. Jesus does not take us out of the world; but the local church often does.
Again, repentance is costly and requires self-denial and faith. That faith needs to come from hearing from God. He will take each of us where we are and lead us from glory to glory until we are free for His glory to be seen by the world around us. His glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, as His sons are released from religious activity to get about the work of the church - impacting all of life with His Life!
Some of the most fruitful church leaders will be those who take the lead in the marketplace. This will help their ministry to others to be with understanding and relevant. They will be powerful examples for others to follow, and they will disciple others in the context of real life and real life issues.
As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. - Romans 8:14
I am praying that no one will reject these important truths and fail to consider these as vital issues for the purposes of God and His emerging kingdom. I am also praying that no one will make radical moves based upon his/her own decisions and conclusions.
Rather, I encourage each of us to pray for clear guidance and direction as we face the changes which are necessary. We need to hear from Him and have His wisdom on how and when to implement changes. God is not in a hurry. But, He is moving, and He does not want any of us left behind.
May God bless you as you are led by Him into all that He has for you and for those whom you are serving.