Strategic Planning for Your Ministry

Strategic-Planning

Strategic planning is a tried and true method for moving organizations forward to achieve goals and realize expectations. In recent years, many good resources have become available that adapt certain strategic planning processes to the Church environment. Many of these are very well done and have a wealth of information every pastor and church leader should assimilate. Yet, if you read all of the books and resources available on this topic, you might come away more confused about strategic planning than when you started. I want to try to simplify the process for you. Before I do, I want to answer a basic question.

Is Strategic Planning Biblical?

You might be tempted to think strategic planning for the Church is nothing more than adopting the world’s business practices and is not biblical. I’ve had church leaders in the past object to approaching local church ministry with a strategic mindset. Some have  used verses like 1 Corinthians 3:19 as a proof-text to suggest that strategic thinking mirrors “worldly” methods in the Church because the “wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” The context of Paul’s discussion is the divisions in the Corinthian church that centered around certain personalities. He wasn’t establishing a general maxim that disallows all secular methodologies in church ministry; much less disavowing strategic thinking.

Does God not want churches to think and plan strategically? Does setting up a strategic plan nullify faith and trust in God and elevate our plans above His? The simple answer is no, it doesn’t. Let’s look at a few examples of God-ordained leaders using strategic planning in ministering to God’s people.

Jethro was a strategic thinker who advised Moses to not only think strategically, but put a strategic plan in place to advance the plan of God. Having observed that his son-in-law was struggling to lead God’s people effectively, Jethro taught Moses how to set up a strategic plan of delegation that involved others to govern and lead God’s people. God blessed this plan in a way that eased Moses’ stress and allowed Israel’s resources to be used more effectively to accomplish her God-given mission.

Moses, himself, was a trained tactician who used strategic planning to spy out the land of Canaan. He gave the spies specific instructions and a plan to follow. While not all of the spies returned with the same reports, they did all return safely and with an accomplished mission.

Joshua, one of the 12 spies Moses sent into Canaan and his successor, spent 40 years planning his conquest strategy of Canaan. He used a simple, but effective plan to take a ragtag band of untrained and lightly armed refugees from Egypt to invade Canaan and defeat 31 kings with walled and fortified cities and heavily armed and well-trained militaries. He first invaded Canaan and secured the cities of Jericho and Ai; giving him a foothold and base of operations in the central spine of Canaan and dividing the north and south from each other. Rather than head north to coalition of kings around Galilee, or over the mountains to the heavily fortified Philistines with their chariots and state-of-the-art iron hardware, Joshua attached Canaan’s spine – the southern cities of the Judean hills. The hill country allowed a lightly armed strike force to maneuver easily where heavy warriors and chariots were ineffective. This advantage allowed him to defeat 5 kings at Gibeon before turning south to round up stragglers and siege various cities. Joshua’s strategic plan allowed him to solidify his hold on the bulk of Canaan while gathering supplies to head north and defeat the coalition of kings at Merom and Hazor.

Nehemiah was a master at strategic planning. Upon hearing that Jerusalem’s walls were still broken down after so many years, his heart was touched to rebuild Israel’s capital. Yet, he did not merely run to Artaxerxes without a plan and beg for help. Nehemiah formulated a plan before he ever addressed the king. When Nehemiah was allowed to leave Persia for Jerusalem, he was well supplied with materials and laborers by the king. It would surprise me if Nehemiah had not carefully estimated what it would take to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls and gave the king a list before he left. Upon arriving in the broken Jerusalem, Nehemiah carefully assessed the damage, planned the wisest use of his resources, enlisted leaders and laborers, distributed assignments, and strategically went about the work with immense success.

The Apostle Paul approached ministry from a strategic mindset. After a successful initial missionary endeavor with Barnabas, Acts 15 says that Paul devised a plan whereby he and Barnabas would return to those same churches to see how they fared and advance the gospel even more so throughout Asia Minor. While the initial plan had to be modified with Silas replacing Barnabas, Paul still followed his strategic plan. It’s interesting to note that the execution of Paul’s strategic plan was always subject to Divine intervention (cf. Acts 16:7), but that does not mean he did not approach ministry haphazardly. He devised a strategic plan, moved to advance that plan, and allowed God to redirect and adjust as needed.

From these examples, we should be able to safely say that strategic planning is in no way unbiblical, but on the contrary, God expects us to use our minds, establish plans, move to execute those plans effectively and successfully; always allowing for Divine intervention and redirection.

How Do Devise a Strategic Plan?[1]

Before overviewing the How to of strategic planning, it’s imperative to note that every facet of the process must be bathed in prayer. No plan to advance Christ’s mission will ever be successful without His leading and blessing. Start with prayer. Continue in prayer. That said, developing a good and God-honoring strategic plan is a four-phased process that takes a lot of work and collaboration among the leaders and people whom they lead.

Phase 1 – Ministry Analysis

The initial phase in ministry strategic planning is a discovery phase that involves several steps.

  • Determine where the ministry/church is in its life cycle. Is it just beginning, plateaued, in a revitalization phase, or declining?
  • Review the ministry’s/church’s current mission and vision. If no mission or vision exists, then significant time and effort should be given to crafting them. If they do exist, they should be examined for clarity, applicability, and adjusted as needed.
  • Analyze every facet of the ministry’s/church’s functions to determine specifically how each contributes to the successful accomplishment of its mission and vision. If a function does not advance the mission/vision can it be realigned/retooled? If not, remove it. If so, is it viable and sustainable?
  • Determine the ministry’s/church’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Yes, I’m talking about a tried and true SWOT analysis!
  • Analyze the ministry’s/church’s current fiscal situation. Are current ministry needs being met? Is a there a history of fiscal shortfall or abundance?
  • Analyze job descriptions for each component of personnel. Do they align with the mission/vision of the organization? Do they accurately represent the current expectations of the position? Are they flexible enough to allow for creativity and growth in the position?

Phase 2 – Stakeholder Analysis

Every ministry/local church has stakeholders. Ministry/church stakeholders include staff, ministry leaders, donors, and volunteers. Because most evangelical ministries and churches are a hybrid of paid staff and volunteers, accurately analyzing the thoughts, and feelings about the ministry/church can be difficult. Done correctly, this phase can be very insightful and helpful.

  • Assess the ministry’s/church’s overall health. In a local church setting, tools like the Church Health Survey (Lawless Group) and the Transformation Church Assessment Tool (Lifeway). It’s harder to find prepared analysis tools for parachurch ministries but some like the MCORE can be quite effective.
  • Assess the stakeholders’ readiness for change. Change can be difficult and uncomfortable. Effective change will never occur in any organization if the key players within that organization are not ready for change.
  • Assess the stakeholders’ commitment level. Effective and beneficial change will never occur if the stakeholders are not ready to buy into and effect the desired change.
  • Garner stakeholder feedback. This can be uncomfortable for ministry/church leaders, but also revealing. Ask the stakeholders for their impressions and feedback in a number of areas and what changes they would like to see.

Phase 3 – Goal Setting

By the time you’ve gotten to this phase, you should have a good idea where the ministry/church is and if it’s poised for advancement. You should know how your stakeholders feel about the ministry/church and if they are ready to move forward with you. You should also have a good idea of the needed change based on the ministry’s/church’s overall health along with its SWOT analysis. All of this combined should allow you to begin formulating goals and action plans.

  • Based on the data from your analyses, set a series of goals – 2-year, 5-year, 7-year, and 10-year goals.

ü Goals should be distinctly Christian: Focused, Audacious, Inspiring, Transforming, Hopeful (FAITH).

ü Goals should be intelligently thought out: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely (SMART).

  • Write out the strategic plan and revise it thoroughly. Incorporate regular reviews by ministry/church leadership, and communicate your plan to your stakeholders vivaciously and routinely for approval, support, and full buy-in.

Phase 4 – Action Plan

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is quoted as saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Goals are great, but a goal never acted upon is an exercise in futility. Set up a plan of attack to reach your goals. A series of well thought out questions help in setting up a good action plan.

  • Will God approve of my plan? Have I been asking for Divine blessing and empowerment at every step? Who can I enlist to continue to uplift this ministry/church and its plan in intercessory prayer?
  • How am I going to fund my strategic plan? What fiscal resources do I need now to get the plan off the ground? What fiscal resources will I need throughout the life of the plan to see it flourish and come into full realization? Where am I going to get the fiscal resources I need today and tomorrow?
  • What personnel do I need to see the strategic plan come to full realization? Where can I enlist the requisite personnel? What initial/ongoing training will my personnel need to be effective?
  • Will I need any other physical resources to realize the strategic plan? If so, what/when? Where can I procure these?
  • How will I measure my success? What measurables can I put in place to see the tangible/visible advancement of the strategic plan?

Get After It!

My grandmother was fond of the saying, “If wishes were fishes, we’d all have a fry.” It simply means that if what we want (wishes) were as easily available as fish, we’d all get what we want. If you’ve ever been fishing, you know that just because there is a bounty of fish available doesn’t mean you’re always going to catch what you want. They call it fishing, not catching, for a reason. As enjoyable as fishing is, it can still be hard work to fill out your limit.

Strategic planning is like another fishing adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for today; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” A solid strategic plan is what ought to teach the ministry/church to fish. Like any fishing expedition, work is involved. After you’ve prayed, planned, and prayed some more it’s time to get to work and work the plan. Like Paul, allow for Divine intervention and redirection.

[1] This process is a modification of a plan laid out in detail by Aubrey Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999).

Developing a Biblical Theology of Ministry – part 3

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In Part 1 and part 2 of this topic, I examined the two predominant frameworks for a theology of ministry – modality and sodality – and the two predominant expressions of these frameworks – circumstantial and intentional ministry theologies. I endeavored to clarify their differences and demonstrate the need for embracing an intentional theology of ministry built on a sodalistic framework.  Why? Why is an intentional ministry theology the best and most biblical way to “do church” in the 21st century?

AN INTENTIONAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY PROVIDES KEY DESIRABLE BENEFITS TO THE CHURCH

There are three key benefits inherent in an intentional theology of ministry. These three, when combined, provide a good reason why an intentional theology should be embraced.

  1. Intentional ministry theologies provide direction to a local congregation.

An intentional theology of ministry answers the question, “Why?” Aristotle taught that ‘Why?’ is the most important question we ask. It can also be the most difficult. If we cannot adequately answer “Why?” we likely cannot answer “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” or “How?” Yet, many leaders just assume that the “Why?” has been answered and that the organization is far beyond such basics (Leith Anderson, Dying for Change [Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 1990], p. 150).

Intentional ministry theology helps the local church congregation know who they are and provides direction for what they do. Aubrey Malphurs suggests that ministries that lack intentional theologies of ministry fall into one of three categories: [1] the visionless ministry that doesn’t know who it is and where it is going, [2] the multiple-direction ministry that has too many varying theologies of ministry resulting in division and ineffectiveness, and [3] ministries with the wrong vision, a vision not founded on a clear theology of ministry (Aubrey Malphurs, Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century 7th printing, [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005], p. 19).

  1. Intentional ministry theologies provide a clear decision-making ability.

When the church’s theology of ministry is unclear, or even too broad, its leaders have difficulty in making decisions that will best aid in the accomplishment of its mission. Decisions take too much time, are often framed within individual preferences or felt-needs, often get made independently of other decisions in the organization and are made in isolation from the church’s overall theology only to later be forced into practice circumstantially. However, “When the vision is clearly communicated, people can make difficult decisions without having to appeal to higher levels in the organization each time because they know what end results are desired.” (Warren G. Bennis and Burt Nanus, Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, [New York: Harper & Row, 1985], p. 92). Those churches that pursue an intentional theology of ministry enable their leadership to prioritize and analyze specific ministry expressions in light of clearly defined criteria.  Thus, the effectiveness and efficiency of church ministry is readily judged and excellence in the pursuit of the mission is achieved.

  1. Intentional ministry theologies produce dedication among the leadership and participants within the ministry.

The dedication that is produced within intentionally missional churches comes through the culture and cohesiveness of the ministry team. Every local church is composed of different individuals with differing talents and gifts given them by God from a variety of backgrounds, economic statuses, family structures and cultural histories. The uniting factor in such widely varied groups must be a common allegiance to a singular ministry mission. A great example of this truth is the shrewd American politician. A good political operative can take a large group of people with a wide variety of differences and unite their base around a common mission. Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 presidential slogan was “Vote yourself a farm.” In 1896, William McKinley ran on “Patriotism, protection, and prosperity.” Richard Nixon ran on, “For the future” in 1960 and Gerald Ford ran on “He’s making us proud again” in 1976. For Bill Clinton it was, “Putting people first” in 1992, “Yes, America can!” for George W. Bush in 2004, “Change we can believe in” for Barack Obama in 2008, and “Make American great again” for Donald Trump in 2016. I’m not saying a biblically-based, intentional theology of ministry is nothing more than a campaign slogan. Yet, adopting an intentional theology of ministry does produce solidly biblical church ministry expressions around which believers can unite. “Vision functions as a cohesive factor; it holds the team together. The team consists of people who are creatively different, but a major reason they joined the team initially is because they passionately held to the same vision.” (Malphurs, p. 21).

AN INTENTIONAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY CREATES HEALTHY BYPRODUCTS FOR THE CHURCH

There are two very important by-products of adopting an intentional theology of ministry.  I call them by-products to bring to the surface the reality that they are inevitable, they will happen, and to afford us the opportunity to examine whether these are desirable or undesirable.

  1. An intentional theology of ministry tends to narrow the team to those who are committed to your direction and philosophy.

Organizations are comprised of a variety of individuals. Individuality and variety is the genius of the Church (Rom. 9:24; 1 Cor. 12:13). It is seen in the cultural and gifted makeup of local churches. But individuality, when it turns into agenda imposing, is not beneficial to any organization, let alone a church. When a local church adopts an intentional theology of ministry some people will simply not agree with the mission of the church and others will realize they cannot push their agenda-specific ideologies. Such individuals will normally move on to other ministries. Thus, the by-product of an intentional theology of ministry is a more narrowed and focused ministry team, i.e. congregation, unified toward the accomplishment of its mission and vision. Churches committed to a more intentional theology of ministry may not experience rapid growth, but the growth that is experienced will tend to be more committed and focused growth.

  1. An intentional theology of ministry keeps people focused on work rather than infighting.

Disharmony within the body is the nightmare of every pastor. It is divisive and destructive. Left unchecked, it is ultimately catastrophic. A circumstantial theology of ministry, driven by the ebb and flow of needs, is a riper breeding ground for the promoting of agenda-specific ideologies. If the circumstantially based ministry is large enough, this is generally not a problem because of the natural segmentation of larger circumstantial structures. That is, people gravitate toward the ministry arms that best meet their felt needs without a great deal of consideration for the overall success of church’s mission. Their agendas, within the context of their preferred ministry arm, can be freely entertained or more keenly imposed.  A matrix of ministry founded upon an intentional theology of ministry tends to produce participants and leaders that are less preoccupied with incidentals and individual agendas and more focused on the mission at hand. As Malphurs puts it, “A compelling clear vision fuels passion.” (Malphurs, p. 24). People who are ignited by a common passion tend not to be distracted by insignificant trivia and do not become pushers of agendas that can cause friction within the body. Thus, a more harmonious, unified team, focused on a common goal, is more often produced.

The truth that an intentional theology of ministry provides certain desirable benefits and carries with it certain inherent by-products makes it a much better choice. Every pastor and church leader should give adequate time, prayerful searching, and careful Bible study to the purpose and mission of the church and then commit to an intentional ministry theology. The benefits and by-products an intentional theology of ministry creates will help the local church become and remain healthier in the long-term.

Developing a Biblical Theology of Ministry – part 2

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In my previous post, I spoke about the need to develop a biblical theology of ministry and the extremes of modality and sodality. I alluded to some specific theologies of ministry that are expressions of either a modalistic or sodalistic framework. There are two primary theologies of ministry being fleshed out in local churches today that are built on one or another or these frameworks: a circumstantial and an intentional theology of ministry. Generally speaking, a circumstantial theology of ministry will adopt a more modalistic implementation, while an intentional theology will adopt a more sodalistic approach.

CIRCUMSTANTIAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY

A circumstantial theology of ministry is ministry oriented. It is a reverse-engineered way of establishing a theology of ministry. A circumstantial theology of ministry assesses what the church is already doing and asks, “What ministries currently exist in our local community of faith?” It has at its core a needs-based method for deriving one’s theology of ministry. The basis for a circumstantial theology of ministry becomes the needs of those to whom they wish to, or are already, minister. A church employing a circumstantial theology has examined what it is already doing, or what the strongest perceived needs of the community are, and derived its purpose, vision, or mission from its pre-existing ministry structure.

Let me offer an example of a popular circumstantial theology of ministry to elucidate my point. The vision statement for Saddleback Valley Community Church reads,

Our vision is to help make a big place small. Saddleback Church certainly is a big place! But thousands of people have found that they can become part of a true spiritual family as they follow God’s plan for developing relationships.

Saddleback’s theology of ministry revolves around an existing problem – how to make a large ministry feel smaller and more accommodating to those already attending. They seek to make their big group feel smaller and help those already attending become part of the larger community through inter-personal relationship development. Saddleback’s stated vision clearly illustrates a classic example of a circumstantially developed theology of ministry; one forged from their current situation.

With some research anyone can determine whether a local church has adopted a circumstantial theology of ministry. Ever-increasing ministries from weight loss groups, various support groups, and even 12-step programs abound in churches with circumstantial ministry theologies. Such needs-based ministries are often indicative of a circumstantial theology of ministry.

A circumstantial theology of ministry is often attractive, and quite regularly results in explosive church growth. However, two negative results typically flow from a circumstantial theology of ministry. Most often, the leadership within churches of a circumstantial bent are plagued with forever rethinking, tweaking, and broadening their mission and/or vision statements to meet the changing ebb and flow of people’s needs. The church’s vision and mission are not the biblical constant upon which ministry expressions are gauged. In circumstantially driven ministry theologies, as the needs of people change so must the vision and mission of the church.  Another result is the ever-expanding octopus. Some circumstantial churches attempt to state their circumstantial theology of ministry in terms that, hopefully, keep them from the need for continually changing it. The problem is still the changing needs of people. As those needs change, so must the ministry expressions of the church. Within a short amount of time, the number of needs-based ministries is so broad and all-inclusive that the church can lose sight of its biblical focus and purpose.

INTENTIONAL THEOLOGY OF MINISTRY

Over against the circumstantial theology of ministry is the intentional approach to developing a theology of ministry. The intentional theology of ministry typically finds its foundation in a sound exegesis of Scripture and shapes its ministry expression accordingly. The intentional approach to developing a theology of ministry endeavors to form a God-centered and God-glorifying framework for ministry. The development of this theocentric and doxological ministry grid allows the local church to scrutinize and validate its ministry expression according to an unchanging core value system.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? It is. The intentional ministry theology is a self-limiting and self-evaluating ingredient for the way church is done. No longer is the theology of ministry for the church determined by the needs of the community, but the ministry expression of the church is initiated in accordance with its theology of ministry. It can be fleshed out as follows. The church’s theology of ministry dictates its vision and mission. Both new and existing ministries are scrutinized according to the church’s vision and mission. Only those ministries which directly contribute to the successful accomplishment of the church’s vision and mission are initiated or remain viable.

I could point to several examples of an intentional theology of ministry. The church I currently pastor expresses it very succinctly,

Northland Community Church exists to enable believers to live Christ-centered, productive lives while impacting their personal, relational communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Churches that opt for an intentional theology of ministry derive it from their understanding that Christianity, and by extension, the Church, should have at its center the mandate given by Jesus Christ to the Church to make and mature disciples (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). This exegetical understanding becomes the theological cornerstone determining who these churches are and how they do church. A concentratedly biblical theology of ministry affords such churches the ability to evaluate every ministry expression in light of their biblically intentional theology of ministry. They can qualitatively evaluate the specific ministries of the church to determine whether or not they are contributing to the successful accomplishment of their mission.  This allows them to become focused, streamlined, and lean in ministry in such a way that can make them much more effective than their circumstantial counterparts.

An objection to an intentional theology of ministry is that it fails to meet the needs of people. On the surface, this can seem legitimate. However, churches that employ an intentional theology of ministry are not insensitive to the needs of people. The needs of people are quite readily met when disciples are being matured in such a way that they function as the Body has been mandated to function. When ministries are scrutinized in light of an intentional theology of ministry the church can design specific ministry expressions that help it not only win but mature disciples. As disciples are maturing, their needs will be addressed. People are being discipled strategically with the mission of the church always in mind. They are being matured so that they will become fully-mature believers who are personally living on-mission for Jesus Christ. No church can ignore its people’s needs if they are discipling them biblically, but that does not mean the church’s ministry expressions are driven by or centered upon those needs. Rather, believers are encouraged to allow the Spirit to transform them to align with the church’s mission in such a way that their needs are not paramount; the mission of the Lord is.

In the next post, I will discuss the various benefits of adopting an intentional theology of ministry.

Developing a Biblical Theology of Ministry – part 1

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So, you’re a church leader? Maybe you’re a pastor, pastoral staff, elder, deacon, or another church leader. Welcome to the club. I have a question for you. Do you know what God wants your church to do; what the church’s ministry ought to be? Have you developed your theology of ministry?

I’m here to tell you that you have already developed your theology of ministry, but is it the distinctly biblical theology of church ministry you ought to have? If you run the gamut of evangelical churches, what can be found is a plethora of mission and vision statements which do not accurately reflect the biblical mandate for the Church. Don’t get me wrong, many churches seem to be “doing church” very well and seem to be very healthy as they sponsor wide and varied ministries. However, in light of the biblical material concerning the purpose of the local Church, many are not doing church from a truly biblical foundation.

The past couple of decades have borne witness to various new ways of doing church. Many self-proclaimed church growth gurus and market analysts have given church leaders many hooks upon which to hang our hats, but have also popularized approaches to church and church growth which do not always reflect a purely biblical theology of ministry. The 21st century demands the reclamation of accurate and vibrant church ministry which is rooted firmly in a biblical theology of ministry. When I was in seminary, my systematic theology professor repeatedly said, “Doctrine determines behavior.” He was right. What we truly believe will determine how we behave. Speaking in church terms, what a pastor or key church leaders believes regarding the purpose of the church will determine that local church’s ministry practice; how they “do church.” Aubrey Malphurs correctly states, “A ministry based on clearly articulated core values drives a fixed stake into the ground that says to all, ‘This is what we stand for; this is what we are all about; this is who we are; this is what we can do for you.’ Thus, values are defining.” Knute Larsen voiced the dire need for the Church to have a clearly biblical and well-articulated theology of ministry when he wrote, “It is dangerous to the health of the church for ministry to be practiced without good foundations in Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.” Thus, it is incumbent upon the 21st century church leader to examine their ministry theology if they are going to accurately and clearly lead God’s people to live on mission and practice ministry that is distinctly biblical.

It would be naïve to presume every church does ministry the same way, or that the specific expressions of ministry should be identical. That would destroy the autonomy of the local church and its ability to meet the needs of its specific community. However, every local church should have a clearly identified and distinctly biblical theology of ministry. If our theology of church ministry is solidly based in Scripture, will not local churches mirror one another in purpose and complement one another in ministry expression much more tightly than we see today? I think so.

I have found there to be two basic extremes for determining the mission of the local church: modality and sodality. Often churches fall into the trap of being driven into doing ministry according to one or the other of these extremes. Both can be equally destructive to a church.

THE EXTREME OF MODALITY

Modality is a congregationally structured theology of ministry that is people oriented. That sounds good on the surface. However, it tends to focus on the social or familial concerns of the objects of ministry. In other words, the force driving the way ministry is done and why it is done stems from the desires and preferences of certain key individuals or groups within the church. Churches that advocate this theology of ministry often believe themselves to be most biblical in that they are purely congregational in their authority structure and govern themselves by like-mindedness consensus. The truth, more often than not, is less a like-minded and unified whole, but more governing by consensus as influenced by those with the strongest heritage ties to the church. Heritage ties can be anything that gives individuals or groups a sense of organic unity with the church (e.g. the amount of money given, the length of time in the church, family ties within the church, etc.). While loyalty to the Lord and His church is a good thing, sometimes heritage ties give certain individuals or groups the false sense that their opinions matter more than that of others. Churches advocating this type of theology of ministry normally place a high premium on biological growth and tend to be more maintenance minded and less evangelistically oriented. There is generally a low level of commitment and virtually non-existent discipline. Lyle Schaller states the basic problems with modality, “The larger the proportion of members who feel a sense of commitment because of heritage ties and the smaller the proportion who are tied-in through contemporary goals, the more difficult it is to attract new members and the more likely it is that new members will soon lapse into inactivity.” The sad part about modality driven churches is that they often do not even realize that’s how they are.

THE EXTREME OF SODALITY

Sodality is a mission structured theology of ministry that is very task-oriented. The unifying factor among those within this type of church is the task to be accomplished. The emphasis in churches advocating this theology of ministry is the work to be done. In some churches, this theology devolves into a fragmented, individualistic set of agendas – each of the various ministries of the church take on a life and importance of their own, according to the priorities or agendas of their leaders, without regard to the overall vision or mission of the church, if one exists. In other settings, a very cohesive, unified vision and mission of ministry exists, but is often task oriented. Sodality does produce like-minded churches in that they are generally governed by their common vision and focused on a common mission. However, a sodality minded theology of ministry tends to overlook the needs of the congregation and family. The benefits of sodality seem to be that churches of this mindset tend to be evangelistically oriented in growth and have a higher level of commitment and discipline. Sodality does tend to produce a positive self-perception among such congregations resulting in a higher allegiance and involvement factor. Congregations equipped for growth have a positive self-image. That is, the members have good feelings about their congregation. Congregations equipped for growth also have a positive identity. That is, members believe their congregation is special and they have something unique to offer.

Modality and sodality express the basic foundational elements underlying various theologies of ministry. They are the basic framework upon which some specific theologies of ministry express themselves. A better understanding of some specific theologies of ministry should help us better evaluate why we do ministry in the church the way we do it and determine whether we are doing ministry in the most God-glorifying way and for the best and most biblically oriented reasons.

Other Resources

Guest posts

From time to time, original links to good articles and resources will be posted here, so make sure to check here frequently.

 

7 Kinds of People You Can’t Afford to Keep in Leadership – Carey Nieuwhof

15 Different Types of Pastoral Leaders – Chuck Lawless

8 Idols Church Leaders Still Worship Today – Carey Nieuwhof

How to Renew Your Passion for Ministry – Dale Hudson

Dealing with People Who Resist Change – The Malphurs Group

10 Questions to Diagnose the Evangelistic Health of Your Church – Thom Rainer

Why the American Church Is at a Tipping Point – Thom Rainer

Dear Pastor, “Some People” Have Concerns (How to Respond to Anonymous Letters) – Jared C. Wilson

The Best and Most Biblical Way Keep Your Church ON Mission

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For far too long, pastors and church leaders have wrestled with keeping the people they lead on-mission. Any honest pastor and church leader should admit that Church’s mission is undeniably clear in Scripture: helping lost people, by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ, become saved people who are being discipled as growing, committed, reproducing followers of Jesus. We see the Church’s mission in what we commonly call the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). The Great Commission is the Church’s what; it’s the reason the Church exists and what the Church should be all about. Every local church shares the same what. But that doesn’t stop churches and people from getting off-mission.

Churches can get off-mission doing some pretty good things. The non-Christian French Enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire, is quoted as saying, “The best is the enemy of the good.” The thought is that the good is good enough; that the best is truly unachievable. So, why strive for the elusive best when the good is good enough? Sadly, too many churches unwittingly get off-mission chasing the good; not realizing God’s best is right in front of them. Churches do a lot of good things in pursuit of our common mission but can still get off-mission in the doing of it. Some churches adopt an event-oriented mindset. They host events to which people come and hope and pray that lost people in attendance respond to the truth about Jesus. This mindset has a good intention but can give the church the impression of being on-mission because people are busy and there are a lot of events happening. Too often, the event orientation is a smoke screen for a congregation that is off-mission.  Other churches attempt a programmatic style. Life, ministry, and evangelism are systematically organized around a set of church programs. Everyone is very busy with bible studies, discipleship programs, kids programs, youth programs, men’s, women’s, seniors’, etc., ad infinitum. For such churches, the realization of the mission is done programmatically. We will reach you, but only within a very tightly woven and intricate structure that seems to define church life.

There is nothing wrong with gospel-oriented events and certainly nothing wrong with strong church programs. In a sense, both events and programs can help a church achieve its mission, but more often than not they create a sense of being on-mission without the congregation being truly invested in the church’s mission.  Too often, an emphasis on programs and events give the illusion of being on-mission but in reality create a Field of Dreams scenario – “If you build it, they will come.” Most believers, and definitely their pastors, grow weary and frustrated by the plethora of events and programs without a clear biblical understanding of the how of our mission.

For many churches, being on-mission is equivalent to church growth. The constant tension between reaching and winning people for Jesus and wanting our churches to grow leads us to use evangelism and church growth (both in terminology and ideology) interchangeably. Many churches have evangelistic emphasis times when they host seminars, invite guest speakers, and try another of a million avenues to get the “average Joe” in the congregation to catch the vision for church growth; praying that will lead the congregation to live on-mission. In some instances, this kind of ideology has worked and churches have grown, but that does not allow us to escape the inherent truth that evangelism and church growth are not absolutely synonymous. This kind of mindset yields frustration in pastors, leaders, and people; creating undue pressure to measure ministry and mission success by the number of bodies in the building and the sustainability of the budget. Too many churches grasp at straws; trying everything they can think of to grow and expand their ministries.

Our misplaced emphases on events, programs, and church growth has led many to confuse our God-given what with our desire to see our churches grow, and gets us off-mission.

Church life and living on-mission do not need to be so confusing. Would it surprise you to know that God not only gave the Church her what but also her how? Scripture emphasizes a simple, organic, systemic, healthy, natural approach (a.k.a. how) to our mission (a.k.a. what). It starts with a vital belief in the personal truth that every individual who follows Jesus Christ has already been put on-mission by Him. This mission is to change our relational worlds with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Some call it the Oikos Principle.

Oikos

Oikos (οἶκος) is the Greek word meaning “extended household.” In relation to our mission, our oikos is:

  1. that group of 8-15 people with whom we share life most closely; whom God has supernaturally and strategically placed into our worlds so that we might see their worlds changed by Him. It is our sphere of greatest influence.
  2. the people for whom God wants to prepare us to become ideal instruments of His grace.
  3. a microcosm of the world at large, for whom God sent His Son – that all who place their faith in Christ would be delivered from the bondage of sin.
  4. the most natural and common environment for evangelism to occur.

Understanding the Oikos Principle causes us to view ourselves as world-changers – believers who actively and intentionally encourage people in our relational worlds (our respective oikos networks) to become followers of Christ (Acts 17:6). This principle leads us to become oikocentric – viewing those 8-15 people we do life with on a regular basis as our personal mission fields.

It’s an overwhelming task if you really think about it – changing THE world! Scripture never instructs the individual believer or the local church that it’s their responsibility to change THE world. Rather, it commands the believer to change HIS/HER world with the transforming truth of Jesus.

A Focus on World-Change

The Oikos Principle lets us think beyond the required process and focus on the desired outcome. We don’t define a challenge (e.g. our mission / the Great Commission) simply in terms of the tasks involved. Where’s the motivation in that? If a church emphasizes the tasks or processes as primary, then the church’s mission becomes nothing more than a simple “to do” list. The Church’s common mission, evangelizing the world, becomes nothing more than a series of programs or events to bring people in and grow our churches. The Church’s mission becomes introspective rather than outward focused. Churches design and execute great programs and events that allow Christians to check the box and assume they’ve done their duty to reach THE world, but sadly remain largely off-mission.

The Oikos Principle challenges the status quo and reorients our focus. When a church understands and teaches this biblical Principle, individual believers will come to realize it is their mission to personally reach their individual oikos networks (those 8-15 people with whom they do life with on a regular basis) and see their worlds changed by the gospel of Jesus. This will become what motivates them even more than a successful event, dynamic program, or hoards more in worship. Embracing the Oikos Principle is embracing a way of life that seeks authentic, organic world-change – one person’s world at a time – and causes us to see the people God has supernaturally and strategically placed in our oikos networks as our mission fields. Living the Oikos Principle is messy business. Truly investing in the lives of those in our oikos networks gets messy, ugly, and draining. But that’s where real world-change happens.

Getting the big picture helps us understand why embracing the Oikos Principle is so important. The world’s 5.3 billion people are divided into approximately 24,000 people groups. Of those 24,000 groups, 12,000 are “reached” –cultures where a viable indigenous church movement has been established. On the other hand, 12,000 people groups, comprising some 2.2 billion individuals, do not yet have a viable Christian representation. These groups include 4,000 Muslim people groups, 3,000 Tribal people groups, 2,000 Hindu people groups, 1,000 Chinese people groups, 1,000 Buddhist people groups, 1,000 other people groups – all with virtually no true gospel presence. Let’s face it; there has never been a believer who has had a global presence influential enough to reach every person on the planet with the gospel, and there never will be. That’s because God hasn’t tasked us with reaching the entire world; He’s tasked us with reaching our individual worlds.

The Great Commission texts (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:8) command every believer to be about the business of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples within his own world and to the ends of the earth. Living on-mission – reaching the whole world and changing it with the gospel – means reaching our own oikos networks – those 8-15 people God has supernaturally and strategically placed in your sphere of influence with whom we do life on a regular basis – and seeing their worlds changed by the gospel.

The Purpose of the Church

The Oikos Principle changes the focus of the local church. No longer are the people who attend the church viewed as tools to grow the church, because the Oikos Principle isn’t about church growth per se. The church becomes what God intended her to be; a vehicle whereby believers are equipped, encouraged and held accountable so that they can be more effective in living on-mission and reaching their respective oikos networks. Rather than viewing the church as an upward-trending pyramid where people feed into the organization of the church to make its ministries bigger and budget more stable; the church is seen as a downward-channeling funnel where people are equipped and sent out into their relational worlds to see them changed by the power of God. The focus of ministries and programs shifts from being self-feeding to equipping. The church becomes a facilitator that hosts a relatively smaller scope of events that are more streamlined to give believers opportunities to bring their oikos networks into contact with others who can help them know the truth.

The Oikos Principle is not just another church program or kitschy evangelism methodology. The Great Commission was given to individual believers. The New Testament Church is responsible for the Great Commission only in so much as it is comprised of individual believers. It’s not the Church’s, pastor’s, elders’, deacons’, etc. job to reach every believer’s oikos network for them. That mission is every believer’s personal mission from God. The essence of the gospel is personal. In a very real sense, God is oikocentric. God created mankind, we sinned, and He reached out to the people He created by sending His one and only Son, Jesus, to become one of us so that He might die to save us. It doesn’t get more oikocentric than that!

When a local church learns, adopts, and practices the biblical Oikos Principle, she is helping every individual believer live on-mission. When every individual believer of a local church is living on-mission then the entire church is on-mission.

If you’d like to more about the Oikos Principle or desire a consult in how to teach your church the Oikos Principle, please fill out the contact request on the contact page. We’d love to help you get and keep your church on-mission.

How to Kill Your Church (pt 2)

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I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel– not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor. 1:10-17 NIV)

In Part 1 of this 2-part article, I espoused that church attenders kill their churches when they fail to respond properly to the leaders God has placed over them – their pastors and elders. That, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Mistreating and failing to respond properly to church leaders is often symptomatic of deeper heart problems in churches. Mistreating one’s church leaders is often what is seen most visibly; like the top 10% of an iceberg. It’s the problem that eventually surfaces above the water and gets noticed, at least by the church’s leaders. Like icebergs, 90% of an unhealthy church’s problems lurk beneath the surface and stalk in the shadows where they are known to exist but are much less obviously seen.

Suicide can be defined as “the intentional causing of one’s own death.” Self-inflicted death can be determined to be “accidental,” but technically suicide is an intentional action on a person’s own part against themselves that results in their death. Sadly, churches that allow certain sins to become deep-seated parts of their under-the-surface culture are committing church suicide.

Churches almost always die as a result of actions taken against themselves.

What does that mean? The treatment of Church leaders is a contributing factor in churches becoming unhealthy and dying, but Christians’ actions toward each other (under the surface) is almost always the number one factor in churches becoming unhealthy and dying.

The Apostle Paul dealt with this in one of the unhealthiest churches we see in the New Testament – Corinth. It’s interesting to note the typically Pauline sentiments missing in the opening statements of a very lengthy letter to a very unhealthy church in 1 Corinthians 1. The typical Pauline platitudes and niceties found in many of Paul’s other epistles are suspiciously absent in the first 9 verses of chapter 1. Rather than commend them on anything, Paul dives right into the church’s problems. He doesn’t pussyfoot around either but gets right to the heart of the matter. What was Corinth’s biggest problem? Simply put, it was the Corinthians themselves – they were the problem that was killing their church.

What Paul decries in his first epistle to the Corinthians is too often played out in various ways in modern churches. What were the Corinthians guilty of that was killing their church that is so often seen under the surface in churches around America today?

Disregard Body Unity

Repeatedly, the New Testament commands believers to be unified (Eph 4:3, 11-13; Jn 17:23; Rom 12:16; et. al.). Unity is how we think and feel about each other. It’s how we perceive each other that bleeds over into how we treat each other in the Church. Unity is a fragile thing that is all-too-often easily broken by some selfishness of the heart and mind.

The sin of personal preference

When church attenders lapse into focusing on their personal preferences over Body unity they will fracture the Body. This is seen in the consumer mindset with which so many believers approach their churches. Paul, writing to Timothy, spoke of the coming day when “people will not put up with sound doctrine” but will make church about “suiting their own desires” (2 Tim 4:3). It’s interesting to note the context of Paul’s statement. He is not speaking about those outside the church who desire their own preferences above sound doctrine, but those within it. They develop “itching ears;” a craving to hear what they want to hear – to get out of church what they want. These church attendees approach church from the perspective of what they can experience, the information they can learn, the encouragement they can receive, etc. They want things their way and are at church to get rather than give.

The spiritual cousin to a consumer mindset of “What can I get out of church” is the perspective of personal needs. Those who approach church from this perspective come to the church with the presupposition of getting their needs met. When that doesn’t happen, church leaders here “My needs just aren’t getting met here” as they exit to the church down the street. What these believers fail to understand is that the Church does not exist to meet our needs. Yes, those within the Body of Christ are supposed to help, encourage, admonish one another, but that’s often not what these believers mean. Every time the New Testament refers to an individual believer insisting on his or her needs being met it’s with a negative connotation. These individuals are very self-absorbed in their needs and fail to see how they should be investing to help the rest of the Body.

A third prominent faction of those who disregard Body unity is seen among those who make church about what they like. They want worship, liturgy, message, ministries, etc. tailored to their particular likes and personal preferences. Scripture knows nothing of the church ever being about personal preferences. The worship wars of the last few decades is evidence of such a sinful mindset. Paul rebuts this mindset in Romans 14. He says that those who get grumpy or touchy about personal preferences – seeking to impose them on the rest of the Body – are spiritually weak. In fact, the whole problem in Romans 14 is personal preference. Those who lapse into the weakness of personal preference make issues where there is not clear right or wrong altars upon which they will gladly sacrifice others for the sake of their preferences. They fail to approach the rest of the Body with mutual grace and latitude (Rom 14:10) that should characterize Christians.

When believers approach the local church from the mindset of getting something out of it, having their needs met, or seeing their personal preferences reign supreme, they are selfishly disregarding Body unity and killing the church.

The sin of individual isolation

There is another subset of individuals who disregard Body unity; those who want to live in individual isolation. These are those believers who come to church but do not purposefully contribute to the health and effectiveness of the Body on-mission.

The Church is always spoken of as a cohesive whole comprised of individual parts. The metaphors of body (1 Cor 12:27), building (1 Cor 3:9, 16), and family (1 Pet 2:17) underscore this truth. As all three of these metaphors are wholes made up of parts, so is the Church and so is every local church.  Jesus never designed His disciples to function in isolation of one another (1 Cor 12:7). When believers seek to slip in and slip out of church; seldom or never engaging the rest of the Body in ministry, they hobble the whole church (1 Cor 12:18-26) and keep the church from becoming the mature, stable Body Jesus wants it to be (Eph 4:13-14).

When believers approach the church from the perspective of individual isolation – slipping in and out without committing to developing strong relationships with and ministering alongside of the rest of the Body they are killing their local churches.

The Corinthians did this masterfully. They were fractured in the way they looked at each other and the church and were among some of the most selfish people mentioned in the New Testament.

Destroy Body Harmony

Here I am not using unity and harmony synonymously but differentiating between them. While unity speaks to how the church attendees view each other, harmony is how they treat and interact with one another.

Handle interpersonal conflict wrongly

Put two people in the same room long enough and they will clash with each other over something. Every believer is a sinner who’s been redeemed but still struggles with his fleshly sinful desires. Because of this, there will be interpersonal conflict among people in the local church (Rom 12:16, 18). Let’s take it a step further. Not only are we guaranteed to have interpersonal conflict, but we may very well sin against each other at times too. Our sin and selfishness are bound to make us rub each other the wrong way at times in the Body of Christ. We’re human and should expect it.

The problem comes not so much in the conflict as it does in how we handle it. Church people often create greater issues by mishandling conflict. Rather than approach one another from the vantage of mutual love and peace, we strike out at each other. When we love each other like Christ loves us, we won’t be so sensitive to the hurts inflicted by others (Jn 13:34).

The key to handling conflict in the church is to let peace take precedence over offense. We should see conflict as our opportunity to show grace (Gal 2:11-12 w/ 2 Pet 3:14-16). Therefore, we should not run from conflict with each other, but run to one another in love to resolve conflict and restore harmony quickly.

Sin too is to be handled from the position of mutual forgiveness and restoration (Matt 18:15-16; 5:23-24). Christ outlines how to handle intentional sin against you by a brother in the church in Matthew 18. The problem is too many believers want to use Jesus’ teaching as a means of revenge rather than the method of relational reconciliation He intended it to be (Matt 18:15, 21-22; 2 Thess 3:13-15).

When church people handle interpersonal conflict and sin selfishly, it destroys Body harmony. We cease to function as the cohesive unit Jesus designed us to be. Left lurking under the surface matters of Body unity and harmony will fracture a church and kill it by breeding discord, and bitterness. The Corinthians were guilty of this. Sadly, so are too many local churches today.

 Dive into Character Assassinations

When we leave the epistle to the Corinthians and broaden the scope of our investigation, we find that the New Testament reveals other ways believers hurt one another and kill their local churches.

 Lying to and/or about each other

You might think that Christians, those who claim to love and follow Jesus Christ, would never lie to or about another believer, but it happens more than we’d like to admit. Paul tells the Colossian believers, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Col. 3:9 NIV). The way Paul phrases the command can legitimately be translated, “Stop lying to each other.” There is no reason for Paul to state it this way unless the Colossians had a problem with lying to one another. Believers should be different than nonbelievers in this area. When we lie to or about one another we are killing our churches from the inside-out.

Gossiping about each other

Gossip does severe harm to the health and well-being of local churches. It is a church-killer that cannot and should not be tolerated among the ranks of believers. Sadly, gossip is often masked and difficult to spot. It hides under the guise of sharing, prayer requests, and concerns that are expressed to anyone other than the person to whom they should be expressed. When expressed to or about leadership, gossips too often cloak their bile in mantles of “Someone said…”, “People are saying…”, etc. without disclosing any names so issues can be properly addressed. Scripture likens gossip to cancer that spreads throughout the body and kills it (2 Tim 2:16-17). Gossip tears down the Body of Christ (Eph 4:29), reveals that the gossiper is off-mission and has way too much time on their hands (1 Tim 5:13), and puts the gossiper in the place of God; determining what’s lawful and what’s not (Jas 4:11). Because of its insidious nature and overwhelmingly harmful outcomes, gossip is a church-killer that cannot go unchecked.

Slandering one another’s character

Similar to lying to and or about one another and gossiping about each other, Christians contribute to the death of their churches when they slander each other’s character. Scripture sees a case of this in several places where slander is listed among the sins Christians are to avoid or are guilty of (e.g. 2 Cor 12:20). Quite literally, slander is blaspheming the character of another person. It is speaking evilly, abusively, or insultingly about a fellow believer. Often, Scripture links slander with anger, wrath and malice indicating a serious heart problem on the slanderer’s part. It is routinely used as a form of vindictive revenge that should be avoided among the redeemed. Slander is horrible church-killer that no believer should be guilty of using.

Holding grudges against each other

At some point, every believer is going to be offended by or sinned against by another church attender. If we hold grudges and harbor anger and resentment in our hearts, we are not only hurting ourselves but killing the entire Body. None of us has the authority to hold grudges or revenge ourselves against anyone; that’s God’s job (Rom 12:19-20). When we hold grudges against our Christian family we fail to exercise true Christlike forgiveness (Eph 4:31-32; Col 3:12-13) and hinder the church’s gospel mission (Jas 1:20). Those who hold grudges often devolve into the other aforementioned sins, so this too is a viable church-killer.

Making powerplays against church leaders

This could easily be included in Part 1 of this topic, but I wanted to explore it from a different vantage here.

The Apostle John dealt with a professing believer named Diotrephes who was guilty of this exact sin (3 Jn 9-11). Diotrephes was apparently undercutting the recognized leadership of the church in order to put himself in a position of influence so that he could move the church in the direction he desired. John chided him for “spreading malicious nonsense” about him and his entourage, refusing to welcome other believers who perhaps came from other churches, and hindering those within his own church from welcoming visitors to the point of putting them out of the fellowship if they did. These kinds of powerplays show a lack of faith in God for the leaders He puts over the local church This kind of conduct will fracture church unity and obstruct the mission of the church; killing any church it infects if left unchecked.

When church attenders delude themselves into believing they are helping the church by tearing down their brothers and sisters through subversive or blatant character assassinations, they are in truth doing the opposite. They are not helping the church. Rather, they are killing it from within.

 Disengage from Body Cooperation

There is a much more common and passive way church attenders kill local churches. They simply disengage from cooperating with the rest of the Body in active, faithful, reliable ministry. Without even realizing it, these believers contribute to their church’s demise in two seemingly innocuous ways.

 Ignore the common mission

The local church is like a train. Each attendee can be thought of as a car in the line. We are each connected to each other in a push-pull relationship to help each other move down the tracks. The engine is the Holy Spirit who empowers the train to move down the tracks going from where it is to where it needs to be. Jesus, as the Head of the Church, is the engineer who determines where the train should go. The tracks are the believer’s common mission – the Great Commission, the ministry of reconciliation (Matt 28:19-20; 2 Cor 5:18-19). Just like any train, the engineer guides the train along its journey under the power the engine provides. He determines the destination and route. The cars work in tandem, each connected to each other in a symbiotic transference of the engine’s power to move each other forward down the tracks. If one care separates from the others disaster can strike. The tracks, however, are integral in the formula. Without solid tracks upon which to run, the train wouldn’t go anywhere.

When believers who are part of a local church choose to disengage from the mission of the church, the whole train can derail (Phil 1:14-17). One believer’s resistance to the church’s mission puts a drag on every “car” attached to him. Should that one believer jump the tracks entirely, he can derail the whole church.

 Do absolutely nothing

Seems harmless to do nothing, doesn’t it? When the local church is in view, doing nothing is dangerous. God created the Church, and its local manifestation, to function like a body (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12). As such, every part has a role to play to keep the body healthy and working effectively. Every part is necessary to the health and well-being of the whole. When a believer sits back and refuses to get involved in the mission and ministry of the church the rest of the Body hurts (1 Cor 12:14-21). Just like being a perpetual “couch potato” can kill your physical body, doing nothing can kill a church.

 Conclusion

When a church gets unhealthy and enters the throes of death, it is almost always a result of dissension against the leaders God has given the Church and how the parts of the Body treat one another. You see, when we disregard our unity and value personal preference and individualism over the whole we are killing our churches. When we destroy our harmony by mishandling interpersonal conflict and sin and start attacking each other we are killing our churches. When we simply sit back and do nothing – attend in spotty spurts and refuse to engage the mission with the rest of the Body we are killing our churches.

The answer is not to abandon the church. It’s never to stay away or find another place to go. No, the answer is to commit to the local church’s common mission over preference, to treat each other with the same love Christ has given to us and use everything God has given us to join together to see His mission realized.

Do that and this church will not only survive; it will thrive beyond your wildest imaginations. Don’t do it and you’re contributing to the death of your local church.

How to Kill Your Church (pt. 1)

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Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…17Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. 18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19 I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon…22Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly. 23 I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. 25 Grace be with you all. (Heb. 13:7, 17-19, 22-25 NIV)

According to a 2018 statistic given by Thom Rainer at LifeWay Research, 6,000-10,000 evangelical churches are dying annually in America. On the low end of the spectrum, that represents 100-200 churches weekly.[1] According to a little older statistic from the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute on Church Leadership, those churches are being replaced by new church plants at a rate of approximately 1:4 (25%).[2] Meaning, for every 6,000 churches that close, only 1,500 new churches are planted each year. If they hold true, this does not bode well for American evangelicalism.

I am left to ask the question “Why?” Why are so many churches sick and dying? Why do so many close their doors? As a church consultant, I’ll be the first to admit there are nearly as many specific reasons as there are churches that close. No two churches are identical, no two in the same situation, and no two have exactly the same specific reasons for closing.

That being true, there are a few underlying issues that come to light frequently and predictably that contribute to why churches are unhealthy and so many are dying.

The first and often most ignored is the church’s leadership…but it’s not in the way you think. Recently, evangelicalism has seen men like Bill Hybels and James MacDonald leave the pastorate under allegations of misconduct. You might be tempted when you read that leadership is an issue underlying poor church health and dying churches, that I would lead with the poor health of its leaders and blame pastors for the demise of local churches. You would be wrong. I love pastors. I am a pastor. While it’s true pastors do fail and should be rightly removed from ministry when they do, that’s not the biggest issue surrounding church leadership in today’s churches.

We live in a highly transparent society. Everything is reported, often inaccurately, on social media in a blitzkrieg of information so rapidly no one has time to keep up. The same is true when pastors fall into sin. Before anyone can blink, a pastor’s failure has been analyzed, redressed, and splattered over social media almost instantly. The failures of a few are marginalizing the whole. Pew Research has demonstrated that pastors are waning in how the American society at large views them. They are considered less trustworthy and less beneficial to society by the year.[3] Thus, the failure of the minority of pastors has tarnished the reputations of the rest of us.

The declining esteem in which pastors were once held has had a severely negative impact on the health of local churches. In fact, it is this that has become the number one way a church member can kill a church.

You will kill your church if you respond improperly to the leaders God has given you.

Any local church that intends to be healthy and effective must respond biblically to the leaders God has given it.

What then does the Bible say about how church leaders ought to be treated?

Before I can treat the topic at hand, I need to build a fence or two. When I refer to church leaders, I am not predominantly referring to a church’s deacons but to her elders. I understand that each denomination and every local church has particular duties for their officers, be they deacons, elders or both. For the purposes of this topic, I want to distinguish between the office of deacon and elder and stick with the biblical material regarding both.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on the elders are the leaders of the church not the deacons for several reasons. Most biblical scholars trace the origin of the office of deacon to Act 6. At that time, deacons were established as a servant-support role, not as the primary leadership role of the local church. The New Testament further gives servant oriented qualifications when it speaks to the role of deacons (cf. Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim 3:8-13) and never gives general oversight or direct leadership responsibilities to deacons.

Conversely, elders were given by God to be the leaders of the local church. The New Testament uses three [3] synonymous terms for elders that express the leadership nature of their office. The first, and most commonly used term, πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros – trans. “elder”), is a general term that refers to one who has the responsibility to preside over an assembly of people. The second, and next most commonly used term, ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos – trans. “overseer/bishop”), refers to one who oversees, supervises, or is responsible for the work and well-being of others. The third, and least commonly used term, ποιμήν (poimen – trans. “pastor”) refers to one who assumes the leadership over a group of people like a shepherd leads a flock of sheep. All three of these taken together denote a definitively leadership oriented role for the office we commonly call elder. How does the vocational pastors fit into this scheme. From Scripture, it appears the pastors were among the group of elders and functioned as primus inter pares (“first among equals”).

So the question becomes, how can improperly responding to the leadership of your church, in particular the church’s elders/pastors, kill a local church? How is it that people improperly respond to their leadership?

Fail to Understand the Responsibilities Your Leaders Bear.

Pastors and elders have God-given burdens to bear that most in the church do not. Not every member of the church has been called and gifted to lead the church, but Christ has chosen some who are. These leaders bear the responsibility to live and lead from a vantage God does not call every believer to, and deserve understanding, grace, and honor from those they are called to lead. These leadership-specific responsibilities can be summarized as follows.

Pastors and elders have the serious God-given responsibility to lead the Lord’s people (1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17). Their leadership mandate requires them to have a clear biblical picture of the church’s God-given mission and vision, to communicate that mission and vision clearly and repeatedly to the congregation, and to lead the church to effectively engage and commit to the completion of that mission so that they church remains healthy and on-mission.

 Pastors and elders are responsible to model spiritual growth to God’s people (1 Tim 4:16; Acts 20:28). This requires that they live with a view of answering to God someday (Heb 13:17), maintain a good conscience before others (Heb 13:18), model a life of personal dependence on God (Heb 13:7, 18, 20-21), and be willing to lead God’s people through self-sacrifice (Heb 13:23).

Pastors and elders are responsible to model unity to the congregation. They are to work together with each other in unity. One might notice that the writer of Hebrews consistently uses leaders in the plural as does Paul and other New Testament writers; indicating the expectation of a plurality of pastors/elders to lead the church (Heb 13:17, 23-24). It’s easy to work in unity when there is only a singular church leader, but a group of leaders must work together in a unified, harmonious team. As the pastors and elders do so, this models how the larger Body of Christ is to work and live with each other.

 Pastors and elders are also responsible to help each believer personally live on-mission. The writer of Hebrews says they “keep watch” over the believers’ spiritual conditions (Heb 13:17). That term, “keep watch” means “to say awake, to watch over, to guard” as one might stand guard over a flock of sheep or over a city against invaders. They keep watch over God’s people by faithfully teaching them God’s truth (Heb 13:7, 22; 1 Tim 5:17), encouraging them to live for Christ joyfully (Heb 13:17), and emphasizing God’s grace at work in them (Heb 13:25).

These responsibilities are born by no other group in the Church. God takes ordinary believers whom He qualifies and gives them Divine authority to lead His people. This authority does not come without a high Divine responsibility. God calls pastors and elders to live with higher responsibilities and expectations than anyone else in the Church, and these responsibilities can become burdensome. When church members fail to recognize and appreciate the responsibilities their leaders bear, they will take them for granted, perhaps grow bitter against them, and can very well lapse into mistreating their pastors and elders openly.

Failing to recognize the burdens pastors and elders bear is the first step in killing your local church.

Fail to Respond Properly to Your Leaders’ Efforts.

As I said above, pastors and elders have been tasked with the leadership of God’s people and with that task comes great and sometimes burdensome responsibilities. And yet, God does not call men into leadership without granting them His Divine authority to lead. Because pastors and elders bear God’s stamp of authority over His people, they can become tempted to rule them harshly as demigods. This is why Peter admonishes the elders to treat God’s people tenderly and to not lord their authority over the church (1 Pet 5:2-3).

When a church is unhealthy and dying, church members will use Peter’s pastoral admonition as an excuse to misapply what it means to be a servant-leader. They will emphasize the servant aspect and overlook the truth that pastors and elders are their Divinely authorized and empowered leaders. God’s empowering of pastors and elders to lead expects certain responses from His people. When God’s people fail to respond properly to His Divinely empowered leaders, they are inadvertently killing their churches.

How, then, do God’s people respond improperly to their pastors and elders?

When God’s people fail to faithfully obey their pastors and elders they are killing their church. Hebrews 13:17 commands God’s people to “have confidence in” their leaders. This is a poor translation. The grammar in this clause expects the verb to be translated “obey”. The writer of Hebrews expands on his expectation of obedience by detailing why. There are eternal repercussions for disobeying your pastors and elders. Hebrews states that pastors and elders keep watch over believers’ souls and will one day make a report (give an account) to Jesus about you. Every believer will one day stand before Jesus and give an account for their lives. I may be surmising here, but I believe when we do every pastor and elder under whose leadership we found ourselves throughout our lives will be called up to report on how we obeyed their leadership, followed their example, obeyed their instruction, etc. The writer of Hebrews says that if you make your leaders’ jobs hard, joyless and burdensome that there will be eternal consequences for you. The term translated burden refers to a sigh or groan in response to dissatisfaction in a relationship. It’s the idea of “Oh, no. Not that person again!” When the writer of Hebrews says that it will be no benefit to you, the term means “to suffer something, to not be in one’s best interest, to experience harmful results of one’s actions.” Thought the New Testament is not specific about what loss will be suffered, it is clear that the consequences of making your pastors’ and elders’ jobs difficult and burdensome will result in unpleasant consequences in Eternity.

When God’s people fail to routinely and regularly pray for their pastors and elders they are killing their churches. God’s people should be praying for their leaders to be spiritually protected and fruitful in their ministry to them (Rom 15:30-31). They should be praying that their leaders would have boldness in declaring God’s truth to them and the gospel to the lost (Eph 6:19; Col 4:3-4). They should be praying that their leaders would be able to handle difficult situations in the church without compromise (Heb 13:18). And finally, they should be praying that their leaders would be delivered from circumstances outside of their control that would distract them from their leadership responsibilities (Heb 13:19). When God’s people are praying specifically for their pastors and elders they will more readily want to honor and obey them and their leaders will more joyfully and easily be able to serve them. This promotes unity and health. Failing to do so sickens and kills the church.

When God’s people fail to intentionally love their pastors and elders they are killing their churches. Hebrews 13:24 commands God’s people to “greet” their leaders. That word means “to embrace affectionately, to be fond of, to be friendly toward.” This is so much more than merely saying “Hello” on Sunday morning. In days gone by, pastors and elders were born and raised in the communities they served. Many served in the churches in which they were raised. In our 21st century American culture, that is not the case. Often, churches call pastors to lead them from miles away. These people and their families must relocate and replant themselves in a new community and a new culture with which they are unfamiliar. They do not know the local expectations or customs, are most likely unrelated to the people they are leading and have the dubious honor of living up to unforeseen expectations. This is hard on pastors and their families. Many pastors, pastors’ wives and children struggle to fit in, build truly transparent friendships and really feel as though they belong. It is imperative, in our modern culture more than at any other time in Church history, that God’s people make an intentional effort to include their leaders as part of their body; loving them as they love each other and never treating them like outsiders. This is best accomplished when God’s people intentionally partner with their leaders on-mission (Col 4:10-14; Phil 1:3-6), stand with them in good times and bad (Phil 1:7; 2 Tim 4:10), and commit to growing personally closer to Jesus in response to their leaders’ teaching (Phil 1:8-11).

When God’s people faithfully submit to and obey their pastors and elders, routinely pray for them, and intentionally love and include them, it breeds harmony, unity, cohesion and health. When God’s people fail to do so, either purposefully or neglectfully, they are killing their churches.

 CONCLUSION

One could easily say that the best way to kill a church is when its leaders are not leading biblically. In fact, most often when congregants are disgruntled or leave a church they cite the leaders’ or pastor as the scapegoat. It’s almost always a problem of leadership and blame routinely gets assigned to church leaders. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not perfect. No pastor or elder is perfect. Pastors and elders are going to make mistakes just like every other believer – that’s a given.

That said, the writer of Hebrews approaches church leadership from the basic presumption that your leaders love and serve Jesus and want what is best for the churches they lead. They’re sacrificing to see God’s mission advanced and desire nothing more than for the church God has them leading and the people they’ve been called to lead to live on-mission. Most often, pastors and elders serve their churches out of hearts overflowing with love for their Savior and His people.

Furthermore, I find it interesting that the New Testament gives more admonitions about how a leader is to be treated and examples of leaders being mistreated than it does of leaders being worldly or mistreating God’s people. The Church is the Body of Christ. Christ is head of the Body, but He has given leaders to His church as gifts to lead them, help them, and keep them on-mission. If church people mistreat their leaders by not respecting their role as God-given responsible leaders, by not obeying them and submitting to their leadership, by not praying for them and by not loving them they will their church.

You don’t always have to agree with every decision your leaders make or direction they lead. But, if you recognize that they were given to you as gifts by God and if they are qualified leaders who love God and His people and are being faithful to lead as they have been tasked, then you can trust them.  When churches and their leaders are unified in this way, it’s almost impossible for Satan to infiltrate the Church and wreak havoc. When pastors and elders are mistreated, the doors are wide-open to the Enemy.

[1] https://factsandtrends.net/2018/01/16/hope-for-dying-churches/

[2] http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=42346

[3] http://www.pewforum.org/2013/07/11/public-esteem-for-military-still-high/

The Church: Purpose & Mission

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So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13 NIV)

INTRODUCTION:

Nearly every American with a TV or radio who was born before 1980 remembers the 1970s era McDonald’s Big Mac jingle. “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.” Would it surprise you to learn that this particular Big Mac ad campaign lasted only 1 ½ years but was on the minds of many McDonald’s patrons well into the 1980s.

The Big Mac advertising campaigns of the 70s and 80s reinforced an idea embedded in the McDonald’s restaurant culture – McDonald’s food, specifically the Big Mac, really satisfies.

We in America live in a McCulture today that has given rise to the McChurch culture. Christians, church attendees, want quick bites that taste good and fill them up for the moment. They want prepackaged, instant Christianity that can be assimilated quickly and at our convenience, that makes them feel good. One must question whether a steady diet of such things is truly spiritually healthy. The McChurch mentality should cause us to question whether we who know Christ and are committed to being part of His Body really know what the Church is here for.

Too often, church attendees complicate the Church by making it about personal preferences, enjoyment, or even fulfillment. Attendees go where they like what is sung, what the preacher says, and how they feel when they leave. The Church, by and large, lacks clarity on its existence. The Church doesn’t exist meet our needs or give us a weekly warm fuzzy.

The Church exists to equip believers to live on mission.

If the local church is going to be a healthy, thriving, God-glorifying part of the Church, then it’s imperative that church leaders, pastors, and congregants understand why the Church exists.

What is the mission and purpose of the Church? It may seem like this question has been asked and answered so many times that it has become trite. Yet, there is a surge within evangelical Christianity to redefine the mission and purpose of the church around something Scripture does not delineate.

Let us then return to the question at hand. What is the mission and purpose of the Church? In order to answer this question in the positive, one must first look at what the Church’s purpose and mission is not.

  The Church Is Not a Cultural Change Agent

There are 2 things the Church cannot and should not be about that are popular in American Christianity today. Firstly, the Church does not exist to affect social justice. Social justice is a very fluid concept. Its definition really depends on who is speaking; making it very hard to pin down. That said, the current American Christian perspective that seems to be pervading the Church is that it is the Church’s responsibility, even mandated mission, to stand for and defend societal equity for all people; to champion basic human rights and equalities for all people. This theology can be seen in a plethora of places and a variety of expressions. The problem with an emphasis on social justice as the Church’s mission and purpose comes to light when a social mandate is compared to Scripture. Then it becomes clear that social justice is a theological mismatch with Scriptural truth.

Some might object citing Jesus in defense of a social justice mission or purpose for the Church. However, Jesus’ mission was never to institute a cultural revolution of social justice. Jesus was born into the poor, working class of 1st century Judaism. Yet, a thorough examination of Jesus’ teachings will not support His making statements or taking steps to correct or repair the unjust social inequities of His day. There are those who would reference Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 while at the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk 4:18-19). It is true that Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2 and that the passage is a prophecy of what the Messianic kingdom would be. However, it is worth noting that Jesus stops short of reading the second half of verse 2, let alone the rest of the context in verses 3-11. It is verses 2b-11 that helped to lead the Jews of Jesus’ day to expect the Messiah to bring salvation for all of Israel (1-2a) and execute judgment against the social inequities perpetrated against Israel. What Israel failed to perceived that so many within the Church miss is that Jesus’ messianic work is a 2-act drama. His first advent was about the securing of salvation for sinners (cf. Jn 3:16-17; Lk 19:10), while His second advent and establishment of His full kingdom will see the implementation of absolute social justice (cf. Matt 5:1-19). It is further interesting to note that after reading verses 1-2a, Jesus sat down and told them “Today this Scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing (Lk 4:21).

Not only did Jesus never claim His mission to be anything akin to social justice, but His actual ministry was also never to rectify social injustices. Those who disagree at this juncture often cite Jesus’ feeding 4,000 and 5,000 (Matt 14:14-21; 15:32-38), His healing the sick, lame, deaf, mute, blind, etc. (Matt 15:30-31; Lk 6:18-19), and His other works which seem to be socially oriented. What too often gets forgotten is the purpose behind Jesus’ miraculous works. Jesus’ miraculous works such as these were intentional. They validated His claims to be the true Messiah and engendered genuine faith in those who saw them (Isa 35:5-6). They were never intended as expressions of a social justice agenda. If Jesus’ works modeled a social justice mission and purpose for His followers then either Jesus was a dismal failure or social justice was not His mission in the first place. That sounds harsh, but the truth is when Jesus finished His earthly ministry and ascended to heaven, nothing had changed societally from His being here. The poor were still poor, the sick and disabled still suffered, and the social inequities of His day still raged on.

What then is the Church to do? We should turn to the mission Jesus gave the Church; a mission which is not about social justice. Jesus proclaimed His mission as coming to seek for and redeem the lost (Lk 19:10). The mission He gave His disciples was to take the message of redemption (aka the gospel) to the ends of the earth; calling sinners to repentance and faith in Him (Matt 28:19-20; Mk 16:14-18; Lk 24:44-49; Jn 20:19-23; Acts 1:4-8). If fixing the social injustices in our culture was mandated at all, let alone a primary mandate for the disciples, it stands to reason Jesus would have included some aspect of it in the Great Commission.

It further stands true that the apostolic Church, which so literally and ardently embraced the mission Jesus gave them, would have intentionally sought to affect social change. The problem is, the apostolic Church did not embrace a social justice mandate. The early Church faced the same social justice issues facing the Church today: race (1 Cor 7:17-19; 12:13; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11), slavery (1 Cor 7:20-22; Eph 6:5-9), poverty (Rom 15:26; 1 Tim 5:3; Jas 1:27; 2:2-6; 1 Jn 3:17-18), and gender discrimination (Eph 5:21-33; 1 Pet 3:1-9; Rom 16:1-5; 1 Cor 1:11; Col 4:15; Acts 16:14-15, 40). Nowhere do the apostles command believers to engage their culture in an effort to fix these social issues. It would be unfair not to admit that the natural outgrowth of the gospel with is emphases on believers being one body and one family of God inherently improved these issues within the Church, but that does not prove that the Church intentionally engaged their culture or attempted to rectify society in general. Rather than lobby for racial equality outside of the Body of Christ, the apostles declared that race was a non-issue inside the Church. Rather than demand an end to slavery, the apostles entreated Christian slave owners to treat their slaves as their brothers in Christ and slaves to be loyal to their masters; serving them as they would Christ. Yet, no mandate to free slaves is ever given. The Church had no manded financial equity either. Rather, those believers who were rich were to help those who were poor and the poor were to work for what they needed. When it comes to gender equality, no other “religion” on earth has valued women as much as Christianity. Repeatedly, the apostolic writings see women in influential and leadership roles. Rather than treated as property, women were to be treated with honor. All of this is true inside the Church, but one cannot find a mandate for the church to affect social change in general, nor is it part and parcel with the gospel.

The Church is not a political agenda engine

American evangelicalism has spent the last several decades advancing a conservative political agenda. In some quarters and at some churches it seems like the pulpit is a weekly stump speech and the congregation spends more time lobbying for conservative agendas than engaging in their gospel mission. It’s a dangerous trap into which too many churches fall. Scriptural truth ought to drive our thinking and actions on this point.

Jesus never sought to advance any political agenda. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day sought a very political Messiah, but Jesus routinely refused to take part in a political debate. Two events in Jesus’ life and ministry illustrate His lack of political interest. In Matthew 22:17-21, the Jews sought to entrap Jesus by asking Him whether it was right for them to pay taxes to Caesar. By way of background, it should be noted that Jewish coinage contained no engraved human likeness for fear of violating the commandment not to worship any idols or engraved images. Rather than fall into their trap, Jesus asked to see a coin. Having ascertained that Caesar’s image was on the coin, Jesus forthrightly supported being submissive to the civil authority God had placed over them; despite the fact that Rome highly over-taxed those under their domination. On another occasion, Jesus is confronted with a woman who has been caught in adultery and asked if she should be stoned. On the surface, this seems like a moral issue, but it is not. Pontius Pilate had previously made it illegal for Jews to exact capital punishment; only Rome could do that. The question posed to Jesus is really whether or not He would rebel against Rome in favor of the Mosaic code. Rather than get caught on the horns of a dilemma, Jesus supported the Roman laws of capital punishment and gently condemned the woman by telling her to stop sinning.

The apostolic era repeatedly witnesses Paul and Peter commanding believers to submit to the civil authorities God has placed over them. They never advocated or encouraged engaging the political system as part of what it means to be a believer. In fact, they both commanded believers to be the best citizens possible by submitting to civil authority (Rom 13:1-14; 1 Pet 2:12-17; 1 Tim 2:1-4).

American Christians too often get it in reverse. They believe political involvement is their Christian responsibility, but that is just not true. Political involvement is not the believer’s responsibility. Right now, this world is Satan’s kingdom, not ours. Our supreme citizenship and first loyalty is to Christ’s kingdom and Him as our King (Col 1:13; Eph 2:19). At best, every American’s political involvement in this life is a civic duty irrespective of his spiritual standing. The gospel and gospel mission transcend political boundaries and are the Church’s only God-given mission and priority.

If the Church is neither a social change agent nor a political agenda engine, then what is her mission and purpose?

The Church is a Basic Training Arena

Every believer has an oikocentric mission given by God. This terminology may seem foreign, but it’s very biblical. The Greek term οἶκός (oikos) means “household.” Very regularly, the term was used to refer to a person’s extended household – spouse, children, parents, grandparents, household servants, et. al. (e.g. Jn 4:53; Acts 11:14; 16:15; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:11; Phil 4:22; 2 Tim 4:19). On average, each one of us has been supernaturally and strategically surrounded with 8-15 people with whom we “do life” on a regular basis. These individuals comprise our “extended household” or oikos. These are those for whom we are directly responsible in fulfilling the Great Commission given to each of us (Matt 28:18-20; 2 Cor 5:18-19). Thus, our focusing immediately on those 8-15 individuals within our oikos as the target of our God-given mission makes our mission oikocentric.

Because the Church is comprised of individual believers who have been given a common, shared missio dei (God-given mission), the Church as a whole can be said to share that same common mission. Reaching the lost with the good news of salvation in Jesus and seeing those converts become fully mature, reproducing followers of Jesus Christ is the Church’s sole God-given mission. This means that everything the Church is and does should be evaluated in light of that mission.

It is with this God-given mission in mind that Paul refers to those gifted individuals the Lord gave to the Church in Ephesians 4:11-13. These gifted individuals were given to the larger Body of Christ to equip the Body to live on mission (v. 12). The idea of equipping refers to “a process of adjustment that results in a complete preparedness so that a task can adequately be undertaken.” These gifted individuals exist to help believers grow in their personal fidelity to Christ and identify, develop and employ their various gifts, talents and abilities for the benefit of the rest of the Body. They also lead and oversee the Church in the accomplishment of her mission and purpose. These gifted individuals lead the rest of the Body to perform “works of service,” or as other translations put it “do the work of the ministry.” In other words, the Church, her leaders, ministries and programs exist to prepare individual believers to live on mission outside of the confines of the Church – among their respective oikos.

Therefore, the Church’s purpose is never to support activity for activity’s sake or maintain tradition for tradition’s sake but to be missionally intentional in all it is and does. This means that the Church’s ministry focus should be external rather than internal. The ministries the Body engages in should ultimately have an external, intentionally missional purpose and outcomes. If a local church loses its externally minded, intentionally missional, preparative focus, it is in poor health to say the least. Any local church that becomes more focused on the wants and preferences of its attendees than in reaching and assimilating those outside its ranks through gospel intentionality is already dying. It may be a slow, drawn-out death, but it is dying, nonetheless. Healthy churches intentionally seek to reach outside of their comfort zones to see the lost become believers who are being prepared to impact their respective oikos for Christ.

 CONCLUSION:

In America, we have several branches of military service. Each has its own unique tasks that tailor them to fulfill their mission. While they are each unique, there is one overarching thing that unites them, their oath of enlistment for military service.

Whether you are a soldier, airman, marine, or sailor, the oath of enlistment for military service is the same. It reads like this,

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

In a nutshell, that is the general mission of every branch of U.S. Military service. But, not one branch of our military puts a new recruit into the field until first that recruit has successfully completed basic training. Even after basic training has been completed our military personnel undergo continued training so that they will always be prepared to fulfill their mission.

In a way, the Church is like basic training. Believers in Jesus Christ have been tasked with an all-important mission, the Great Commission. God, in His wisdom and grace, put something in place to prepare each of us to live on mission – that thing is the Church.

The Church exists to equip believers to live on mission.

The Church does not exist to fix the social injustices of our world, nor does it exist to advance any one political agenda. When that becomes the Church’s focus then the Church is unhealthy and off-mission. The Church is here to help prepare believers to live on mission successfully.

 

 

The Genius of the Church

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Introduction:

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. (Eph. 3:2-9 NIV)

In the above text, the Apostle Paul told the Ephesians that he had been given revelation from God about a mysterious thing. That mysterious thing about which Paul was given revelation is the Church. Though not the only person who wrote about the Church in the New Testament, Paul seems to be God’s official revealer of Church truth. So, it’s only natural that we turn to Paul to ascertain the genius that is the Church.

Today, some 2,000-years post-Paul, the Church is becoming an increasingly more mysterious and misunderstood thing. I’m not talking about the physical manifestation of the Church that we know as the local church, but about the bigger entity we know as the Church – the capital C Church.

As we give consideration to the genius of the Church, it is imperative to remember that the Church is a mysterious thing but is God’s most important asset in this age.

If pastors and local church leaders are going to lead their congregations to enjoy maximum church health, it is essential that they understand the genius that is God’s Church. Two formative questions need answering in order to lay the groundwork for maximum local church health. The first is “What is the Church?” The local church cannot function as it ought until its leaders know what the Church is. The second question is inseparably tied to the first, “Where did the Church come from?” This sounds silly but it’s not. If local church leaders fail to understand where the Church came from then local church will inevitably miss out on who it ought to be and what it ought to be doing.

What is the Church?

Asking this question leads me back to a core biblical truth about the Church.

The Church is a definitively spiritual organism.

This point cannot and should not be overlooked as it is foundational to everything the Church was designed to be. The Church is a living thing, not merely an organizational entity. As such, the Church is Christ’s body.

Scripture bears out this truth repeatedly throughout the New Testament corpus. Paul, the foremost declarer of ecclesiastical truth, referred to the Church as Christ’s body on more than one occasion (Eph 1:22-23; 5:23-25; Col 1:18; et. al.). The unbeliever becomes part of the Body of Christ upon the moment of his conversion when he is immersed into this Body by means of Spirit baptism and the Holy (1 Cor 12:13; Rom 6:3 w/8:1-2, 5-6; Eph 1:13-14). Jesus spoke of the Spirit coming to baptize/indwell His followers as a future thing; something different that was  not a present reality in His earthly ministry (Matt 16:18; Jn 7:38-39; 14:16-17, 20, 23; 16:7; Acts 1:5). The coming Holy Spirit which inaugurated the Church occurred first on the Day of Pentecost. Thus, everyone who has come to personal faith in Jesus Christ since Pentecost has been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ and is part of the Church (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 12:12, 18, 27; Acts 9:4-5).

Because the Church is a spiritual organism – the Body of Christ – it is unique in that it is spiritually interdependent. There are types of relationships that are unhealthy for us to have. Independence, full self-sufficiency is unhealthy. Those who approach others from the perspective of “I don’t need anyone else to be complete” typically isolate themselves from healthy human relationships; therefore suffering from poor relational health themselves. On the other end of the relational spectrum are those who are codependent. These individuals are so dependent on someone else for validity and value that they are willing to lay aside their own well-being for the sake of the relationship. They suffer poor relational health so that others in their lives might succeed.

The Church, however, was designed by God to be interdependent. Those in the Body of Christ enjoy a spiritually symbiotic relationship of mutual support and nurturing. They very much need each other in order to function in full relational health. This spiritual interdependence means that believers need each other in order to be both spiritually healthy (Rom 14:19; 15:14; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:11; 1 Tim 2:1; Heb 10:24; 1 Cor 11:33; Rom 12:10, 16; 1 Pet 4:9-10; 1 Jn 1:7; 1 Thess 3:12; Gal 6:2; Eph 4:32) and to function properly as an entity (1 Cor 12:11-14, 20).

What is the Church? It is a definitively spiritual organism comprised of Spirit baptized believers who are mutually spiritually interdependent. Much like the human body, the Church is a compendium of many persons joined by their mutual bond in Christ who need each other in order to live and function at maximum spiritual health. 

Where did the Church come from?

There are various ways one might approach answering this question. To be sure, there are differences of opinion on this parcel of ecclesiology. I will present my interpretation of what I believe to be what Scripture teaches. Understand, that no matter whether you agree with my interpretation here or not, your answer to the question will impact how you view the Church and its mission and will determine what course you employ to achieve maximum local church health.

The Church is has a qualitatively unique origin.

The Church is unique in the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan for creation. Because the Church is unique, it did not exist in the Old Testament. There are several biblical truths that lead me to this conclusion. Acts 7:38 and Hebrews 12:23 use the Greek term ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) in the technical sense referring to a civil assembly and not a spiritual organism. Since there are no Old Testament prophecies specifically about the Church, the nation of Israel had no concept of a people of God outside of the nation. This is why early Jewish Christians had a hard time with the inclusion of Gentile believers who were not also becoming Jewish proselytes.

Furthermore, the New Testament routinely distinguishes the Church from the Jews. 1 Corinthians 10:32 references “Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God” as 3 distinct groups. Thus, no one loses their ethnic or cultural identity when they become part of the Church. The Church is something new and different from Israel (Gal 3:26-29 w/6:15-16). Some might object here by saying that the Church is called “Abraham’s seed” by Paul in Galatians, but Paul’s context should be noted. Paul is not equating the Church with Israel. Rather, he is saying that just as Abraham was justified by faith, so are all who come to Christ believing. Thus, just as Abraham was justified by faith and not works, so are all who come to Christ. In that way, metaphorically, we are children of Abraham. Add to this the truth that Paul goes on to say that the rite by which one is admitted into the nation of Israel – circumcision and uncircumcision – mean nothing, only the new creation; namely the Church. In the same passage, Paul wishes blessings of peace and mercy on all who follow this rule he’s established and specifically mentions Israel as a distinct group. Given this information, it can be concluded that the Church is a unique institution separate from Israel.

If the Church is different from Israel, then the Church does not share Israel’s purposes or responsibilities. Israel’s origin is as a racial and geo-political entity. God’s calling Abram from Ur to Canaan to make from him a distinctly new nation gave Israel her ethnic and racial identity. The Exodus and giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai transformed a ragged people group into a political entity. Being a political and earthly entity, Israel’s purpose is specifically earthly and political; fulfilled through her national and political framework (Ex 19:6). Israel’s spiritual and political responsibilities were inseparably intertwined. Additionally, Israel’s destiny is largely earthly as the head of the nations in the earthly Messianic kingdom (cf. Isa 61:5-6).

 Contrast this with the Church which is a completely new organism distinct from national Israel. As Israel was given a racial/ethnic and national identity at specific historical points (Abram’s call and Sinai), the Church was birthed at a specific historical event – the Acts 2 record of the Day of Pentecost. Both John the Baptist (Matt 3:11) and Jesus Christ (Matt 16:18; Acts 1:5) promised a future coming Holy Spirit and coming Church; not one present in their lifetimes. Paul said that for the Church to exist Jesus had to die, be buried and resurrected (Eph 1:20-23). Both the promised Holy Spirit along with the completion of the redemptive work of Christ had come to pass by the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4, 33 w/ 11:15-16).

Because the Church was founded wholly differently than Israel, it can be expected that her purposes and their fulfillment are unique as well. The Church’s purposes are spiritual and fulfilled principally in a personal sense. The believer’s citizenship is spiritual and heavenly, not earthly or national (Phil 3:20). Thus, the Church has no political mandate and is not intended to be a social watchdog group in any sense. Rather, Christ tasked His disciples, and by extension the Church, with a mandate that is gospel-centered and spiritual in nature (Matt 28:18-20).

When it comes to destiny, unlike Israel, the Church’s destiny is spiritual in nature as well. She will be raptured to heaven, joined to Christ in marriage at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and be enthroned as co-regent with Christ in His kingdom (Rev 19:6-16).

Conclusion

Too often American believers confuse going to church with being the Church. When the local church forgets that the Church is a spiritual organism created and ordained by God for a specific purpose is when it gets off-mission and becomes something God never intended. When Christians confuse who we are with Israel we become earthly focused and try to fulfill a role God never intended us to have.

The Church is comprised of all believers in Jesus Christ who have been saved from the Day of Pentecost until Jesus returns to rapture us. By nature, we are a spiritual organism that is expressed in local, organizational groups. But, we are not a distinctly or firstly an earthly organization with earthly goals and purposes. We are unique and distinct from Israel. Israel is God’s chosen people, a national and ethnic group with a specific origin, purpose and destiny that is different from the Church. We cannot and should not confuse ourselves with Israel. We are not the New Israel.

As Paul so eloquently put it, the Church is a mysterious thing, but God’s most important asset in this age.

We will be most effective in being the Church – experiencing maximum local church health –  when we understand who we are and where we came from.