How To Do Ministry Over Time

“When the Spirit breaks in, old ways of thinking and living are left behind
 and new ways of thinking and living begin to take over.  
Old boring, oppressive, and dead social structures and institutions are transformed
 into exciting new, liberating ones.  It may not happen all at once, 
but when the Holy Spirit comes there is the dawn of a new day, 
hope for a new and different future, and courage and strength to move toward it.”
Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine
      These words are from an old seminary textbook I had during my seminary days more than twenty-five years ago.  Yet, they still speak with freshness to the church today.
     The author was my professor of Reformed Theology.  He continued to challenge his students to look for the activity of the Holy Spirit in the church.  He also challenged his students to look for obstacles that good church people continually put in place to prevent a fresh work of the Spirit.  Idolatry, Guthrie taught, was evident in Christian churches as well as in secular culture.  Idolatry was simply placing our hope and security in something that is familiar and fixed; something other than the God of the Bible who is always mixing things up.
     We don’t like change very much.  This is especially true in the church.  Guthrie observed that when the world changes rapidly around us, we seek refuge and protection from the unfamiliar in the church.  Problem is, says Guthrie, if you don’t like change, you won’t much like God either.  God is always mixing things up.  Pay close enough attention to the Bible and you will hear again and again, “I am accomplishing a new thing!”
     Your church leaders, the Elders, are continually called to prayer and discernment of what God is up to in our church.  The natural result is a visioning and planning process that most certainly results in changes in how we do ministry over time.  If we didn’t intentionally plan for change, we should not be surprised if we continue to get more of the same; same level of church membership, same level of worship attendance, same level of financial support for God’s mission in the world.
     I believe that it was Jim Collins who mentioned that the reason a major railroad company experienced rapid decline in profits at one point was that it never realized what business it was in.  The company thought it was in the railroad business when, in fact, it was in the transportation business.  As the transportation business demanded new models, the railroad stubbornly stuck to running a railroad business and almost bankrupt.  The church must remember what business it is in, lest it also bankrupts.  We are in the business of making disciples for Jesus Christ and the way we once did that may no longer be effective.    

Committed to Making Discples

“When it comes to the church, the object of the game is to make disciples. 
The object is not to find them, gather them, or improve them. The object is to make them.”
 John Edmund Kaiser
     Kaiser continues in his book, Winning On Purpose, that the reason – the primary reason – that many churches are in trouble today is that they have forgotten the object of the game. The object of the game is to make disciples. When that object, or purpose, is forgotten, church members become lost in much activity, much of it good activity. But it is not the object of the game. Jesus states that the object of the game is to make disciples.
     Another way of looking at it, asserts Kaiser, is that the object is all about the inflow of people beginning their relationship with Christ. That is measured by the number of professions of faith that results in baptism or persons making a reaffirmation of faith, meaning that they are starting again. Transfer of Church letter as a means of receiving new members isn’t bad. They represent more disciples to advance the mission of the local church. It’s just that transfers can’t legitimately be counted as additional disciples for the kingdom. They have simply transferred from there to here.
     So what happens in many churches? Kaiser says that when the primary object is forgotten, the focus turns to any number of things, such as pastoral care, Christian education, fellowship activities and keeping the people happy. None of these activities are bad in themselves. Trouble is, says Kaiser, these activities are not really making disciples but merely servicing disciples in a way that makes them comfortable. And the supreme danger sign for the church is when the leaders no longer count how many new people came to the Lord in a given year but how much care was given, lessons taught and fellowship activities offered.
     A new scorecard is required! If First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach is committed to God’s supreme purpose – making disciples of Jesus Christ – then greater attention must be given to the practice of ministry. Pastoral care, teaching and preaching are still important. So are opportunities for simply gathering together to enjoy each other like our recent Dancing with the Stars. Yet, none of these accomplish making new disciples for Jesus. The challenge before your elected leaders is praying deeply and thinking broadly about what must be done to become a disciple-making church. Your prayers for our leaders are coveted and appreciated.

Not Looking to the Past

“Whenever a church becomes static, its members begin to look only to the past.”
David H. C. Read
     Though I have considerable admiration for David H. C. Read, I would have reversed his comment above. I believe what is more poignant is: “Whenever church members begin to look only to the past, their church has become static.” The Bible celebrates a mobile God who continually calls His people to be on the move. An eye cast backward instead of forward is the clearest signal that vitality for imaginative ministry has waned and nostalgia has overtaken a church.
     What does it mean to look forward? Simply, a church that looks forward understands that the church doesn’t exist for the members. The church exists for advancing God’s mission. Make no mistake. The Bible is clear that as the church advances God’s agenda each member has the responsibility to demonstrate genuine concern and care for one another. Yet, there is a huge difference between an organization that simply exist to care for one another and the church that cares for one another while it pursues God’s mission.
     Many years ago I heard a pastor ask his congregation this question, “Why is the windshield of a car larger than the rear-view mirror?” The answer is that what is ahead of us is far more important than what is behind us. It has been said that the devil resist anything new in the church because he may lose ground to Jesus. The most used and worn tool of Satan is placing seven words into the hearts and minds of church members, “We never did it that way before.” The implication, of course, “…and we shouldn’t do it now.”  But if that verdict wins, the result would be a static church whose members only look to the past.

Healthy Grieving

“Healthy grieving frees us for healthy new visions.”
Patrick Keifert
     Let’s begin with unhealthy grieving. That is the grieving that refuses to let go – refuses to let go emotionally of someone who has died, refuses to let go of an old place of residence even when a change in life circumstance suggest that it is best to move, refuses to let go of old ways of doing things. Unhealthy grieving wants to freeze time in a comfortable place. I have practiced unhealthy grieving at various times in my life. So have you.
     Healthy grieving is still grieving. The difference is accepting that things change. More than that, healthy grieving anticipates that God – and God’s blessings – will be present in the new thing. Yet, there is still grief. The fact that grief is present is a demonstration that what is left behind was something good. It added value to our lives and brought a measure of joy. Healthy grieving acknowledges the good that passes into our history and celebrates that our lives are the richer for that which must now be left behind.
     According to Patrick Keifert, healthy grieving also frees us for healthy new visions. Whereas unhealthy grieving seeks to hold us in a moment of time, refusing the future that moves with great certainty toward us, healthy grieving lets go of the old and extends open hands to the future.
    Missional Churchthinking, Missional Church behavior is the future toward which God is leading the church. And for anyone who has loved the church this leading of God results in grief. Grief is experienced because what is left behind is the old way of being church – that church where we were baptized and married and raised our children. The church that gave us community, filled with meaningful relationships and support for life’s difficult moments. The question then becomes, what will your grief look like? Will it be unhealthy grief or healthy grief?
     To answer the question fairly demands an important piece of information – why this new thing? Why the Missional Church? It is an honest question and one that deserves a deeper response than can be provided here. More attention will be given to this question in the coming year. For now, the quick answer is that this new way of being church, this Missional Church movement is really old. It is the only way of being church and doing church spoken of in both the Old and New Testament. Somewhere in time we recreated church – the church we are so familiar with. But this church is unknown in the Bible. The Missional Church Movement is really a Holy Spirit thing, calling the church to return to God’s blueprint for the church. Understanding that this is of God, that this is really a return to the original design for the church, helps me personally to make the decision in favor of healthy grieving. And it frees me for healthy new visions.