During the 2016 calendar year, I have served one church as their interim pastor. As my time with this church comes to an end, I have been processing the experience. By the grace of God, I don’t see any major “do-overs”. If I were geographically closer, there are a few things I would have done differently. In all of the processing, three principles have risen to the surface that are applicable to any church. I don’t think size or location matters in the context of these principles.
I should also mention none of the principles are programmatic. There is a programmatic order if your church would like to grow numerically, but these come even before that order.
Prayer is the most important thing a church does.
I don’t think any Christian disagrees that prayer is important. However, we don’t think prayer is important enough to actually gather to pray together.
- When a church doesn’t pray, it loses the glory of God from its presence.
- When a church doesn’t pray, it does not engage in the spiritual battle for souls.
- When a church doesn’t pray, it becomes weak and loses impact in the community.
- When a church doesn’t pray, it becomes a common meeting space similar to the various social clubs in your community.
There are several more consequences for not praying together as a church, but I will not mention them here. Prayer is what makes or breaks a church. The best programs become mediocre without prayer support.
A church needs a vision for the future.
Earlier in my life, I was blessed to experience a church that valued prayer. Spiritual formation was a high priority. However, we didn’t know our piece of God’s puzzle. We didn’t really have a vision for the future. As a result, we didn’t grow numerically.
I’ve also been part of churches that had a new vision every year that was unrelated to the previous year’s vision. I always felt like we were starting over every January. There was no momentum. There was no excitement. There was nothing to rally around. In many ways, it was church going through the motions. There too, we didn’t experience numerical growth.
I have also been part of a church that held on to a vision that was the memory of their past. Maybe you can relate to this type of church. It’s the church that always remembers how it was twenty years ago.
There is nothing about our world that looks like 1996. Why do you expect 1996 church to resonate with people who live in 2016?
Prayer is the most important engagement for a church. A vision for the future is the intentional and strategic effort to see God do what you’re praying for. A vision for the future become the action steps of making disciples, which happens to be our mandate according to Matthew 28:19-20.
There are churches who help people become informational libraries and museums. There are churches who help people become disciples who strive to follow Jesus the best they are able. No guilt. No manipulation. No strings attached. Churches need a clear vision about how they will reach the people in their community who are desperately looking for answers and hope.
Do not allow the vision for your church’s future to be held captive by the memory of your church’s past. If you’re hanging to something that no longer exists or resonates with your community, it’s time for a new vision. Get out of the way and let God steer your church.
A church needs the right people in the right places.
If you know me personally, you’re probably not shocked this one made the list. Churches and their ministries become handicapped when the wrong people are leading them. Over the past seventeen years of ministry, I’ve seen elders, deacons and trustees serve in positions without any leading of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t their passion. They weren’t gifted for it. I’ve seen people on ministry teams who weren’t good for that particular ministry. I actually do care about people, so I won’t single out any person.
If churches are going to make an impact in their community, the prompting of the Holy Spirit must override the placement of a warm body.
One of the hardest parts of leadership is moving people out of areas they shouldn’t be in while loving them and helping them find their “sweet spot” of ministry.
I have experienced what it’s like to be the person in the wrong place. I probably stayed in youth ministry about two years too long. I wrestled with God for a long time before I allowed him to transition me to adult ministry. I understand that God’s timing is perfect and you can make it as spiritual sounding as you’d like, but I still wrestled with God.
I want to encourage you to find your “sweet spot” of ministry. Hear the words of Henry Blackaby (my paraphrase) — take the time to see where God is actively working in your life and get there as fast as you can.
Many Christians are discouraged about the state of our country. We cannot change our country without changing our church and the community we live in. Will you do your part?