One of my greatest joys in life is being a husband and father. It is also one of the toughest jobs in life. As the leader of my family, I am responsible for the culture I develop. The same is true for anyone leading an organization. Whether it is in a Church, a non-profit or a corporation, you are developing a culture. You develop that culture through the decisions you make, the example you set, and the integrity in which you lead.
Making the Shift To Sending
Before a congregation considers shifting their ministries and mindset from their current way of doing ministry to become a church that sends people out to start new ministries they need to be prepared for the strong emotions that may be stirred up. This made me think about similar emotions generated when my pastor brought up the issue of commitment Sunday for our yearly budget cycle. “Give ‘til it hurts, the church needs your help.” Well, I had a very low pain threshold. When you tell people to give ‘til it hurts, you will lose some people. Sending people away, also hurts. It creates all kinds of questions in our mind. If we start sending people away: Won’t we have voids in our ministry? They were good givers, how can we replace those dollars? Do you know how hard is it to develop good leaders? This post is relevant because I am convinced developing a sending culture could radically change the direction of your ministry.
I discovered as we started an African Immigrant congregation that there are three tension points to work through in order to develop a sending culture.
Tension of Motives: “Here or There”
At the core of our culture is a tension deeply rooted in our definition of success. When our ministry is over, sitting in our easy chair, Bruce Springsteen reminds us in the song, “Glory Days.” “Glory days, well they’ll pass you by. Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye” The legacy of ministry, we have left behind hinges on the DNA we left the poor fellow who followed us. Was our vision limited to accumulating and growing a larger local congregation (not a bad thing mind you), or was it balanced with an equal focus and passion for sending key leaders out there? Notice I mentioned key leaders. In my ministry, there were members I would have gladly shared, but I am not sure that is the DNA I wanted to bless a new ministry with. I am talking about sending your best, your first fruits, “giving even if it hurts.” This tension is rooted in the values embedded in a church’s DNA. To move through this tension, we must embrace and become passionate about the value of multiplication. We must balance here and there.
Tension of Measures: “Grow or Send”
Another critical tension is rooted in our priority of focus. We are all busy in ministry. Our desire is to get the biggest bang for our buck. To accomplish this, we need to focus our ministry efforts. Yet, there is an on-going struggle as to where we focus our time, talent and treasure. Do we invest all of our resources growing where we are planted (here) or invest a portion of the resources in sending others out to develop new mission fields (there)? The same staff and finances that can help us grow here are the ones needed to send there. I learned the hard way that most churches adopt a “we will send after we grow a little larger and have the extra resources” approach. How is that working for your financial stewardship? Do you have a good balance between growing and sending?
Tension of Methods: “Safety or Risk”
Boy, do I love making the tough decisions NOT! However, in order to do what God calls us to do those decisions are always before us. What hard decisions will you have to make to become a sending church? Good intentions will not get you there. Where is that place God has placed on your heart to start a new ministry? If God placed that in your heart there may be others in your congregation feeling that same tug of God. It is so easy to play it safe in ministry. There is a certain comfort in taking it safe, but the mission God gave to the church was not a safe one. Jerusalem can get very comfortable, but to take the message to the ends of the earth we need to develop a sending mindset.
Whether or not you realize it, you are creating and cultivating a culture in your church. There is no stopping it, but the culture can be molded, shaped, even changed as you examine closely the tensions, rationale even fears that drive those tensions. Your ministry is not just for this generation, it is the foundation for generations to come. How you lead and maneuver through the tensions you experience might be the most significant blessing you have to shape your church’s culture and DNA.
Maybe the following scenario sounds familiar. Christ Lutheran Church saw significant growth in the late 1970’s. The older members remember those glory days and often dream of recapturing that glory. It was the time in their congregation’s history that every single program and event seemed to work. Whether is was the Ladies’ Aid sewing circle or the men’s work day. They were never at a loss for volunteers and the building was abuzz with activity. Now things are different. The Ladies sewing circle is down to a faithful few and younger women are too occupied with work, their careers and trying to keep up with busy sports schedules to have time to sew. You schedule a work day and only Hank and Fred, who are in their late 70’s show up with their trusty hammer and toolbox. The church is struggling now.
They have survived many changes over the years, including watching as visitors, friends, members and pastors have come and gone. Now your ministry has hit a wall. The growth has stopped the good ole days are so far in the rear view mirror only the really seasoned members can recall them. Now the pastor who helped usher in those glory days is closer to glory himself and has announced is retirement. Now the faithful remnant is looking for a new hero to ride in on his white horse and save the day.
This group has exhausted all their ministry ideas and unfortunately nothing has seem reverse the trends. You have had your pastor scrap the robes and abandoned the traditional service and replaced it with a contemporary service. The problem is your praise band is closer to retirement age than the K-Love age bands you see on television and only knows music their youth, the ones you sang at summer camp. The nearly retired pastor is now wearing Dockers and a stripped shirt with Penney loafers. However, young people still are not coming and you are starting to lose hope. Now as the pastor who was there during your heyday has announced his retirement date you are putting all your hopes, dreams, and resources on finding a new pastor who you pray will come in and bring new life to your struggling congregation. Most of the members believe that if they can get some young Phenom he will attract young people in droves to join their congregation that will save their church.
There usually is not a realistic plan in place to make that happen. There has been no real time for prayer and reflection. All that you have to work with is this vague dream of becoming that fresh, young, happening church, which is unrealistic. Not, to mention the older, wiser members really don’t want the noise associated with young families and a hard rock worship experience that many believe the community is seeking. The real issue is not worship styles or forms it has much more to do with is the vision and ministry plan of the congregation one that is focused on building relationships with those in the community. It is not what this congregation needs is a fresh vision that fits the unique gifts and talents God has already blessed this group of believers with.
What is Vision?
“What is a vision? Where do they come from? Visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. Anyone who is emotionally involved – frustrated, brokenhearted, and maybe even angry – about the way things are in light of the way they believe things could be, is a candidate for a vision. Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo…Vision carries with it a sense of conviction. Anyone with a vision will tell you this is not merely something that could be done. This is something that should be done.” (Visioneering: God’s Blueprint for Developing and Maintaining Vision, By Andy Stanley)
Visions that are given to us by God are always bigger than us and can only be accomplished with His strength and direction. Will Mancini, in his book, “Church Unique”, makes this critical point about vision, “God is the chief visionary who leads us to push forward, not with arrogance but with confidence, because we know we are a part of His divine chain reaction.” We must be clear about this point; vision is from God. Vision may seem far beyond our reach and, if so, that may be an indicator that we are heading in the right direction. If the vision is comfortably within our capabilities, God does not receive the glory. But if the vision is “God-sized” in scope, meaning impossible without God’s intervention, then God receives the Glory and Him alone!
Why Does Vision Matter?
“But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many acts out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible…”– T.E. Lawrence. When our vision is clearly from God, it reflects God’s passionate love for people. It aligns our hearts with the heart of God and refreshes our desire to reach the community in which God has placed us. It is compelling and motivates us to action. Things get done because the vision is integrated into the life of the congregation. It becomes the driving force in all decisions. We will take all of our resources of money, people, time, and talents and focus on this one thing God would have us do. Leaders and laity have a clear picture of what role they can play in carrying out God’s mission. This becomes the first item discussed at the council meeting or voter’s meeting even before we get to the news about the finances. The vision becomes the thing that must be done!
Christ Church, Anywhere, USA needed to discover God’s vision to give energy to a congregation that had become stagnant and aimless. Maybe you can relate to their situation. Maybe you are looking for answers. It is possible you look around you and you see the writing on the wall. Like a line in my favorite Christmas novel by Charles Dickens, “I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.” So many congregations see the very grim reminder every Sunday of the fate that awaits if the images remain unchanged. Continue dwindling attendance, shrinking income, and eventual death.
So what do you need to do? You need to start with asking the right questions. Do you have a good vision statement that points you clearly to your reason for existence? Who are the people God has called you to connect within your community? Once you figure out if your vision statement is pointing toward those outside your walls as is this vision and from God? These are the key questions a compelling and inspiring vision statement will answer:
• What are the end results you seeing when this vision is accomplished?
• Who in the community is being impacted by this vision?
• How are you developing a discipleship culture? That is a culture of equipping the saints, multiplying and sending the saints of God into the mission field.
• How are the members living out the vision and what impact is it having on them and the community we are called to serve?
The power of a “God-sized” vision is that it gives energy and direction to the church. It unites and inspires people around God’s plan. As we hear from the wisdom of Solomon, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people perish,” Proverbs 29:18. If you need help with that process, let me know and I can point you in the right direction. Blessings.
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