Culture Change, Mission, Vision

When Vision Takes a Back Seat on the Church Bus

 

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In the first post, we painted the picture of what it looks like when vision and relationships are driving the direction of the church.  Now let’s reverse the drivers.  Appearing now in the front seat are structures and ministry.  More about these two elements.  I don’t want you to misunderstand me.  These two components of the church are vital, but they need to be seated in the right place on the bus.  When I talk about ministries, I am referring to ministries that focus on outreach and structures that anchor accountability.  These are talented players but when structures are driving the church bus and ministry is in the front seat here is what a typical meeting agenda looks like.

 

Call to Order

Opening Prayer

Review of Agenda  

  •  Reading of the Minutes from the last meeting

Treasurers Report –

Pastor’s Report –

Committee Reports –

Old (Unfinished) Business

(Items that have been postponed from or not finished from previous meetings are handled here.)

New Business

Adjournment

 This meeting may take two to three hours to complete this agenda and somewhere along the way the meeting gets derailed by older members of the church who go into a church version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”  This is how the song goes.

It was the time in their congregation’s history that every single program and event seemed to work. Whether it was the Ladies’ Aid sewing circle or the men’s workday. They were never at a loss for volunteers, and the building was abuzz with activity. The Sunday School classrooms were standing room only.  The former pastor was a ministry rock star.  And you, being the new pastor will never live up to that legend.  The church had money to burn, and there were multiple services because they could not fit all the people into the building in just one.  Everyone was happy, and the church was growing.  But now your meetings are dull, dry, and long.  Nowhere in the agenda above can you find vision or a plan to build relationships with unchurched people.  You entire meeting revolves around taking care of the people who are already connected to Christ and maintaining the building that houses the already converted.  A vision that could add energy and direction and relationship with those outside the walls have taken a backseat to ministry to the already heaven bound.

It is time to Flip the Drivers.

 To 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!

So, what do you need to do? You need to start with asking the right questions. At your next leadership meeting flip your agenda.  Put new business first.  Start exploring these type of 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 you will know it is from God. These are the fundamental questions a compelling and inspiring vision statement will answer:
 What are the end results you will see when this vision is accomplished? (End results being who are the people, stories, events or works of the Holy Spirit that are on full display in your ministry?)
• 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 does it have on them and the community we are called to serve?

The first post in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/09/12/how-to-identify-who-is-driving-the-church-bus/

 

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Congregational Life and Ministry, Vision

How to Identify Who is Driving the Church Bus?

 

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In my work with congregations for over twenty years and before that studying to become a systems analyst I had to learn to identify and pinpoint the reasons why institutions are stuck. For congregations to examine themselves, ask yourself and your leaders this simple question, “Who or what is driving the church bus?” Now I know some of the more sarcastic readers are squealing, “God is!” I would anticipate that any parish has God as the focus of the ministry and reason for existing.

However, God is not driving congregations. God is their Shepherd. He is guiding them, and the Holy Spirit keeps pointing them back to the Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who gave His life to redeem the Church. And through the ministry of the Church, our message is your sins are forgiven, and Jesus offers you life everlasting through faith. That is our foundation, but that is not how our church operates. Leadership and direction come from those placed in authority by the churches’ proper order. Beyond that, there are other factors that influence who is setting the ministry direction and overall effectiveness of the congregation’s ministry. Those four factors are vision, relationships, ministries, and structure. In this post, we will look at the first two components: vision and relationships.

 

  1. Vision

 

There is a place for vision in the church because vision comes from God.

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
Habakkuk 2:2-4

 We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about. – Charles Kingsley, Bits & Pieces, December 9, 1993, p. 16.

Vision is often misunderstood. How do you define the concept? Vision is defined by a ministry focus that is geared to share the gospel with those souls who are outside God’s grace. I love this deeper explanation. “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, 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.” (From Visioneering) When vision is in the front seat driving the ministry direction, it can create energy and deeper engagement from members.

 

  1. Relationships

  “ For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,” Ephesians 5:29.

The principal second seat on the bus is reserved for relationships. Jesus was all about relationships. For a church to have a ministry that reaches those far from God it all begins with creating space in our lives to develop relationships that embrace new people. Relationships are the lifeblood of a church and essential for life itself.  In Ephesians, Paul compares the intimacy we have with Christ like a husband has for his wife.  In the Old Testament God describes His relationship with Israel with that same type of intense intimacy.  Relationships are the secret to life.

We can live only in relationships. We need each other. A rather crude and cruel experiment was carried out by Emperor Frederick, who ruled the Roman Empire in the thirteenth century. He wanted to know what man’s original language was: Hebrew, Greek, or Latin? He decided to isolate a few infants from the sound of the human voice. He reasoned that they would eventually speak the natural tongue of man. Wet nurses who were sworn to absolute silence were obtained, and though it was difficult for them, they abided by the rule. The infants never heard a word — not a sound from a human voice. Within several months they were all dead. – Joe E. Trull.

When vision and relationships are in the front seat driving the direction of the church’s ministry, then a congregation is in the early stages of its life cycle.

Part two:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/09/19/when-vision-takes-a-back-seat-on-the-church-bus

Leadership

In A Time of Transition Be Strong and Courageous

Walk with comets

Every person and organization goes through a period of transition.  My current role in ministry is about to undergo a radical shift within the next year.  Our leader will complete his time of service, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the grassroots missional movement that God has started under his leadership.  However, as the old saying goes, “All good things come to an end.” Our area churches will elect a new man of God to lead them into the next story of our organization’s future.  With that transition comes uncertainty.

Usually, changes cause me high anxiety. Which is rarely grounded in reality but only the perception of what horrible things might be and I am aware of that, but it does not stop the heart from racing. When that anxiety comes, you need an outlet. Here is the problem or blessing for me, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, so my outlet is music. Music soothes the anxiety beast. However, this transition has not come with a lot of anxiety, maybe being on the other side of fifty it just takes too much emotional energy, and I need all the energy I can muster to chase around my energetic six-year-old son. Not wanting to be a victim of the anxiety monster has also allowed me to step back and look at the landscape of the path forward for my organization. Maybe the lessons I learn could be of benefit to my readers.

Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion applies well here: “Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it.”

My church body is feeling this law in very uncomfortable ways right now. The world around the church is changing at a rapid pace, and it is pressing hard on the church. Those forces have the body of Christ on edge and trying to decide what direction to go next. When a transition is forced upon you there are two natural reactions:
1) hunker down in the bunker and wait for the threat to go away or get tired of fighting.

Or

2) adapt and come up with a big, bold new approach to address the changes that the organization needs to take.

The church needs to find a better way to do things to better connect with the society around them that has no intention of just going away. Over the next few weeks, I will share my observations about what the church can do to adapt. The message remains the same, but the approach and delivery system for that word can and does need to adjust.

Bunker Thinking
On June 4, 1783, at the market square of a French village of Annonay, not far from Paris, a smoky bonfire on a raised platform was fed by wet straw and old wool rages. Tethered above, straining its lines, was a balloon 33 feet in diameter. In the presence of “a respectable assembly and a great many other people,” and accompanied by great cheering, the aircraft was cut from its moorings and set free to rise majestically into the noon sky. Six thousand feet into the air it went — the first public ascent of a balloon, the first step in the history of human flight. It came to earth several miles away in a field, where it was promptly attacked by pitchfork-waving peasants and torn to pieces as an instrument of evil! – Today in the Word, July 15, 1993.
This story above illustrates just how hard it is for people to accept things that are new and foreign to them. I often get the sense this is where the church is today. We see the world around us changing, and we want to get sticks and attack the strange new things we see around us and label them as an “instruments of evil.” Now while there is plenty of stuff to be concerned about, everything is not evil. What makes things evil is the way they are used. Hiding in a bunker does not address the real issue.  It may make you feel safe, but the threat is still there, and the danger is real.

The church is threatened by the changes happening all around it. The church and mainline denominations are unsure how to relate to society in this strange new post-Christian world. One popular option is just to have a “this too shall pass approach to the changes. If we just wait this out, we will be ok.” If we just cut ministry down to the barebones and ration out the gifts of God, we can weather the storm. Is that really what God called us to do? Or does Jesus point us to trust in Him for the needs of tomorrow? Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on? Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Matthew 6:25ff

God did not give us a Spirit of Timidity
7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 2 Timothy 1:7-9

Transitions are scary.  They create anxiety.  These times cause us to want to run and retreat, but God calls the Church to be bold in its witness to the world. We hold the keys to the Kingdom. We don’t face the threats and uncertainty of tomorrow alone we have behind us the power of Almighty God. Now is the time for church leaders to lead our people into the mission field which is right at the doors of our churches. It is time for the church to love those who are broken right outside our walls. It is time for the church to bold in its witness,  and hopeful in regards to carrying out the mission.  And energized in its outreach in the world because never has the church been more needed.   At the same time, we are uncompromising in the purity of our confessions because that is the foundation of the life-saving message of Jesus Christ.  The world is ripe for the harvest.

 

 

Vision

The Power of Vision

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“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference.”Joel Barker 
What a powerful quote. As we approach the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr holiday I am reminded that if Dr. King had stopped with just having a dream about a better America but did not move that dream to action none of the changes that I am benefiting from today would have been possible. As Churches seek to discern God’s will for their ministry it may begin with a dream or a vision of what could be.  However in order to see fruits from that dream or  vision  it requires hard work, action and a moving of the Holy Spirit to become a reality.  What a privilege I have in my current vocation to come alongside dreamers and visionaries to see the amazing work of our Awesome God come to fruition. If God has placed on your heart a dream or a vision for ministry don’t just stop with the dream.  Don’t let fear of failure or success derail you.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will move you to act on the dream God has placed on your heart because it can have a kingdom impact.