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Churches Should Thrive Not Just Survive

Thrive

     “A year from now you will wish you had started today!”  That quote by Karen Lamb is so true and we must remember that we oftentimes overestimate what we can do in a year but underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.  The reality is, we have to start somewhere!  Helen Keller put it this way, “I am only one, but still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

     How could our churches be different a year, five years, or even ten years from today?  Every church finds itself where it either needs to be refreshed, restored, renewed, revitalized, or maybe even rebirthed!  Focusing on revitalization refers to a recapturing of the mission of God as seen in scripture.  There are two questions every church must ask on a regular basis.  First, what is our purpose?  The second question is, how are we doing in fulfilling our purpose?

     Our mission is what God has called every church to do; fulfill His Great Commission for His glory.  A church’s vision is how He wants your church to fulfill that mission.  Vision is the passion we have in fulfilling our mission.  Revitalization could begin in our churches when we are willing to repent of our lack of passion to share the gospel in our communities.  Ken Priddy says, “You evangelize to revitalize; you don’t revitalize to evangelize!”  Revitalization begins when the ministry emphasis shifts from the membership to the community.”

     Vision is not what you want for your church but rather what God wants for your church.  We must first get a vision of God before we will ever get a vision from God.  God’s plan for your church is to thrive, not just survive.  Ten years from now will your church be thriving or surviving?  Do you really believe that God has great things in store for your church?  Vision is simply a description of hope for the future.  Someone has said there are two kinds of churches; problem-based and possibility based.  Which are you? 

     Some churches worry too much about chaos while others are overly focused on control.  Chaos can create a train wreck but control can create paralysis.  Here is something to think about; “A slow death by paralysis isn’t nearly as gruesome as a train wreck.  But death is death!”  Many churches are not even aware that they are headed toward total paralysis because slow death works on us with a symptomless deception.

     Every church that wants to thrive needs to answer these questions biblically.  Revitalization is a spiritual issue. 

  1. Who are you?  This is your opportunity to clearly articulate the very foundational truths of why you exist.
  2. What do you do?  This details your vision which describes your plans of how your church will carry out God’s mission.  Here are five distinguishing marks of a church: A passion for Jesus; Confronting Idols; Biblical Teaching; Advancing in Discipleship; & Investing in the Culture.  These marks were written out by Jonathan Edwards and taken from the scriptures.  You see church revitalization is a return to the mission of God as seen in scripture.
  3. Where do you do this?  Your context is unique and unlike anyone else.  The temptation is to adopt what some other “successful” church is doing but be careful to adapt the principles to your context. 
  4. How will you carry out God’s mission?  The biblical mandate is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  Our churches will have a much greater impact when we are not only focused on gathering but also on scattering and taking Christ to people where they are.
  5. Why do you do what you do?  Churches begin the revitalization process when they do everything for the glory of God.  Your church does not belong to you, it belongs to Him!  So every church must ask, “Is Jesus pleased with our church?”

     Healthy churches are willing to do whatever it takes to be the church God called them to be!       

TURNING THE SHIP AROUND

Aircraft Carrier

When I was teenager my brother, Gary, was in the Navy.  He joined the military with a vision to see the world but ended up stationed in Pensacola, FL, just one hour from our home.  Twice my parents and I had the privilege of going on his aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington, for a dependents’ day cruise.  I will never forget the jets being catapulted off of the deck, disappearing for a second, and then roaring off into the sky.  We were warned about getting too close to the edge and falling off because, “you can’t turn an aircraft carrier around overnight!”    

Good advice to churches also!  You may have a clear vision of the necessary changes needed in your church to become healthy, but it’s like turning around an aircraft carrier; it takes time.  The task of leading a church to where the members are living out biblical values every day is not an easy task.  Leading a church to be healthy will require endless energy and an unrelenting determination to be the church God wants it to be!  The journey is difficult and full of challenges but make no mistake about it, well worth it!

Here are five steps when trying to consider leading in healthy change in your church:

First, you must see the need to change!  There has to be a reality check where hard questions are being asked.  Are we maintaining the programs and machinery of the church or are we seeing people’s lives transformed?  The pain of remaining the same must be greater than the perceived pain of changing.  Some churches prefer the pain of a slow death over revitalizing their church to be what God intended.  You must be willing to pay the price for the necessary change to occur! Winston Churchill said, “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction!” 

Second, we must know why we are changing!  All churches at some point need a reassessment of who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it.  You need to realign your values with Christ’s values and make sure you are living out those values every single day.  Because we live in a sinful world we tend to drift from God, not towards Him.  Reassessment can lead to realignment and when churches do realign themselves to God’s mission and purpose for their existence, revival often comes.  Change just for change’s sake is not the right motivation but when our desire is to please Christ He blesses that effort!

Third, begin by building trusting relationships!  Change in churches begins with trust.  Kevin Ford, a church health consultant, in Transforming Church says, “In church after church, I have seen leaders fail because their passion for change far exceeded the trust they had earned.”  Some leaders introduce change too quickly and sacrifice trust while others wait for that magical moment of no resistance and move far too slowly.  Trust is earned by fulfilling the expectations of the church that are realistic and biblical.  It begins by loving them and then over time will allow a leader to move from meeting expectations to challenging them. 

Fourth, change does not happen overnight!  Remember, you are not guiding a jet ski and effective leaders understand that change is usually best introduced incrementally, one step at a time.  You will never remove all stress and conflict but they can be greatly reduced by a careful and prayerful approach.  Some think that all they have to do is come up with the coolest vision statement and core values and the ship will turn.  The reality is that most “vision” statements do not bring about actual change.  Most leaders overestimate what they can accomplish in one year and underestimate what God can do in five years. 

Fifth, remember that no matter how hard you might try, you will not please everyone!  My favorite story here is of a man going to his pastor and telling him that if Jesus ever saw those drums on the stage He would roll over in His grave.  In an interview on effective leadership Ron Heifitz said, “Many people have a ‘smiley face’ view of what it means to lead.  They get a rude awakening when they find themselves with a leadership opportunity.  Exercising leadership generates resistance—and pain.  People are afraid that they will lose something that’s worthwhile.  They’re afraid that they’re going to have to give up something they’re comfortable with.”

There will always be some resistance to change and that is an indicator that biblical leadership is being exercised.  Churches must make the necessary changes to align themselves with the mission of God!