Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Let's get serious

In the US approximately 100 churches close their doors every week.  That's about 5,000 churches a year.  This is happening at a time when our population continues to grow and the number of unchurched people is also increasing.  Many of those churches that close are smaller churches that may have been barely surviving for a numer of years.  Some are new church starts that didn't make it, and others are churches that developed problems they could not overcome.  Although these churches come from a variety of backgrounds, they share some things in common.  They began as the result of someone's vision that a church was needed in that location.  They served a number of wonderful people whose lives had been transformed as the result of the ministry that occurred in that church.  But, somewhere along the way they lost their sense of purpose and forgot why God had called them into existence in the first place.  We're all familiar with the passage, "Where there is no vision the people perish."  A church that has lost God's vision for its present and future ministry is a church that is destined to die.  It may survive for a season because of the faithfulness of previous generations, but eventually such a church will close.  As more and more Americans decide that the church is not relevant to their lives in the 21st century, more of these visionless churches will close in the future.  The question for the leaders of these churches are what will you do about this?

For too many decades now the church has complained about the decline many churches are experiencing, but too often they have done little, if anything, to turn that around.  It's time for these churches to get serious about this problem.  Either stop complaining or do something about it.  It's time to realize that what may have enabled your church to thrive and enjoy exciting ministry in the past is not going to work in the present.  We no longer live in a church culture in this country.  Instead we are living in a rapidly emerging pagan culture, to use the term of one writer, that does not know God and has little use for the organized church.  As I told a group of church leaders recently, your church is in just as much of a pagan culture as what our missionaries in Africa or Asia work in.  To think the old ways of doing church and denominational work in the 21st century is going to produce the results they did in the mid-twentieth century is just not being realistic.  Our culture has changed, and the means by which we impact this culture for the Kingdom of God must also change or we will continue to sink into further decline in both numbers and impact.

For many of us in church leadership that means we need to learn new ministry skills.  Most seminaries are still training ministers to do ministry in a modern, churched society, and their graduates may have great understanding of biblical languages, history, and theology, but many of them are ill-equipped to do ministry in the post-Christian culture in which we now live.  They may know the "Language of Zion," but they do not know the language of the street.  They may understand how to exegete Scripture, but they don't know how to put that into a sermon that speaks to current realities of 21st century life.  We need to find new ways to proclaim and model the life-changing truths of Scripture.  How can we best do that?
  1. Constantly read good books by trusted authors that challenge your thinking about ministry.  Leaders are readers, and if you're not reading at least one book a month you are not leading.  (I try to read a book a week.)  Do not limit your reading to books about faith and church, but read books occasionally that will help you better understand the culture in which we now live.
  2. Attend continuing education training events to help sharpen the gifts God has given you.  It's much easier to saw down a tree if you stop occasionally to sharpen your saw.  Take time to sharpen the tools God has given you.
  3. Get a coach to help you through the ruts that occur in ministry.  The business world has proven the return on investment for a coach is great, and the same thing is true for ministers.  A good coach can help guide you into better decision making and is a wonderful investment you can make in yourself.
  4. Pursue formal education that will prepare you for ministry in the real world.  There are very good programs available at any level you need.  Campbellsville University has a great on-line certificate program specifically structured for bivocational ministers.  They also offer both on-line and on campus Masters of Theology degrees for those ministers who have completed college.  If you have not completed college, you may want to consider that, and they offer on-line and residential programs to enable you to do that as well.  I have taught one of their on-line classes, and I can tell you they offer classes that are very practical for ministers and church leaders.
If we want to have an impact on the lives of the people around us, we are going to have to get serious about what we do.  The day for playing church games is over.  A lost and dying world can no longer afford to wait for the church to get serious about its calling.  Our chuches can no longer wait for their pastors to take seriously the call to leadership God has placed upon them.  Our denominations can no longer continue to play political games to try to placate their churches.  It is time for our churches, both bivocational and fully-funded, to rise up and be the church God has called us to be.

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