I have always tried to avoid having to say, “I do not know.” This phrase insinuates that I am incompetent, unprepared or just lazy. Pastors are supposed to know everything, right? Over the past few months, I have become more accustomed to answering with, “I do not know.” The truth is that I do not know what else 2020 may hold for us. I do not know all the reasons individuals and families may be choosing not to return to in-person worship. I do not know when, or if, churches will regain some of the normalcy from pre-COVID.
What I do know is that God is sovereign, in complete control and is accomplishing His will. What I do know is that the local church is still God’s vehicle as a gospel outpost to make disciples from our backyard, to our nation and to the nations of the world.
God has not changed His will for reconciling a lost world to Himself. He has not recanted on His desire for His people to more faithfully reflect Jesus in our lives.
So, what is the church supposed to do?
The local church is experiencing a crisis of existence. Many churches are hoping that things will “get back to normal” soon. Some churches are paralyzed because the new reality for church life and ministry has shifted and they do not know what they are supposed to do. Other churches want to do something, and in an effort to feel productive and create synergy in the church, they are doing anything and everything to try to artificially push the church back toward the way things used to be prior to March. Churches that have been used to activity and programs are looking for placeholders until the activities and programs can be resumed. I do not pass judgment on any church or pastor. Our church has been in all of these categories at some point over the past few months.
The common denominator is that churches are waiting and hoping for a return to a season of church that may never come. The result is that pastors, staff and church members struggle to stay motivated as the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months.
Is it possible that the local church needs a new scorecard? Historically, the western church’s scorecard has been bodies, buildings and budgets. Do we have more people this week than last week or the same week last year? What new building projects and/or renovations are happening? Are our facilities any better? Is the church giving more, the same or less compared to last quarter or last year?
What if there was a new scorecard? Not that attendance patterns and giving trends are not observed, but where they are not ultimate. What if the new scorecard focused on the spiritual condition of the leadership and the people? What is God doing and where is He leading? The ultimate measure of a church’s health and effectiveness is whether or not people are following Jesus and living on mission for the glory of God.
Success is measured by mission accomplished. Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you ….”
There is a lot that the local church can do (programs). There is ONE thing the local church must do (make disciples).
Success is the bearing of spiritual fruit in the life of the church which means having a pattern of making disciples who make disciples that results in the community being noticeably better. When a church is making disciples who make disciples, all of the other issues will be addressed (ie, attendance, giving, baptisms … bodies, buildings and budgets).
Our motivation must be the glory of God. The pain of change is not a good motivation. This would lead to pragmatism of numbers (“What would it take to get people to come?”). Pragmatism will not work because when the pain of change gets too high – and eventually it will — we will bail on the work in order to protect the institution of the church. But if our goal is to make much of Jesus – to bring Him the glory He so richly deserves – and if that goal remains paramount throughout the process, everyone involved will have the courage to keep pushing forward. The purpose of the pain and struggle is the glory of God.
How do we build off how God is working to help lead the church into a renewed season of ministry, missions, discipleship and growth? Change for the sake of change is useless. Change that is connected to the mission is purposeful. Change is not a bad word. It is a necessary word.
- Acts 1 = Promise of Holy Spirit
- Acts 2 = Indwelling of Holy Spirit
- Acts 2:42-47 = example of a Holy Spirit empowered gospel community; a snapshot in the life of the early church immediately after Pentecost.
- Life Transformation is an Expected Norm (Acts 2:44-45)
- Regular & normative pattern of behavior. Christians in the book of Acts were not content to meet once a week for “services as usual.” They met daily (2:46), cared daily (6:1), won souls daily (2:47), searched Scriptures daily (17:11) & increased in number daily (2:47). All in context of life transformation happening through the fellowship of the local church. Why? Because the risen Christ was a living reality to them & His resurrection power was at work in their lives by His Holy Spirit.
- The local church must celebrate life change. The church needs to hear of the lives that are changed so the people can worship God and give Him glory.
- Life Transformation is a Spiritual Issue (Acts 2:42-43)
- Every issue is spiritual issue. “Continually devoting” – there was a daily surrender to the Lordship of Christ. Devotion was in areas of spiritual disciplines. A church that fulfills these spiritual disciplines will find that these disciplines produce spiritual character.
- Scripture Intake – right theology leads to right methodology
- Fellowship – relationships & community (inside & outside of church). Bible does not envision the Christian life to be lived apart from others … other Believers nor apart from non-Believers. We need the fellowship of saints & ministry to the lost.
- Community – “breaking of bread”; Lord’s Supper services that were celebrated in remembrance of Jesus and were patterned after the Last Supper of Jesus & his disciples before his death. They were house gatherings that had a meal, fellowship & celebrated the Lord’s Supper as part of their commitment to the apostles’ teachings.
- Prayer – Literally, “the prayers”; Indicates there were formal & set aside times that they gathered together to pray. The Church in Acts was not institutional like we know it. It was a movement. They found their power in the presence of God. They found that incredible things happened when they got together to pray. The first lesson a church must learn is to rely on God’s power rather than our creativity/effort. Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscles omnipotence. The life of this early church was so genuine & spiritually powerful that everyone, whether inside or outside the church, kept feeling a sense of awe. They weren’t awed by church because of buildings or programs, but by the supernatural character of its life & ministry
- Life Transformation is a Natural Result (Acts 2:46-47)
- These verses do not specifically say they were out witnessing. But we know God reaches persons through the spoken/shared testimony of the gospel. Churches are evangelistic not because of an evangelism program but because of the power of God at work in people’s lives.
- God never intended for Pentecost to be the big end of the horn & then to diminish to vanity, futility, emptiness & barrenness. God meant for Pentecost to be little end of the horn & that faith was to grow in power & might.
Identifiable Marks of Transformation
- Surrender – living sacrifice; Problem w living sacrifices is that they squirm on the altar. Must climb on the altar each week.
- Renewal – Sin happens in the mind long before it is carried out in the flesh. To live out gospel transformation we need a spiritual mind renewed by truth of Scripture.
- Service – Pursue opportunities to live your life to impact others for Christ
- Love – to love others requires us to remove hypocrisy first. Most effective way to do this is to get involved in a closer community with others. As we do, we are forced to honestly deal w our lives & their lives in light of the gospel & let the character of Christ be worked into us. Love is a choice (to value need of others rather than our own.).
- Diligence – Faithfulness to God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Bible, church fellowship, world
- Perspective – How you view your life will be how you carry out your ministry. We need humble perspective of dependence on God. Faith is being convinced that God is there, and He is for us.
- Community – For lives to be changed needs must be met. For needs to be met community must be valued. Living life with others as we are all changed by God.
- Righteousness – Issue of “Can I be righteous?” is to be removed from our thoughts. Our thought each day can be, “How will Christ’s righteousness be displayed in me?”
Let’s put this in a quantifiable set of metrics. I am only one pastor. I do not have answers. Actually, I have more questions than answers. In our local church, we are using the following strategy to lead the church forward in fulfilling the Great Commission and tracking our progress to celebrate what God is doing. We are leading our local church to:
- Worship God Faithfully
- Connect with Others Relationally
- Grow Spiritually
- Mobilize to Serve
We know that there is a lot that our church can do. Our preference is to see the gospel as the eternal and the program as having a shelf life. This distinction allows us to clearly define the mission in light of Scripture while leaving room for God to move us here and there within His mission without being disrupted when the context requires a change in strategy. The above paradigm helps us answer the following question: “How do we fulfill the Great Commission in the current context?” It serves as a filter. At any given time, each of the metrics listed above may have one or more measurements to help us lead the church forward in that area.
How are you and your church adjusting metrics to stay focused on the Great Commission AND celebrating what God is doing?