How will the leader shortage be filled?
One of the things which made Jesus’ teaching so effective was His use of the ordinary. He was able to use the common and usual to illustrate profound spiritual truths. The truths had always been there, but nobody had thought of them quite that way before. Or, to put it another way, Jesus gave new meaning to ordinary things. Who could ever look at a flower or a sparrow in quite the same way after hearing Jesus talk about them?
Sometimes we become so used to our environment that we lose sight of the lessons we can learn from the ordinary. It’s only when we are confronted with a different set of circumstances that we realize just how blessed we’ve been. The following tales are adapted from some journal entries I made while on a mission trip.
In what sense are our assemblies a service?
Something has really been bothering me lately. Some of those who know me would retort that it doesn’t take much to bother me. Be that as it may, the pain has gotten bad enough that I need to try to clear my head by writing about this particular topic. What, you ask, am I blathering about? It’s that phrase, ‘church service.’
On the one hand, the phrase ‘church service’ is so common and wide-spread that I feel almost foolish trying to define it. We all know what is meant. When we use the term, we are referring to the time(s) the church gets together in order to worship God, partake of the Communion and listen to the Word explained. We use the phrase, in particular, for the meetings which take place on Sunday.
Concerning foundational truths.
It used to be that just about every English speaking person in Great Britain and the U.S. had a pretty good idea of what is in the Bible. Even if they lived their lives along totally different lines, they still had a general knowledge of Bible stories, commands, ethics and principles. So, when Wodehouse wrote, “I had been dreaming that some bounder was driving spikes through my head – not just ordinary spikes, as used by Jael the wife of Heber, but red-hot ones.” (Code of the Woosters) Or, that so and so was, “A bit like Balaam’s ass... If you recall, it too dug in its feet and refused to play ball.” (Much Obliged Jeeves) Or, when Mark Twain observed a comb which “...had come down from Esau and Samson, and had been accumulating hair ever since...” (Roughing It) it was a safe bet that everybody understood what they were getting at. It ain’t that way any more.
An alternate metaphor for creation.
No matter where you stand in the Creation/Evolution debate, I suspect that this entry will peeve the socks off of you. Here’s why: I am of the opinion that most of the debate; most of the arguments for and against; most of the evidence which is bandied about by both sides, is totally irrelevant. That statement, alone, is justification enough for people in both camps to want to crucify me. But there is method in my madness. Until you’ve had a chance to figure out what it is, please put your hammer and nails away.
Now, right off the bat, a bunch of people will jump to the conclusion that I think it is irrelevant whether we were created or merely evolved. I didn’t say that. Whether God exists and, if so, whether He created the universe and everything in it – including us – is a question of extreme importance. It’s not the question, but what is said about it, which I think is largely irrelevant.
Why do we have sermons, and is there a better alternative?
Those of us who have grown up in the church are so conditioned by the way things are done that we rarely, if ever, ask ourselves why we do it that way. Even those outside the church, but have grown up in a Western culture, have a mental image of what a church assembly is supposed to be like. There’s no doubt that the centerpiece in most protestant church assemblies, whether evangelical, charismatic, fundamentalist, conservative or liberal, is the sermon. But why? What’s so special about sermons and why is so much importance given to them?
Lest I incur the premature wrath of any preachers who happen to read this, let me hasten to say that there is a time and place for sermons. I give them, too. But I do question the emphasis given to sermons and the exalted role they have in the typical church assembly.
Wherein PresbyterJon lists some of the books he’s been reading...
One of my vices is reading. No, I didn’t say that I read vice! Reading, itself, can easily turn into a vice for me. You see, I read not only to get information and to continue learning but, for me, reading is a great pleasure. It’s my preferred method of relaxing and getting my mind off of problems and difficulties. Of course reading can be a great help in finding solutions to problems, and a lot of my reading is for that purpose. But it’s the pleasure part that gets me in trouble. I find myself letting books get in the way of doing work I ought to be doing. There are times when I have to consciously avoid visiting the library lest I be tempted to neglect necessary tasks. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with the ability to read quickly.
Sooner or later, all of us in church leadership are confronted with a pretty basic decision. This decision will affect just about everything we do. It will determined the character of our assemblies and the kind of outreach we do. It will have an impact on how we grow and the nature of that growth.
What’s really scary is that some congregations seem to make this decision by default without really discussing it or even thinking about it. I’ve known some that just sort of went along with the flow and didn’t seem to have any sort of strategic vision at all.
Now, I think it’s a fairly safe bet that all of us want our congregations to experience dynamic and vibrant growth. At least there are few, regardless of what they think in their heart of hearts, who would say that they didn’t want it. The real question is how we will go about fostering it.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled in recent years on the subject of what makes congregations grow. Behind a lot of the discussion is an assumption that bigger is better. The assumption isn’t necessarily true. Bigger is not always better. It depends on what is growing and how it is growing. If a cancerous tumor grows bigger, it is hardly cause for joy.
Back in the 1980’s one of the most popular books on management making the rounds was In Search of Excellence by Peters and Waterman. Not long after the book was published, several of the ‘excellent’ companies they wrote about ran into trouble. Some of the principles and ideas discussed in the book have since fallen from favor, too, but one of them has intrigued me from the time I first read it.
Scaling down for growth
The authors wrote that many of the excellent companies ignored theoretical economies of scale and deliberately designed their systems and plants to be sub-optimal. It turns out that by keeping things small, these companies were able to achieve efficiencies which more than made up for any economy of scale. They reported that things started to go wrong whenever there were more than about 1,000 people under one roof.