Sunday, January 27, 2008

State Of The Church

Today I delivered the annual "State Of The Church Address." Here are some of the salient points:

  • We are making concrete progress toward our vision to become actively involved in church planting to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. So far, at least three other churches are interested in pursuing the idea to partner with us in the accomplishment of this vision.
  • The vision is a bold, daring move, in that (as far as I can tell) there are no other communities in America pursuing an inter-denominational LEAD Team strategy, which is what we are proposing. This is an "impossible" task from a human perspective. Therefore, God will get all the glory when he causes it to happen.
  • Even as we move forward in the vision for church-planting to reach the 100,000 people around us with no church family, we recognize that we ourselves are not doing our part. We are not being faithful to our stated mission and our core value of Real Story, which is proved by our anemic growth (up 9 people per week in 2007 to an average worship attendance of 125).
  • If we are to be a truly effective church, we must change this aspect of who we are--we must become committed to personal outreach in truth and in reality, not in words, ideas, and good intentions.

For a long time, I have been torn between two different goals in my preaching: promoting our church's vision, and advocating for our church's health. I want to promote the vision as a means of improving our health--calling us to see the spiritual needs of the 100,000 people in our community who need to know about Christ. On the other hand, I want us to become more healthy so that we can effectively accomplish the vision. Obviously, the two messages go hand-in-hand, and yet I've wondered which is the more effective message for accomplishing both objectives.

I think I've erred on the side of promoting the vision to the detriment of calling us to health, and the result has been to lure us into a complacency. After all, the vision is a long-term project, and not something that has very much direct impact on us right now. I've allowed the vision to become our substitute for personal outreach, so that in the back of our minds we say, "We don't have to reach our friends and neighbors because we'll plant a church someday to reach people."

But that type of thinking will not fly. For one thing, it's just plain disobedient. Christ has mandated his church to go into the world and tell his message. If we refuse to do it, we sin. Second, we'll never get out of our financial crisis; we will never grow to the point that there are enough people to spread out the financial burden of two pastors (we'll always be overstaffed). At some point, we'll have to make the decision that we won't have two pastors anymore, and I don't think anybody wants that. Third, if we give away people and leaders to plant churches but don't reach out to the world around us, we'll eventally run out of people and leaders. We need to grow in order to even just tread water.

It's easy for me to see how I've made this mistake. The vision is positive; our unhealthy patterns are negative (I hate focusing on the negative). The vision requires little from us right now; to become healthy requires a complete re-orientation and re-direction of our hearts, minds, and lives, and the sooner the better (it's easy to preach sacrifice down the road). Finally, I have more personal and direct control over the progress of the vision, but church health depends on all of us (as much as I try to trust God, I still like being in control far too much).

But the numbers reveal the truth: no tangible fruit to point to. We haven't really accomplished anything. And I don't know about you, but I can't stand to pretend to do something without really doing it. I'm not satisfied with plausible deniability--"well, we tried to reach out, it just didn't work." The Bible says that we are to be judged by our fruit, not our intentions. It's all about real results, not vague, nebulous notions of "progress." I'm sick of getting closer. I'm tired of another year of building, getting ready to turn the corner, almost ready to do something significant. Let's be done getting ready and get started already! Let's just do it!

Let's rise up and be the church that God calls us to be! Here are some concrete steps you can take:

  • Ask God to show you five people in your life you have direct contact with on a regular or semi-regular basis who aren't currently connected to a church.
  • Begin praying for those five people every day. Pray for every need you are aware that they have--spiritual, financial, emotional, relational, etc.
  • Share those names with your small group and have them start praying with you.
  • Pray that God would help you love them more than you currently do, that you would love them the way HE loves them.
  • Pray for (and look for) opportunities to talk about spiritual things--God, the Bible, church.
  • Invite them to un upcoming message series that might line up with their lives, their interests, or their needs.

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