(Part 1 of 2)
Being a Professional Church Worker in the 21st century can be stressful. There are more people than ever in North America that, when asked about their religious preference, respond with “none.” Many congregations are trying to “do more with less,” and consider themselves lean and mean (in a nice way, of course). Where ministry staff was once 15, five remain. Sunday School volunteer numbers have shrunk with the kids. And for many congregations that once depended on quality (or at least competent) pipe-organ-led worship now download hymns and liturgy from the cloud and lead worship by iPad.
But, before we get too mired in self-absorbed sorrow: even facing negative 21st century mega-trends, we most certainly have it a LOT better than most Christian that have ever lived. We haven’t (yet) been stoned for sharing the Gospel in public places; I know of no one in North America that has been arrested for being a Christian; I have no personal stories of persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, nor have I engaged in sword-fights on account of practicing my Christian faith.
In other countries, yes! Even as I write this there are Christians being put to the sword, lose everything for the sake of the Gospel, whose children are kidnapped, houses burned, Christians who’s very lives are taken in the most gruesome way imaginable. Sisters and brothers in Christ, a vast majority of us do not have it so bad.
But even if we did have it bad, consider God’s word through St. Paul in Romans 8:31ff “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . .Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . .No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” [ESV]
I’m not trying to minimize the stress we do have; I feel it, everyone who is passionate about reaching people in the name of Jesus feels it. I’ve been at meetings where everyone’s hair is in fire because things aren’t going well for their particular ministry. Everyone who cares about people and the Great Commission can’t help but feel concern when reviewing reports of declining numbers in the ministries we serve. So, my next question is:
What is a 21st Century North American Christian To Do?
I write about Christian Leadership (hence the overall title: Christian Leadership Matters). There are steps leaders can take to address the needs and challenges our ministries face. Those steps will be divided into two articles. This week I will focus on two ideas: Remember and Re-evaluate. Next week’s article will focus on five specific ministry concepts growing congregations fully embrace. First: Remember and Re-evaluate:
Remember: The ministry is not yours but God’s. As smart and as charismatic as you may be, you have never converted anyone! Your winsome personality and hard work has never redeemed anyone; your ability to persuade and create inspiring worship has never turned a lost soul from the road to perdition. That’s all God’s job; something God has declared as His to accomplish; central to God’s creative, redeeming, ongoing miracle.
Remembering who owns The Ministry has been very helpful to me many times over the years. One wise Pastor informed my thinking by saying: “If you are going to take the blame for declining numbers of people in your ministry, you must, to be consistent, take the credit for those being saved as well.” Jesus brings people to the cross, I’m called to point people to Jesus.
At the same time, we’re not irrelevant to God’s redemptive plan. God has always called men and women to share in His redemptive process and faithfully connect His Word to hurting hearts. Our weak, inwardly-bent self is redeemed and made strong. Our eyes are re-focused on other people for whom Christ died. And God invites and empowers us to share everything with His Son, to even share in His redemptive invitation. Our words and our actions and our attitudes can be so enamored with Christ that other people cannot help but be drawn to the Jesus they see in us.
Remember: You are also a child of God. Although we are just as flawed as anyone, we are also included in the lavish love of our God. When we share Christ with someone, it is not possible to NOT be filled with hope in Christ. Jesus came for “them,” but (thank God), “them” is also “me.”
Remember: Your limitations. God created His people with many limitations. One of those limitations is that we need rest, sleep, laughter, family time, encouragement, some time to do those things that give us joy. Even God took a day off after working six. (The Sabbath is God’s gift, not an additional obligation.) Your ministry will not be “successful” by your own efforts anyway, but by the might strength of God and His Word-made-flesh.
Reevaluate Your Course. An important principle of life is this: if you fail to manage your own life well, you will be at the mercy of random events and aggressive or needy people will toss you about and chew you up. You will not like that life.
Life can be complicated. All the more for those called to leadership positions, unless we immerse ourselves in the person and purpose of our Lord Jesus. Although being a Christian will likely only complicate your life on the one hand, there is ultimately only good news: You also have the infinite resources of an eternal God. Infinite always wins over chaos.
As we re-evaluate our lives and and our Call, we must know our “WHY.” Why are you a Professional Church Worker? Why did you take on Christian leadership? What is the “why” that motivates you to dedicate your life to Jesus? If you know your “Why,” you can endure almost any “What” that comes your way. To make this article a little more succinct (and readable), to read more about the “Why,” I will refer you to an earlier article called: “No Matter What, Know Your Why.”
Reevaluate Your Priorities. Just as with individuals, organizations (non-profit, businesses, schools, congregations) need to ask WHY questions as well. So, on this point, I’m making a shift from the leader to the ministry you lead. (Next week’s article will focus on five practical principles that that will help your ministry grow.) Evaluate your existing priorities and re-evaluate where needed. Ask: Why does your school exist? What does your ministry bring to the world that a million other (better funded) ministries don’t already offer? To what has God called your ministry specifically?
I think I could accurately predict your personal values by an audit of how you spend your time and how you spend your money. (I could get an even better picture if I also reviewed the books you read and the TV/Movies you watch.) The same principle holds regarding your ministry or business: To determine what your ministry values, evaluate how you budget and how the people in the organization spend their time. What gets “rewarded” and what gets “punished?” (Or, what gets celebrated and what gets ignored.)
There are no hard and fast rules regarding how much you spend on what. For example, buildings usually cost a LOT more than developing relationships with the people of your community yet relationships are much more important to God than buildings. But it’s not wrong to invest in buildings and as expensive as they are, buildings are quite valuable to the ministry. That’s where wisdom comes in. But ask: What does your school or church truly value? What ministry, program, building, or practice would cause division if someone tampered with it? If a first-time visitor listens to the announcements, would they be inspired and invited to get involved or would they feel unneeded and unwanted? Is your ministry inward-focused or outward focused?
Part 1 Summary
To Remember means to re-immerse yourself in God’s call to be His daughter or son, to be a child of God FIRST and experience the reality of that relationship before trying to be a leader. To Re-evaluate means to lead from a “fellow-redeemed” perspective, to prioritize everything in your life and in your ministry from Top Down (where God is the One on Top). Sounds easy (and it is on paper) but sin corrupts and kneeling at the cross revives. As always, if you would like to discuss this, email me and we can set up a time to talk.
Next week, part 2, Five Specific Ministry Concepts Growing Ministries Fully Embrace. Between part 1 and part 2 I will have outlined some very specific concepts on what to do When What We Do Doesn’t Work. Until next week. . . .
Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.
Click TheHigherCallingCoach.com to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters. If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at: Phil@TheHigherCallingCoach.com.