Posts Tagged ‘ministry’

I was at some denominational meetings in March, and throughout them I felt a discomfort. It wasn’t just the fault of church chairs or the brown colored water we usually pass off as coffee. There was something about out conversations about ministry together that left me feeling unsettled. I wasn’t until a few weeks later that things came together in my mind and heart around what made me feel as I did. These thoughts on ministry and the church were birthed from those rumblings.

Matthew 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Be missional,” he told him, and Matthew got up and developed a missional ecclesiology.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be relevant must deny themselves and take up their cross and start an intergenerational ministry.”

Ever since the church first sensed an inkling about 50 years ago that it may be on the outs with greater society, it has done everything that it can to try to re-introduce itself to the West. We have seen – and maybe been a part of – movements like fundamentalism, born again, Jesus freaks, big tent evangelism, What Would Jesus Do, friendship evangelism, emergence, missional movements, and a constant grasping for relevance. The most recent name tag for our lost identity seems to be intergenerational ministry. If we can just get the kids to talk to grown-ups, maybe even their parents, then the problems we sense with the shallow and innocuous faith evident in our churches will certainly be rectified so we can get on with the business of introducing people to Jesus. More than likely though, it’s likely just another bout with amnesia that has us struggling to know ourselves and experiencing crisis over forgetting the name of our beloved. If this name tag doesn’t stick though, it won’t be long before the next travelling book tour makes its way through the Christian publishing marketplace to rename our problem.

At the root of our problems is a lack of a path to real, deep, and transmittable spiritual growth. Even if we examine ourselves deeply enough to realize a lack of discipleship is the root cause of our trouble, how many of us or our churches could really explain what discipleship looks like? Church history has many examples of roads to growth that the early followers of Jesus encouraged new followers to traverse in order to grow in their faith and grow into functional members of the church. Unfortunately, our evangelical anabaptist heritage has left us almost devoid of roads to go down. We are surrounded with biographies, we are over-run with programs for kids, tweens, youth, young adults, seniors, offer small group experiences and Sunday school classes. Often though, these programs lead to the aging out of their members. Until we can define what a disciple is, how one is made, and what growth looks like, we’re likely to continue churning out Christians without a Christ-like identity.

Until we can look ourselves and our issues in the face and realize it’s Jesus we’re looking for we’re going to keep on nervously fumbling with the spiritual change in our pockets trying to look like we know what we’re doing. Discipleship is the lifelong process of coming to know Jesus and then to continually be formed more closely into his image as we humble ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Discipleship can start at any age, so we need plans and processes that can incorporate people into the life of Christ and his church however they may come. A forty year old single father with no church background who decides to follow Jesus won’t have the history of Sunday School to fall back on in conversation. Where does he begin? The high school kid who called Jesus Lord at age four and is now reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics doesn’t likely need an evening explaining how Jesus loves him and forgives all his sin. Where does he fit? People are more complex than our programs.

What we need are not age driven programs, but growth plans based on spiritual maturity giving people starting points and stepping stones to work from as they come to the church seeking to know Jesus and follow him faithfully. It’s going to take actually getting to know people, and letting them into our lives to let them know us. Until then we likely will just keep putting new name tags for Jebus on church ministries instead of introducing people to the life changing person of Jesus.

nancygraceho.jpgI’ll level with you right off the top, I don’t know where this is going.  Usually I’m sleepy by this time – around 12:30am – but tonight I’m not, so I’m wiriting in the hopes of getting closer to sleep.  I spent a little time parousing through and reading all the blogs on my list, in particular Brad’s post that sounded strangely similar to one I wrote myself a few weeks ago about some of the challenges facing young pastors these days.  Tonight I don’t feel like complaining though.  This has been a good week at the church.  Although some may not believe me, I really enjoyed our elder’s meeting this week and it gave me some hope that an answer to my questions may be within reach and not just a pipe dream.  I again was given the affirmation that they are on the same page as I am and would support me pretty much no matter what crazy idea I thought would be the right one.  It’s exciting and daunting at the same time.  Exciting in that I’m getting in on the ground floor of something that I think could be spectacular, and daunting in the sense that it’s the ground floor and there is no particular momentum in any direction (ie. it’s totally up to me to set the direction and create the momentum).  I’m still not sure exactly what direction things will head in yet, but I’m starting to get a little bit of a vision of what it could be.  If you want to guess what that is I guess I could set up some kind of web-based competition to “name that ministry” once it starts up. 😉

Anyways, I’m starting to get a little closer to groggy now – I’ve been watching Nancy Grace do a story about O.J. Simpson’s new trial and that’s enough to make anyone pass out – so I think I’m going to try to get some sleep now.  In hindsight, I guess this post actually went somewhere after all . . . go figure.

businessman-banging-his-head-against-the-wall-ispc026073.jpgWell, with the short layoff I had, why not indulge in some double-dipping goodness?  Two posts for the price of one!  Well, here we go.

This may seem like kind of a rabit trail, but I think it’s an important one to begin with before I move on.  I am not unbiased.  No one is unbiased.  I’m tired of “objective” opinions.  I’m sick of “no-spin zones”.  We are all biased, and that’s okay.  We can’t be expected to see the world through anyone’s eyes but our own.  The important thing is that we admit our biases up-front so that when people hear what we say or read what we write, they know through what lens the viewpoint is coming from.

All that being said, I come from the point of view that the whole “church growth movement” of the past couple decades is pretty flawed.  I don’t think God’s major concern is how many uncommitted people we can get to pray “the prayer” and then go on with their lives as though nothing changed.  This might sound a little cynical, and for that I appologize, but I think that our churches need to be at least as concerned, if not more concerned, with quality as quantity when it comes to believers.  I can’t claim this as some kind of truly original insight into the state of our church, but it is where I’m coming from.  But, and this is a BIG but in my mind lately, at what point does our concern with quality become too reactionary against the movement for pure quantity that we lose sight of the fact that the church is supposed to grow too?

I’ve been at our church for about a year and a half now.  I put a lot of time and effort into designing my “vision” for our youth and young-adults (I’ve become uneasy with that term lately but that’s another post for another time) ministries and threw myself into it completely.  Over the past year I have seen a lot of spiritual growth in a lot of the kids in the youth group.  I think that has been going pretty well.  We’ve even seen some growth in the youth group on friday nights (which is something in itself considering we only have 3 senior high kids from our church).  The wednesday night bible study/volunteer night hasn’t been doing anything though.  There were two kids attending when we started, and there are two kids now.  They have a good time and learn a lot from the study and volunteering in the community, but it’s still just two church kids every week.  How many times should I hit my head against this brick wall?  Is it good enough to just keep going on in this wednesday night path with the youth study/service night because it’s effective for those two kids, or do I need to move on to something different because it’s pretty obvious that it is not meeting the needs of the kids beyond just our two church kids?

Similarly, I tried to get a “young adults” ministry going here this past year because there had been little to nothing in that area in this church before.  We met for coffee and conversation – some spiritual and some not – every couple weeks for the past year, and after the initial get together when we had eight people or so we had the same two people come every sunday night.  How many times should I hit my head against this brick wall?  We had some great conversation and learning time with the two people that came, but it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t having any kind of mass appeal or outreach because there was no growth.  It’s a difficult situation because I saw so much growth coming from the coffee and conversation get-togethers, but how do you balance that with the need to reach out to others who obviously aren’t interested in the way things have been going?

I have a few ideas banging around in my head about what I can do differently for either the youth or “young adults” but they are almost so different that I’m a little scared to make a drastic step.  It may well be that I just decide to take the plunge and try something crazy.  It’s pretty obvious that nothing that I’ve tried so far is having much traction, but does that necessarily mean that I need to give it up, or do I keep going on with what I’ve been doing because of the great spiritual growth that I’ve seen in the few that do come out regularly?  The tension between focusing on making solid disciples of Christ and focusing on growing the group so more people can be ministered to is a tough one for me right now.  Do I keep going the same direction because of the obvious good things God is doing in people’s lives and trust God will mystically grow the group, or do I change direction to reach out to more people and risk hurting the ministry that we have to the people who are growing so much through what we’re doing now?  I really think that the focus of the church, and these ministries in particular, needs to be focused on making disciples: learning to think and live like a Christian.  At the same time, I think it’s silly to think you’re being effective in ministry if there is never any growth at all and only current members of your church are being ministered to.  It’s a question I haven’t come to resolution on yet, but I’m wrestling with it and hope to make it tap out with my rear naked choke soon.