Church Leadership Good News

Inhibitions to the spread of the Gospel in your community

The church is decreasing in America while our population continues to expand. One major factor contributing to this decline is how Christians think about themselves and their community of faith in the greater community in which they interact. This “self-talk” internally acts as a mental inhibition towards the innovation and creativity we need to reach lost people with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Here’s some examples of inhibitions:

  • There’s nothing new under the sun. Really? I hear this dismissive tone nearly every time a new idea is floated. While there are certainly many, many who just redress the same pig and expect a different award at the fair– there are also tons of brand new ideas out there. In fact, the rate at which new information about our world is gathered, disseminated, and implemented continues to accelerate. There are actually new things discovered under the sun every second of every day.
  • People aren’t interested in Jesus. To the contrary every study reveals a wide gap between those claiming Christ and those actively involved in fellowship with other believers. While the gap changes based on the studies you read, let’s ballpark it at 20% of the United States population. That’s 61.4 million people in America who are walking around identifying themselves with Christ but are disconnected from the Christian community. When Jesus said the fields are white for the harvest he wasn’t kidding. Literally, 1:5 people you will meet today already call themselves a Christian but just need to get connected. (John 4:35)
  • I am not an evangelist. Good! People desperately need community. And people with microphones selling Jesus scare almost everyone. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is the best evangelist ever. Your job isn’t to tell every person about Jesus and ask them to receive Christ. Jesus said the two most important things you can do are to love your neighbor as yourself and love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. (Matthew 22:33-35) Anyone can do that, right?
  • I’m not a pastor. Cool, neither was Jesus. He was a carpenter and a lay teacher– A blue collar regular guy like you or I who went to work every day. He didn’t have a church to invite people to. If the last 50 years of church decline have taught us anything it’s that the “If you build it, they will come” strategy can’t reach an additional 20% of a growing population. We can’t build fast enough.
  • People don’t want to come to church with me. Who said they need to go to church? Giving your heart to Jesus and finding community with other believers doesn’t mean people have to join a church. You can form a community of believers who hate church right in your house. Who knows? As they discover that you aren’t a tool, maybe they’ll want to be a part of church later? And maybe that group of church haters in your house will grow… and become a church?

What are other inhibitions, mental blocks, that are impacting the spread of the Gospel in your community?

Church Leadership

Moving towards the polite middle

As I think about the church and the 5%-10% of people we reach in the community I wonder where we fall on the bell curve.

Something tells me that it looks a little like this.

I wonder if the positions we take attracts, appeals to, and connects a certain type of people? And I wonder if church leaders are going for the sucker pin of thinking of going more conservative (politically/socially/by American cultural definitions) or more liberal is going to lead to growth in their congregation? However, this is counter to what we know about behavior from the bell curve. This just means that to attract more people “like us” we need to have a wider reach and draw people from a larger and larger geographic area.

Sidebar: Now, immediately I have some people who will read this upset because they don’t really like my labels. And they especially don’t like that I’ve lumped nearly all churches into two categories. And some are going to be quick to point out ways that their church is neither liberal nor conservative. That’s OK. This is just some generalization and hyperbole to make a point.

Here’s my neighborhood on the bell curve. Again, full of hyperbole and generality.

Our neighborhood is not unlike any other urban or suburban neighborhood I’ve lived in. We have our cooky people on the fringes, we have our people who are just a little bit political, but who will quickly drop it for the sake of community… and we have the vast majority of people who probably have some personal opinions but just want the neighborhood to be a nice place to live, are willing to politely disagree on some stuff, and otherwise would rather be defined by their neighborliness than their political leanings.

Think strategically church leader!

Instead of trying to out-conservative or out-liberal ourselves, where we will find decreasing populations and have to incur the expense of widening our reach, the reality is that reaching the majority of the population will come as we lay aside our ideals and move towards the middle.

As Stephen Phelan, my pastor, put it yesterday– The two extremes will come together when we focus on a common mission. For instance, if we focus on feeding and housing the poor, both extremes agree that we should do it for their own ideologies, and people in the middle are just happy to participate in something cool. The happy middle will agree to be a part of it because everyone knows it’s good to take care of the poor in your community.

For example. I’m an egalitarian. I would love to see more women in the pulpit. And I’ve turned down positions on boards that were all male with the exception that I’d join the board if they moved towards 50% board membership by females. But I go, love, and support a church in my neighborhood that is PCA. (Which doesn’t allow women to preach or hold pastoral roles.) How do I deal with that contradiction between what I believe the Bible teaches about women and the church I attend? It’s easy… I’m in love with the mission of our church! Just like we overlook the flaws of our spouse because of our love, so I overlook this disagreement because of my love for the church. While I disagree with that one position, I am in full agreement with their strategy to reach our community and I love the staff as brothers and sisters in Christ. That over-powers my personal preferences.

How to reach more people

If you want to grow, from a population standpoint, you need to better represent your zip code and move to the middle. To do  this, you’ll need to take a sober judgement of your congregation. Walk around the place with centrist eyes. Ask yourself, “What is in this building that could be offensive to the general population? What would make people feel uncomfortable? What would make them feel like they didn’t fit in?

Over the past few months people have approached me and said that I present both radical and simple ideas… that their church would never go for. The reality is this: Move to the middle to find growth and those naysayer voices will be overcome by the reality of your strategy. Focus on what we all know to be true… Jesus called the church to be good news to the neighborhood. It’s a centrist position that only feels extreme to people on the extremes scared to be pulled towards the middle!

To move towards the middle you may need to realize that your leadership might just be on the leading edge one way or the other. That doesn’t mean that they can’t hold those positions. But it might mean that they can’t represent those personal convictions on behalf of the church.

Church Leadership

Pastor as Vocation

Confession: I do as much or more pastoral ministry now than I did when I worked in a church.

That is no knock on my friends in full-time vocational ministry.

It is more an affirmation for the myriad of people I know who have stepped out (or been pushed out) of their ministry job.

Leaving vocational ministry in a church for the great unknown is an identity crisis. These friends are left asking themselves, “Am I still a pastor?

I went through the same thing 2 years ago. You are OK. You are still very much a pastor, even if your paycheck doesn’t come from a church.

I’m here to tell you this simple truth: When you are a pastor you are a pastor wherever you go. It’s a calling and not a vocation.

My reality

I opened this by saying that I do as much or more pastoral ministry now than I did while I worked at churches. So what does that look like?

  • Removed of the stigma of “going to talk to my pastor” I give a great amount of pastoral counsel. Instead of people coming to my office for that we meet at coffee shops, my house, and even bars. (Gasp!)
  • I love teaching at youth group. I don’t do it often enough to get into a groove… which keeps it from feeling like a grind.
  • I totally miss filling the pulpit. At the same time I’ve learned that I probably preach too much and act too little. I have a lot more time to do ministry rather than prepare a message.
  • We’ve rediscovered authentic relationships. When you work at a church your life is full of people who claim to be your friends– but it’s a positional thing. When you are a nobody in your congregation you have to develop friendships the old fashioned way. Better yet: When the positional ones come along you don’t feel obligated.
  • I’m ministering to people in my life that are a part of my neighborhood, work life, adult small group, and students in my youth group.
  • Straight talk, no B.S. (Stealing a line from a politician) That’s kind of how it feels. Free from the weirdness of people probing and constantly feeling like I’m answering every question on behalf of the church, I can just let it fly. Want to know what I think or what the Bible says? I don’t need a “church filter” anymore.

Conversely, when I was a vocational pastor I was constantly thinking to myself, “This is it? I rarely spend time with people. All I do is run programs. I want to be with people and do ministry!

Interesting how freedom from the work of running a church has lead me to doing more pastoral ministry, right?

A global perspective for the naysayers

My fellow Americans, live in an ethnocentric culture. And American church culture is even more insular than American culture. Those of us who are in that culture have a very hard time seeing outside of it. So when I say things like “It’s a calling and not a vocation” most people in the church have no frame of reference. So while we’ve tied the concept of “I’m a pastor” with “I get paid to work at a church” we really get messed up when we no longer work for a church.

Two things to chew on…

Within Christianity: Outside of major Westernized countries almost no one who is a pastor does so vocationally. (Bi-vocational is the norm) In fact, the fastest spreading Christianity is spreading is absent of vocational staff and mostly without resources like buildings, Bibles, Bible study materials, etc. I’ve been pointing out the inverse relationship between church growth and church spending for months… but no one is lining up to cut their church budget/staff to see their church grow.

Other religions: Outside of the Christian church most religions are run by either volunteers or people who have taken vows of poverty, sustained only by the meager donations of people in their care. The Latter-day Saints are an excellent example of this. Very few people get paid within the Mormon church and yet it is one of the fastest growing religions in the world.