I have read a lot of blogs over the last year discussing the problems Churches of Christ are facing. Whether you agree or disagree, you’re likely aware of the perceived issues. So skipping through most of those details, let’s talk about a church facing decline that is seeking a new minister because I believe what we’re asking for and what needs to happen moving forward.*
Your Church Wants to Grow But. . .
Let’s talk about what we expect when a new minister arrives to serve with the church so that the new era is not just more of the same. “We want to grow and reach the lost without doing anything new. . . different,” said not a church. Yet there’s more reality to that than many churches realize.
One particular church that has been in decline for sometime placed an ad on a website seeking a new minister. The advertisement started out saying:
“We are a congregation of about sixty members searching for an experienced, energetic, and mission-minded minister who can help us grow.”
That’s a noble desire but I wonder, will this church and the many others seeking the same thing, listen to the minister and let that minister lead them in such renewal? A second question that needs to be asked, why does the church want to grow?
Let’s get something out that you probably know but probably isn’t thought through enough. There’s a difference between wanting to grow as a church living on mission with God and wanting the church to grow simply for the sake of self-preservation. The issue here is that God is not in the business of growing churches just to keep them in existence. What God wants is for churches to join him in his mission and while such an adventurous pursuit normally results in growth, it also requires change.
The Six Letter, “Four Letter” Word.
That’s right! Change! It’s six letter “four letter” word in many churches but if a church is going to grow. . . That is, if a church is going to participate in the mission of God, change is inevitable. We should also expect that some of these changes will be drastic. Just look at some of the churches that are growing and bearing great gospel fruit, there are many differences between them and churches that have been in decline.
It’s illogical to think that we can expect different results without doing something different. . . without change. In fact, that is the classic definition of insanity, right? However, let’s remember: following Jesus involves change! As individual Christians and as churches, the Spirit is constantly seeking to transform us. So we should expect to change, first in the way we the renewing of our minds and then in the way we live as a church.
What a minister wants, and I can speak for this, is to know what sort of changes the church anticipates. Likely the minister already has a vision for growth, missional renewal, and so on. What the minister wants to know is whether the church understands what it’s seeking when it says “we want a mission-minded minister to help us grow.” So does the church have an idea of what sort of changes are necessary? Is the church open to such changes? Will the church give the minister permission to lead them through such changes, so that the church can grow as a vibrant and healthy community on mission with God?
Identifying and Making The Changes
“So let’s sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about change.” That’s what needs to happen in most churches. Ask the hard questions about why the church has been in decline and look inward before pointing elsewhere. Be open and ask for the perspective minister’s thoughts one why some Churches of Christ are declining and what needs to happen in order to step into a season of renewal. Take a look at what some other healthy and vibrant churches are doing. It may or may not work since one size never fits all. However, the Churches of Christ that are facing decline can learn something from other churches outside of our fellowship.
When the new minister arrives, have more conversations. . . preferably over some Sumatra roast in a local owned coffee roastery. But that’s just my suggestion.
Seriously though, give the minister permission to lead and be open to such leadership. I know there are some “power-driven, ego-trippin’, me, myself, and I,” ministers, just as there are in elders and other church leaders too. But this is not so with most ministers, who want nothing more than to serve as a leader, as one preaching, teaching, and equipping the church to live as a vibrant and healthy community that grows as it bears the fruitful gospel witness.
The Columbia Church of Christ, where I serve now is on this journey with you. We are trying to lean deeper into the Mission of God as we seek to grow. We don’t have all the answers and we don’t know specifically where this will take us but we trust the Lord, Jesus Christ, whom we follow. In the meantime we have been partnering with Mission Alive which seeks to equip communities on mission with God. Missions Resource Network is another organization affiliated with the Churches of Christ that might be of help.
* I am thankful to my friends and ministry colleagues (they know who they are) who read an earlier draft and suggested some necessary corrections.