Re-formby Rob Swanson on July 8, 2020
“Our church is uniquely poised … ", stated the pastor leaving his script on the first Sunday in June - my first Sunday back.
I do not remember the end of the sentence but I thought about it later.
“uniquely poised” … for what?
For new found vitality since the separation began in March?
For well attended times of worship?
For a year where the church meets its goals?
For an influx of penitent, revived believers?
The church is slowly bouncing back. But bouncing back to what?
Not to “a return,” in any sense. History just does not work this way.
There is no going back. Same = repetition and repetition is slow regression.
The quarantine slogans have included: “We’ll come back better than ever.” “We’ll get through this.” “We took it all for granted.” “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Many Christians found lots to like about their time away.
A new back door emerged. For every “eager returner” there is another having discovered a new and more fulfilling routine.
The world throws problems and challenges at us like an octopus hurling oranges. More than we can handle, if not for the grace of God. To this we now add recovering from Covid-19.
At a 2020 Discipleship Forum, gifted pastors voiced their frustration with a lack of effectiveness. The best of the best were wondering, “What are we doing wrong? … Why can we not correlate discipleship intentionality with growth? … Is there something amiss with our understanding of the gospel? …”
Most of the churches participating in a supporting study were claiming to lead 1 person per 100 members to faith each month. 10% of those churches led 2.
Both groups average no numerical growth.
50+% of churches where ½ to ¾ of the members are involved in discipleship still are not growing.
One asked, “What should we do going forward?"
Work harder? Plod along and trust God? Preach better? Pray up a revival?
Find a success story and buy their material? Scour the internet?
“Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
The church is "uniquely poised" …
and “going forward.”
I would like to add, “…by re-forming the church.”
We cannot expect to get by, much less advance, with antiquated readings of the Bible or an archaic understanding of the church and her mission.
Acquiescently retaining the 20th century, highly cultural understanding of the church is the leadership of the lazy man or woman. That was then. Thank God for our heritage but we are moving on and hoping to keep Ichabod way. The culture that so well supported a post World War II "institution" is not shared by our children.
The key for the future does not rest on improving the quality of the believer but improving the functioning of their church.
The church needs to re-form toward a demonstrable expression of the Body of Christ.
Our church gatherings consist primarily of music and teaching ministries coming in the form of songs and sermons, directed from a platform to people seated in rows. Nice, but cultural, temporary and passive. The church's greater need is for interaction among body members. Relationships need time and a place to develop.
The old dogs must learn some new tricks … new ways.
Of all the relational images for church, “the body of Christ” is number one.
Where is the risen Christ to be found? In his body.
Properly led, we can be the expression of the risen Christ!
Or, the church can remain the organization that it is with people happy to be serving, receiving nurture, enjoying friends … and declining.
We want to invest time in the things that matter.
What matters more than witnessing the presence of Christ, who is alive today!? Expect Holy Spirit led participation, gift expression, and mutual up-building of all the body members - members who hear from God.
They teach, exhort and encourage in accordance with their gifting and opportunity. They pray. They love.
They need to be equipped for ministry. Pastors already know this (Ephesians 4.12). Prompting the body of Christ to function as the body of Christ should be our first priority.
This priority we have not inherited from the 20th century!
The pulpit, pew, order of worship, leadership expectations, role of music, and altar calls are historical developments becoming dated.
The steeple evidently has its origin with the Roman obelisk fascination. A better symbol for church is the table. May the 21st
century major on discussion and the table is where we discuss, learn, pray for, receive prayer, become known, share ideas, and share life. Table dynamics require planning and leadership. Poorly led gatherings are one and done. The Holy Spirit’s primary aim is for the fullness of Christ to be experienced and seen and with evangelistic consequences (John 17.23,24)!
The primacy of relationships is the most basic attribute of the Trinity.
And we are now filled with that divine nature (2 Peter 1.4.) Whoa!
God has equipped his church to bring forth the fullness of Christ through body life. Ingredients include: fellowship, gift identity, gift expression, variety, equipping, loving, worship, witness, encouraging and celebrating ministry initiatives, learning, accountability, order, Scripture, musical genres, visual arts, drama, communion, correction, prayer, celebration of grace …
Good leadership results in Holy Spirit guided ministry toward an assembly uniquely “united in the same mind” (1 Corinthians 1.10). This is ongoing, not to become the set pattern for a future generation.
Where in the world today can be found regular gatherings of genuine people in relationship? The church should have this market cornered. Again, it will take time and work. And it is easy for one mistaken and misled individual to torpedo the whole enterprise, hence the need for preparation, training and leadership.
Children do not get adopted without a fine home awaiting them. The believer’s fine home is not our typical Sunday morning offering. We can do better. Perhaps our long sought re-vival / re-newal awaits table ministry (figuratively and literally).
As a visitor last summer I sensed the sermon, with its banner and graphics, had internet origin. So I searched for the title, “One Step at a Time” and on sermon central and found 220 links. The point: The role of the sermon is not what it use to be when throngs would seek out the masters. Today good preaching is everywhere, 24/7, videos, podcasts, FB, books, Amazon’s “Try a Sample”… The sermon should no longer be our centerpiece, nor is it our need. Learning is. And learning happens best when it is interactive (i.e. at the table). The pastor is free to train the congregation to be pastoral leaders.
Re-form comes in a couple of months, or a couple of years as body life practices seep into Sunday morning gatherings. All children of Adam are prone to get it wrong at first, not to mention most congregations have few “early adopters.” Established convictions are not modified easily. There are kinks to work out. So the pressure is off in getting started. People learn how to shift from personal prayer habits to the principles of praying together; how to listen – to one another and the Holy Spirit; how to bless.
Uniquely poised and moving forward …
toward a re-newal … re-vival!
First we Re-form.
Rob Swanson, Centerville, MA – former missionary and pastor, author of The Bible Reader's Companion.