Does Church Have A Future? (5)

CALLED TO LEAD?

The whole area of leadership is crucial to every community and congregation, to every church, and to every denomination. To show the people of God how to live a life of knowing Jesus and making him known in the midst of the world in which we live is our highest calling, that we, like Peter, should feed the sheep and lambs and care for the sheep.

Knowing God and being like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit are at the heart of what God wants to do in and through each of us who are called leaders. The issues of how we lead God’s people and the kind of model that we give to them is linked to the kind of people that we are as seen through our character and integrity. To feed and care for God’s people demands that we are sacrificial and give our lives for others; this is not about our own agendas or getting our own way.

The Scripture says that love does not insist on its own way, but, all too often, we who lead the people of God do insist on our own way. And sometimes we say that we do it in the name of Jesus and for his sake, but the reality is that our churches are shot through with personality conflicts, power struggles and the like. Hidden agendas are the order of the day, and the focus of church leadership is all-too-often not the glory of God and the extension of his kingdom, but rather the clinging to power, status and position of those in leadership roles.

Is it any wonder that the glory of the presence of God is gone from us? If the church, and that means you and me, are going to love God with all of our being, having and doing, then the church needs a radical shake-up; this can best be achieved through a radical shake-up of its leaders.

Now, I am considering leadership issues here precisely because I want to contend that, generally speaking, we have made a basic error by believing that leadership is all about what people do, when, in fact, it is much more about who and what people are. This is not to dismiss deeds and actions, neither is it to consider them as unimportant; rather it is to say that character and integrity form the starting point of considering a leader, not deeds.

Moses was the leader that he was precisely because he was Moses, the person of humility that he was being of greater importance than because of the things that he did. Jesus was the leader that he was precisely because he was Jesus, rather than because of the things that he did. Indeed, many of the things that Jesus did would attract criticism from us except for the fact that it was he who did them.

Stephen was chosen by the apostles to wait on tables because he was full of the Holy Spirit and faith, not because he had the best waiter’s outfit. His character and integrity were clearly of greatest importance to the apostles in making this choice since his actions and deeds to this point are not mentioned.

The difficulty for leaders is that, as soon as someone begins to be recognised as being of leadership material, the church system crushes them back into place and forces them to operate within the semi-democratic context that is church. But God’s anointed leaders cannot operate properly within that environment, and the church that then attributes failure to those leaders has itself actually caused the failure.

The trouble is that our worldview has us doing church, not being church. Our worldview has the people serving the systems instead of the systems serving the people. We simply don’t recognise, acknowledge or even allow for the existence of apostles and prophets (etc). Yes, we may stretch as far as pastors/teachers provided they are made and behave in our preconceived image; but, in doing so, we restrict those pastors and teachers to pleasing us and fulfilling our own agendas.

Our whole view of ministry and leadership needs to be completely renewed, and we need to be prepared to learn from anyone who can teach us what we need to learn. We need to be ready and willing for leadership teams to support others right across the denominations – from church to church and from denomination to denomination.

Ultimately, we should be ready and willing to support others outside the denomination and even beyond this country – can we have a vision that big? Yet, all too often as John Greenshields observed, ‘we cling to independence when the Spirit is speaking to us of interdependence.’ If churches are to grow, a large part of the responsibility lies with the leaders. It is of critical importance that congregations enable leaders to lead, and support them in their leadership.

To know from God what church is, and what church is for, is the foundation of Christian leadership. The church is a living organism, and as Aldrich observed, ‘it is the nature of a living organism to grow. If it is not growing, something is wrong.’ This issue of church health is very important and needs to be taken seriously, for it is certainly true as Malphurs said that ‘quality churches don’t stay small for very long.’ But does this mean that growth is the only indicator of a healthy church? Actually, I believe that it means exactly that, but I must first qualify my statement so that it can be fully understood.

When the phrase ‘church growth’ is used today, it is almost inevitable that people think in terms of numerical growth and only in terms of numerical growth, and this is a serious error. I contend that numerical growth is not the only indicator of a healthy and growing church. Indeed, I would go even further and say that numerical growth in and of itself is not necessarily any indicator at all of a healthy church.

Churches who gain numbers by transfer growth or because of another church’s split can take no comfort from their numerical growth, and they are actually storing up trouble for later. Church growth must be given a much wider definition if we are to fully grasp the significance of books such as ‘The Purpose Driven Church’ and ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ and if we are to understand the importance of churches like Willow Creek.

Stephen Macchia, Christian A Swartz, Dann Spader and Gary Mayes have all suggested a number of indicators that show a healthy church looks like, and I have here compiled them into one list:

• God-exalting worship that inspires
• God’s empowering presence
• A Godward focus
• Servant-leadership development
• Commitment to loving/caring relationships and a relational ministry
• Learning and growing in community
• Personal disciplines and a passionate spirituality
• Stewardship and generosity
• Wise administration and accountability
• Networking with the regional church
• Empowering leadership
• Gift-oriented ministry
• Functional structure
• Holistic small groups
• Need-oriented evangelism
• An atmosphere of love
• Clear communication
• Healthy ministry image
• A mobilised prayer base
• Scriptures properly taught