Does Church Have A Future? (8)
However, I contend that much of church today has lost its identity in Christ because it has lost its identification with Christ. It has tried to compensate by multiplying activity upon activity in an effort to find itself again, but deeds and actions that are not rooted in character and integrity are of little value.
If we do not know Christ, we cannot follow him; but Jesus’ constitution for everyone is the very simple, ‘Follow me.’ Leaders of the church need to direct God’s people back to this truth and demonstrate to God’s people the reality of a holistic love relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not a sacred social club; we are the earthly representation of Jesus Christ; we are the body of Christ.
Church is about the community of believers who are the people of God wherever they are and whoever they are. Church is much, much more than the people of God gathered together, it is the people themselves that are the church, not the gathered meeting. This is about the life, presence and power of God made manifest in the midst of his community.
Our Father in heaven is in the business of changing and transforming people’s lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we need to be in our father’s business. This has a radical impact on how we see and practise ministry in the church, for ministry is for every believer and every believer is for ministry.
If every single one of us has an important role to play in the life and mission of the church, then we are recognising the necessity for team ministry – body ministry – and we are turning away from ‘one-man ministry’. I believe that it is crucial that all traces of a ‘one-man ministry’ are demolished, but also that everyone is recognised, enabled and released into creative ministry; for breaking the mould of the “one man ministry” eases isolation and releases a synergy of creativity. (And it usually is one man ministry.) It is not enough only to do away with the old, the new must come.
The ‘Church Without Walls’ report of the Church of Scotland recommends that ‘congregations work towards breaking the isolation of the “one person ministry” by forming ministry teams according to their needs and resources.’ But, they point out, churches and denominations first need to lift their eyes to recognise ‘the pioneering gifts of the apostle, the building and dismantling gifts of the prophets, and the frontier-friendly gifts of the evangelist.’ Perhaps some denominations and churches cannot, or will not, take that step because of fear.
Furthermore, it is very difficult for many churches to get away from the idea that only the ordained ministers are leaders, that the leaders are all ministers, and that the rest are second-class citizens; but get away from it they must. A radical response is needed if we are not to allow churches to suffocate and die.
If, as Bill Hybels believes, ‘the local church is the hope of the world and its future rests primarily in the hands of its leaders,’ then the local church must be led by leaders who are anointed and shaped as leaders by the Holy Spirit. Otherwise the local church will not be relevant in and to the world, and it will certainly be irreverent to God.
If ministry and ministers are to see healthy churches in the future, then our denomination and churches within our (or any) denomination need true God-anointed leaders now like they have never needed them before. This is a challenge to change that needs to be further explored and vision made real into purpose in the coming months, not years. Time is not on our side.
But let us not be too concerned with the state that we perceive church to be in today, but rather focus on the kind of leadership that will make the church into what it ought to be tomorrow. Leaders of the church need to have a vision and a purpose, and they will bring the church to sharpen its vision, to discover its purpose, and to make vision reality. Then the things that we do will be of lasting, eternal value.
True body ministry and the releasing of everyone in church into ministry is hopefully not just my dream, and I am certain that it can be done. It is about releasing people instead of holding onto them. It is about releasing the creativity of people and creating the right environment in which God can exercise his re-creativity.
If members are to be changed into those who minister, then change is inevitable, but many churches, deacons, elders and pastors often have a narrow, blinkered view of the way forward for the church at large. To try and adapt to the ever-changing world so that we are relevant to it without ourselves changing is to stumble blindly into a cul-de-sac and then wonder why God does not guide us out. This is not about tinkering around the edges of church and making fine adjustments here and there, this is a radical challenge to change that goes far beyond anything that has been suggested so far.
The whole accreditation and training process of ministers needs to be radically widened in order to formally recognise many functions of service that are presently occasionally acknowledged, but not recognised. People need to be able to test a call of God under the watchful eye of respected and godly leaders, and the denomination needs to be able to train people in a much wider sphere than it does at present.
We must give urgent consideration to recognising home group leaders, worship leaders, pastoral support leaders, administrators and many more. This would involve the denomination working hand-in-hand with the churches of the denomination, and the denomination using the church leaders to monitor and assess the development of those who are being trained for leadership. This would involve the denomination in placing a great deal of trust in church leaders, and using their assessments as a critical part of the accreditation process, for such church leaders are well placed to evaluate the person’s growth in character and integrity.
Therefore, the formal training for any sphere of ministry needs to have a much greater degree of involvement from church leaders, though not necessarily the ministers. Medium-term placements could take place during the long summer breaks, and placements of one day a week could be a vital part of the training course right from the start.
It would also be of benefit that students had long-term relationships with churches during the training, and this would greatly enhance their likelihood of settlement. Ministerial training would therefore be well known for the high quality of the character and integrity of its graduates as well as for their academic achievement. In this way, churches would see the value of the training course, and the value of the organisation that does the training.
Subsidising the cost of training would be an encouragement to mature students who simply could not otherwise afford to give up their jobs to train for ministry, even though it may be their hearts’ desire. It would still be a real sacrifice for them, but they would see their sacrifice being honoured by the support of the training organisations who are, in turn, being supported by the churches. Such subsidies would also allow churches to see real value for money in the contributions that they make to the training organisation and would also let them see a tangible result of that giving, as students of character, integrity and academic achievement are seen to be released into ministry within the denomination.
Furthermore, the churches would also want to see such leaders working within their own churches, and not unnecessarily lost to the denomination. In this way, we would bring the training process and the students being trained much more into the public eye and make them known throughout the training period.