Does Church Have A Future? (9)
Such courses of action would, I believe, draw training organisations churches of the denomination much closer together. They would certainly allow the churches to see the value of the union and the college, and would, I think, encourage them to contribute to that value, both in terms of committing leaders to participate in the training of students and in the giving of money to the college and union. When people see added value with a purpose, they are willing to give.
The suggestions that I am making make it clear that the future for Baptist churches in Scotland is not exclusively in the hands of the church leaders, but that the wider leaders in the training organisations also have significant roles to play. Such a partnership would help many Scottish Baptist churches to rediscover their identity, and these are crucial areas in which we need to invest for the future.
A word of warning: if we turn our backs on this issue, the denomination will wither and shrink to a much larger degree than it has done so already, because the churches of the denomination will continue to decline and die. It is crucial to hold in our minds that leaders ought to be recognised for who and what they are as well as for the things that they do, and the training for ministry must reflect this wide view.
Therefore, recognition and accreditation has to be redesigned for it is currently far too narrow, focusing as it does almost exclusively on academic achievement. Spiritual development should not merely be a module taught at the training organisation, it ought to be the beating heart of the life of those people who are called to lead our churches. Training needs first and foremost to produce people who are having a life-changing and ongoing experience of God.
It is unfortunately true as Billheimer declares, that ‘the sands of time are strewn with the wrecks of the broken lives of many who were once mightily used of God, but who suffered shipwreck upon the rocks of spiritual pride.’ Such people forgot that leadership was of God and under God to God’s people, and they lost their true identities and pride took over.
But at least some of these people suffered greatly from a lack of accountability and from the lack of continual monitoring of integrity and godly character. Willow Creek Community Church believe that ‘the quality of leadership in a church is likely to be more important as an issue than such questions as the precise details of the programme, the worship services and the building.’ Therefore, churches without true, godly leadership simply will not survive; or, if they do, they will be irrelevant.
I believe that training organisations need to address these issues together with local church leaders, and do so urgently; or else valuable, gifted leaders will be lost to the denomination and its churches because of our immobility and inflexibility. Every leader lost is potentially another church closed. These issues, and the future that is at stake, are too important to let politics and power struggles win the day. In the days that lie ahead our churches need God-anointed leaders of character and integrity who will address the issues and take whatever action is deemed to be appropriate, radical though it may be.
‘Follow me is a call to change’ as the Church of Scotland recognised. ‘That calling is relational rather than institutional.’ We would do well to hear these words from the Church of Scotland, for Christianity is first and foremost about a love relationship with Jesus Christ, and that relationship grows and develops as we follow him. We do not follow Christ in isolation, but alongside the people of God in the church in which we are based.
If church is in decline, then we need to be radical in our thinking about church as we plot the way ahead. Tinkering around the edges and making fine adjustments to structures will simply not do at all. We need to reshape and re-present church in whatever ways are suitable for the land and the time in which we live. This is not about novelty, methodology or actions; it is about examining who and what we are as church and how we relate to our God in heaven and to the world in which we live.
We must rediscover the love of God that does not insist on its own way. Joyner said, ‘There are basically two kinds of leaders: those who sacrifice the people for themselves, and those who sacrifice themselves for the people.’ I think that there are basically two kinds of Christians: those who sacrifice themselves for God, and those who sacrifice God for themselves. Yet, God sacrificed his own Son for you and me. Jesus sacrificed himself for you and me. All those who are in any kind of leadership in our churches need to be people who sacrifice themselves for their people.
We need to both teach and demonstrate that our whole lives are Christian, and that they are not compartmentalized into secular and sacred. We need to teach about what it means to be a Christian in the workplace, and how our faith should impact the way that we do our jobs and careers. We need to show that worship concerns our whole lives lived before God, and live in such a way that makes clear that worship is not just about singing songs on a Sunday.
It will take time and effort to combat the compartmentalization that has invaded the church, but combat it we must. Our teaching and preaching is one of the most important ways in which we can connect with people in their real lives, and what we share with them should be relevant and helpful. The God-anointed leaders of our churches must find new, interesting and exciting ways to educate and mature the people in our churches and to teach them how to know their God in the midst of their daily lives.
One big challenge is to make it possible for people to share honestly about what is going on inside them because of the issues that they are facing, and to hear and know that they are not alone in this. In this respect, it may be that small groups have a major role to play, but leaders have a major role to play in making sure that small groups fulfil their purpose. People need to be able to be themselves and not play at being ‘fine’, and the security and confidentiality of the small group has to be one of the major ways that this can be made possible. All of this is to reconnect mind and experience, to join together again that which we had separated to our great cost.
The God-anointed leaders of our churches must find new, interesting and exciting ways to touch the hearts of the people in our churches, so that the values and commitments that lie at the centre of who and what we are might find their fullest expression through a joy and excitement in our God. Leaders need to be people who wear their hearts on our sleeves, whose passion for Jesus and his people is both unmistakable and irrepressible. Leaders need to be a people who love as Jesus loved and who demonstrate that love in the way that Jesus did.
This is not so much about a passion for Christianity, as it is about a passion for Christ. This is not so much about a passion for church, as it is about a passion for the Head of the church. It is about a passion for Jesus that overflows to his people and seeks to love them in word and deed. The God-anointed leaders of our churches must find new, interesting and exciting ways to express what it means to be the people of God, to be the church. We need to know exactly who and what we are in Christ, that we might do the things that Jesus did, the very things that he is still doing.
The God-anointed leaders of our churches must acknowledge humbly before God that if he will not, we cannot. Except God moves in us and in our midst by the power of the Holy Spirit, nothing will change. As Lloyd-Jones said, ‘The ultimate question facing us in these days is whether our faith is in men and their power to organize, or in the truth of God in Christ Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.’
God does not need our help, but he does want our help; not primarily to get things done, but so that in this partnership we would grow and mature into the likeness of God himself. We will be like God, we will be with God; but we will not be God. We are partners with God in his mission, and he is the one who leads and directs that mission.
Davis (quoted by Murray) said that ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones felt very strongly that a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit was the only answer to the moribund state of the church in his day.’ So do I. But God does not want to work in a way that is detached from his people; on the contrary, he wants to work first in his people and then through his people.
We need to urgently address the critical issues of leadership and we need to dare to be a ‘Courageous Leadership’ who are not afraid to tackle and resolve the issues that are current to life and church. We need faith for the future and courage for the present. All of us in leadership positions hold people’s very lives in our hands, and that truth alone ought to drive us to God to seek him in order that we might be the leaders that God wants us to be.
I believe that the precise structure of a church leadership is not of critical importance, but it is of absolutely vital importance that the structures allow leaders to lead without being questioned or challenged at every step, yet while retaining a willing accountability to one another. Wisdom is proved right by her actions, and leaders need to be given the time and space to let their wisdom be seen.
The problems surrounding leadership in our churches go much deeper than any leadership structure, they are the problems associated with hearts that have an agenda that is not God’s agenda; they are the issues of control and power. To deal with the problems facing church today is to deal with the problems of our own heart. Healing begins in my heart and your heart, one heart at a time.
I believe that the church of today will largely fashion its own future, that it in some senses it will be what it makes it. The leaders of our churches today shape the church of tomorrow. That is a massive responsibility that we must not take lightly. In making some practical suggestions for the way ahead, I am aware that I have raised issues that might be controversial, and to which people’s first response might be that it is not possible.
Now more than ever our love for God needs to be holistic. The whole of our whole being for God and his people, and we who are leaders need to make ourselves vulnerable before our God and our people. Love is vulnerable, and God has made himself very vulnerable to us in Christ. I call us to regain not our first love, but the one who first loved us.
The damage that has been done to the church is not beyond repair; the people are not beyond renewal. Our love for one another and for the world in which we live needs to be a love that loves even as it is vulnerable. We are wounded healers who go on being healed by the wounded healer of heaven.
I have considered leaders and the responsibility that we carry in being open and vulnerable before God as we lead our churches into the future. The days that lie ahead are exciting days, and we need to be leaders who are intimately close to God and leaders who know his heart if we are to shape his church the way that God wants it shaped.
Lord, draw me ever closer to you, so that I may draw your people ever closer to you. May I lead your people in whatever ways you choose to use me, knowing you more and more each day, and may I make a significant contribution to the life, health and strength of your church in the 21st century. Will the 21st-century church have a future and a hope? It can, and it will, and it does. That future and that hope is in Christ who is in his people.