Thursday, April 17, 2008

Vision by numbers

I’ve written on the subject of ‘Vision’ previously but a couple of quotes I came across recently got me thinking again…

Here in North America we now live in what I call the era of the visionary church. Almost every pastor is judged on the basis whether he/she has a vision. And usually that means a vision of how the church can grow, grow, grow. The pastoral care of the people – which for hundreds of years has been the aim of the church – is less important in comparison to the gathering of more people. Because more people means more programs, more buildings and more employed staff. Doubtless this is not all bad if it results in bringing unchurched people into the kingdom of God. But one wants to watch a lot of this ‘vision’ and ask how much of it is satisfying the need of a driven leader … My speculation will probably irritate some….
Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, p48

There are churches that love to count but not to feed the sheep.
Dale Ralph Davis, Joshua: No Falling Words, p157

Now as Pastor MacDonald says it may be that a few backs are already starting to ‘bristle’ at this point – so it’s worth stating that this is not about to be some dig at forward thinking leaders or the need to accommodate growing congregations. Nevertheless it is interesting that having a ‘vision’ today in church life is commonly expressed in terms of numbers – and that having a numerical target is almost de rigueur if you are to qualify for the title of being ‘a leader with vision’. I suspect that the current fashion for numerical targets is just that – a current fashion. Two or even one hundred years ago you do not get the impression from the diaries and writings of previous church leaders that their vision was thus focused. But we live in a culture where success is typically measured by growth – improving turnover, maximising margins, expanding into new markets – business is ‘sexy’ and its values prevail. The new rock stars are captains of industry and commerce – we are the Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice generation. Churches are not immune – Fortune magazine coined a new name, ‘Pastor-preneurs’: to decribe a new generation of church leaders building mega-churches and creating multi-national ministries.

Again as quoted above this is not necessarily something to be cynical about – God is not restricted to some ‘nickle & dime’ affair when it comes to granting blessing and growth. But however, as is often the mistake we make with Spiritual Gifts, growth should follow us (in God’s grace) as we follow Jesus – not vice versa. It does seem a classic case of putting the ‘cart before the horse’ to start off ministry on the basis of setting a numerical target - which for most must be a fairly arbitary figure – 500, 1000, 10,000???? On a personal level I’ve felt the pressure of this culture – the feeling that to be a ‘real’ leader I need this type of ‘vision’ – and if I’m honest it has lead me to overstate my convictions about certain plans at times – as you feel a need to advocate such plans with an almost prophetic conviction to fit this type of ‘leadership bill’.

Instead the New Testament model is of people declaring the gospel and living it out – God then added to the church such as should be saved – sometimes that was huge numbers at other times it was the ones and twos. For the church the challenge was then to disciple these people – to feed the sheep. That means, for us, having facilities and premises to accommodate our congregations and nurture Christians through the various activities and groups we run. So if the Lord is blessing a local church with growth it is prudent and responsible to be thinking ahead – planning to provide that extra room – and yes while we’re at it building in room for possible future growth.

Because if we reverse that order there is the danger that our ministry aim becomes ‘making a great name for ourselves’ (sound familiar?) rather than a focus on making God’s Word fully known in proclamation and deed.

So Andy – what is your vision? Well let me have a go at summarising it:

For the church to be a place where God’s Word is faithfully and fully taught, a place where Christians are cared for and feel ‘at home’, a place where outsiders are welcomed and can hear and see the Gospel plainly declared, a place where as people get to grips with the Gospel in all its fullness that the fruit of that Word & Spirit work will be lives of holiness, fruitfulness, outreach and service in their walk with God, a place where every person feels valued and their unique blend of life experience and gifting can be employed for the building-up of others and the glory of Christ.

If we can truly be that kind of church then we can have confidence that God will look after the numbers.

Friday, April 11, 2008

'The Lost Message...' - if only!

I've mentioned previously when posting some of his quotes how much I enjoy the writings of Prof. Donald MacLeod - this post of his on the Reformation21 site is typical of his 'cut through the hype' style.

So for for those still starry eyed about Emergent theology check out his review of
'The Lost Message of Jesus'