A crucial exercise for our church…(and for your church too!)

3

March 19, 2014 by cbbeard

Picture credit - malphursgroup.com

Picture credit – malphursgroup.com

A few months ago, the leadership team of the church I serve participated in an exercise that was convicting and eye-opening.  It wasn’t a complicated exercise; all it required was a whiteboard and some key questions.  But it is quite possible that one day we will look back and point to that event as a “kairos” moment for our church…a wakeup call…a fork in the road.

Here’s how it went down.  The first question we asked was:

What is the mission/purpose of our church?

This wasn’t so much about the specifics of our local congregation as much as it is about the overarching reason for our congregation’s existence.  The question seems elementary, but having a clear answer to this question is vital for churches.  If you don’t know what you are aiming for, how do you know if you’ve hit the target?

So here are some of the answers to this question that we wrote on the whiteboard:

  • To bring glory to God.
  • To love God and to love others.
  • To bring people to Jesus.
  • To grow people in Jesus.
  • To serve.
  • Etc….

These (and others) are all valid answers.  One could argue that the purpose of the church is manifold, and I would concur.  However, we followed up with this question:

If we had to sum up the mission/purpose of our church in one phrase, what would it be?

There was only one phrase that encompasses all the things the church should be doing and exhibiting…The mission of our church is to make more and better disciples.   This mission acts as an umbrella in that all other purposes find their fulfillment in this goal.  This mission is not only specifically Scriptural (see Matthew 28:18-20) but it also encapsulates the church’s role in the missio Dei, the overarching, God-initiated-and-driven mission in this world. This brings us to the next question:

What is a “disciple” according to Scripture?

If our mission/purpose is to “make disciples” then we better have an idea of what a disciple looks like.  Of course, we must get our definition from Scripture or we will be missing the mark.

Some of the characteristics we came up with:

  • Someone who is a student of God and his Word.
  • Someone who is obedient (in love, service, righteousness, etc.)
  • Someone who is making other disciples.
  • Someone who lives a life of continual worship.
  • Someone who follows Jesus and lives like him.
  • Etc…

Once again, there are a lot of good answers to this question, but when we boiled it all down, being a disciple is simply about living like Jesus lived, loving like Jesus loved, and making other disciples like Jesus did.  Which led us to the next question:

What have we done in the church’s history* to accomplish this mission?

The answer to this question would be almost identical to the answers that would be given in every church I’ve served.  In fact, the answer would most likely be similar in most established churches…

  • Sermons and Bible Studies
  • Small groups of many varieties
  • Outreach events (V.B.S., parties, etc.)
  • Service projects/events
  • “Fellowship” activities
  • “Marketing” (billboards, postcards, etc.)
  • Good “worship”and “youth programs”
  • Various and sundry church programs and activities

Sound familiar?  Probably so.  But there is one more question that must be answered:

Have our church efforts resulted in biblical disciples?

That is a TOUGH question to answer.  It’s not tough because we don’t know the answer, but because the answer doesn’t feel very good.   The answer is most certainly “no.”  We must embrace the reality that our efforts have not resulted in more and better disciples as God defines it. Somewhere there has been a disconnect between what we are doing and what we are trying to accomplish.

But that’s tough to admit for several reasons.  First, it is an indictment on us as leaders.  I, for one, have gotten pretty good at the “status quo” events and programs listed above.  I’m comfortable developing Bible Studies, sermon series, billboards, and events.  That comfort has most likely hindered me from admitting the shortcomings of our efforts.  For way too long, we’ve convinced ourselves that if we just do what we are doing “better,” things will change.  But things haven’t really changed, and that’s on us as church leaders.

It’s also tough to admit, because answering “no” to this question seems so negative and final.  No, our efforts haven’t been effective, but they weren’t all bad!  We were certainly bringing God glory in the things we did, and since those efforts brought us this far, they had some value…and there is no question that the heart and intention of those efforts were pure.  I praise God for the things that have brought us to where we are; but it’s less about where we’ve been and more about where we are going as a church.

Another reason answering “no” is tough is that it seems to be critical of our people and I love the people in my church family!  It’s not that our people don’t love Jesus…they absolutely do.  It’s not that they aren’t followers of Jesus…they absolutely are.  It’s not that they are bad people in any sense.  It’s just that as a church, we haven’t fulfilled our God-intended mission or reached our God-infused potential.

As Alan Hirsch has said “we are perfectly designed to achieve what we are currently achieving,” and we simply weren’t achieving what God created us to achieve.  Therefore, as a leadership team we were convicted that we needed to lead the good people of our congregation to God’s intentions.  We were convicted that we needed to bring some life-change into our midst, starting right in our own lives.  We were convicted that the solution was not trying to do what we were doing “better,” but to consider a paradigm shift for our congregation…not “better” but “different.”

So we returned to Scripture for guidance, and decided that there was no better example of a disciple-maker (or of anything for that matter) in the Bible than Jesus himself.  We wanted to know how Jesus made disciples, and how did our concept of disciples and disciple-making differ?  We wanted to know what we needed to change to be the disciple-making church God intended.

Out of that pursuit came what we are calling “A New (Old) Vision.”  It is new because it is absolutely different than what we are used to.  It is old because it’s based on the example and teachings of Jesus as found in Scripture.  At the center of this new (old) vision is our mission of discipleship; we must align our vision of disciple-making efforts with Christ, and we must change our “scorecard” accordingly based on the characteristics of a biblical disciple.

Are you a leader of a congregation?  I highly recommend you conduct this exercise with your fellow leaders.  There is no question that the church is facing a variety of challenges as we engage this world for God’s glory.  Statistical and anecdotal evidence would suggest that we aren’t as effective as we should be, according to God’s intentions.  But I believe wholeheartedly that if we apply biblical answers to biblical problems, we will get biblical results.  Let’s chase after God’s intentions for our churches!

Please check out the next step…a summary of “A New (Old) Vision” in regards to our spiritual formation efforts as a church

What do you think?  If you ask these questions in your congregation, what would the answers be?  Are there any other crucial questions for the church that must be asked?

*This was easier for us than it might be for others since we are a relatively-young, 9-year-old church merger.
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3 thoughts on “A crucial exercise for our church…(and for your church too!)

  1. […] did.  When it was all said and done, however, God used a simple exercise (that you can read about HERE) to show us that it was time for a new (old) […]

  2. joshrreading says:

    This area is a challenge for us, no doubt like everyone at my church in Canberra (LifeCity Church) I think the challenge of discipleship is the consumer nature of so many Christians. Discipleship needs discipline and that is something most Christians are not keen on. Often we have also made it simply educational rather than about imitation. Imitation takes time and the ‘modern’ Christian is often so consumed with stuff that there is little time Anyway thanks for the blog 🙂

    • cbbeard says:

      Thanks for the comment, Josh. I think one of the most disturbing parts of our discipleship “problem” in the church is that we’ve created this monster. We’ve created consumers and head-trip Christians by our own efforts as church leaders. Our hearts were generally in the right place, I believe, but we have not been critical (nor biblical) enough in our methodology and values. I think it was Alan Hirsch that said “you can’t consume your way to discipleship.”

      Thanks again, Josh, great thoughts!

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