It seems so obvious doesn’t it? A congregation takes their eyes off themselves and opens up to join God in mission in the community and then in this act of love, faith and sacrifice – finds itself transformed. That’s a good thing, right?
So what stops many congregations from doing just that? I think it’s because it’s too difficult. Too risky. To uncertain. Who know where it may lead?
We struggle to let go of the thought that once “everyone” was part of the church and we were the hub of the community. We grew by natural reproduction – our members had babies and they “belonged” to the church. We think if we could just find the magic step-by-step programme then everyone would again come (back) to church and we would be important again.
Sorry but there is no special formula, new programme, or shortcut. Developing a mission plan, casting a vision, or even adopting a mission budget won’t even do it if the leaders and the congregation have not listened to God and discerned where he is calling them to.
The biggest barrier we have to rejuvenation is our spiritual maturity. Congregations want to be comfortable, members want to be surrounded by friends who are like us. We want church (the institution and the people) to serve us and play our music our way. Not enough people over the years have had the courage to challenge this mindset.
The church has been witness to the same changes as the rest of society, but we have reacted differently. Jack Welch, a management expert, once said “When the rate of change inside an organisation is slower than the rate of change outside an organisation, the end is in sight.” Does that mean that the church should change to look like society? That Church should adopt the same priorities, ethics and behaviours of the world around us? No that’s not what I’m saying.
My point is that when we look for new approaches and other congregations’ stories to copy, we misunderstand what causes renewal or transformation. The churches that change through mission are the ones who have allowed God to change them. They didn’t create the change. Some just stopped doing stuff and took time to ask God what he would have them do. That’s pretty scary. I suspect God would tell some congregations just to stop. Full stop. It’s harder to stop doing stuff than it is to start. Maybe that’s why some congregations don’t want to have that conversation with God and then with each other.
We can’t change the church by asking “church questions”. We have to ask “God questions”. And if the congregation is not spiritually mature, if their faith is essentially private and dependant on Sunday top-ups … they will struggle to ask those questions.
In addition to a lack of spiritual maturity, I see that lack of trust, a fear of failure and a faulty understanding of stewardship (“me” and “mine”, not “Thine”) also contributing as barriers to renewal.
Maybe even using the phrase “the rejuvenation in the church” is not helpful to us. Rejuvenation implies making new what is already there. Making the church look younger, better, more hip. I think we need more death (John 15:1-8) before we have new life. The reborn church is not just a refreshed version of the old, but brand new and only looks a bit like what was there before.
Look with indifference on your own personal needs and desires for the church. Ask God what his will is for the congregation and the community you are placed in. Do something. It might not work, but it will lead you to a greater understanding of where God is already at work in your community. Don’t think it is reduced to serving and about taking God with you when you enter a place. Those you connect with have as much to teach you about God as you have them.
Can I point to a congregation that is doing this? I see many congregations with these sparks of renewed life. They are easy to snuff out. Some flicker brightly then they die. Others keep smouldering. Here are some: a congregation that choose to use their resources in mission within a disadvantaged community rather than fund ordained ministry; a congregation touched by the plight of transient workers in their community; a congregation which chooses to continue to worship in a school hall while their church building becomes a community hub; a congregation that is prepared to do whatever it takes to connect with the local school – which ends up being nit-busting! It all seems small and inconsequential, but they are sparks and flickers and flames of the burning bush.
That’s why PressGo is going to start offering small grants to congregations to “give it a go” with a small spark of an idea and see where it leads. We too want to find out what happens when congregations follow the spark. To find out more email PressGo Catalyst.
Lisa is the PressGo Catalyst and is based in Dunedin