Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Books and Conferences and Frustration (oh my)

One of the things that is incredibly obvious but has become very comforting to me in recent days is the truth that not every church can do everything. Though we are all commanded to care for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan, the First Church of Big City has been compelled and equipped by God to open an orphanage. Though many may know that, in our culture, recreation can be a front door to introducing someone to the Gospel, the Second Church of Somewhere-Else has twenty godly men gifted in coaching and has started using Upward Basketball to get kids off the street and teach them about Christ. You get the idea...some churches have especially gifted carpenters and can do more construction missions...some churches have technological gurus in every pew and can use technology to its fullest extent for the cause of the Gospel. Think of your church...is there anything that stands out as a particular gift like this? Are you using those gifts to advance and build the kingdom?

Watch out...here comes frustration. Enter church growth and church health books...enter conferences. Well-meaning pastors, professors, and authors seek to equip churches to be as effective as possible. There is certainly nothing wrong with evaluating and improving our ministry methods. However, the frustration begins to take over when "the plan" is laid out. It looks great, it runs great, it sounds great...it's even got that "new program smell." Excitement grows over the two or three days that you listen to the various dimensions of "the plan" to take you to the "next level." Then, many pastors and lay leaders get on a plane, heading back to a land we all like to call reality. Sure, the program needed 50 volunteers, and we've only got 50 people in worship on Sunday morning...but we can do it. Sure, the program will cost us about $7,500 a year and we have trouble keeping our staff paid and the lights on...but we can do it.

Now, don't read me wrong...I believe in taking steps of faith. I believe in treading new territory. I believe that God can use a basketball, an iPod, and a coffee shop for His glory. However, I also believe that not every church can do everything. Books and conferences try to convince us of programs rather than principles. They teach us how to develop our methodology rather than trusting our theology...that God has gifted His church and that God will build His church. What we must seek after is faithfulness!

So, the volunteers and their pastor spend one five-hour meeting developing the new ministry, and then they present it to the congregation. There has been no real period of time for prayer or asking the question, "Can we do this?" Why? Because too many books and conferences don't ask that question...that question doesn't sell books or conference tickets. They tell us that we must do whatever it is they are writing, or we will not be a New Testament church. That's what gets many so motivated! We really do want to please the Lord in our ministries, but the path to that divine pleasure is not paved with pep rallies but rather with the pages of Scripture.

What if we spent more time at conferences learning how to deepen our prayer lives as pastors and leaders? What if we read books that excited our hearts about the subject of our teaching and preaching...and the main audience of all ministry...Jesus Christ? What if all of these good things actually led to a better end? Greater faithfulness rather than frustration. Contentment in God's place for us rather than the desire to send out resumes. Passion for Christ rather than pickiness over our congregations. A broken heart for the lost rather than a broken heart over the size of our budgets.

(Step off soap box now) The point is this...not every church is equipped to do every type of ministry. Not every methodology works in every community. So, if you're reading a book or going to attend a conference, glean what is good and right and guides you to more biblical ministry.

The fact is...this is true personally. One of the things I would love is to be a more effective evangelist...to be able to turn conversations to Christ, find in-roads with the lost, see people come running to Jesus because of God's anointing on my efforts in personal evangelism. I know people that are like this...God's hand is just on them, and He has gifted them as evangelists. I still make efforts...I try to make the most of opportunities...but it's just not the same. Maybe you know what I'm talking about. There are two ways we can handle these things...one, bang our heads against the wall and believe that we can never be used of God unless we're like this person or that person. Or two, we can be content with the gifts God has given us, stay faithful to the tasks He has given us, and seek to be good and faithful servants. Let's go with the latter...God didn't gift us or our church so we could sit in a corner and pout about not being like the person or the church down the road. He gifted us for His glory...let's pursue it!