E. The minister at the church I attended in Illinois is named Roger Jenks. While I was researching this morning's sermon, I – quite by accident – came across an article that he wrote several years earlier that summed up in five questions basically what I was wanting to say.
II. The Five Questions
A. The first question is “(1) What kind of people does God want us to produce in this body of believers?”
i. Roger tells an anecdote about one particular Sunday when he got everyone in the church to stand up in a circle around the room. In the middle of the circle, he gave a rubber ball to a child and asked her to throw the ball as hard as she could at the target. The girl stood and looked for a while, spinning in a circle with a confused look about her because there was no target. She had been told to throw the ball and to do it with passion, but she didn't know which way to go! He concluded the story by saying that his church was like that child. They had a real passion and they knew they had to do something, but their goals were out of focus.
ii. And so, this question, when answered, indicates the direction that the church will take collectively. It is up to us to think, talk, and pray about what kind of people God wants this church to produce. When we say that we want to produce a certain kind of people, we need to be specific, since saying “We want to produce nice people” is too broad. Also, the answer doesn't have to be singular. We all have many qualities, and so we should expect that the kind of people God wants us to produce can't be summed up in a single sentence. A pastor who wrote another article in the same publication as Roger Jenks' wrote that “while some church shoppers... place friendliness at the top of their list in evaluating churches, the vast majority have another criterion: Will this congregation be relevant and responsive to my religious needs?” Have we stopped to ask ourselves what the community needs? Do we put those needs high on our list of priorities or are we too concerned about getting our own needs met? Or do we think that simply being friendly is enough to share God's word?
iii. Amidst the discussions that come while we talk about this first - and most fundamental - question, we should not only consider what we want, but think of how we can grow and flourish while getting it.
iv. When we finally answer this first question adequately, then we need to make it so that when we plan an event, or are doing some service, we ask ourselves the question “Is what I'm about to do going to help produce the kind of people God wants us to produce?”.
B. (2) What kind of experiences do
people need in order to become the type people that God wants them to be?
i. This is commonly the question with which most churches start, but if there has been no clear direction defined by answering the first question, then many experiences offer no specific focus.
ii. This lack of focus is very apparent in typical church programming when people are more concerned with “What did we do last year?”, or “What can we afford to do?”, or “We'll do this because that's what we've always done”. We need to be different. We need to make sure our programming is in line with our newfound vision. However, with the vision that was created by finding what kind of people God wants us to produce there comes a price. The price of this vision is change. And with change comes resistance.
iii. We can mitigate the fear of change by realizing that planning programming around the traits God wants us to produce in believers lends purpose and urgency to our ministries. If we understand why we're making changes in the church, then we are better able to accept them and turn them into something positive. If we fail to understand why something is changing, then we tend to put our heels in the dirt and refuse to budge. Now, I'm not an advocate for making changes for the sake of making changes – there is, after all a lot to be said for the sentimentality of tradition – but I do believe that we should make those changes that can lead us towards our goal of producing the kind of people God wants us to produce by re-evaluating the things we do and making sure they provide the right experiences.
iv. When we begin providing experiences that will lead us in our collective direction, then everything we do will be not only enjoyable for us, but beneficial to the church community. And these changes take time and leadership, which leads us to the third of the big questions.
C. (3) What kinds of leaders are needed
to provide those kinds of experiences?
i. The pastor is not able to do and plan everything in the life of a congregation. He or she needs other people. This leaves it up to church leaders to help guide the church in the direction that they have decided to take to reach their goals. But are we up for the challenge? Are we ready to sacrifice our comfortable place in our regular pew in exchange for being an active and vital part of the congregation? I believe we are.
ii. And when we find people willing to be leaders, we have to make sure that these leaders are trained and supported appropriately and that they are passionate about what they're doing.
iii. Often in congregations, people say “I don't need to take on any leadership because so-and-so is already doing that”. But if we are successful in answering the second question – that is, what kind of experiences do we need – then these leadership opportunities start coming out of the woodwork. And the best part is that you don't need to be a natural born leader to take on a leadership role because the rest of us are here to make sure you succeed! Which leads us to the fourth of the big questions.
D. (4) What kind of pastor is needed to
train those kinds of leaders?
i. The desire to let the pastor do everything in the church and just sit back and enjoy the ride is a strong one. It is true that the pastor needs to be the leader for the church, but that doesn't mean that he is solely responsible for every aspect of leadership. I believe it was Richard who relayed a story to me about one of his past churches: The church was talking about growth and sustaining and someone said to him something like “It's your job to come up with the vision, and then we'll make it happen”. But it's our job to come up with a vision!
ii. With that understanding, we can begin, through the previous three questions and this one, to realize what we really need from the minister and how it differs from what we think we need or want.
iii. Some churches need a coach; a motivator and organizer. Other churches need a shepherd to gently guide the congregation. Still others need a CEO who is responsible for budgets and delegation. These are not the only types of pastors, nor are any of these better than another, but it is the church – that is, all of us - who need to decide what kind of pastor we need.
iv. I realize that there may be fear in asking what kind of pastor we need. Afterall, what if we get an answer and we find that it is someone that Richard is not? This is why we ask the fifth and final question.
E. (5) What kind of experiences does the pastor need to be that kind of pastor?
i. When we've finally determined what we need from our pastor, we need to make sure that he has the time and resources to become the kind of pastor that we feel we need.
ii. We need to ask ourselves, is Richard getting the time he needs to study? Or are we filling his time with meetings and events? Are we giving Richard the time he needs to relax? Or are we always calling him with some new problem? Are we saving money for Richard to attend various conferences and other educational experiences? Or are we hoarding what little money we have in the budget to continue traditions because “that's the way it's always been”?
iii. Just as we invest ourselves in what the church does for us, we should also invest ourselves in what the church can do for the pastor and, ultimately, each other.
i. So to summarize the five questions, we need to ask ourselves “What kind of people does God want us to produce in this body of believers”, “What kind of experiences do people need to become that kind of person”, “What kind of leaders do we need to provide those experiences”, “What kind of pastor do we need to train those kinds of leaders”, and “What kind of experiences does the pastor need to be that kind of pastor”?
ii. Each of these questions builds on the previous, and so it's necessary to start from the beginning.
B. Call to action
i. And so, to start, we need to answer – together – what God's vision for us is and then begin to decide how we can implement that vision. When we have a goal in mind, then everything else will just fall together. We need to ask ourselves and others if we are up to the challenge of taking initiatives and becoming leaders, even if we aren't the types that typically lead. And we need to ask ourselves what kind of pastor we need and how we can enable Richard to become that kind of pastor.
ii. By answer these five questions, I believe we can build a healthy, viable church and continue this congregation's long history of providing excellent service to its community, sensitive care for its constituents, and spiritual healing for its visitors.