“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart”(Matthew 18:32-35).
Last week I asked the question: Why is God so bold as to impose his punishment on us if we refuse to forgive?
Because your heavenly Father knows that to refuse to forgive is to live in spiritual defeat. Holding on to anger and bitterness is like shifting into self-destruct, and when we chain ourselves to past hurts, we drag them into all our relationships. Hebrews 12:15 tells us that a bitter root produces a poisonous fruit. Sadly, unreleased injustices become an ongoing part of our identity, and much of life pivots off the pain. The painful moment defines us, then it becomes disruptive, robbing us of the abundant life that Jesus came to bring.
God knew that at Calvary all of us would lose the right to forgive, forever. Despite the wounds humanity inflicted upon him, Jesus chose to die for us anyway. It was the greatest expression of grace the world would ever know.
Steps to Healing
Understand that forgiveness is a process. Jesus says in Luke 17:3-4 that we should forgive “seven times a day” (which adds further understanding to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew). Luke stresses the continued life of discipleship. “Forgiveness must then be not only unlimited, but also daily and repeated. It is a continued practice rather than just a magnanimous action” (Justo Gonzalez, Luke). “The work of God in our lives will never be finished until we meet Jesus face to face . . . . It isn’t about being finished and perfect; spirituality is about trusting God in our unfinishedness” (Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality). Colossians 3:13 says, “Keep on forgiving one another.”
Realize that forgiveness is not forgetting. The Bible never says to forgive and forget. It is not possible, unless we try to seal off the pain by burying it (and the problem with burying it is that its buried alive). The reality is that we all have scars, and there is no magic key within us that can be pushed to delete the pain. So here’s a better strategy: instead of forgetting it, remember it the right way. Remember that your memory can be part of your witness. Clara Barton was a nurse who founded the American Red Cross. A friend of hers tells about an experience she witnessed earlier in life when a particular woman was cruel to Clara. Despite the cruelty, Clara showed great kindness to the woman. Her friend asked her, “Clara, don’t you remember what she did to you?” Clara said, “I distinctly remember forgetting it.” In other words – I recall what she did, but more importantly, I recall the decision I made not to act toward her on the basis of what she did but on the basis of who I am. You can forgive somebody and still remember what the person did. God empowers us to remember rightly. Romans 5:20 says, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” The Gospel allows us to tell a new story. Like Joseph, it allows us to say after we have been hurt, “You intended it to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
Always think of forgiveness in terms of cancelling a debt. Forgiveness is not simply a feeling, it is a daily decision born out of time in the Scriptures and prayer. Like the king in our story, you must decide: I cancel the debt and you don’t owe me anymore. Jesus cancelled your debt, therefore you can cancel the debt of another. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Stop fanning the flames of your unforgiveness. So often we say we bury the hatchet, but we leave the handle sticking up so we can pick it up again. We’ve got to ask God to help us have spiritual mastery over that temptation.A couple of years ago a game came out called Angry Birds. If you haven’t played it, here’s how it works: There are some angry birds—why we don’t know—and they’re angry at pigs who live in structures, and for some reason the pigs need to be punished. With our skill of punching a button, we launch angry birds at the structures that collapse on the pigs, and that’s considered a victory. What happens to the birds? They blow up. Fun game, right? But why do I want to be an angry bird when trying to destroy the person I’m angry at is destroying me? By God’s grace, we must confront our anger, confess it, and give it over to the Lord. None of us are responsible for our wounds, but Jesus gives us the power for overcoming them.
Is there a person you have thought about a lot over the last month?
Do you really like that person?
One day Jesus was explaining how a person who has been wronged by another must work things out by first going to the person, and secondly taking others with him. Peter was listening to the discussion and was apparently reminded of someone who had hurt him in the past, not once but over and over. When Jesus finished, Peter pulled him off to the side and said, I’ve got a question for you. How often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Then, maybe trying to look impressive to the Lord, he said, “How about seven times?” (Matt. 18:21). Seven was a good Bible number. Yet in asking the question, Peter showed some confusion about the nature of forgiveness. (It is a confusion that many of us share). Like us, Peter made some assumptions, that forgiveness is for the benefit of the offender; therefore, if I want to do something nice for the offender, I’ll do them a favor and forgive them, even if it means doing so seven times. The idea is that to forgive is to do someone a favor.
You see, when we’re hurt, there is always the sense that the one who hurt us is a debtor to us. It’s why we make statements like: “You OWE me an apology!” We say of a boss, “She owes me respect,” or of a spouse: “He owes it to me to be more understanding.” When we experience pain there is always the sense that something has been taken from us that must be paid back. It’s the debt we fell we are owed, and we hold on to the debt, often building a case against the offender.
The result is that bitter feelings fill our hearts, and we think about the offending person much of the time.
Some in the counseling profession say there are two primary ways we deal with pain. We either exhibit turtle-like behavior, taking anger and stuffing it deep inside, or we respond more like a skunk, spraying the offending person personally with our words and spreading the news to everyone we know about just how sorry we think the offending person is.
Then, as victims, we ask questions like, “When is enough, enough?” and “When can I say I’ve done my part?”
In Matthew 18, Peter seems to be struggling with the same issue, so in the typical fashion that Jesus often employs, he tells Peter a story. Jesus knows that we listen to stories. They move us to think more deeply about a matter, to decide where we fit in the narrative. So he begins:
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed (23-34, NIV).
We don’t know what Peter was thinking, but it’s likely that about two thirds of the way through the story, Peter realizes that it’s not going in his direction. Perhaps Peter thought that he and God would take care of the person who had wronged him. But as the story goes, it occurs to Peter: God is the KING, I am the WICKED SERVANT; I have been forgiven a lot, yet I can’t forgive the small thing. And the moral is: “Peter, you have to forgive every single time, or God will deal with you.” Furthermore, Jesus ends with these words: This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart (verse 35). So here’s the big question: why is God so bold as to impose his punishment on us if we refuse to forgive? Continued next week . . .
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If you’ve been in ministry very long, you know the expectation. Though largely unwritten, it is nonetheless ever present: when something significant happens to any member, the preacher is expected to be there. From hospital stays to marital crises, it’s the job of the preacher to fix things, to get people through. It’s a congregational contract that says, “If you don’t show up, you are failing to do your job!” And it is precisely this expectation that is overwhelming many of our ministers. It is unreasonable, unsustainable, and may I suggest, unbiblical.
They call routinely. We talk over coffee. We pray. It’s not that they don’t love to care for others, but many of them are tired and haggard, pulled in two at the mercy of the next stumped toe. (One told me that when he asked for a job description, he was told, “We’re just gonna use you.” I told him that was code language for “We’re gonna ride you until you fall over, then go get another horse.”) So how did ministers come to be the primary caregivers in the church?
Greg Ogden (Transformational Discipleship) suggests that ministers have unconsciously been diverted from their primary calling of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). Which is, in fact, the nearest thing to a ministerial job description in Scripture. They are called to use their gifts “for the task of preparing, training, and discipling ordinary believers, referred to as saints, for their place of service in the body of Christ” (42). When equippers perform their role as God intended, the body of Christ is built up, there is unity of faith in the knowledge of God’s Son, and church members “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). In order to disrupt the developmental maturity of the body, however, Satan diverts ministers from their God-given function of equipping the saints to disproportional amounts of pastoral care. One of his most effective tools is to see that caregiving is assigned to the “professionals.”
I suggest it’s time we got back to the Bible and started a fresh conversation. It’s time to consider (as Alan Hirsch writes in Forgotten Ways) that contrary to the clear witness and teachings of the New Testament, the pastor/priest and the teacher/preacher models have become so dominate that the equipping role of ministry has been neglected in the church. “The net effect is that the whole system [is] thus weighted in favor of doctrinal maintenance and pastoral care” (which is far removed from the New Testament idea of every person a disciple and a priest). “Because we have frozen out other forms of Jesus’s ministry from the original recipe, we have ended up with a profoundly reduced ministry. If we are ever to be the church that Jesus clearly intended us to be (Eph. 4:12-16), then we are going to have to do it according to his specific design (Eph. 4:7-11)” (206-207).
How My Ministry Has Changed
After 30 years of ministry, I tend to be more realistic than I used to be. Like many, I stood by every bedside and tried my best to solve every problem that came my way. Finally, I realized that the most effective work I could ever do was pour myself into a faithful few men and women “qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). I learned that God has not called me to be everyone’s hero, but more of a heromaker that creates a platform where others can stand.
Today, I’m more of an equipper. Maybe it’s because I moved from full time to bi-vocational ministry. (Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”) Yet as I reflect, the most important work I ever did was investing time and energy in capable men and women who learned how to care for the souls of others. Today, these are the men and women who are leading ministries and changing the world. With time, I learned that when ministers fulfill their God-ordained roles, a whole series of dominos fall into place – the body of Christ is built up, there is unity and maturity in the body, and the Kingdom advances. I think it’s time that church leaders ask: How can we restore a biblical understanding of congregational ministry?
Scripture gives a case study of how the apostles handled caregiving expectations (read Acts 6:1-7). “Apparently one of the solutions proposed was that the apostles should add serving the widows to their job description. After all, what better way to show your servant spirit than to care for widows, who are at the center of our Lord’s heart? They saw this solution as the temptation that it was. They could easily be distracted from their call to the ministry of the Word and prayer. In fact, their eventual solution expanded ministry by creating an opportunity for seven Greek-speaking men ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:3, NIV) to be added to the ministry force” (Ogden, 44). How does such an understanding give a fresh perspective of what an equipping ministry should look like?
The New Testament portrays a church where everyone is a minister. To the extent that ministers over perform by taking upon themselves responsibilities given to the whole body of believers, how is the ministry of the people of God undermined? In what way should a minister distance himself from everyone relying on him?
Jesus often turned away from the multitude. He would give a sack lunch to the many and give his heart to the few. How can church leaders give ministers permission and protection to reduce pastoral care so they can focus more on “equipping the saints for the works of ministry” (Eph. 4:12)? CONTACT US AND WE WILL BE HAPPY TO SHARE WITH YOU SOME BEST PRACTICES OF CHURCHES WHO ARE CHANGING LIVES BY GETTING BACK TO BASICS!
It takes lots of patience to live at peace with one another. Contrary to popular opinion, division is not a spiritual gift, though some would have us think so. I’m afraid we sometimes find ourselves taking cues on how to treat each other—both believers and unbelievers—from the circus that has become contemporary social discourse—played out in Facebook feuds and talking-head pundit shows.
In contrast, listen to the words of the Apostle Paul:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called (Ephesians 4:1-4).
In this passage, Paul highlights some fundamental attitudes and fundamental doctrines – one body, one Spirit, one Lord, faith, and baptism. It’s the attitudes I want to focus on, because without these, there really is no hope for unity—humility, gentleness, and patience!
It is the duty of every Christian to seek to establish and maintain brotherly connection, because that seems to be the way of Jesus. Unity is a command to be obeyed as much as any other in the New Testament. Unity is a commitment to hearing and interacting with one another in love. John Yoder calls this “reconciling conversation.” Such conversations reflect certain character traits that come from Jesus and the Holy Spirit and personify the kinds of patience that’s required to maintain a Christ-like level of brotherly conversation. Here are seven types of patience needed with believers whose judgments differ from our own.
Pedagogical patience – takes into account that human learning is gradual and occurs in sequences and stages.
Pastoral patience –takes into account the realities of trauma and healing, along with the patience required to help broken persons move toward trust and commitment.
Multicultural patience –it’s hard to understand each other when we are dealing with cultural or linguistic diversity. Our assumptions may not compute across that divide. Are we willing to work at it?
Collegial patience – needed by the minority and involves coming to terms with a dominate view without being convinced by it. (If you’re in a group of Christians and your view is outvoted, are you going to walk away mad and say, “Well, I lost it!”? Or are you going to hang in there with collegial patience to see if something good comes out of it?)
The patience of repentance – recognizes that even if one’s position is correct, that it has probably been presented inadequately at times, or even unfaithfully at times. (So you might need to repent for that).
The patience of finitude – the recognition that one may be wrong.
Apocalyptic patience – the awareness that all matters are not worked out in the broken reality in which we live, and that we must wait and hope for heaven, where there will be perfect unity and peace.
Here’s a few questions to further your conversation. (Caution: PATIENCE REQUIRED!)
What should be our stance toward Christians with whom we seriously disagree?
On what terms can we accept those with whom we disagree as fellow believers?
Is spiritual growth really possible if we can’t admit from time to time, “I may be wrong?” What’s the value of humbly admitting that to one another?
It was the wise Solomon who said, “Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it” (Prov. 16:22). We normally assume that we are right and other Christians with whom we disagree are wrong. But it’s likely we have something to learn just as likely as we have something to teach. Furthermore, we are not ready to answer these questions unless we remember the terms on which God has accepted us.
I have seen it happen again and again, and probably you have too: the most immature member controlling the direction of the entire congregation. I have seen inappropriate behavior not only tolerated but emerge as the most effective way to get something done. I have seen churches give the mission of God away to the lowest common denominator – the personal preferences of a “weaker brother.” In these churches, the strongest person in the church is the one who is always offended.
In Leadership that Works, Leith Anderson writes about the tendency leaders have to reward dysfunction. Perhaps the most commonly rewarded dysfunction is the empowerment of the wrong people. Individuals who would be fired from their jobs or thrown in jail if they exhibited such behavior in the larger community are allowed to threaten, intimidate, control, and manipulate in the church. . . . I’m not saying we shouldn’t allow disturbed people into the church, but we shouldn’t allow disturbed people to disrupt the church. The difficulty comes when churches reward dysfunction rather than help people overcome it (Leadership That Works, 30).
Wouldn’t it be better if we applied the wisdom of Scripture to courageously confront inappropriate and immature behavior? I have found the following considerations to be helpful.
Be aware of the “herding instinct.”
This occurs when a dysfunctional person tries to drive the congregation to adopt a viewpoint aligned singularly with his own. As a result, the congregation ends up organizing, not around healthy leaders, but around the least mature.
According to Noel Friedman (A Failure of Nerve), the chronically anxious congregation almost seems to develop a “self” of its own to which everyone is expected to adapt. Dissent is discouraged, peace is valued more than progress, and problems are formulated in rigid black-and-white constructs with no room for both/and thinking (67). (A bible class on the Holy Spirit, for example, can erupt into World War III). In such an environment, there is constant tension and pressure for members to adapt to the dominant view. The result is that many congregations break apart in an argument over how they should stay together. (Have you ever see a video of the Taiwanese parliament? After sixty years they still leap across chairs and hit each other. In their attempt to agree upon the rules, they end up in anxious an heated arguments).
Other dangers abound. Church bulletins show little divergence from previous years because creativity and individuality are squashed. In turn, those who do not consider themselves part of the “herd” grow increasingly more frustrated. As a result, some of the finest and most talented people eventually leave and invest elsewhere. Be aware of the herding instinct.
Be willing to speak truth plainly.
I find it helpful to see how Jesus dealt with misguided critics. When a Pharisee was “surprised” that Jesus did not wash his hands before a meal, Jesus said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. . . . Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you” (Luke 11:37-41). This man was NOT a weaker brother, he was a legalist.
There’s a difference in hurting someone’s faith and catering to someone’s immaturity. Sometimes the most loving thing a leader can say is, “I’m sorry the issue is out of your comfort zone, but it’s not outside the gospel.” We do danger to the gospel and the church when we say we’re going to deny Christian liberty to keep an individual from being offended.
Lastly, seek a solution.
The Apostle Paul gives us solid guidance: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3). These are the fundamental attitudes necessary for harmony in the body. When they are absent in the heart of the Christian, disruption is sure to come. Therefore, always seek to bring the brother or the sister you love back to the heart of Scripture. The goal is to love the individual while preserving the health of the body, to have the maturity to respect viewpoints other than our own, to say in the end, it’s not MY way or YOUR way, but OUR way.
This summer I’ve had the opportunity to mentor two youth ministry interns who are working with a small congregation in Alabama. Over lunch this week, some of the church members were discussing the importance of creating the right culture for growth. One of the men said insightfully, “It’s like something I tried this spring in my garden. In order to have tomatoes all summer long, I thought it would be a good idea to plant tomatoes two weeks apart, so I made three plantings in hopes that they would produce fruit until the fall.” “How did it go?” I asked. He said, “I learned from the experiment that whether I planted tomatoes early or late, they all grew at the same rate once the temperature got right.” “Today,” he said, “every one of the plants is the same size, regardless of when they were planted.”
The story reaffirmed to me something about church culture. Regardless of when the plants were planted, it took a context that was conducive and favorable for growth in order for them to grow.
Through the years, I have returned to Max Dupree’s statement about leadership many times: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you.” So how is your church temperature, the growing environment?
In the book In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership, Mike Bonem suggests that the healthy growth of a congregation is directly related to way people interact with one another.
Are decisions made from the top down, by consensus, or by the power brokers in the parking lot after the meeting?
Do people wait on staff to tell them what to do, or do people feel comfortable initiating things from the bottom up?
Is there a sense of authentic community or just a pseudocommunity?
When conflict occurs, is it handled in healthy ways, or does it go underground?
The way we answer these kinds of questions will define for us “the horizons of possibility and impossibility” (170-171).
We need to learn a lesson from the tomato patch. Get the temperature right and there is hope for a good harvest. Get it wrong, and there will be shallow and stunted growth. Jesus said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Or to quote management consultant and author Margaret Wheatley, “There is only one prediction about the future that I feel confident to make. Those organizations who will succeed are those that evoke our greatest human capacities—our need to be in good relationships, and our desire to contribute something beyond ourselves. These qualities . . . are only available in organizations where people feel they are trusted and welcome.” The growth of the group always reduces itself to the individual. Are people loved? Are they trusted? Do their ideas and opinions matter?
When Jesus came to the first disciples, he didn’t say, “I’ll show you how to become a great church member.” He didn’t say, “I’ll show you how to create the best church programs.” He said, “Follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). His simple plan for discipleship was come, be changed, go tell somebody else. That’s it! And like those disciples, we have one job to do: make disciples.
I must admit that for years I preached the great commission, but it never really hit me until recently that I have one job to do: “Go, and make disciples!” That’s it! I thought my job as minister was to start good programs, run the church office, plan fellowships, all the usual church stuff! It’s not my intent to say those things are bad, but that’s not the call.
Jesus discipled, not through programs, but through one-on-one relationships with very small groups of people. He would preach openly, then take the disciples aside privately and discuss what he had just preached. Jesus appointed the Twelve “to be with him” (Mark 3:14-15). He said at his arrest, “Every day I was with you” (Mark 14:49).
So, why are churches dying? (According to some of the research I’ve read, for the last 10 years we’ve been losing 200 people a week; every other week, a church closes its doors forever). Why are churches dying?
We have gotten off point. We have forgotten that we have one job to do, and that is to make disciples. We have lost sight of the mission!
When Jesus came, people were tired. Religion had grown routine and burdensome. People were longing for freshness, for a time of pure religion. The old system was spiritless, lifeless, dead! And one day Jesus came along and called a group of fishermen to a new purpose: to proclaim the good news of God. “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:14-15).
Jesus doesn’t step on their dreams, he just calls them to so much more. So here’s the question: if we stripped all of the programming away and returned to our call, could we possibly experience more? Could our churches starting growing again?
Making disciples is our only business. We have no other business but that! Everyone needs a Timothy (someone you’re discipling), and everyone needs a Paul (someone discipling you).
Thankfully, some of our churches are figuring that out. Those who are experiencing new growth are rediscovering ways to make disciples AND disciplemakers. What to know more? Message us at dbminsitrycoach.com and we’ll discuss how. I’d love to share with you personally the transforming power of discipleship groups.
Luke 15 gives us a unique perspective into how people get lost. Some are lost like a sheep – they wander away. Some are lost like a coin due to neglect or the actions of another. Others, like the prodigal, make the conscious decision to go to the far country. But what about the older brother? Is it possible to be lost while in in the Father’s house? And if so, how would you go about bringing that person into the light?
If I read Luke 15 correctly, the old brother represents the Pharisees. While the tax collectors and “sinners” gathered around to HEAR him, the Pharisees “muttered” about the kinds of people Jesus welcomed into the kingdom. (In fact, something gets lost in the chapter break you might not have noticed. In the last verse of Luke 14, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In chapter 15 it is the “sinners” who gather to HEAR Jesus (verse 1), while the Pharisees voice their complaints (verse 2). The Pharisees speak, while others listen. They do not have “ears to hear.”
So here’s the question: How do you reach a Pharisee? It wasn’t until recently that I saw the wisdom of the Father as he reasoned with the older brother. While Jesus teaches us to pursue lost sheep, to fiercely search for lost coins, to wait, pray and welcome the prodigal back with joy and celebration, the Father takes a much different approach with the older son. He seeks to bring about change through patient instruction. He goes straight to the root of the problem. When the older brother says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you,” the Father responds, “All I have is yours.” When the brother objects to the celebration, the Father replies, “We had to celebrate.” Jesus seeks to change his orientation, a paradigm shift of sorts. He compels him to see through the eyes of grace instead of duty.
In the Gospel of Luke, we see Jesus constantly seeking to bring about a change of perspective which reflects the values of the Kingdom. He taught, continued to teach, and taught some more (Luke 5:22-23; 6:9; 7:41-42; 10:36; 14:5). It is, therefore, my conviction, that if we want to change an older brother, it takes “great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2) over time to bring about a change of heart. It takes the kind of teaching that helps people evaluate their positions in light of Kingdom values.
Questions for discussion:
How are people lost like a sheep, a coin, a prodigal, an older brother? What is the best way to pursue each?
How would you go about changing a congregation of older brothers? (Consider the verses from the Gospel of Luke above. Notice Jesus’ use of questions to challenge inaccurate assumptions).
What are the effects of an older brother in the pulpit? How might you help bring about a change of perspective?
What guidance do the Scriptures give concerning the pursuit of lost people? (See 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Jude 22-23)
Twelve Keys to an Effective Church (Kennon Callahan) is a helpful resource for understanding why some churches thrive while others die and fade. Much of the problem with decline in churches, he suggest, revolves around the concept of a “motivational gap.” According to Callahan, the highest biblical values for people in the pew are compassion, grace, and community. However, the greatest values for preachers are challenge, reasonability, and commitment. Challenge is defined as accomplishment, achievement, attainment; reasonability as data, analysis, logic; commitment as duty, vow, obligation, loyalty.
Callahan argues that all values have importance to people in the pew, but when leaders more routinely emphasize the last three values to the exclusion of the first three—compassion, grace, and community—a “motivational gap” is created within the congregation. When a motivational gap occurs, a church loses drive and spirit. People grow weary of sermons that persistently emphasize obligation and data. However, when leaders emphasize the values that are longed for in the pew, there is a “motivational match” and the church flourishes.
Callahan also suggests that local congregations must be “legendary” in some respect in its community. Churches are known for what is shared on the grapevine. They do not have to do many things well, but they need to be known for ONE thing in particular that community members talk about and celebrate—perhaps the youth program, a benevolent work, a recovery ministry.
Here are some helpful questions for discussion:
What church ministry would our community consider legendary?
Are we known to be legendary in the present or only for our ministry in the past?
What values do we more regularly emphasize: commitment/ authority/reasonability, or compassion/grace/community? Does this have any relationship to our spiritual health or decline?
Callahan says that when preachers sense decline in a local church, they most often overcompensate by emphasizing “commitment.” When a church does this, it is in a declining phase. Is there a sense that preaching “commitment” is a reflection of our own insecurities? What are some ways we could better listen to the heart concerns of our people?