Status Quo

I wonder how many church “leaders” feel that their role is to maintain the status quo. I wonder how many church “leaders” are really qualified as leaders. I wonder if the qualifications for elder and deacon offices listed in the new testament, are missing the obvious qualifications of leadership. As if, the author expected us to select natural leaders, and merely wrote out the constraints or “passive” criteria for the job.

I have been elected or called to church office twice in my life, both times have been somewhat terrible experiences, but for different reasons. The first time, I was young, and not very mature spiritually. I was seduced by the call, and was asked then to lead the board, when the then chairman stepped aside unexpectedly very shortly after I started on the board. I really had no idea what the board was respnsible for, nor had I experience as a board member before being asked to be the chair. There was nothing that I could do but try to maintain the status quo. My prayers were that the board and I would not fall down on the job, and that we could keep things going.

The second time I was called was 12 years later in a different church. I was called to a board that was largely apathetic, and not well organized. Our two greatest responsibilities were preparing the church budget, and maintaining the facility. I clearly felt that neither of these responsibilities were particularly suited to my talents and gifts. I served my term, but realized during my term of service, that both boards really only served to maintain the status quo, and that whenever they wanted to change something, they formed a more executive structure focused on the change at hand.

I am not suggesting that all churches are like this, but my my conversations with others lead me to believe that my experiences are less common than one might expect.

The new testament church talks about three officers:

Deacon (Diakono) – Literally servant or minister – Do the bidding of others
Elder, Overseers, Bishops () – in a position of oversight –
Missionaries, Apostles (Apostolos) – those specifically called to be sent out –

With the exception of missionaries, I think that most who are called to the offices of deacon or elder are focused on maintaining the status quo, except where there are problems, where the status quo needs to be restored. When the status quo no longer is effective (you know this when everyone in your church is older than 50, or other sign) changes to the status quo may be necessary. Obviously, or perhaps not so obviously, if we want to prevent that state, we can make more frequent, smaller changes – rather than waiting until there is an obvious problem, then making significant and painful changes. As you might expect, the way to figure out what needs change when is by measuring fruit.

There is no clear precedent or directive in the new testament for how change is to be instituted. While the tree huggers (people who don’t like change) reading this will cheer this statement as a directive to keep things the same forever, institutionalizing the literal implementation of the new testament church – the rest of us recognize that even the new testament church continually changed and adapted to every local culture it invaded, with only the dictates of mission and doctrine as constants.

So who identifies opportunities for change, who decides that change is required, and who leads that change? It seems to me that each church or ministry should maintain in it’s leadership one or more “malcontents” or “troublemakers” whose job it is to suggest opportunities for change, but who do not have the right to unilaterally decide to implement that change. Likewise, each church or ministry should maintain in it’s leadership one or more agents of change whose job it is to champion and implement a change once it has been decided.

That leaves only the decision rights. Every ministry has their own form of governance. Some are more executive (less people make decisions) and others are more congregational (more people make decisions).

Regardless of the participation model, when deciding to implement change, there are benefits to correctly communicating and articulating that change so that it does not come as a surprise. Your community may not be 100% in favor of the change, but if you can articulate rationally the reason for the change, especially the desired outcome of the change, you will do a better job of getting people on board. The smaller, more gradual changes are easier for people than the larger more drastic feeling changes.

In summary – your leadership should not only be maintaining the status quo, they should be evaluating the results (fruit) from the status quo and recommending and implementing changes, in order to continue to produce fruit in accordance with the mission and vision of The Church.

Status Quo Vs. Tradition

Status quo is fact. This is the status quo – the state of things – the way things are. There is little emotional attachment to the status quo, other than the natural human inertia – the aversion to change – even change that is potentially positive.

Tradition is different! it is “the way we have always done it”, “the way they did it when I was young”, “the way Dad (or Mom) always did it”. It is imbued with nostalgia and emotion. People have an inherent tendency to view the familiar as correct, and unfamiliar as somehow less right. Perhaps “right” is not the correct word, perhaps it is “normal” vs. “abnormal”. Having watched my share of national geographic specials as a kid, I remember thinking over and over – how can those people be so weird? They simply were raised with different traditions.

During Jesus ministry on Earth, he consistently railed against the traditions of men, especially when those traditions were interfering with people having relationship with God. The Jewish people at that time, especially a party called the Pharisee’s, had established a system of legalism and ritual that portended to make it easier for people to figure out if they were following God’s law, while at the same time it masked the fact that all men are sinners and in need of God’s mercy. In the end, it was a system that created status for the Pharisees thus they were heavily invested in those traditions, because of the status afforded them.

So how do traditions manifest in ministry today?

Some traditions are involved with the worship service, the liturgy, the music, etc. Others have to do with kids programs: AWANA clubs or Pioneers. Some traditions manifest in attitudes towards christian education or home schooling. All of these traditions can be beneficial, but can limit fruitfulness. Perhaps one of the most insidious traditions has to do with legalism and behavior: the No drinking, No dancing, No movies approach. It leads to a judgemental spirit – and it tends to alienate those that we most seek to enter our fellowship – sinners. This tradition, so common in Baptist churches of the last two generations, is the reason that it is hard to find a church with Baptist in the name in any suburban community.

Traditions can become part of the ministry brand or identity – aspects of our ministry that “cannot be changed”. These are difficult to change because without them, “we wouldn’t be us”. If you think about ministry branding, our brand should be Jesus Christ, any distinctive we try to attain for our ministry is really in the end only differentiating ourselves from Him.

A conclusion:
As the church membership dwindles, the remainder of parishoners strongly identify with the traditions, and threaten to leave if change is implemented. What is to be said about this?

Likely the traditions were established as new practices or methods at the time, replacing some older cherished tradition. They were innovative and effective at producing fruit. I think of “The Reformation” as a classic example of replacing traditions that had become unfruitful. Now, the culture around us has changed, the demographics of the community have changed, the demographics of our ministry participants have changed. Time for change – specifically to become more effective at producing fruit.

Ministry participants who care more about the traditions than about fruit need to be educated, indoctrinated, and re-purposed. If they think the purpose of the ministry is to please them – they are mistaken. It is not – it is to please God. It is to Make Disciples. It is to do the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. They either are willing to be re-purposed or not. It can either happen at their current church or somewhere else. When they leave the church, they will have much less authority or “say so” than they currently think they do, or are entitled to, especially if they have inhabited leadership positions in church.

A leader who threatens to leave your church is literally holding your ministry hostage. He or she is a terrorist. Do not negotiate with terrorists. If they are a large contributor, give them their last months contribution back.

Worst case scenario:
What about a church split. I think that most church leaders fear this more than anything. Church splits can be painful, dividing even families, and can hurt the ministry’s effectiveness.

Lemonade from lemons:
Maybe you should consider turning the split into a plant. If the difference of opinion is not over doctrine, but something less essential (tradition), rather than parting company in anger, support that leader and maintain a healthy relationship – plant a new church. Especially if the ministry overall is healthy, growing or maintaining and producing fruit. Let God find a way to make a problem into an opportunity to produce even more fruit.

Change Aversion

Most people don’t like change. People will tolerate change if they have a reason. Change is a hassle.

You have to figure out the new stuff. Without the change, you already had it figured out. Everybody would like the change to be an improvement for them. Not all will realize this desire.

So at the end of the day, most people’s opinion of change is a) it is a hassle, and b) good chance it will not be an improvement for me.

In order to sell change, you have to make a compelling reason. The reason must appear to be fair, and must represent a real improvement for someone. It must be worth the cost – not only the investment of time and money, but my own sacrifice of my improvement, so someone else can have theirs.

Trading one group of dissatisfied folks for another is only valid when the soon to be dissatisfied folks are asked to make the sacrifice, and the sacrifice is recognized in the whole.

People are not receptive to change for a reason, because it often costs them.

You can help people accept change when you:

  1. recognize the impact of change to all affected, and not just the beneficiaries
  2. recognize the gift of those who sacrifice for the greater good.

Just make sure that there is a greater good!

Fruit of Worship

In the North American Evangelical Church in the last 30 years, there have been several emphases on worship, corporate worship, worship experience, especially around worship music.

Worship is the act of surrendering your (time, money, thoughts, abilities, praise, fill in the blank) to God because He is Worthy. Yet in practice, we can become “dissatisfied” with the worship experience. It seems to me a complete subversion of the meaning of worship, to make something that is essentially about giving, and to say that one is dissatisfied with the experience of it.

The worship experience that we talk about in church is really about praise, adoration, and the recitation of truths, in prose and song. It is this part of the experience that we sit in judgement of. Whether the quality of the musical performance is adequate, the style is to our taste or whim, or whether those presenting or performing were somehow distracting us from our experience. We experience dissatisfaction when we are not induced to surrender our praise to God.

That said, I wonder what the corporate worship experience can do to improve our fruit production. I use the worship experience at church to bring my heart to a place where I am ready to hear a message from God through the preacher. I try to focus and empty myself of my selfish desires and focus on Him. I submit that the purpose of the corporate worship experience is not to induce us to surrender our praise, but to teach us how to surrender in different ways and circumstances.

If you want to build a church that worships in spirit and truth, then I expect that ministry participants will need to learn how to worship. While one does not need to be at church to worship, church is a great place to learn to worship. I am convinced that worshiping together should be about helping participants learn to worship. So elements of the worship should be designed to appeal to different types of worshippers so that all can learn how to worship in different ways and find those that are the most conducive to each of them entering a deeper state of surrender.

Worship in some churches appears more to be about “going through the motions” – whether it is an old school liturgical service, or a new breed rockin’ service, people are just doing what everyone else is doing, either so that they don’t look out of place – or because they think that doing it like everyone else is the right thing to do. Of course, the Holy Spirit can work in both styles, and mature believers can be deeply affected by the spirit regardless of the style, music, venue or process. Yet, what is our corporate worship doing to help newer, less mature believers to grow in their ability to worship?

In my understanding, the purpose (fruit) of corporate worship is to encourage and teach believers how to worship (surrender), so that they translate the corporate worhip experience into private worship, and their private worship becomes more meaningful. Design your church’s worship experience towards that goal, and your fruit will increase.

Community Friendly

How does your ministry feel as a community? How hard is it for people to become part of the community? How hard do they have to work to break in? Likewise, how do the members of your community treat each other? Do they trust one another? Do they care for one another? Do they forgive one another?

In small communities, the challenge is how you deal with “rejection” – that is when someone remains “aloof”. Often in smaller communitiesk, a new person chooses to remain aloof, until they have made some internal committment to the community. It might appear to members of the community, that this person is “snooty”, or “superior”, or “thinks alot of themselves”, but in reality, they may be anxious, or fearful of judgement, or rejection, and this is a “mask” they are wearing. They are in fact, rejecting the community, before the community has a chance to reject them. In larger communities, this behavior often goes unnoticed, and as the community is more diverse, the new person simply settles in without feeling either particularly welcomed or rejected. In smaller communities, the already established friendships and family ties make it much easier to ignore the new person, especially when they don’t appear to want to “join in”. In reality, many are simply waiting for an invitation or an opportunity to enter into the community, and if that invitation is not forthcoming, they feel personally rejected, and their aloofness is justified.

In larger communities, the challenge is how you deal with “inclusion” – that is how to get people to spend time with each other. While smaller communities have great cohesion, so that at times it feels hard to “break the circle” – with larger organizations, there is no apparent circle to break into. There is no apparent community to be a part of, and what is observable appears very superficial, very shallow. Large communities, often therefore go out of their way to welcome new people. They spend resources communicating how new people can get involved, but either new people are “herded” into starter communities (small groups), or they are pressed into service (hands ministries) as a means of getting them introduced to others within the community. The problem with either of those two methods (and many others) is that unless you (the newcomer) fit the target profile of the ministry there is a low probability that you will connect with others with similar interests, and so many outliers bounce.

In smaller communities, it would be useful if there were a couple of “connectors” – people who maintain a network of relationships – who were in a ministry of connecting people together. Help me find someone else “like me” that I can connect to.

In larger communities, it might be useful to employ a “” approach to grouping people into service or community roles. As our ministry communities grow geographically more dispersed, it can be useful to sponsor community events around your geographical population centers – by town, school district, neighborhood, etc.

Most churches tend to program by demographics (men, women, kids, etc.) – but other aspects of demographics may be more powerful – (singles, couples, families, empty nesters vs. professionals, tradesmen, entrepreneurs, working women, homemakers). MOPS (mothers of pre schoolers) is a great long time example of this.

What is your community about, and how easy is it to become connected, involved, engaged, committed, supported?

Fruit of Going Deeper

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to do is to take people out of a comfort zone. People find Jesus and get saved… and they are comfortable with that. They participate in a small group… and they are comfortable with that. They help in a childrens ministry…

How does one encourage/enable others to experience a deeper faith, increase their dedication in discipleship, use their gifts and talents, develop a hunger and thirst for the Lord.

They need an example to follow. They need to see these things lived out. They need to rub shoulders with more mature believers who have been there (where they are now, and who have progressed and grown). They need a mentor.

If you want to produce the fruit of growing deeper, you need to take the most mature believers in your organization, and develop a ministry, so that others can see how someone at the next level or subsequent levels is. How they handle trials. How they approach their relationship with God. How they spend their time. What they struggle with.

Then if you want the fruit to multiply, you need to construct the ministry so that as each one matures, he or she also becomes an example to others who are not there yet.

Every believer should have be Timothy to some Paul, and every believer should be Paul to some Timothy.

This is why the Christian Life is not to be lived alone. This is why believers are commanded to not stop meeting together. This is why pastors need to be accountable either to a local board, or to a denomination. Because none of us are fully mature, all of us continue to grow – either deeper in our relationship with God, or apart from God. It is our connections to other believers that help us stay on track, as the world and the enemy try to derail our faith.