Last week I brought up the envy and discontentment that we can feel in church life because our church is as “x, y or z” as another church. We can kick against the goads and ignore the call of God who has placed us in His Body according to His wisdom and goodness. Many churches try to be something they are not instead of the church God has made them to be. Many pastors do the same thing.
But there is another danger, the dark opposite of envy and discontentmet: complacency. This is the notion that since I can’t be like that other pastor, I don’t really have to try. Since our church can’t be like that other church we don’t have to strive to be better.
Envy can drive obsession to be something you can’t be. Complacency drifts into being slack and ineffectual.
And so the tensions of church life, and pastoral ministry begin to arise. They can be seen in these ways.
Complacency <==> Faithfulness <==> Covetousnes
Ineffectual/lazy <==> Utilizing Gifts & Abilities <==> Over-taxing people
Status quo <==> Always improving <==> Over-reaching
Leaders need to honestly assess who they are as pastors, elders and congregations. There must be discussions and analysis of gifts, abilities and resources within a congregation, and the best way to use them to the glory of God.
Let’s look at music as an example. Each congregation has its own musical resources that are intended to shape their music ministry. Each church, therefore, has different limitations. When I first entered pastoral ministry the congregation had the self-proclaimed “piano lady” who was the wife of an elder. That was about it. When she was on vacation they used one of those digital hymnal boxes to lead singing. I dusted off my guitar, faced my inhibitions about playing in front of people, invested time most weeks practicing and played along on songs I could play. It was a small church and my mistakes weren’t the end of the world to most of the people.
We played hymns and a few Scripture songs. We had a few snow birds, and one used to play organ for her church. She played for a few Sundays when our beloved piano lady was out of town. It didn’t go well. It would have been okay except for a man who was very vocal about his displeasure and she never tried again.
Eventually God brought another musician into the congregation. She had are greater abilities than the piano lady and we were able to significantly expand the range of music we sang as a congregation. For a period of time there was a third keyboardist who could spell the other two and we all loved her rendition of Amazing Grace. We identified a few people who sang well and had them lead the singing. For a small church, we had a very good music ministry. It was one that grew as God provided new resources, but sought to live within its limitations. The piano lady couldn’t do syncopated music. If she was the only keyboardist that day we didn’t do any.
One temptation would have been to be complacent. We could have refused to improve our ministry as God provided. We could have ignored the provision of new musicians. We could have refused to expand our musical options (adding songs and new styles). We also could have thought we were supposed to have a music ministry like the big church down the street and gotten bitter because our musicians weren’t semi-professional (or go bankrupt paying musicians).
The same thing has happened at my new congregation. We had some very good piano players and a very good guitarist. We have 2 people who can play bass, and one who plays the penny whistle. We had a violinist. I am the least skilled musician among us. The congregation sings well. We didn’t stick with the status quo. We’ve expanded our music. We bought a piano to replace the keyboard and made it the focal instrument. A new member added a beat box to the mix. One of the young women practiced to improve her skills and has gone from playing hymns alone to playing with other instruments. We’ve asked one of our strongest voices to help lead the singing, particularly important for new songs.
It hasn’t all been positive. We have one instrumentalist dealing with the realities of aging. Our violinist moved away. All of these things shift our gifts and abilities, expanding and contracting our musical boundaries as a congregation. Our music can and should be getting better rather than becoming stale through complacency.
That is how all ministries of a church should be. How are our resources changing? Are we able to do more or do we have to start thinking about doing less? How can we do what we do better?
This is the process of becoming the best church, to the glory of God, that we can be. That doesn’t mean trying to become like someone else, but growing more into who God has made us in His providential wisdom. That can be painful as we let of old ways and learn new ways. But we need to avoid the traps of both covetousness and complacency. This is difficult since we are prone to self-deception (each of us can mask either as ‘being faithful’). One way is to keep our focus on Christ and His principles instead of exalting our preferences. We can’t be all things to all men all at the same time. We are called to be the church God has made us to our particular community at this particular time.