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Archive for August, 2016


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.

The “old days” of Cornerstone except the pianist is “missing”.

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.

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It is easy to look over the fence, so to speak, and see how another church is better. When we are feeling smug and self-righteous we usually see how they are worse. But we can look and get discouraged.

I pastor one of 4 churches of my denomination in our city. We are the oldest, and the smallest. It is easy to look at them and go “why are we the small church?” We don’t simply want growth from people who move to town, we want to see conversion growth. Aside from our children we are not seeing much of that. Our gifted evangelist had been sick for years and died a year ago. Evangelism is a struggle for us.

It isn’t for a lack of trying, at least in some ways. In my series on John I emphasized His mission and therefore ours. I’ve done a SS class on evangelism in the past. We’ve done an outreach the last few years. But the bottom line seems to be we are generally introverted and busy people.

I want us to change, and pray for us to change. That is a good thing. I don’t want us to be disobedient to Christ.

But I also don’t want us to be filled with envy (look at those churches) or discouragement (from beating ourselves up).

Old SpurgeonEnter Spurgeon. I’m reading Morning and Evening this year. I didn’t bring it with me on vacation so I’m reading 2 days’ worth to catch up. Almost there! But I read July 18th today.

In the morning he covered Numbers 2 addressing the location of Dan in the camp. They took up the rear, but were not to be discouraged about their position in battle formation. He notes that they experienced all of the same spiritual blessings as the rest of the tribes.

They might have thought themselves useless as a result. Kinda like Grimes in Black Hawk Down whining about being the one who always makes the coffee and doesn’t go out on missions.

Spurgeon notes they had a useful place. As the “stragglers” they picked up lost property. He expands:

“Fiery spirits may dash forward over untrodden paths to learn fresh truth, and win more souls to Jesus; but some of a more conservative spirit may be well engaged in reminding the church of her ancient faith, and restoring her fainting sons.”

In other words, every church has a place in the kingdom but a different place. Some are gifted evangelistically and it shows, and some are not. But they can be a refuge for Christians who have been burned out or used up, hurt or …. introverts and doctrinally oriented folks.

Spurgeon notes that they are the rear guard, which is also a place of danger. Dan suffered attack from Amalek, for instance. All churches are vulnerable to spiritual attack, to false teaching and habitual sins.

Just because your congregation isn’t on the “cutting edge” or growing quickly doesn’t mean your church isn’t a disobedient or bad church. It may just be a different church.

In the evening he looks at Joel 2:8 and talks about balance. He mentions how the virtues should all be there- we don’t focus on one at the expense of others. But just as importantly the same is true for duties. We can not become preoccupied with one duty and neglect others. It is easy for a church that isn’t growing quickly to obsess about it and neglect their other duties.

“We must minister as the Spirit has given us ability, and not intrude upon our fellow servant’s domain.”

We tend to think of this within congregational life, which is true. We should enable all to serve according to their gifts, abilities and passions. None of us can do everything. But in the Body of Christ everything gets done.

The same is true on a larger scale, I suspect. No one church can do everything- though the bigger they are the more they can do. Smaller churches live with greater limits. This can be frustrating to members (and pastors) who see we aren’t doing something and think we should. It requires wisdom in accessing abilities, gifts and resources.

Some of us are Type-A Christians. We always want more. The answer is not to attend a Type-A church. Smaller churches do need a push, someone who calls them out of complacency. But there is a balance must be sought. We can’t help our congregations be the best they can be in light of who God has made them. And God has not given all churches the same gifts, abilities and resources. As part of a larger Body we recognize our place in the Body, the function we are to perform which means our church won’t be like other churches who have different functions to perform.

Don’t be embarrassed to be like Dan, in the rearguard. But rejoice in Christ who has made you a part of the Body and given you a role to fulfill in that Body. Seek to understand that role your congregation plays instead of trying to be a congregation you aren’t- by the providence of God.

 

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