Over the past year-and-a-half, and especially for the last several months, we’ve been racking our collective brain at our congregation, trying to figure out how to “grow the church.” We’ve had money-making ideas, member-soliciting suggestions, arguments about Sunday School versus Small Groups and on and on. We’ve lost a few members in the process.
Some didn’t care for our non-traditional worship, some didn’t care for our elder-led structure and some didn’t care for our non-traditional pastor. It might be that some of them didn’t like any of that. Their departure shot a double-barreled,12-gauge buckshot hole in our budget. Predictably, the smaller the crowds and the contributions, the greater the discontent.
It sort of came to a head a couple of weeks ago. Frustrated by the perpetual criticism of a few members, the pastor, yours truly, finally leveled with the whole group. Convicted by the Spirit’s leading that it was time for him to focus on submitting to God instead of trying to please the outspoken few, he told them, using multiple scripture references, “Either fire me or submit to God’s pattern for church leadership.”
In forty years of preaching, I’ve never been that assertive. Certainly, I have my ego and my confidence, my mistakes and my selective boldness, but one thing I’ve never had was such a clear sense that I needed to step up and take charge and truly lead a congregation. It took a particular scripture, a lot of prayer and a sequence of events that seem to speak quite clearly to me that God is making his presence known in a much more tangible way in our church and in my life.
After the home visit I described in yesterday’s posting, I stopped by our church building to check on the progress of the work our contractors were doing. As I looked around at the emerging kitchenette in the youth area, I couldn’t keep from being profoundly affected by the prayer encounters at that member’s home a few miles away.
I was still contemplating that as I got back into my little pickup truck and headed out the church driveway. Just before I got ready to pull onto the highway, I was struck by a thought so powerful and tangible it seemed spoken out loud: “If you will serve, the church will grow.” I just sat there, letting that soak in, absorbing the concept. “Serve. Grow.”
As I reflected on the experiences with the hitch-hiker and then the biker from the previous week, the unprecedented direction in my pastoral leadership and the prayer opportunity just twenty minutes earlier, I realized that Christ-like leadership is service, just as much as hospitality and benevolence and prayer.
When we lay aside our human drive to control, our constant preoccupation with our ideas and opinions, and genuinely embrace each opportunity to serve others in love, we prepare ourselves for an outpouring of God’s grace and Spirit and blessing unlike anything we can even imagine!
Here’s to serving even the least of these, the family of Christ. Even when we don’t act like that’s what we are.