There has not been a moment in history, when the mission of God has not been at the centre of God’s purposes. Yinka Oyekan shared something along these lines with me recently and it’s stuck with me. It’s something I already wholeheartedly agreed with, as I imagine practically everyone reading this will also. For me however, the challenge of these words is not to my belief system or my convictions, but their outworking in practice, in real life.
The pandemic has done us (the church, across the UK) a favour in one sense, which is that we can no longer avoid facing the reality: the main thing is no longer the main thing. The main thing, whilst expressed variously, has ‘making disciples’ as the core activity of the church. I acknowledge there are many faithful individual followers of Jesus, there are faithful and authentic churches to be found in every context imaginable, but overall, in general, we are in desperate need. When either I or a local leadership team themselves, evaluate the extent to which everything they practice and do together or for others, results in people growing deeper in discipleship, there are always some surprises which shatter their assumptions. Just because we call something ‘worship’ …
Individually, do you feel you’re simply a national health number waiting for your vaccine to become available, a national insurance number waiting to discover whether you’ll be a net giver or net receiver to the economic system, or a very small chip in a very big system, who has no bearing on the outcome?
Do you believe ‘God has a name’? As God said to Moses: ‘I Am Who I Am’. (Exodus 3:14).
As a part of a church community, are you collectively more than the sum of your parts? Are you making an impact for the kingdom of God? Are more people discovering more of the life of Jesus because of, or in spite of, you being God’s people together?
Seventy-two has never set out to be an organisation and I still resist that. I believe we have more than enough para-church organisations and the means too easily become the ends with the need to fund, govern, keep the wheels of the organisation moving, but primarily, I believe Jesus when he says the kingdom of God is like a man who sowed good seed in his field (Mt 13:24), like a mustard seed (Mt 13:31 & Mark 4), like yeast (Mt 13:33), like treasure hidden in a field (Mt 13:44), like a merchant looking for fine pearls (Mt 13:45), like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish (Mt 13:47), like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants (Mt 18:23).
I also believe it’s people like you, who Jesus calls. It’s people who lead organisations for better or for worse. It’s us who grow, dismantle, plant and uproot, organisations, and whatever else the church is an organisation. I’m sure like so many, I’ve been tempted at various times to walk away every time I begin to nurture such thoughts, the Lord reminds me he will take care of his responsibilities, but I am called to attend to those he has given me.
Back to Yinka Oyekan’s word. In my case I have some degree of responsibility to do whatever I can to ensure the organisations I lead do more than craft a nicely worded, doctrinally-sound purpose statement. We need to look like what we say. A church, a network of churches, a denomination. Whichever it is, the challenge to follow Jesus remains.
What I observe is a church where the main thing is no longer the main thing. The time for passing the blame, although culturally on message, has passed. Now is the time to take responsibility.
Do our stated beliefs and purposes align with our budget spending and actual outcomes? Over the last twenty years I’ve been attempting to transition an organisation through what feels like 180 degrees: from a place of being purely administrative to a missional network.
I don’t think we’re there yet, although we’ve come a fair way round. I operate within Baptist systems who frequently appear to believe ‘wherever you have two, or three Baptists, you have five or six opinions and every one of them is equally valid’, this has not been an easy landscape in which to operate. It’s taken me a long time to recognise our real culture is very different to our assumed culture.
The recent announcement by The Methodist Church to approve same-sex marriage, as well as affirming cohabitation, should be proof enough we can no longer assume anything, simply because we use Christian language. The question arises: how much of the Bible can we not believe in before we cross the line into simply fooling ourselves? 1 John 1, for example, offers a critique and highlights the fallacy of pursuing the direction of popular, post-modern culture, which to coin a popular phrase, ‘doesn’t do God’.
“One generation believes something, the next assumes it, the third will forget and deny it” (D.A. Carson). We’ve had to revisit our core convictions. No longer can we assume conviction about the authority of scripture, about the need for personal repentance, or conversion. As a Baptist Regional Minister, no longer can I assume everyone who wants to be a pioneer has a deep concern to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ and follow him.
Sadly, the reality is that whilst these things are now my reality, they are also the reality for every local church. We’ve always said we believe the church is one generation away from extinction, but our practices and our budgets suggest otherwise. Having a ‘Baptist Minister’ may or may not provide a ‘missional leader’ (my observation is if they want to debate with you either/or the word ‘leader’, or ‘missional’ they’re probably neither). Calling yourselves a ‘church’ may or may not reveal a community of God’s people whose culture grows faith in Jesus.
If you’ve gone when Jesus says ‘go’ (Luke 10:1) you’ve become a leader by influence. Whether you have any formal leadership role or not, if you see yourself appointed by Jesus, as the seventy-two in Luke 10, you have accepted responsibility. The pandemic has revealed our reality. Now I believe, the Lord is looking for those ready and willing to stand up and be counted.
This is part 7 in the 7 part series Leadership in the Wilderness. You can find the first 6 blogs here.