The spiritual leaders of any church will universally say if surveyed that we endeavor to follow the Will of God in every decision as we govern a church. One fundamental flaw in the human condition is that we same spiritually mature leaders can get so caught up in the business of it all that we forget why we do what we do.
This post is meant to address the “why” of the “what”.
The desire of God’s heart is immeasurably larger than our imaginations can conjure. This longing of God’s to give us peace and assurance and a sense of well-being only awaits our willingness to cooperate with God’s unlimited magnanimity.
When the Apostle Paul was addressing the growing community of Jesus followers in Ephesus, he reiterated his prayer that they would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” and that they may be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19). He understood that despite seeing the power of God through tremendous miracles, divine rescues, the fulfillment of ancient prophecies, that these devoted followers of Jesus understood little of the dimensions of God’s love and the gravity of Christ’s mission. Their faith was shaped by Hellenic worldviews that deities and powerful beings manipulated the world for their own petty desires. Contrast that with the creator of the universe who created humanity to share, care, and delight in creation. That “big picture” was often lost on first century followers, and twenty centuries later, many believers remain in a fog. Sometimes we worship a little Jesus that coincidentally has the same agenda that we do but lacks the desire or the power to challenge the “strongholds” of the world, or dare I say, the strongholds of our own hearts.
In most churches, around budget time, we develop ministry goals. Typically, these goals revolve around capital gains (build a new sanctuary, pay off debt, etc.), community engagement (feed the hungry, volunteer), and discipling (x% in small groups, y number of baptisms, z% increase in youth group participants). All churches should develop ministry goals and I want to encourage your church to do so. While encouraging you to develop short-term and long-term ministry goals, I want to caution you to be wise in regard to process.
Many churches develop a budgetary vision, rather than a visionary budget. Likewise, when our vision (what we see) is shaped by our budget, the mission (what we do) is based upon what you can accomplish rather than what God wants to accomplish through your church. This does not mean that budgets should not inform our activities, as that’s the purpose of your church’s budget. I personally tend to think in terms of budgets and see them as fundamental. However, there must be a deeper confluence of discernment, community calling, and faith in developing ministry goals.
In leadership training, we are often coaching pastors and church leaders to get to the question of “What’s It Going To Take?”. Using that paradigm, once a year, we are tempted to sit around board rooms and incrementally tweak budgets to “hire a youth pastor” or “repave the parking lot” or to “pay the denominations apportionment”. Someone asks the question, “What’s it going to take to hire a great youth pastor” and we consult guides that compares salaries of youth pastors all over and begin to make small changes to accommodate the new expense for the calendar year ahead.
In a recent study, an analysis of the costs of ministry per baptism (how much the typical church spends for all ministry divided by the number of baptisms) found that the ratio was about $1.2 million dollars for every baptism. Let that sink in for a second. It is not only unsustainable but tells a story of why churches are dying.
I believe that a large part of the problem is that many churches fail to discern the audaciousness of the vision that God has for them. We must be willing to question the “what” with “why”.
Jesus invites us to join in his co-mission of making disciples who are taught to be obedient. Jesus pledges his power (all authority) and his presence (I will be with you) as we endeavor to fulfill this calling. If all authority in heaven and Earth are in the hands of our Lord and he tells us that he is present with us, the vision should be commensurate with the magnanimity of God, and our mission should seek to do more than what we can manufacture.
In fact, the church at Ephesus was challenged to think of God as “him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is a work within us,” (Eph 3:20).
So it’s my prayer, that your church is asking “What’s it going to take to make 1000, 10,000, 100,000 new disciples in the next three years, according to what God is calling you towards (hint: it will require a movement of making disciples who make disciples). Then, allow the calling and commission of Christ help you develop a budget that supports your Spirit inspired “What is it going to take?” question. This comes from discernment, prayer, and deep desire to participate in the mission of Christ. It means being willing to deconstruct things that we spend resources upon that do not add to the church fulfilling Christ call.
Don’t be afraid to allow the subversive power of God’s spirit to question your “whats” and to disrupt your paradigms. I am incredibly excited that God is willing, desiring, and deeply invested in your church’s success in creating disciples and interestingly, it doesn’t need $1 million to do it.
I pray that we, the Church of Jesus Christ, will allow the resurrected Jesus to be present with us, inspiring us towards risky, bodacious, controversial love in order to Glorify Him and Fulfill His mission in ways that demonstrate both His power and His presence.