Our leaders are plagued with vision problems

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. — Albert Einstein

The vision of our church leaders should reflect the heart of Christ. Too many churches are wrapped so tightly in customary ‘church’ and tradition that they fail to reach the lost and dying world around them in any meaningful way. Jesus said nothing about Wednesday night prayer meetings or the proper “order of worship” for Sunday morning services. Nor did He command us to observe Sunday morning services. Yet churches continue to do what churches have always done — hold events and services. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against holding events and services; my church also has a Wednesday evening prayer meeting. What I’m saying is that the church is too often encouraged to ‘come’ instead of to ‘go.’ We focus on activities inside of our church facilities rather than mobilize God’s people to impact the communities we should be serving. And because we are doing what the church has always done, we are netting the same tepid response. I’ll go one step further by saying that we are creating lukewarm believers by our very design. We are unable to envision our churches filled with selfless believers who are willing to lay down their lives for the cause of Christ.

Jesus, our Lord to whom we have committed our lives, was quite specific in His instruction for us to care for the poor, the widows and orphans, and to help the powerless who are unable to care for themselves (prisoners, the sick, the disabled…) We shouldn’t expect for them to come to the church; we must bring the church to them. We create disciples by obediently modeling the commandments of Christ. In the Great Commission Jesus says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.” How can we teach the commandments of Jesus without obeying them? We cannot lead from a church office; pastors and leaders of the church must volunteer for the front lines outside of the church. Let me say it again: we create disciples by obediently modeling the commandments of Christ.

I’ve always felt it was my responsibility as a father to help my children make wise decisions. As they grew into young adults I stopped making decisions for them. It empowered them to think through the realm of options, benefits and consequences of their own decisions. Consequently they did not become rebellious as do children who are unable to make a single decision for themselves until after they move out of their parent’s home. Over time I have noted that people remain connected to truth they have learned by themselves far more readily than they believe what they are told to think. Biblical truths are embraced more readily through action than through theoretical discussion, and I believe that scripture is more easily understood when it is revealed through deeds and not just words. The parable of the Good Samaritan would seem to have more meaning when taught at a battered women’s shelter than in a Sunday school classroom. The book of Acts comes alive when you read it while serving on an intercultural mission. Maybe we should consider redesigning our Sunday School curriculum around specific outreach activities that take place ‘off campus.’ Wouldn’t it be great if our leaders served as examples in homeless shelters, food pantries, nursing homes, prisons and hospitals?

It’s the cure for dead faith. If we want our church to serve we must lead them from the front lines. If we want the church to be passionate, then we must also demonstrate passion. Worship leaders must empower the congregation to truly worship by doing so themselves. They lift their hands to the Lord on the stage so that anyone seated in the pews (if churches still have pews) feel encouraged to do likewise. They clap and show passion to empower the congregation to do the same. In the same way, we must place emphasis where it belongs. We empower the congregation to serve when we serve. We create true disciples when they see us living God’s word instead of merely preaching it.

The lukewarm church is the result of words without action. It’s time for the church to reorganize itself, focusing on DOING what Christ has commanded. Traditional methods net traditional results. If we intend to see a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church, it will not be brought about without resetting our expectations. We serve an awesome God who can accomplish anything! We should be ashamed when we measure our weekly attendance or our tithes and offerings as a ‘success’ metric of the church. Our success should be supernaturally evident through the many things that are happening in the church that only God can do.

The Iraqi army was no match for the US forces on the battlefield because they were not trained to assume command when a leader was killed or injured in combat. Consequently nobody took charge when their leaders were taken out. Sadly, we have many churches where there are no layers of leadership. The pastor or the church staff is expected to do everything. We know that is a recipe for failure, so why do we so easily accept top heavy leadership? One of the pastors here in the Philippines refused to allow even a Bible study unless he was present. He became the bottleneck for the growth of the church. His defense was that he didn’t want any false teaching to take place, so he throttled all teaching.

I believe that we need to set higher expectations for our people. Low expectations net low results and we do Christ a disservice when we set the bar too low. I’m quite sure that many people would move quickly from my ideal church to a more ‘comfortable ‘church, but that’s okay; dead faith believers belong in a dead faith church. Ouch! Those are fighting words. And I’d be picking another fight to say that church buildings have been a huge detriment to the growth of the gospel, so I’ll save that battle for a later blog.

We need to be willing to put everything on the table as we mobilize the church to reach the lost. Maybe that means that the church spends two hours serving the poor each Sunday morning instead of conducting our normal time of Sunday School and worship. Maybe that means our youth service will be held at a nursing home each week instead of the awesome new youth building. Every option should be on the table as the church transforms into the passionate, pure and holy bride of Christ. We must make disciples who make disciples. We must be disciplined and live a life that is set apart. And Christ must be visible through the things we DO, not just the words we say.

Where is the think-tank meeting on this issue? Are we afraid to say what must be said? Nobody wants to put their reputation on the line by radically reorganizing the church. I believe that denominations will continue to do what they have always done. Perhaps new church planters will create bold new visions for the church. Perhaps we’ll see new denominations arise that place action at the forefront of their faith. I pray for vision in the church. And I pray that God will spawn a new generation of visionaries who can discern His will far more clearly than I can.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.— James 1:22


Barry Phillips is the author of a short-term mission trip “survival guide” named “I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed It)and the novel “The 24th Provinceavailable on Amazon.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Pinterest: @barrydphillips

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