Monday, April 15, 2013

What Will It Take?

There has been a stirring discussion on the internet recently about the decline of the Churches of Christ led by two dynamic, mid-career leaders in our fellowship:  JamesNored “Why Churches of Christ are Shrinking” and Jason Locke “Decline and Renewal” (my contribution was #16 in Jason’s series). James said his posts had received over 30,000 hits the month his series was published and his classes on the same topic at the Tulsa Soul-Winning Workshop in March were full. Our ears our tuned in and we’re trying to listen.

Knowing (and believing) that we are declining is part of the diagnosis: decline is the symptom and the authors have put forward a number of valid reasons for the cause. But where we want our attention to be drawn is to the solution. What will it take to move beyond where we are today towards a future that is God honoring and pleasing?

Since we began Kairos Church Planting in 2005 I’ve traveled the country widely and have been able to talk with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of church leaders and have heard their concerns and struggles. We’ve worked with hundreds of people who have considered the missional call of starting a new generation of 21st century churches (this month the seventy-second couple went through a Kairos Discovery Lab). From the perspective of this experience I’ve asked myself this question:

What are the three most critical adjustments we could make that would have the most positive impact among Churches of Christ for the kingdom of God?

Here are my short answers to this question as a prologue. I’ll flesh these out further in this blog over the next few weeks:

1.         Reorient our understanding of God’s mission
As a restoration movement our focus has been firmly on the past. The idea of a perfect New Testament church that serves as model (command), example, and necessary inference became the essence of our biblical hermeneutic. It also locked us down. Our understanding of mission that resulted was that of “purification” where our driving motive was to “do it right” and “make others right.”
A reoriented understanding of mission must be future focused. A future focused mission will have transformation has its hallmark rather than purification. Our missional message will be “Repent because the kingdom is coming,” our missional emphasis will be on God’s transforming work in people and the world, and our missional focus will be to “seek and save the lost.”

2.         Change our leadership pattern and expectations
Our current leadership structure places elders at the top of our organizational pyramid, typically followed by deacons, and then “hired” ministry staff. This structure is vision and leadership impaired, at least in our typical practice. It is maintenance oriented. The result is rather than being able to adapt to the challenges facing us we say, “It will take us ten years to get there.” But in that time we will find ourselves twenty years behind and the opportunities have long since passed us by.

There is another leadership pattern, the full circle of biblical leadership that I have blogged about before, that allows God-gifted and community recognized leaders to lead according to the gifts and abilities God has given them for vision creation (prophet/apostle), directive development (king), relationship maintenance (priest), and disciple-making (shepherd).

When we release our leaders to lead we may find that we will be able to do and be what God is asking of us.

3.         Trust our theological heritage and our younger leaders
To state it frankly, we don’t trust our younger leaders, those thirty year olds who are actually mid-career leaders. In the 1970s and 1980s we had a dynamic crop of younger leaders who built and accomplished significant tasks. Somewhere along the way we determined that these, now our oldest leaders, sufficiently answered the questions we face. That’s a wrong conclusion. What they did do was what our theological heritage does well when we practice it. They identified the questions and went to the biblical text for the answers that fit their time and context.

If we are to experience a dynamic future we must release our younger leaders to address the questions we are facing today, go to the biblical text for answers, and trust these leaders to seek the answers as God guides them.

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