The Beginnings of Christian Reform (3)

Being Far-Sighted in a Myopic Organization

This was written five years ago.

I’m an elder in a small church. I’m young for an elder (by most standards, I think). I broached the subject of doing something along the lines of what Dr. North talks about in the sustained revival department. I mostly focused on the service aspect, getting our church involved in the community a little more. I was pretty much shut down when the pastor said, in essence, that the church’s function according to biblical propriety is not to be a group of people who do community service projects. Quite frankly I was shocked at that response. I’ve always thought the church getting involved in the community just fell under the broad heading of doing good works. I’m not giving up, but I am discouraged. I’m here asking for some advice about how to proceed, however, I doubt I will be able to persuade anyone to my viewpoint.

This man is a member of a struggling, socially irrelevant, self-consciously impotent church. The church is led by a man who has few skills and no real leadership ability. He is like the vast majority of men in all history, and like about 80% of all pastors turned out by theological seminaries. Most people are not in the top 20%. There is no way around this.

The pastor is not going to get paid any more for taking on greater responsibility in his congregation. He has no interest in expanding his own personal level of responsibility. The fact that the church would keep him in the pulpit indicates that most of members of the church agree with him. He is providing a theology of impotence. It is self-conscious with him, and it is probably self-conscious with the congregation. This is the safe way to go.

There are many ways around this problem. One way is to sit tight as an elder, and wait for the pastor to get a better offer. If you’re in a small church, you can be sure that the pastor is trying to get into a larger church. He wants a larger paycheck, and he wants a retirement program. He will do what he can to get out. Elders with vision should encourage him to take advantage of new opportunities. That is because these new opportunities are elsewhere. This should all be very friendly. Wish him well as he departs.

The problem is that the elders probably already share his views. So do their wives. So do most members of the congregation. They are in the Pareto curve’s 80%. There’s no reason to expect them to respond in a way that would promote growth, innovation, and meaningful service in the community. Most churches do not do this, and most churches bump along. Most churches are versions of the church in Laodicea.

My advice is to do as little as possible as an elder, and then not run for office next time. Instead, run for the diaconate. As a member of the diaconate, a person is in a position to have some positive influence on the congregation. Deacons are always scrambling for money. So, one of the ways that the diaconate can help congregational members straighten out their finances is to set up a regular program for people who want to get financial help. When they come for aid, they have to submit themselves to a complete restructuring of their finances. In order to get free money, they have to re-think their spending habits. This means that the deacons ought to have at least one man who is in charge of budgeting. He needs software to do this. He needs real insight on how people can cut their spending. He has to be hard-nosed, because the person comes asking for free money. There is no such thing as free money.

Buy a copy of Lester DeKoster’s book, The Deacon’s Handbook. This is a good introduction to what deacons ought to do.

There are areas of service within the congregation. If these areas of service have any institutional manifestation, anyone can get involved in them. That is where to start.

On the other hand, there may be another local church in town that is doing something significant. Anyone who wants to find out what it is doing can go in and volunteer. Instead of spending time in the local congregation to which someone is a member, the person can go to the other organization or church, and begin to donate time in that organization. He can begin to learn what the challenges are, and what the best responses are. He gains information. He serves as an apprentice. The point here is simple: at some point, the economic crisis is going to force churches to act in a biblically responsible manner. There is nothing that pressures them to do this today, but in a time of economic contraction and high unemployment, there will be lots of opportunities. Now is the time to get the training.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof of the service is in the accumulation of opportunities to serve. The proof that an organization can change people’s lives is the number of lives the organization has changed. Identify local churches that have functional service ministries, and pick one of them. Become a volunteer. Churches are always looking for volunteers. They will accept volunteers from outside the congregation if they perceive that the volunteers there to serve, and not to gain power.

There are many ways of getting training. Service takes training. I recommend it. Serve as an apprentice wherever the opportunity arises. Find out how the system works. Find out what it takes to run an effective system. Keep your eyes open.

Visionaries are always rare. It is difficult to gain followers in a time of complacency. When things are going along fairly well, those who propose revolutionary innovations are not taken seriously. These good times will not last. Opportunities for service will arise. Be prepared to take advantage of these opportunities.

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