Misdirected Church Visions

Mark Tidsworth, Pinnacle Team Leader 

"Go ye therefore and make people into new pledging units, teaching them to prop up the church budget, so that we can keep the lights on while enjoying the programs, staff, and comforts of church in the manner to which we are accustomed." 

-Said Jesus Never

Frequent readers know our e-news articles are largely positive, encouraging forward movement. But this week I have to step back and describe a frequent undesired conversation from the from trenches of church consulting. Yes, we are working with many churches who are invigorated, energized, and adaptive; finding their souls and moving ahead (most of our articles). Simultaneously, we are encountering too many whose vision is completely misdirected. Recently a pastor who contacted us due to their church’s need for transformation, described a recent conversation in a congregational gathering. Here’s the paraphrased version.

Pastor: What is our church really about? What are we trying to do here?

People: We want to reach more people for Christ.

Pastor: Great, say more.

People: Over the next few years we really want to reach young families.

Pastor: Okay, great. Why do we want to do that?

People: So that our church will exist ten years from now.

Or, so that we can have the finances we need to keep our budget up.

Or, because we remember when there were lots of kids in the youth group and coming down for the children’s sermon and we want that to happen again.

Pastor: Ummm, okay?  

When we drill down, asking the next logical question, often the unacknowledged vision turns out to be…”we are interested in reaching new people for what they can do for us.” They are giving units, prospects for populating the pews, living resources for our programs, and people who will make us feel really good about what we are doing. In other words, the people in our community need to join us so that we can continue to be church in the manner to which we are accustomed.

After hearing this enough times, from enough church leaders and members, we can be lulled into thinking, “perhaps this is the purpose of church…to bring them here for what they can do for us.”

But then there’s that Jesus character again. But then we open the Bible again. But then we consult our faith. But then dare we ask the question, “Is this what Jesus had in mind when commissioning the church?”

No, there’s nothing wrong with wanting our church’s finances, programs, and institutional strength to prosper. The problem is pursuing institutional strength for our church like it’s the actual purpose of our church, rather than something that results from something else that’s better (gospel of Jesus Christ). “Go ye therefore and build strong organizations, using the people in your community to do so,” was never the great commission of the church. Our commission is NOT to USE people.

Even more, when we get down to it, when that’s our motivation for being church (to keep things running)….then our vision is totally misdirected. I could list SO many theological and practical reasons why pursuing a vision of institutional strength is counter-productive (perhaps another article). Instead, here are thoughts to consider when our churches are there.

If institutional viability is our primary motivation for being church, then maybe our church is already dead, needing a funeral.

If institutional viability is our primary motivation for being church, then let’s recognize this spiritual symptom, placing a call to the great physician.

If institutional viability is our primary motivation for being church, then let’s determine if there’s enough residual spirituality to redirect our focus.

If institutional viability is our primary motivation for being church, then let’s quickly find a transformation process!

If institutional viability is our primary motivation for being church, then let’s take this wake-up call, immersing ourselves in God as expressed through Jesus Christ, rediscovering our faith.

In the end, what draws people to church is what drew us to church in the first place, Jesus the Christ. Living in the way of Jesus is beautiful, a most excellent way to spend a life. When this is our vision, then there’s no way we want to miss out on being part of our church. Anything less just won’t do.

Helen Renew