Category Archives: Ministry

In search of the church growth x-factor

Here’s a guest post from my very clever Vivian …. this is her blog submission to her recent MA subject on 1 Corinthians:

With the general consensus in our society that churches are lame and limp, sick and dying, we can’t stop but feel that we as Christians are not able to engage with the unchurched, let alone reach out to them. To save us from inevitable demise, many churches and their leaders are urgently pushing for church growth and desperately searching for that ‘x-factor’ that can ‘wow’ the unchurched into church. Scores of books are published and conferences are held by ‘successful’ church leaders to navigate us through this endeavour. They provide pragmatic methods, formulas for revival and insights from sociological studies to improve our churches and entice our consumerist culture into a Christianity that they simply can’t resist.

But much of these don’t sit right with conservative evangelicals, and yet often we can’t quite pinpoint the ‘problem’. We do want to see our churches grow, to make every effort, and to use our gifts and resources to the best of our abilities. But where do we draw the line? How professional is too professional? How much church marketing should we do? When does the church service become a performance for entertainment rather than worship?

1 Corinthians 1-2 contains some indispensable principles that help clarify our concerns and direct us with the way forward. Like our culture, the Corinthian society looked for the ‘x-factor’. The Christians, enamoured by the ‘bling’, the powerful and the wise, adopted the same value system of those around them.

But Paul reminds them that the message of the cross necessarily excludes human wisdom. He was most concerned ‘to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power’ (1:17).  Words of human wisdom (that which come out of our own clever minds) and the message of Paul’s preaching (that which is God given) are mutually exclusive. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too!’ If we rely on human wisdom, then we’re not trusting in God’s power to save. If we want the full power of the cross, then we can’t follow our own bright ideas.

So where do we draw the line? Paul seems to be suggesting that there is no line at all. It’s all or nothing. It’s only God’s way, his power and his wisdom.

In fact, it’s the message of the cross that draws the line. Paul follows on in 1:18, ‘[f]or the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ This message divides.

In our context where the cross has become a mere adorning symbol, it’s easy to miss its significance. In Paul’s day, however, crucifixion was reserved for the odious, the lowest of low; the cross was understood by all to represent utter shame and alienation. So when Paul preached ‘Christ crucified’ (1:23), it must logically be rejected as ridiculous nonsense! An executed deliverer is as oxymoronic as a bankrupt billionaire! Expectedly, it’s ‘a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ (v23).

Remarkably, however, not everyone rejects this message. In verse 24, Paul continues ‘but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ To embrace ‘Christ crucified’ can only be a miraculous act of God (1:30)! By our own wisdom, we would never devise such a way of salvation nor would we believe in such a message. But it is through this message that God has chosen to save those who respond in trust; and judge those who reject its wisdom and power (1:18-20; 1:27-28).

Where do we draw the line? Often the answer revolves around whether something ‘worked’ or not. We evaluate by people’s response, their attendance and subjective feelings. But what we learn here is that we’re not the ones to draw the line or make judgment calls, particularly according to human standards. Our role, instead, is to faithfully communicate the message and let it divide. Just as Christ was rejected and crucified, this message will bring rejection, not ‘success’ and ‘acceptance’ by human value systems. If we smooth it out to avoid offense, if we adjust it to please, if we detract it from centre stage, then we’re dangerously close to crossing over the other side of the line.

For Paul, the message of the cross doesn’t only affect the words we speak. It necessarily pervades all aspects of Christian life and ministry. Paul’s manner, mode and method of delivery all match its content – he did ‘not come with eloquence or superior wisdom’ as he proclaimed ‘the testimony about God’ (2:1), he came ‘in weakness and fear, and with much trembling’ (2:3), ‘not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (2:4). So the cross totally pervades Paul’s ministry; and in the later chapters we see that it also permeates his whole way of life (e.g. 4:8-21; cf. Mark 8:34).

What about us? Would we be resolved as Paul was – ‘to know nothing […] except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (2:2)? To have our vision so fixed on him as to view everything through the lens of the cross? If we are, our starting place must surely be on our knees before our God: to rely on the one who saves and transforms to work all things in all people (12:6) and to trust the one who knows our heart to remove all trust in ourselves, our human wisdom and power.

To know only Christ and him crucified doesn’t mean that we become anti-intellectual, anti-megachurch, or anti-contextualisation; nor does it excuse laziness in using our gifts and doing our best. It doesn’t mean ‘let’s do it ugly and that’s godly…’; but it does mean that we ditch the search for the ‘x-factor’ and let the Christ-factor be the determinant of all that we do and say.

 

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How do you define leadership and leadership teams?

In the New Testament, “elders” (overseers) were a group of leaders responsible for leading and teaching a local church. They are godly people, mature in Christ, who love, serve and protect God’s people (1 Tim 3; 5) as they follow in Jesus’ footsteps (Mark 10:45; John 15:20). Leaders may be paid or unpaid. Leadership is also a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8), and so I think that there are leaders within the church who may or may not be in leadership roles.

Hence, when looking at appointing someone in a leadership role, I look firstly at their character, maturity and conviction in Christ, their motives in serving, their willingness to serve, and then their ability to lead others in ministry. Regarding leadership ability, I think that this can be seen in how others relate to them, whether people respect and follow them. Regarding the skills and competencies required for leadership role, I think that whilst they are important, they can be developed as leaders learn in those roles.

So I define a leadership team as a group of leaders who lead a specific ministry (for example – children’s ministry has a leadership team, or the church wardens and parish councilors together with the Senior minister and senior clergy is a leadership team for the whole church). Functionally, the leadership team works together to set vision, plan and strategize, review and pray for the ministry they are leading.

What is your position on the recent movement in churches to become mission focus and market place oriented?

As suggested in the question, there has bben a recent movement to direct evangelism and other Christian activities toward the secular marketplace (I understand ‘market place’ as somewhere in the secular domain, outside of ‘walls’ of the church). In Australia, for instance, the number of non-churched is growing and people are no longer willing to step into the church. Hence, the push is to create gospel opportunities wherever we are in the market place (workplace, schools, gym, sporting club,etc), rather than relying on the attracting people into our regular church ministries for evangelism.

My view is that churches should become more mission focussed and market placed oriented, however, not at the expense of traditional church ministries. Evangelism at church and regular ministries (e.g. men’s, women’s, children, youth, marriage, parenting, etc) form an important platform for gospel proclamation. Moreover, the church building is an extremely valuable resource for evangelistic events and ministries.

At St Paul’s, by way of example, we try to encourage and support evangelism in any form and anywhere. We’ve set up evangelistic enterprises that have mainly been involved in market-place evangelism (e.g. cocktail party in business district, coffee club at cafes, community carols, etc). However, I am in full support of all our existing attractional structures at church (e.g. youth group, play groups, children’s holiday clubs, high teas, musical events, etc) and I am always seeking to better utilize our church buildings to further evangelistic ministries.

Force multiplication in ministry

I recently read Tom Clancy’s, Command and Authority.  Maybe it was the nostalgia of reading the last Clancy Jack Ryan novel ever, but I found it a good read.  It moved quickly, it hit all the historical bits of Jack Snr’s life and was also quite illuminating in explaining what is currently going on in the Ukraine.  However, for the most interesting bit of the book was it’s sub-theme of force multiplication.  

According to wikipedia:  Force multiplication, in military usage, refers to an attribute or a combination of attributes which make a given force more effective than that same force would be without it. [1]

In the book there were soldiers who were downrange laser targeting enemy tanks for helicopter gunships to destroy.  Hence the force multiplication was that the helicopters significantly increased their accuracy and effectiveness whilst also reducing exposure to enemy attack.  Whilst I was not thinking of ministry as a war – there is far too much war at the moment! – I did get thinking about “force multipliers” in ministry.

Here are a couple I could come up with:

  1. Technology.  Like any organisation, technology has really helped churches become better organised, communicate better and care for others better.  Imagine pastoral ministry without databases, email and phones!
  2. Optimism: Gen Colin Powell once said “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” [2]  This is not just blindly accepting bad situations.  Rather it is the Christian recognising that our Truine God is sovereign; that Christ has defeated death and won forgiveness; and that no matter what happens in this life our eternity is secure and we have the Holy Spirit in the mean time!

Other multipliers would include morale, adaptable strategies, and organisational structures.

Anyway, I am always intrigued by what churches and ministries can learn from the world around us!

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Force_multiplication
[2] http://www.leaderthoughtship.com/2013/01/colin-powells-perpetual-optimism-as.html

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Innovative thinkers and Christian ministry?

In the spectrum of all the people who call themselves Christian and serve in church, the ones I get most excited to meet and work with are those who naturally think strategically and have an entrepreneurial bent.
I don’t know why that is the case but I guess that’s the way I’m wired too. But one thing I notice is that these Christian entrepreneurs are often on the outside of each church they are members. Whether their ideas are consistently seemingly challenging the leadership or their minds (and prayers) seem to rotate around their business, I have noticed that churches push these people away from the core or they voluntarily move themselves to the fringe of the church.
I wonder if we need to have a better view of the church in order to be more accommodating to one another. For we are all part of the body of Christ and we all have a different role to play for the glory of Jesus.
For this reason at my church has created a network to gather these people together. The primary idea for the group is to:

…bring business owners, entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers together to develop skills, support, and pray for each other.

Being a business owner can be a very lonely vocation. But if you are a Christian, we don’t believe that you need to be one alone or be out of Christian fellowship, if you are!
Moreover, as a church minister I really think that churches need to regularly seek advice from and be willing to source innovation from Christians such as these. I keep saying to the network, “Imagine if you left it to me and the other ministers to come up with new ideas or better strategies for ministry?”

Innovative and strategic thinkers only occupy 2-5% of society, and so the chances are that this post doesn’t really rate with you. However, if any of this appeals to you, we need to talk. We have a network meeting on the first Monday night of each month. You are most welcome to join ….. Just contact me @itsEricCheung for more details.

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