Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pulling a Sting

By David Horn, ThD
Director, The Ockenga Institute
When he said it, not many of us really thought that much about it at first. In fact, it sounded a bit odd. We were all sitting around the Ockenga conference table—the thirteen of us as we do every month at our Pastors Roundtable—and one of our group told us very innocently that the thing that finally was bringing his congregation back to life was his fledgling little Junior High ministry.
This pastor had been racking his brain for years, trying to motivate his church toward some sense of vitality. He had given his congregation the big vision talk, followed quickly by the even bigger envisioning process, leading to the development of a vision statement. He had read all of the books. He had preached all the sermons about perishing without a vision. Nothing seemed to pry his congregation from the grips of years of lethargy. Nothing…nothing seemed to be working.
And then, out of no where, with hardly a strategy in mind and certainly beyond the scope of his own best intentions, the right volunteer couples from his little church in Maine, with the right giftedness and sincerity in their hearts, connected with the right junior high students. And it was this that brought new life as families began to be attracted to his little church. Broadsided with the simple and unintended! Imagine that; the life and vitality of a church resting on the narrow shoulders and low riding jeans of a group of adolescents. The church took off.
In subsequent conversations with this and other Pastor Roundtable groups, similar stories began to surface. In another of our New England churches whose pastor had a cup of coffee on a pro sports team, the church’s sports ministry to the community became the place of new growth and excitement for the congregation. For another pastor, it was their children’s ministry. Imagine a church whose annual summer focus on Vacation Bible School became the spark that has brought genuine excitement to the entire congregation the year round.
I wonder sometimes if we miss the forest through the trees for those of us who are committed to breathing new life into our places of ministry. With our best intentions in tow, we place five thousand pounds of vision and strategy down on a five hundred pound church. It is utterly crushing.

I admit it. I have done the same thing periodically when asked to do church consulting. Frankly, it is not that difficult to diagnose the problems within most churches. The real difficulty lies in churches having the resources and the will to respond to the solutions offered. The economics of the situation work like this: The smaller the church, the bigger the problems to be solved. But, alas, the smaller the church, the less resources there are to respond effectively to proposed solutions. The solutions sometimes almost become more onerous than the problems.
To be considered healthy, why must every church have a thriving small group ministry and thriving youth ministry and thriving evangelism ministry and thriving hospitality ministry and a thriving community outreach ministry and so on…? Rather, what if we looked at our churches more organically than systematically? It takes some investigative work, but where is the place—sometimes ever so small—of vitality in your church? Where is there evidence that God is working, and how can we come along side of that place(s) where He has decided to work uniquely in your setting? Where is the thin thread in your church that, if pulled, could unravel into whole new possibilities for your church?
I am convinced that every church has these areas, sometimes in the most surprising of places. As one pastor of a church that is filled with the currently perceived deadly demographic of elderly people told me the other day, the point of excitement currently in his church is a small group of his elderly couples that have found new excitement in their faith. The fragrance of their newfound excitement has wafted across the rest of the church. Go figure, old people and junior high kids: places where God is doing His best work in His church. There must be a God.

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