Over my next several posts I am sharing some new ideas about growth with you and I would love your feedback. Every person and every organization can grow. They can grow in their positive impact, effectiveness at what they were created to do, and wellbeing. Anyone and any group can do this. Now that might seem like a naive notion surrounded as we are by people, communities, cultures and institutions in decline. All this decline has turned us quite cynical.
I’m going to focus here on the church’s ability to grow, but if you’re not a church person or don’t even care about the church, please keep reading. With some imagination, these principles can readily apply to your own life and to the groups and communities you belong to now. So you could easily white out the word church (or congregation) and write something else in.
But it all begins with a story. It’s an ancient story and a very short one told by Jesus. Jesus loved to tell stories to teach about very consequential ideas like, say, the kingdom of God. I mean, who can readily wrap their minds around something as mysteriously ubiquitous as that? And yet Jesus could help people understand these in very earthy, rugged ways with a story.
Try this one:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44
If you notice, there are three parts to this story: 1) someone (most likely a tenant farmer) found a hidden treasure; 2) the finder sold everything to buy the field; 3) the finder bought the field. Within these movements are the three inner keys for your church. Let me lay them out for you.
Inner Key #1: An Imagination Captured by the Kingdom
Change begins when a person or a group of people get captivated by a compelling vision. They see something powerful, something that could elevate them from their current circumstances. This vision radically captures their imagination.
In the parable, a person, most likely a tenant farmer, discovers a hidden treasure in a field. In the ancient world, people would often bury their money and treasures when they were threatened by an invading nation. This person discovered one of these massive treasures which sets the finder off to do something about it.
Your church must allow the Holy Spirit to show you a new vision of something great and meaningful to live into. This vision will excite you. It will motivate you and give you renewed energy, passion and joy. Perhaps God is showing you a new place to do ministry or a different people to love and disciple. Whatever it is, it will take you outside of yourselves and into a ministry that expands the kingdom of God into new territory.
Inner Key #2: Letting Go of the Baggage
Whenever God shows you something that captures you or your church’s imagination, you will come face to face with the things that have constrained you in the past. Count on that happening almost immediately. In order to get deeper into God’s kingdom work, you must name and release your baggage.
The finder of the hidden treasure realized that in order to obtain it, a great sacrifice would have to be made. The finder would have to sell everything. But by selling off everything, the finder gains the freedom and resources to buy the field that contained that wondrous treasure.
Every church who wants to positively change and grow must name and release itself from the things that have held them back in the past. Here are some of those things:
- defeatist attitudes, cynicism, negativity, and low self-esteem
- bad institutional memories that cause fear, mistrust, and the attitudes listed above.
- values and priorities that compete with the new thing God has given you to do
- the undue, heavy influence of problem people that would keep the church tied to where it is
- expectations or priorities placed upon the pastor and key lay people that would keep them from leading into the new kingdom vision
- traditionalism, i.e. the famous Seven Last Words of the Church- “We have always done it that way!”
When the church can honestly name these things and then exercise the courageous faith to be unshackled from them, they will have a freedom and joy to do things they never thought they could do before because… well… they couldn’t!
Inner Key #3: Take Intentional, Positive Steps Forward
It’s one thing for a church to say they want to do something. It’s quite another thing to have courageous faith enough to do get up off their comfy pews and do something about it. A lot of churches are plagued with ATNA- All Talk, No Action.
Back to the parable, once the finder let go and sold everything, the work wasn’t done yet. That person had to approach the land owner with an offer to buy the field. That certainly took a plan, a lot of guts, and sheer determination. But the finder did it! And the rest of the story is history…
When God captures your church’s imagination with a kingdom vision for new ministry, and once you’ve cleared away and sold off the baggage that would get in your way, your church will need a carefully laid out, clearly understood plan for going forward. Kingdom visions are God-sized, yes. And these visions are pursued one intentional step at a time.
Set a vision with accompanying goals. The best goals are SMART (specific, measurable, audacious, realistic, and timely). That way the goals are workable and upon completion, easily evaluated. The absence of goals or broad, vague goals will not move you forward. But good SMART goals provide direction, accountability, and motivation for your church. They’ll also keep you moving forward when you invariably run into challenges and potential pitfalls.
Your Keys to the Kingdom
As you can see, these three inner keys are essential for your church to pick up and use if you want to become more viable. All three are necessary. So with that, I leave you with some practical steps forward:
- Gather your leaders together every week for a season of prayer and fasting, asking for God’s leading and direction. After each time of prayer, report to each other and write down what you sense God is saying.
- Take some time to prayer walk your community, asking God to show you where God is already at work. Take notice of the things that inspire you, excite you, or break your hearts.
- Conduct a healing service, asking for people to name and let go of past congregational wounds and painful history. Invite people to write these things down on slips of paper and then publicly burn them, followed by a celebration of Holy Communion.
- Hold your Church Council to setting and keeping a small, poignant list of SMART goals which further your church’s mission to make disciples. Bring these goals up at every Church Council meeting and report on their progress. Celebrate every single success, no matter how small. When you see stagnation or roadblocks, don’t moan and groan or play the blame game, but work out a way to either adjust the goal or to find a creative way to fulfill it. No matter what you do, keep this positive and affirming!!
The three internal keys to growth are right in front of you. Have the faith to use them, trusting that Jesus is with you for the whole journey.