by Grady King
Debunking the Myths of growing the church, being successful, and the misconception that one size fits all.
Church leaders, particularly in North America, have long depended on the right place and right time for being a growing church. Blame and shame conversations are powerless to give hope. Changing the conversation from blame to possibility and hope involves confronting three powerful and controlling leadership myths.
1. God told us to grow the church. When did God ever tell his people to grow the church? God told Abraham, in essence, “Be a blessing!”(Genesis 12) Micah said, “Love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6). Isaiah said, “Be a light to the nations”(Isaiah 42.6). Moses said, “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might (Deuteronomy 6.4). Jesus added, “, , , and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22.37). Matthew said, “Make disciples. . .” (Matthew 28.18f). Growing the church is God’s work. Paul reminds a very immature church: “God gives the growth”(1 Corinthians 3.6).
When we believe and act in ways that all the growth of the church is on our shoulders, it becomes a burden too great to bear and fosters a climate of performance, guilt, and shame. Who can measure up? No one!
2. Faithful means successful. It’s no secret that being successful is deeply entrenched in the American way of life. Success is measured by status, numbers, and material gain. Bigger is considered better. So it is easy to transfer our American success mindset to church. Translation: if we are faithful, we will be successful. Yet, biblical faithfulness is no guarantee of success. Biblical faithfulness is more about reflecting God’s character, following Jesus, and fleshing out the gospel in word and deed individually and as a community of faith.
3. One size fits all. This myth is a huge one to debunk because we are method oriented. If a church is doing well with a particular program or growth strategy, we clamor to find out their secret and imitate their method. What is needed is to accept that all ministry is contextual. It is the responsibility of leaders to lead the church in discerning God’s call for our particular context.
Engaging in a reflective practice about these controlling myths sets the table for rethinking the gospel of life and death as the rhythm of church and leadership.
Rethink the Gospel of Life and Death
As leaders, too often we only equate hope with a triumphant understanding of the gospel. In our weariness, a cacophony of voices shouting why the church is not growing pierces our heart, troubles our soul, and blunts our leadership. High anxiety, frustration, and a sense of failure characterize many godly people leading churches. Struggles with church identity, the cultural disestablishment of religion, pluralism, consumerism, and the privatization of faith are real.
As leaders, we are called to a gospel-shaped life and ministry. Consider:
The nature of the Gospel is death, then life. (2 Corinthians 4.7-12)
The ministry of discipleship is a ministry of death. (Galatians 2.20)
Denying self and taking up the cross is the language of death. (Mark 8.34)
Because the gospel is a way of life we must cultivate spiritual habits for a hopeful future in the midst of our own anxiety. It is gospel discipline and we ignore it to our own peril.
Cultivate Spiritual Habits
- Dwell in the Word in community. How are you dwelling in the Word as discipline of hope? Dwelling in the Word is an ancient practice. Dwelling in the Word is about listening to the Word as God’s voice speaking into our realities rather than merely analyzing the text.
- Carve out space to be still. How is silence, solitude, and prayer a part of your life?
- Ask God-oriented questions. What is God’s way in Christ for us as a leadership and as a church? Most churches need to get more simple rather than ramping up more programs. It always involves honest communication, engaging the hard questions and often lament.
- Watch your language. What language do you use? Is it fear or faith? Language matters. It shapes reality. Simply monitor the language in your leadership meetings and you may discover the subtleness of fear and weariness.
- Confess to God and other trusted leaders: Who is a safe person you can be honest with? This is essential to your own spiritual health.
Spiritual habits are not easy during times of weariness. They are the disciplines of hope rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are no quick fixes to the complexities of being human and living as God’s people in a radically changing world. The gospel is still the power of God (Romans 1.16). As you know, weariness is real and at times we are sick of ourselves. We know we can’t fix the church. We do, however, yearn for deep hope for our “drooping hands and weak knees” (Hebrews 12.12). And this comes as we increasingly “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12.1).
So, with Paul we say, “We have this ministry . . . and we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4.16).
This is hope. Let it be so!