July 31, 2017

Healthy Churches: Kingdom Vision, Gospel Power

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A Note from Luminex: This morning’s blog post is the tenth in an 11-week series on “Healthy Churches.” Each week, one of our stable of leaders/bloggers will share thoughts on a significant aspect of healthy churches. Enjoy!

I recently enjoyed the privilege of sitting at the feet of Dr. George Bullard for two days in which we focused on how we can best come alongside churches during a pastoral transition or at any time in a church’s journey. George’s experience and credentials for serving the Church are staggering and one of his greater contributions has been his observations relating to the Life Cycle and Stages of Congregational Development. He notes that 80% of all congregations are on the aging or deteriorating side of the life cycle but there are always opportunities to spin into a new life cycle. And at the heart of making the turn toward health, fruit and a harvest is a vision of where God is leading your congregation. He also stated that there is an undeniable 7-year cycle for vision in which every congregation needs to break, look fresh and reboot with where God is leading them.

At the same time, Bullard observes that only 10-15% of pastors can lead with vision (George Barna believed it was only 8%). So what do we do with that? My own experience in leading and coming alongside struggling churches has repeatedly affirmed the great fallout of waning vision and the power of well-embraced vision. When a congregation has lost the wind for its sails, the fresh call of God to obedience and mission will call for life transformation and a sacrifice of comfort, treasured traditions, personal preferences and rooted relationships. So what is God’s provision for the courage and power that overcomes the inevitable resistance to the drifting, mediocre life that we often hold so dearly?

We need to remember that the church is a spiritual organism rather than one more organization to be better managed with the best programs and the latest published leadership wisdom. Most church members are well aware of God’s commands and call on their life to share their faith, love others, use their gifts and shed their idols. The breakdown that keeps us from seeking first his kingdom and vision for us is in the heart. In the early part of my ministry, I found a stone in the bushes near the church that was eerily the shape and size of a human heart. I have kept it in my office ever since as a reminder of what is to be my focus as a pastor. God is in the business of life transformation that begins with heart and mind renewal (Rom. 12:1-2).

Bullard, Barna and others will often refer to the power of vision for the life, congregation and community transformation to which God calls us. And since vision leaks, wanes and competes with endless alternative visions, incessant vision-casting is critical for progress. Bullard suggests that leadership meetings should begin with vision and a core group of leaders/members who “get it” is vital for vision-casting. He also notes that vision embrace and sustainability is dependent on effective vision-casting to newcomers (Captured by Vision, 2017).

The Apostle Paul’s life and teaching screamed to demonstrate that the gospel is God’s ordained power for a liberating and courageous heart, mind and life transformation (Rom. 1:16, 1 Cor. 1:23-24). As a pastor, I am responsible to preach, teach, and lead God’s people for action toward the vision AND that they would act out of love for Jesus (2 Cor. 5:4, 1 Cor. 13:1). Since the gospel is a living power that bears fruit and grows to the degree that its truth and implications are understood (Col. 1:3-6), I am compelled to deeply mine its depths and present its glory through my preaching/teaching.

Preaching will often make up 90+% of a pastor’s exposure to a congregation and so this is his/her principal opportunity to cast a vision of the kingdom and provide the power for sacrifice, mission and bold obedience toward that vision. I have found that people who are traditionally moored to the authority of Scripture are more inclined to overcome their change-resistance when you repeatedly demonstrate how God’s vision for them is grounded in his Word and mission. And the more you reveal the infinite aspects, wonder and glory of the gospel, the more they can be freed from their past, resistance and idols to embrace a new way of life that includes a deep love for the stranger. They must find Jesus to be more beautiful and worthy than all the substitutes that contend for their love and attention.

Jesus himself has demonstrated that a vision of the kingdom in which people are gathered from all over the earth to worship him is a hill that is worth dying on. His “kingdom come” is the hill on which I want to die and the gospel of his grace for each day is the means upon which I will depend for grinding it out to the finish line. Oh my, what privilege and honor to be called into equipping, leading and encouraging others for this amazing journey.

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