Four Strategic Challenge Facing the Church Today
In our context of deep and rapid chance the most important challenge the church faces is developing leaders in the church that can do the following:
- Discern the times: With multiple challenges confronting a local church all at once which are the key ones to focus on and prioritize?
- Engaging the culture narrative: Where specifically does the gospel engage the culture of your cultural/regional/ethnic/national context and have you developed the language to speak in a clear and compelling way?
- Disciplining new believers into the new Christian identity paradigm: Are you as the point leader doing basic evangelism and discipleship and bringing in new members to your congregation? If you are not doing this yourself you probably can’t lead your people into them doing it themselves. In many congregations even if only the lead pastor is doing it with a handful of people a year by virtue of the new people that those people will bring it you may be able to grow your church fast enough to keep it afloat.
- Raising up new leaders and working with regional peers help the fleet rise together: What are you doing to develop new church planters and to develop the younger and older pastors in your classis or cluster or region so that they too will be fruitful? A seminary trained point leader must leverage their costly and exceptional educational opportunity to develop their peers and raise up those beneath them that will never be able to afford a seminary education. These will be future ministry leaders and church planters in the region.
Developing a Culture of Self-Leadership
At Synod this year we heard the repeated admonition for clergy to do continuing education. No argument there, but the phrasing of the admonition is as limiting as the assumption of a seminary education. An M.Div and a D.Min are two valuable and expensive tools that the church needs in its bag but what’s more important is to develop a culture of self-leadership.
Back in the day when the Willow Creek Association was sending out cassette tapes to play in our cars there was on by Bill Hybels on “Self-Leadership”. I remember him mentioning on that tape that he spends 60% to 70% of his time on “self-leadership.”
I was blown away by the percentage. How could a leader of his caliber and with the demands on his life spend SO much time reading, writing, praying, learning, studying? His argument was “how could he not?!”
Why not? If you are a point leader who is responsible for giving overall direction to an institution the big picture must always be on your mind. Not just “how can I help this person develop a vibrant relationship with Christ?” but “what are the narratives and assumptions this person and their friends are swimming in and how does that relate to my ability to present God’s invasion into our broken rebellion?”
All of this self leadership gets employed in our conversations, in our pastoral visits, in our Sunday School lessons, in our sermons.
A Context for Self Leadership
The truth is, however, you cant do this alone. You not only need people “in the wild” that you are working with, and a steady supply of them (which is why you need to be doing evangelism and discipleship yourself) but you also need peer relationships to discuss what you’re finding and to find out what they are finding. You also need to have a community where you have enough shared theological identity and language so that you can do all of this within the particular narrative thread of your theological tradition.
- How do we meet “election” today in my evangelistic conversations?
- What does it mean to read the Bible in the midst of the challenges today?
- What questions are being asked and what responses are productive?
You need people for this and time to do this and, guess what, if you have a classis or a cluster you might already have the building blocks for what it takes.
Classis as Learning Community
Classes have already been playing with this. A number of classes have two-day meetings so that they can integrate a learning component into one of the days. I suspect for some classes and clergy this is working well, for others not so well. It is not an easy thing to administer and lead.
What are the questions we need to work through in trying to set something like this up?
- How do we select the question? Picking the question is often one of the toughest things. Developing two way classical communication is probably key. Do we know what pastors and churches are struggling with? Amid the myriad of needs what specific challenges have our interest and are our priorities today?
- Do we need an expert or a facilitator or both? Learning takes listening, asking questions for adjustment and trying out new language or ideas within the group. Sometimes an “expert” will give some helpful things that can help launch ideas. Sometimes a facilitator will help organize the group and create the space so that learning can take place.
- What do we need to do to follow through and follow up? This is usually the weakest link in the chain. We have a lot of great ideas within the conversation but then next year or so it’s on to the next thing and we wasted valuable time and resources without having much direct application in the local level. Often many small conversations are more impactful than large ones spread out over time. What if classis invested in facilitating monthly cluster groups (in California LEAD teams) to keep those conversations going. What kind of structure, leadership, facilitation, resourcing would those groups need?
- Having this value be appreciated at the local level: All of this costs time and money. If it’s going to be sustained the value must be evident to local lay leadership who are really the ones paying for it. This will help keep conversations practical.
- What will it take to move your classis from a yearly or twice yearly profitable self-leadership space to a monthly reality?
- If you have clusters or lead teams how are you resourcing them and making space for leadership development?
- Is your classis helping to develop leaders of leaders who are doing this classical/cluster level leadership development on behalf of the rest of the group? Are they resourced? Is it effective? Is its value being seen?
- Does classis have the machinery to draw this all together into a system where there is a level of accountability and expectation that produces fruit at the local level? In other words it is easy to do a lot of talking but the goal of this are the four strategic challenges I began the post with? How will this follow up and evaluation happen at the classical leadership level?