forward progress

You’ve heard it said, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” So is an idle church. Unfortunately, this discovery is made when the church has idled and begins to atrophy spiritually. At that point, it’s infinitely more difficult to get the church to make progress. It works like inertia.

I’m not suggesting Christian workaholism or creating empty activity to create the illusion of movement. I’m also not suggesting the church never needs a rest–a period in which the Body simply builds muscle tissue and recuperates from an intense period of ministry. I saying that many churches that don’t create an ongoing sense of forward progress, defined in Kingdom terms, will struggle with spiritual dysfunction and decline. Churches don’t become selfish and lazy by osmosis. They become selfish and lazy when leadership gets selfish and lazy.

Let me explain:

The two primary reasons churches simply keep shop are: 1) the ministry system they’ve created values “consistency” (put nicely) over the new. Put unkindly, they create a never-ending system of ongoing ministry activity that leaves little margin for new endeavors. For the church, this minimizes challenge, and makes life together predictable–which is why so many love it and cling to it’s perpetuity.

The second reason is simply the laziness of church leaders. It’s easier to maintain something already going and put some makeup on it now and then than to create something completely new. In churches that are change averse, it might be the hesitancy to take the beating associated with the change that causes stagnancy. Either way, creating something new, from conception through execution, is more difficult. This is why creating a sense of forward progress usually requires leadership that enjoys the church’s progress more than they fear the work of creating change and enduring it’s implementation.

The first step in creating a sense of forward progress: Examine yourself. Ask if the church’s forward progress isn’t being limited by your fear of the work it will take or the pain it will cost to implement. If the answer is, “yes,” get out of the way somehow. Either repent and gird up your loins, or turn the keys over to someone with the engine and vision to move the church forward. If you’re burned out, turn the keys over temporarily to the unburned out and put yourself on a path to renewal with God. This is an enormous challenge for leaders, but sooooo important. It takes humility and self-honesty to say, “I’m too tired,” or “I’m to scared,” and to turn it over to someone who isn’t–or ask God to take that away and carry you through.

The second step: Look at your current church system and seek ways to make it more nimble. Sometimes, forward progress is next to impossible because there are numerous ongoing ministries with fixed time commitments that can’t be changed other than by direct act of God. Nothing new can happen because…well, nothing new can fit. Even if it can, there is little energy for it. Ask yourself what absolutely must stay. For us, it’s Sunday worship and Growth Groups. Everything else comes after that–and this allows both energy and flexibility in ministry planning. We’re not saying only Sunday worship and Growth Groups are important. We’re saying that’s where the line of fixed ministry is drawn–at least for now.

While there is value in consistent nourishment of existing ministry, most churches don’t lack such. They lack a sense of forward progress. It keeps the church focused on God and ministry, and it keeps leaders from allowing laziness or fear to lead the church.