Programs, Missions, or Vision? Where Do We Start? What Do We Do? How Do We Do It? Part 4

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5 Ways To Find The Vision

Part 4 of this series is not meant to be a “one size fits all” pattern.  Why?  Have you ever noticed that those “one size fits all” rarely if ever fits all?  These are not “step by step” instructions that will automatically produce your congregation’s Vision Statement  What I want you to do is to use these thoughts as a “diving platform” for you and your congregation to jump into the most challenging and frightful thing any congregation can do.  Yet it will be the most fruitful thing you will ever do as a congregation if you faithfully follow the Vision that God will give you.

1.  Enter Into A Season Of Travailing Prayer

This is for the entire congregation and NOT for a select few.  I recently “relearned” that word “travailing” at a Conference I attended.  It means “to work very hard”.  This isn’t a simple time of “now I lay me down to sleep” praying.  And it isn’t a time of “The Lord’s Prayer” praying where we recite words from memory and then we are finished.  Think about the model of prayer that Jesus gave, and no, I’m not referring to the Lord’s Prayer.  It was in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I would call travailing prayer “Gethsemane” praying.  In case you forgot what that looked like, look at Luke 22:44 (NLT)

 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.

When was the last time you prayed so hard that you worked up a sweat?  You are about to challenge the arena of the Enemy to take back from him what rightfully belongs to God and he is ready to go to war with you.  He knows if you go at him in your strength, he wins.  And I am certain that when we “work up a sweat” in prayer, he shudders with fear because once again he sees that image of Jesus in that Garden and remembers the outcome.  So, what should you be praying about?  Praying for?  Now on this point, you need to follow it step by step:

  1. Pray for God to reveal, if you do not already know, and remove what is getting in the way of your relationship with Him.  Is it some fear?  Anger towards another person you haven’t forgave?  Anger towards God?  Guilt?  Some sin that has not only remained in your heart but has plagued your heart?
  2. Pray for the one or ones who will be selecting the Vision Team that they will select the right people for this process.  God has already selected this Team and whoever selects this Team needs to hear from God.  And do not bring your ballot with you in this time of prayer.  Do not ask God to make sure that Betsy gets on it and Henry does not.  Give God room to BE God.
  3. Pray for protection around this Team once it is formed.  As I have already said, this is warfare and the Enemy is not going to surrender.  His attacks will come from both within and from the outside.
  4. Pray that YOUR heart will be open to all that God is about to reveal.  It’s easy to look out on your congregation and immediately assume, “Well, I know that Jack is going to throw a fit.”  Start with your heart, after all, it’s the only one that matters for God’s Vision to come alive.  YOUR heart is the only one that you can control.  Make sure that you’ve given that control to the Spirit.

2.  Begin Making A List Of Potential Team Members

This does not mean that every name you write down automatically becomes part of The Team.  I wrote down and scratched out several names, not because there was something wrong with them.  But for whatever reason, God had not chosen them.  And it certainly wasn’t because God saw something wrong with them.  God is sovereign and He certainly doesn’t need us in adviser roles.  Remember that time when the early church was having trouble with their food distribution program?  Acts 6:3

And so, brothers, select seven men who are well-respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility.

As you make this List, write down beside each name either something you see in them that will benefit the process or why you think God wants them there.  When you hone down to that final list, send them an invitation to participate and why they are receiving that invitation.

3.  Make Sure The Team Is Diverse

What I have discovered in our process is that God wants us to look deeper than what is on the surface.  Almost immediately my mind is going back to the time when God sent Samuel on the mission to replace Saul as King.  And we read in 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Our world is a very diverse.  And I would bet that your community is also.  The local congregation should be a reflection of that community, but most often it isn’t a reflection of the social and racial diversity that exists within the community.  This means you may need to invite some “non-members” to be a part of the process.  I have invited several millennials to join us in this Process.  Some are music students from a local university that sings in our choir, one is a college student who grew up in this church and another is the product of the youth ministry.

Do not limit yourself to just traditional church people.  I am not talking about style of worship, rather those who think that Christians think and act in a limited arena.  Yes, make sure you have some who are well rooted, have wisdom and are respected in your congregation.  In fact, it is advisable to make sure one or two of them leads the Team.  Your “seasoned” sages are the ones who will keep this Process on track.  But look within your congregation for other types:  those that obviously think differently because you are doing something new; those that are passionate about life as a whole, for without passion the Vision is never seen; and those who love Jesus with all their heart, often quietly but love Jesus with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.  These will not be in your known circle of “leaders” but have something important to contribute.  And who knows, maybe they will emerge from this process as your new leaders.

4.  Know Your Community

This is my shortest point.  Make sure you know your community and if you do not, have the Vision Team plan some “field trips” out in your community, not to witness to others, but simply getting to know them.  Why?  I’m so glad you asked me that.  Because the Vision will include reaching out to them in ways that will open the door for them to become disciples of Jesus.  Right now I’m thinking about Matthew 9:10-11

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.  But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”

This wasn’t an isolated incident.  Jesus was always in the middle of where people lived every day.  He was down at the pier where some fishermen were working.  He was in the homes of everyday ordinary people.  If you do not know your real community you cannot find the True Vision.  God is always moving towards people and not away from them.

5.  Start With A Blank Sheet Of Paper

Now that you have done the legwork and homework you are ready to start.  But make sure that you set aside everything that you are doing now.  This isn’t a peer evaluation nor a time to measure how effective our current programs are doing.  Remember, Vision is not about programs, but about the activity of God through the Holy Spirit.  You are to dream God-Sized Dreams; something you can never do unless God is with you and working through you.  Most congregations have never done this because most often decisions are made based on budgets, staff and volunteers (oh, and traditions).  We are not talking about “what is”, but “what will be” when the rule of God happens, when Jesus becomes the Head of the Church and the Holy Spirit is our Guide and only source of power.

Take meticulous notes on everything you talk about and dream about.  I have set up a Shared Folder on Google Drive for our Vision Team to keep notes.  ONLY members of the Vision Team have access to and rights to add or edit any file kept there.  I recommend Google because not everyone has Microsoft WORD™ on their computer and Google Drive has “Google Docs™” that anyone can use on the internet and is compatible with WORD™.

Here is something to remember:  Expect Failures Before The Final Success.  Not every idea or dream we have fits God’s Dream.  What I am trying to say is do not wait until everyone is 100% agreed on what the Vision should be and say.  The key is to allow the free flow of thoughts, hopes and aspirations for somewhere in the middle of all of them is God’s Dream!  Oh, and that part about keeping great notes?  One never knows when something brought up now will become important in the future.  God has a funny way of doing that.

Now, a final word to my fellow Pastors:

Stay Out Of The Way!

Do not, under any circumstances, be the official or unofficial leader of the Vision Team.  I’m not saying you would do this, BUT if you are leading the Team it will give to some the appearance of being “your vision” and not God’s Vision.  Your role as Pastor is to be both Coach and Cheerleader.  I am attending the first Team meeting and then I am stepping out of the way, and they will know it and why.  As Pastor, I will attend meetings only when requested to answer questions that will come up.  This congregation knows up front this is part of the process and why.  And I will show up occasionally to encourage and to ask them how the process is going.  It’s called “accountability” and that is part of my calling and role as a lead pastor.  My deepest desire, my ONLY desire is that God’s Vision becomes clear and that together we faithfully follow it as we live out our faith in the Kingdom of God.

 And remember…

Love God with all your heart, love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Randy Burbank, a Kingdom Pastor

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Programs, Missions, or Vision? Where Do We Start? What Do We Do? How Do We Do It? Part 3

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7 Signs You Are Pursuing God’s Vision

Now that we’ve look at what Vision Is Not, let’s take a look at how God’s Vision for the local church takes shape and form.  Remember that God’s Vision is not about how things used to be nor is it necessarily about how things are now (though these two components play a part in discovering God’s Vision).  God’s Vision is about the future–how things CAN BE when HE becomes the most important part of our life individually and corporately.  Jesus cast HIS Vision for those first disciples and set the pattern for us as we pursue God’s Vision for us.  It’s found in Matthew 9:35-38 (The Message)  

Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”

If an entrepreneur wants to start a business, she or he looks first at the demographics of where this business will start.  In other words, are conditions favorable, meaning “Can I be successful and profitable”, in this new venture?  If they are offering goods or services that either the community doesn’t want or could afford, it’s highly unlikely they will proceed in that community with that endeavor.  Look at what Jesus saw:  “Confused and aimless, like people with no shepherd.”  So, what does Jesus do?  Does He say, “Well, guys, these aren’t very religious folks, we need to go somewhere else.”?  NO!  He says, “What a huge harvest!  We don’t have enough workers!  Hit your knees and pray for more workers!”

See, vision isn’t about what was or what is–it’s always about “What Will Be”!  The history of the Church has been that we tend to gravitate towards the familiar and comfortable.  We tend to stick to what we know and the things we know how to do.  Vision, on the other hand, is about what God knows and what He knows how to do through hearts and lives that are open to Him.  Let’s try to get a picture of what this looks like.

1.  It Begins With Prayer

Since Vision is not from us nor natural, we have to prepare both heart and mind in order to see what God wants for our local congregation.  Since it is human nature to bring our “baggage” with us, the first prayer needs to be for God to prepare our mind by ridding us of anything that resembles “our” vision.  We go into this process with a clean heart and an open mind.  A clean heart is one that God has cleansed from all selfishness.  An open mind is one that does not limit God and what He can do with us and our present reality.  The only way we can make sure this happens is to make this our daily prayer.

2.  It Will Require A Lot Of Time

Unless your local congregation has revisited the Vision every 5 years or so, the odds are this is going to be a long process.  When things are not going well at church we tend to look for a quick fix.  God’s Vision does not come by text, Twitter or Instagram.  The time spent searching is time well spent because we are spending time with the originator of The Vision.  The more time we spend conscious of God’s presence not only helps us to see and clarify The Vision but it is also preparing us to cast and implement The Vision.  I’m not saying it is going to take years–in fact, if it does, you are either not listening or seeking God’s Vision but rather wanting God to agree with you.  Do not be surprised if it takes weeks maybe months to bring The Vision into focus.  And it will take time to cast The Vision to the rest of the congregation.

3.  It Will Be Bigger Than Anything You Have Done Before

If you have been a program focused church it will be way bigger than anything you have ever done.  God doesn’t dream about what you have accomplished.  He dreams about what is yet to be accomplished.  God is still active, present and at work.  Our God is about great things, enormous things.  As human beings we have a tendency to rest on our accomplishments and think we’ve done enough.  Do you remember Jesus’ parable about the farmer who had a bumper crop?  Yes, God celebrates your victories but calls us out to even more.  The Gospel is the Gospel of “The More”–more of Him in us and more of Him through us.  If The Vision is not a little scary or doesn’t make you feel a little “uncomfortable”, meaning it’s like nothing you have ever seen or tried, then maybe it is just another one of your ideas and not His Vision.

4.   It Will Be About The Future

In a world that loves the fastest computer graphics, fastest internet speeds and immediate gratification, the process of Vision will feel foreign to us.  Many established congregations are locked into the past.  They “pine” for the good old days of filled sanctuaries and active programs and they “whine” about why it’s not like that today.  While the backwards glance is helpful in forging our way forward, it is not the model of what the Vision will look like for the future.  Our vision of the future is very limited.  Heck, we can’t even see and predict the outcomes of college football games.  If we could, Las Vegas would turn into a ghost town.  God’s ability to see the Future is unlimited.  Think of Vision as God’s “MapQuest®” for the journey into HIS future for the church.  It is always about the next step towards God’s desired outcome.  It is not instantaneous nor short term.

5.  It Will Look Like The Kingdom Of God

While we get locked into a “church” perspective, meaning OUR church, The Vision will be a snapshot of The Kingdom of God.  Jesus only spoke about the church a couple of times, but He spoke volumes about The Kingdom of God.  Remember that The Kingdom of God (at other moments Jesus used the term Kingdom of Heaven) is about the Rule of God in our hearts, minds and daily actions.  So it is essential that we learn more about what Jesus says about this Kingdom.  Jesus gave us so many word pictures and parables about what God’s Kingdom looks like.  The Vision will always, always, always be in alignment with what Jesus said The Kingdom of God is all about.  If you do not have a clue about what the Kingdom of God looks like you will never be able to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom.

6.  It Will Be About The Least, The Last And The Lost

If we learn anything about Jesus when He walked this earth as one of those He created, it’s His heart for those that have been pushed aside by society.  Jesus was always drawn to those who were made to feel worthless and were hopeless.  He refused to push aside or ignore those who were hurting and broken.  Therefore, The Vision is about the reconciliation and restoration  of the fallen.  Ever since that moment when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s rule in their hearts, mind and daily actions God has been active in first reconciling humanity and second, restoring humanity to that Intended Design.  It will be more than handing out tracks about the Romans Road Map To Heaven, in fact tracts may not be involved at all.  It will be about helping meet the physical, emotional and relational needs of people BEFORE introducing them to the one who meets their Spiritual needs.  The Vision will be about first, making us whole, and then helping others find the wholeness that God alone will provide.

7.  It Will Be Bright And Hopeful!

Our “pining for the past” only fills us with despair.  Our honest evaluation of today will fill us with doubt.  But The Vision gives us a picture of the future that is both vibrant and hopeful.  It’s a beautiful picture that fills us with what is often missing in our local congregations:  Great Expectations!  Put oil paints, brush and canvas in front of me and trust me, the picture will not be beautiful.  But put those same elements in the hands of Monet and it is beautiful.  If we will see God’s Vision, it will draw us into it with both fear and excitement and the excitement overrides  any fear or doubt.  It gives us “butterflies” in our heart and mind because we will know that because God has given The Vision, we can count on Him to move The Vision from Dream to Reality!  If you approach the journey with the attitude that says “We can never do this”, guess what?  You won’t!  But the first truth about The Vision is that it will be about what God is doing in, for and through us and never about what WE are doing for God.

I hope this will be for you a very big “box” to begin the process of discerning God’s Vision.  Maybe you have other insights into what God’s Vision is.  Feel free to share them in the comments.  And remember…

Love God with all your heart, love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Randy Burbank, a Kingdom Pastor

Programs, Missions, or Vision? Where Do We Start? What Do We Do? How Do We Do It? Part 2

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6 Things Vision Is NOT

The beginning place for real transformation in the local church begins with VISION.  To begin by changing programs or mission is just another attempt at reformation at best and a another resolution at worst.  Reformation and resolution do not create that deep and abiding transformation we always need.  Reformation and resolution are our best efforts; transformation is God’s best effort.  I can’t answer for you, but I would much rather have God’s best effort on one of His bad days (this is just a figure of speech, so fundamentalists, don’t get your blood pressure up) than my best effort on one of my very best days.

After listening to many coaches, church growth gurus, consultants and mainly from pastors of thriving congregation here is what I understand to be the meaning of VISION.

Vision is the image of what the church should look like in 5-7 years

A great place to begin our discussion about what discovering The Vision, is to identify what  The Vision is NOT.  In order to be able to clearly see The Vision, we need to clear the fog that often surrounds the process of searching and discerning The Vision in order to be able to both clearly see and articulate what God is doing and wants a local church to do.  Without clearing away this fog there is a very high degree of probability that we may not clearly see The Vision.  And this is not good because it opens the door for us to insert OUR Vision wherever it is we cannot clearly discern God’s Vision. Carefully read one of Jesus’ strong rebukes to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:7-9

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

This is a quote from Isaiah 29:13 and shows God’s disgust with meaningless words as was the case when the Pharisees sought to lose another battle with Jesus.  (I mean, they should have known by now there was no way to win against Jesus.)  The words of Vision come from the heart and not the mind.  It is to the heart that God’s Spirit speaks and reveals what God wants us to look like 5-7 years down the road.  Therefore, our words need to be carefully chosen.  So this process of discerning God’s vision is neither quick nor easy.  It is often time-laden and even messy.  So it is important that on the front end, Vision Teams understand that time consumption and messiness is normal and certainly not a cause to give up and quit.  To the contrary, the process serves to make us stronger and bolder, less self-reliant and more compassionate.

There are many things that Vision “is not”, so I want to focus on what I perceive to be the 6 most common errors in both discerning the Vision and casting the Vision.  Here they are in order:

1.  Vision Does Not Begin With The Identification Of Our Current Resources And Assets

It is easy to begin the process of Visioning by labeling and assessing value on our current resources and assets.  That is called accountability and it is needed in the life of a local congregation on a daily basis.  To begin looking at our resources and assets typically means looking at our strengths because it takes a lot of strength for Vision to become reality.  If a congregation has not retooled its Vision faithfully every 5-7 years then it will naturally gravitate to looking FOR the Vision by looking AT their strengths.  Unless a local congregation has been faithfully reviewing and updating their Vision every 5-7 years it is not very likely that God’s Vision will be centered on their current strengths.  It will probably be centered on their weaknesses.

2.  Vision Is Not About Improving Our Programs

Some congregations take the approach that Vision is about making our Programs even better.  But as we learned last week Programs are different from Vision and Mission.  Because the church has been living under the paradigm that programs are the primary means of growing the local church, it is only logical to think that this Vision from God is going to be about improving our Programs.  God’s Vision may or may not be about improving existing programs.  In fact, HIS Vision may be about getting rid of some old and wornout programs.  Many congregations are program driven churches rather than Vision Following churches, so the natural tendency will be to “dream” of ways to make programs better.  If this is what you think Vision is all about, then I have 3 words for you:  Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

3.  Vision Is Not About Getting Rid Of Existing Leadership And Replacing Them With New Leadership

When I say “leadership”, what I mean is both pastor (or pastors), hired staff, and indigenous leaders within that local congregation.  I have known of some congregations who have engaged in a new “Vision Statement” as a means of getting rid of old leadership to make way for new leadership.  Vision is assembled around 1 Leader, the True Head of any local congregation.  And if you haven’t a clue as to who I am describing, it’s none other than Jesus, Himself.  The process of Visioning includes casting The Vision in such a way that it brings existing leadership onboard.  Now, if any existing leaders are unable or unwilling to get on board, then it’s time for them to get on board the next train leaving town.  But Vision is never about “cleaning house”.

4.  Vision Is Not An Update, Upgrade Or Fix-It For The Local Congregation

Every local congregation has “issues” in need of repair.  As you read this, if you are thinking there’s nothing that needs “fixing” at your local church, I have 3 words for you:  Wrong!  Wrong!  Wrong!  We like to think of our local churches as being really neat and rarely messy places.  Which is exactly why many pastors and members move on to other places.  Until we become the church in Heaven, we will be really messy and rarely neat.  I do not say this to be critical of any local congregation; rather to help us accept this fact in ways that helps us accept each other when things are NOT so neat.  Without a doubt a  Vision does correct the compass and direction of a local church.  But we do not enter the time of seeking, clarifying, understanding and casting the Vision simply as a way to fix our problems.  Oftentimes the old problems follow into the new Vision.  But then we will be better enabled to handle them in positive ways.  Microsoft Windows™ has updates and perhaps it would be easier if we could just download an update and everything operate like it should.  But oh, what great things we would miss if it happened that way.

5.  Vision Is Not Chiseled In Stone

What I mean by this is that it is extremely rare for one Vision Statement that comes out of the wrestling and struggling to stay the same for a local church unless Jesus comes really soon.  As the church changes, as the community changes, as the culture changes and as the world changes, so will The Vision change.  Any Vision Statement that is static and not fluid probably did not come from God OR we have stopped looking for God’s Vision.  As much as we wish the world would not change so fast, the reality is it does.  Whatever changes happen in the world NEVER catches God off-guard.  Instead He is always ready for the next new Vision.  Another reason I believe that The Vision is more fluid than static is because of our own natural tendency to resist change, especially change that is initiated by the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

6.  The Vision Will Not Be All That Complicated

This entire process begins and ends with God, and every point between lives within the context of God who truly is With Us.  It isn’t complicated so that we can “buy-in” and take ownership in The Vision.  It belongs completely to God and it just so happens that God has selected us to impart, cast and live out His Vision.  The Vision will always be much more than we can do alone, or as we are right now.  The Vision will never talk about “what is”, rather it speaks of “what can be” when we give up the right to control anything and totally surrender to the very thing God is doing.  We do not remember the complicated, but we do remember the simple.  I Googled “church vision statements” and found many.  Their content ranged from 4 words to 279 words.  As I looked through this list of some 80 churches and their Vision Statement, the best one I like contain 4 words.  These 4 words did not even form a grammatically correct statement, but spoke volumes to me.  It said:  Making New, Making Great.  It is so simple that anyone in that congregation could say it, and live it out.

I’m sure you can probably think of other things that Vision “is not”.  So feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.  And remember this:

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Kingdom Pastor,

Randy Burbank

Programs, Missions, or Vision? Where Do We Start? What Do We Do? How Do We Do It? Part 1

Why We Need To Allow Church Programs To Die

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(Note:  This is the first of a 5 part series around the issue of Programs, Missions, and Vision of the local church)

I know that the very title of this first of five blogs will offend many long time faithful members of local churches.  And if you are one of them, I simply ask that you follow this to the end.  I am not asking you to agree with me, nor do I expect you to change your mind about this subject.  But I am asking you to engage in deep thought, reflection and prayer before you dismiss me as either anti-church, a para-church lunatic, or in some cases, the Anti-Christ.  (If this is your first time to read one of my blogs, get to know me by reading “About Me”.)

I grew up and was trained in a church that believed, invested in and promoted top quality church programs as the key to growing the local church.  To be honest, I cannot remember all the training events I have attended since 1974 that promoted a variety of programs that promised to radically transform the direction and attendance for the church I served at the time.  And I confess before God and to you that many of those programs I bought into and promoted in those wonderful places I had been appointed.  In some cases there would be some change happen in the local church, but it did not last.  Churches were changed, but not transformed.  And being the well-trained pastor who believed that it was all in the programming, I kept trying more programs.  I looked to what was called “successful” churches and tried to adapt their programs to fit our situation.  I was smart enough to know that I could not imitate “their” programs but vainly believed that if I adapted them into our context, the church would grow.  (But at the time, I wasn’t smart enough to see the big picture.)

Most pastors and local church leaders have some type of definition for what constitutes a “church program”.  Allow me to share my definition and hopefully it will give some insights into where I am coming from and where this series is going:

Church Programs are those activities and events that we plan, design and implement in order to maintain the vitality of the local church and which we believe will lead to sustainable church growth.

We all know that the key phrase in this definition is “sustainable church growth”.  Here is one of the Top 10 Understatements of all times:  Without Sustainable Growth The Local Church Will Die.  And for a few decades, this model of sustainable church growth seemed to be working.  For a season we could do what the voice told Kevin Costner to do in the movie “Field of Dreams”:  “Build it and they will come.”    But it became a competition to build the best to reach the most.  Since then, mainline churches have for the most part either maintained a plateau (meaning no sustainable growth) or started to decline.

For many congregations it became a blame game.  “We don’t have the right programs.”  “We don’t have the right staff.”  And my favorite excuse, “We’ve got the wrong pastor.”  And pastors who long for sustainable church growth have their excuses.  “It’s the denominational leaders fault.”  “I’m not at the right church.”  And my favorite excuse from pastors, “They won’t listen to me.”  It is futile to believe that the right programs, right staff, right pastor, or right church is the answer to the decline of the church in the United States.  There is something much deeper that we need to consider.

I have found a verse in the Bible that may well explain the current malady in many churches.  Normally I opt for the more modern translations, but this is a time when I think the King James Version says it best.  The passage is Proverbs 29:18-

Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Instead of the word “perish”, other translations use phrases such as “they run wild” (NLT); “they stumble all over themselves” (The Message); or “cast off restraint” (NIV).  The Hebrew word means all of these but the word “perish” is a word that ought to grab our attention because of the current condition of the church in the United States.  When we run wild, stumble all over ourselves, or cast off restraint we step off onto that slippery slope where one thing that kills and prevents sustainable growth leads to another.  And so we scratch our heads wondering why all these wonderful programs and leaders are not resulting in vibrant congregations producing sustainable growth.

Well, let’s go back to the first part of this passage:  Where there is no vision (emphasis mine).  This point is really clear, but I think that if we look at it from The Message, we find some light and deeper understanding.  It goes like this:  “If people can’t see what God is doing” (emphasis mine).  Vision is about seeing what God is doing while programs are about seeing and measuring what we are doing.

Without a clearly defined vision of what God is doing we elevate our programs, at the very least, as a substitute for what God is doing.  Or we do something even more sinister-we ask God to bless our efforts as a means to seek God’s approval, or in many cases, as an attempt to change God’s mind.  I want to share with you 3 key reasons why maybe, just maybe, we need to allow “our church programs” to die in order to find what will produce vitality in our congregations along with sustainable growth:

 1)  Church Programs rely on human skills and strengths.

We want the best Children’s Director.  We want the best Youth Pastor.  We want the best Preacher and Pastor.  Why?  Because these are the things that programs tell us that we need.  Take a moment to think this through before you tar and feather me and burn me at the stake for being a heretic.  Sometimes programs take on a life all their own, outside the activity of the Holy Spirit.  So much so, that to suggest changing a program will almost create a riot at church business meetings.  And, if a program is faltering, then the answer we think is to fire that staff member or pastor and get new ones.  I will admit that for a season, these so called “right staff members and pastor” can create some excitement that resembles congregational vitality and will produce seasonal growth.  But the sickness returns and they will not provide the long-term sustainable growth that reveals the presence and Kingdom of God.

2)  Church Programs put a drain on our limited resources.

Once programs take on a life of their own (meaning they become sacred and are protected from any changes), then our limited resources must be used to sustain the programs.  Please notice I said “our limited resources”.  Typically church governing bodies see their resources as financial, people, buildings, and time.  When these are seen as our only resources, then there is a limited amount of said resources.  So, if someone senses that God is moving in a new direction and calls for changes the almost immediate reaction is, “Where is the money going to come from?”  “We don’t have the facilities for such a thing.”  “We’re already asking so much of our volunteers, they don’t have the time for something else.”  When programming reigns supreme, then our limited resources have to be dedicated to that and anything else will just have to wait, or worse–be ignored.

3)  Church Programs rarely, if ever, align with what God is doing.

Without a clearly defined vision of what God is doing, our programs may or may not align with what He is doing.  When they are aligned, it is either accidental or coincidental.  Again, please frame my context properly.  I’m talking about when there is no Vision of what God is doing.  The focus becomes sustaining the programs at the expense of experiencing vitality and sustaining growth that transforms the hearts of lives of people.  When Programs become the “thing”, we assume that it is of God.  When we make this assumption it will neither maintain vitality nor produce sustainable growth.

What I am offering in this series of blogs is that there is another way for vitality and sustainable growth to happen in any local church of any size and in any location.  It starts with the Vision–The Vision Of What God Is Doing.  Many congregations may have a “vision” or even a “vision statement” but a careful examination of it might reveal it is just another way of sustaining our programs–programs that rely on human ingenuity, effort and strength.  Next week I will being looking at what real “Vision” looks like, by looking at what “Vision” isn’t.  Are you ready to tar and feather me and run me out of town (or pray that I never become “your” pastor)?  Please remember my opening comments:

I am not asking you to agree with me, nor do I expect you to change your mind about this subject.  But I am asking you to engage in deep thought, reflection and prayer before you dismiss me as either anti-church, a para-church lunatic, or in some cases, the Anti-Christ.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

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