Leaders articulate vision! They offer a preferred future.
They also articulate WHY WE CAN’T STAY HERE.
My early leader years? Lots of vision! I ignored WHY WE CAN’T STAY HERE, and then I couldn’t understand why nobody wanted to leave…HERE!
I was like Moses trying to convince the Israelites to exit Egypt before anyone realized it wasn’t a great place to stay.
Let’s make this more concrete. Here’s a simple, startling, WHY WE CAN’T STAY HERE from my own church body.
Over 30 years, the U.S. population grew by 24% and my own denomination declined by 23%! (Based on U.S. Census and LCMS reported statistical data between 1984-2014.) This was a startling statistic when we first shared this blog post a few years ago. And just last week, I was disappointed to read that of 42 religious bodies, my own was the oldest with a mean age of 58.3.
That’s a startling WHY WE CAN’T STAY HERE!
But, you see, here’s what happens: Folks wring their hands. They seek something or someone to blame…and the farther away from themselves the better.
And then good, godly people simple stay…HERE…and unwittingly contribute to what they bemoan.
Institutions resist change. It’s a fact. It’s no surprise. Change happens on the edges, on the fringes. It happens… is happening… needs to happen… in a congregation like yours and with a cluster of leaders around you!
Institutions will always want to go back to Egypt.
So, could we talk…about not staying HERE?
What about your congregation? My guess is that it shows some danger signs of institutionalism.
You get the problem, right?
The American church today finds itself in a whirlwind of rapid, discontinuous change and almost every congregation seeks to insure continuity and a return to the days we used to know. (BTW: Those days are gone.)
A sad fact is that the driver for too many in churches today is, “Serve me well. Make me comfortable. Keep me happy. Or I’ll leave.”
That’s why leaders like you are stressed!
Phyllis was a wonderful lady in our congregation many years ago. She became a great champion…eventually. Before that, she pleaded: “Pastor you can change anything you want. Just wait until I’m gone.”
It’s natural. It’s normal. And it’s death for the congregation.
I don’t mean to sound detached. I’m not angry. Disappointed, yes. Grieved, yes. Is it what Jesus wants for His church today? I don’t think so.
People simply have their institutional scripts and they read their lines. It’s a deception of exponential proportion!
And leaders, unfortunately, you either read your own lines, too, or you get vortexed between wanting to enter the new missionary land and a chorus of, “Let’s just stay here…”
…while an entire young generation is disgusted by institutional church scripts and walks away.
There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that our missionary God is alive and well. He is certainly not overwhelmed by post-Christendom, or COVID, or all manner of evil in our land. He’s a God who loves you and has called you by name. He’s already claimed the land and is waiting for folks like us to take steps of repentance and faith, to cultivate character, to capture new competencies and to give ourselves to following Him like maybe we’ve never followed Him before.
You’ve probably seen this chasm.
The journey into and out of this chasm…unlearning and relearning…is really a simple journey. It’s just not easy. And it’s almost always navigated in community, seldom alone.
BTW: There’s one fundamental ignitor that slowly chips away at crippling institutionalism. It’s the discipling of leaders who become net producers who disciple others to become leaders of mission. Jesus chose this path! There were maybe only 25,000 Christians in 100 A.D. By 310 A.D. there were 20,000,000!
So here are three actions:
- Give this to your leaders and have a conversation.
- Be honest. What lines from your own institutional script are you reading?
- Share this with a partner or peer. “Here’s why it’s hard. Here’s why I’m praying for you.”
Finally, simply… Thanks. Gail and I are blessed to share the journey with you.