An Open Letter to [Insert_Your_Church_Here]

Dear Church Leader,

Where is God leading your church? What is the plan and direction in which you are heading in order to bring about His kingdom in His way, with His plan, using your unique gifts and resources?  Do you know? I suspect that some of you might have a generic individual idea, but I would hazard a guess that asking 10 leaders within your church would provide 10 different answers. So does your church have a direction?  A unified, driving, purposeful sense of where God is leading you? I would respectfully submit that the answer is most often, sadly, no.  And ultimately, I have to believe that this is the underlying issue that we must address in order to both be an effective light to our community as a body and to properly resolve many of the internal issues of need, balance, order, and individual purpose.

Proverbs 29.18 says “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV).  The Message puts it in a similar manner- “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed.”  This seems a harsh penalty for a lack of foresight (or perhaps more accurately, God-sight), but history and scripture seem to support this very much being the case. Why else are we consistently referred to as sheep, but because without a shepherd to lead and guide us, we act as smart as said sheep individually, and even to greater depths in large numbers? We wander without purpose. We lose our way. We walk right up to wolves and cliffs without sensing the danger. And we don’t sense the need to find adequate pastures for food and water when our current sources run dry.

We, as leaders, are acutely responsible for the feeding and caretaking of the sheep that have been brought into our flock. And in order to properly shepherd them, we must have a sense of where the Good Shepherd wishes us to go.

And let us be very clear on this issue as well. Our God is a God of progress. Going is an important step in the process. Should we ever accept status quo as sufficient, we must begin to wonder if we have become complacent, lazy, and apathetic. While change simply for the sake of change is not usually warranted, I believe we have clear instruction and precedent in the Bible that God is not content with our staying in one place. We often fail to move on account of not wanting to move in the wrong direction. But it seems fairly clear that not moving is always the wrong move. It is only when we very plainly see the cloud of glory stop that we, also, should stop and make camp for a time. Even then, there is a clear sense of purpose for what is to be done. Camp around the tabernacle, worship the God who brought us this far, and wait eagerly for His presence to move once again.  Let us never find ourselves moving when God has instructed us to wait. However, let us also never be caught staying put when His presence has already begun to move.

Inaction, for whatever reason, and lack of true purpose, makes God sick. “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”  Cold water knows its purpose. It is cool and refreshing. It quenches the thirst of a parched and desperate man. Hot water also, serves a purpose. It cleans, it soothes, it heals, and it relaxes. What is lukewarm water (a muddled combination of the two) good for? Well, the taste is enough to make you spit it right back out.  It would seem that sitting on the middle fence of inaction is useless in the sight of our Father.

So, too, is complacency a problem for Him. Let us never be caught sitting back and enjoying the fruits of past labors. There will be plenty of time for that in eternity.  “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” We must be ready for what He has prepared for us. We cannot allow ourselves to become complacent because of a sense of accomplishment in the past.  Have you settled into a lull since finishing your building project?  Yes, perhaps you’ve grown in number, but has that been because of an active movement to bring the gospel to the people, or has it largely been a result of people coming on their own to the only physical church building in the area?  We do believe that there is something great that He has planned- not just for us as individuals, but for us as church bodies, don’t we? How will we know when the time has come if we are not awake and watching? We will be no different from the virgins who did not come with extra oil for their lamps. We must be prepared and look ahead to the glorious hope and future He has planned.

And now, not only must we combat the sins of inaction, lack of purpose, and complacency, we must also fight against sins of omission. “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” Part of what often hamstrings churches is catching a glimpse of what God is directing us to do, and then through excessive logistical planning, doubts and second guessing, and lack of follow-through, we’ve found ourselves not bringing many of these ideas to fruition.  And so, the question must then be asked- was the problem that what was put in our hearts was a false sense of God’s will? Or was it (more likely) that in our doubts of being able to carry out our plan, we discounted His ability to carry out His plan? Oh God, that we would not project our failures, shortcomings, and shortsightedness on You.

So then, how can we accurately gain a collective sense of where God is leading? How can we find the will of God for this church?  Dr. David Platt, pastor and author of the book, Radical, has a valuable take regarding the will of God.  He says the question of “how can I find the will of God for my life?” is absolutely the wrong question to ask.  God’s will is not lost, and we should stop trying to find it, he says. The will of God is that we bring the gospel to every creature and make disciples.  The end goal is, and has always been, the same. How we go about it should be specially constructed based on our own talents, gifts, and knowledge of scripture.  The same must be said about the purpose of the church- as the body is simply a sum of its parts.

The overarching vision of what we are here to do, then, is not the issue. I would imagine that everyone who reads this would be in agreement that spreading the gospel should be our desire and focus. The hangup then, lies more in methods than message.

So, what is the next step in our development as leadership?  We unite under one vision and one hope. An eager anticipation for where God is leading us.  And then we adequately and emphatically put into practice what we believe to be true and allow the congregation to see and experience for themselves that same vision.  People are always willing to follow much more readily when they see what the desired end goal is.  Again, when people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves.  But when you present a clear vision in front of them, the level of trust they have for the leaders spikes, and in turn, so does their level of activity and willingness to participate. Everyone wants to feel like they had a part in accomplishing something big.  When nobody knows what they’re hoping to accomplish, it’s much harder to bring them around to participating in much of anything.

We’ve often attempt it in short bursts.  Let’s build up our small groups and make them an integral part of what our church is doing because we believe at this point in time internal growth will provide the external growth.  And so we recruit leaders, unite them with a vision, bring them in for a single day of training, and then released them to their own devices with promises of continued development and training.  And then promptly drop the ball on any real follow up, training, or leader development.  The result?  Initial group involvement goes up- sometimes it nearly doubles. But over time, as no clear next steps are defined, the numbers dwindle back down to nearly what they were before the campaign.  What was the problem?  Lack of foresight beyond an initial point of impact.  And lack of follow up to continue reinforcing this vision and providing support for the group leaders.  And so our vision remains stunted and short-sighted.

We attempt it again in other ways.  We decide we want to do more in making a significant splash in reaching the community for Christ.  So we decide to have public, mission-focused outreach events in the community. The intent, and what we hope to pass along to our people is the idea of this being the beginning of a new focus on reaching the community, loving the community, and spreading the gospel.  We build up the event with a month of “Love Your Community” outreach-type events.  We make tshirts. We make banners.  Then, we abandon the vision.  And so, instead of focusing on bringing the hope of Christ to the people of our communities in a very real way and to introduce the masses who were unreached all throughout the community to Jesus, we look back and wonder what ever happened to the plan.  What went wrong?  As before, we don’t pursue the vision beyond its initial point of impact.  It isn’t emphasized to our people enough and never really becomes a focal point of our plans long-term.

Where is God leading your church?  You have loose plans discussed by a small group of people. But how will you follow this up so the emphasis is not lost?  Will you bring each ministry together under a single, united banner that you might champion the same causes?  What is the vision that God has given you for your church or area of individual ministry?  Have you pondered it at all?  Have you shared it with anyone?  And is it possible for you to come together to share these ideas- can you look ahead beyond just next week or next month and prayerfully get a real sense of direction for the future?  It’s imperative that you begin to plan- and then to take clear, measured action to bring those plans about.

Peter says we must be ready to give an answer when asked about the hope that is inside us.  And indeed, he was ready when, after healing the lame man outside the temple, the crowds gathered around.  He didn’t say “We weren’t expecting a reaction like this.  Can you give us a few months to determine the best course of action?”  He saw everything as an opportunity and was ready.  I hear a lot that “we’re not ready” or that “I think we’re finally ready”.  Planning and directing for the future will get you ready- and then it’s simply a matter of identifying and taking advantage of every opportunity as you get it.

Paul, too, planned ahead.  When traveling with his companions through Asia Minor, he had every intention of moving further north.  They had planned for such a trip.  But then they were presented with a change in purpose and direction by the dream of a man from Macedonia.  And, given a new vision from God, they changed course and immediately set sail for Greece.  Vision, accompanied by action.  And they pursued it to the end- to the extent that they later made a return journey to visit the new churches established there.  Vision, action, pursuit and development, and follow up.

Joseph gives us a good and simple example of the importance of planning for the future, instructing the pharaoh to store up food for seven full years in order to be ready for the famine.  A seven year plan!  Talk about planning ahead.  So, too, did David make plans to build the first temple of the Lord far in advance of its construction.  He bought the field on which it would be built and began to stockpile resources for his son to use in the building process.  He made the following statement, “And since the Temple to be built for the Lord must be a magnificent structure, famous and glorious throughout the world, I will begin making preparations for it now.”

I believe that Christ would have us build up his body the same way.  He intends to make it magnificent, famous, and glorious throughout the community.  It is to be a place where lives are changed, salvation is preached, and the gates of hell cannot withstand the charge that we make on it.  But in order to do that, we must begin making preparations for it now.  Let’s not let another opportunity pass us by.

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