Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2003
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray this letter finds you and yours well. This month, I want to share something that I believe is of vital importance to us all: the future of the Church. But first, let me address the past by recounting the following experience….
It was early Sunday morning in 1957, as I left the city where I was attending college, to preach at a small rural church. Studying my directions, I drove west for 30 minutes, south for about an hour, east for nearly fifteen minutes, and then I turned onto a country road…soon I came to a small gravel road, drove over a bridge and there it was…a small white chapel in the woods. Beside the church was a very old cemetery. The little church was less than 100 miles from the city – but it might as well have been a thousand.
There were about fifty people in attendance, as I recall. The hymns and prayers had obviously been sung and said many times before; they seemed almost memorized. Finally it came time for me – a young college student – to bring the message. I had the sense that they had listened many times before as young college students practiced preaching.These were patient, polite people, but unmoved by my enthusiastic attempted to inspire them. They were “endurers of the Word.”
After the morning service I decided on a different approach for the obligatory evening meeting. “Tonight, I would like for us to share testimonies of our salvation or some recent blessing,” I announced. I decided to give an abbreviated account of my own salvation first, since I wasn’t sure that they would respond. After I concluded, I asked, “Now, who will share their testimony with us?”
The silence was awkward and prolonged. Finally, an elderly gentleman with a full head of red hair stood up. “Well I’ve been here for forty years, right here in this same pew. Other people have come and gone, but I’m still here.” Then he sat down. No one else spoke; I assumed that he spoke for the entire congregation.
“That’s a testimony?” I wondered. But as I reconsidered, I realized that it was quite a feat to stay right in that same place for forty years next to the cemetery, where he is now, no doubt, buried.
MOVING AND LEARNING
It’s one thing to stay in the same place physically; but many people also stay in the same place spiritually, and so do many churches. But that is not a testimony to the glory of God. Nor does it accomplish the will of God.
Jesus is the model of theology, message, character, mission, and methodology. While most people would agree that He is the model of theology, message, character, and mission, they reject or ignore His methods. We need to ask ourselves, “Did Jesus know what He was doing? And would He do things the same way if He lived in the 21st Century?” I believe that the answer to both questions is yes.
Luke 6:12-13 tells us that Jesus chose 12 disciples to be with Him – and He also called them apostles. Note the two words: disciple and apostle. The former means “learner” – they learned through relationship…being with Him. Their lives were about moving with Jesus. Later, He sent them out – apostle means “one who is sent forth.” They were called on to reproduce with others what they had learned with Jesus, one-to-one.
CLERGY OR COACH
My early experience taught me that people view preaching as a performance; they see themselves as spectators evaluating the performance. Good preaching is an art that draws crowds of spectators. In recent times, other arts have been added to the preaching performance in order to inspire and entertain.
When I view Jesus’ approach, I see an entirely different method. In fact, I see the contemporary clergy having more in common with the priests of Jesus’ times than with Jesus Himself. They perform religious duties and rituals, preside over church business and staff, visit the sick, counsel, solve problems among members, and struggle to carve out time to study for the preaching performance. They are viewed as professionals, paid to serve their various institutions, and do good works in the outside community.
In addition, they struggle to uphold the moral structure of a society that seems to care less and less about what they do. My description is not intended to be negative or to tear down their dedicated service. However, having been a clergyman for more than 47 years, I believe the assessment to be generally accurate. That is what Christians pay the clergy to do. (I doubt that many ministers are very happy about their duties or the way that they are seen by society.)
The clergyman’s schedule leaves little room for real personal relationships that develop disciples, let alone apostles. Besides, the average pastor is not even sure that he should have close relationships with members of the congregation. And the average church member seems happy to simply be a spectator.
There were three men who had a vital impact upon my youth: My father, my employer, and my high school coach. While I was not a gifted athlete, I was a determined one. “Coach” took a personal interest in his players, both their character and their skills. He developed players and produced winning teams and champions.
I have often compared my methods as a pastor (clergyman), to those of a good coach. Coaches do not measure success by how many people come to the game. They measure success by the development of their players and the games that they win. Good coaches produce good players and win big games.
I recall that when a player failed to make a play, “Coach” would call him aside and “show him the way more perfectly.” Players endured the heat and the cold; we ran laps and wind sprints, we completed grueling exercises, endless repetitions, and scrimmages; we received hard hits and sometimes hard rebukes. Results were measured and players were held accountable. The pay-off was a “well done” from “Coach” and a winning season.
Jesus was more like “Coach” than a typical modern clergyman. He prepared players for the ultimate contest. He taught and rebuked personally; it was life and death. The world was as stake – and still is.
We face serious long-term opposition. The Western Church must awaken to reality. We have been shaken by recent events but not yet awakened. Our opposition comes from the evil one who is throwing dedicated “teams” against us. Radical Islam is killing many of our brothers and sisters around the world. Radical secularism is attacking us on every front. The modern “Education” system dedicated to marginalizing Christian values and highlighting lifestyles odious to God is the factory producing future players who view real believers as fanatics at best.
Perhaps the greatest opposition to God’s purpose is not outside the Church, but our own systemic inability to recognize the need to change our methods. We need to produce players, not just fans. It comes down to coaching.
Three words dominate my own view of the future Church:
Organic – The Church is the living body of Christ. It embodies the abundant life of Jesus Christ (see John 10:10). It is not a meeting; rather, it is those who are connected to the Head, relating to one another, and doing His will on earth. The Church is a community of life – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The life of Christ permeates the totality of our lives, work, play, family – all of it. It is all worship.
Digital – Technology has moved from print, to broadcast, to digital. The digital revolution has given us a new sound, a new photography, new television, and new communication. Digital technology is making many old structures obsolete. Society itself has gone “digital.” It is highly individualistic, allowing people to connect anywhere with almost anyone in the world.
The Church is faced with the challenge to produce individuals who have the “DNA” of Christ in theology, message, character, mission, and methodology. The only way I see that being accomplished is the way Jesus did it. Individual believers need “coaches,” one-to-one.
Flexible – Our current methods are brittle. We produce Christians who function primarily in a friendly environment. The world is no longer friendly. It presents us with formidable challenges to our thinking, believing, and articulating. To produce players who can win the real game, we must train them to be flexible in a variety of environments, using a variety of methods while remaining steadfast in message.
Coaches cannot go on the field – only the players. Coaches will be measured by the players that they produce and the game itself. In Western civilization, and in the Middle East, we are not winning.
Unless we change our view of ministry and get it “out of the box,” we will find ourselves marginalized and isolated from the rest of society and boasting that the best we could do was to stay in the same pew for 40 years. That will not be good enough to meet the challenge. It will not be good enough for our children and it was not good enough for those who paid the price to give us this opportunity. The future is now.
Here at CSM, we have the opportunity to bring inspiration, refreshment, and motivation to Christians and Church leaders in more than 70 nations worldwide. When you support this ministry, you help us to “hold up the arms” of those courageous believers, like you, who are willing to get out of the box and extend the kingdom of God globally…one person at a time.
Please continue to keep us in your prayers and in your giving during February, which is traditionally a lean month financially. We’d love to see that “tradition” broken, because the opportunities are so great. To those who have so faithfully supported us in the past, I thank you sincerely, and I invite everyone to “get in the game” with us this month and throughout 2003 as we seek to strengthen the Church and to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom. God bless you!
Scripture References: Luke 6:12-13; John 10:10