Continuing the FIEC address:
Now here is the thing: you are going to begin leading with a biblical understanding of the church, a biblical understanding of its mission, a passion for releasing and resourcing the ministry of all the saints so that God gets glorified and the great commission gets fulfilled.
And you may or may not find that everyone wants you to do that. You may find historic leadership structures and boundaries that prevent you from doing that. You may discover that people have a long attachment to particular activities that ceased to serve that purpose a long time ago but have become their comfort blanket. You will certainly come to find people with a whole lot of expectations – good or bad – set by what the last guy did. If a congregation has been poorly taught for a long time you may even get people assuming that correct gospel teaching is suspect because they have never heard it. You will certainly get people who assume that you will fill – and can fill – every hole that was left by the last person. After all that is their only recent experience by which to evaluate your job. You will find people who think they are faithfully serving God because they are on a committee. Committees which were set up to serve and facilitate a ministry need at a particular time have a nasty habit of living on after the need has changed so that people think that the ministry is sitting on the committee.
When I was London team leader for UCCF one person too many in my church very kindly asked if I thought would be in ministry one day. I went to the pastor saying “nobody understands what I do.” He replied “I have only one question for you: why on earth do you think they should? They don’t do it, they only see limited parts of it, of course they don’t understand, just get over yourself.”
Of course the added emotional difficulty is that no professional in your church will assume that you ought to be able to tell them how to do their job. But everyone has a view on how you should do yours.
We lead for the sake of the Lord in a complex environment. Humanly speaking a voluntary association. And we are trying to bring vision, construct structures and train leaders to make sure that happens in a growing way. The major complexity is people. It would be so easy if there weren’t any or if they all agreed with you. Or if they were all pleasant.
It’s the presence of people that means that leading to the glory of God is not an exercise in just stating and working out our biblical ideals. There are always practical needs that arise to fill our horizons and our time. There are conflicts needing resolution where the need is not so much for the imposition of a biblical ideal as for wisdom in the moment. People die, people fall out, people decide that they aren’t going to show up if you change anything. In other words its messy. I have seen ministers who assumed that the answer to messiness was to simply insist on their understanding of biblical ideals. New into the church they told people get in line or get out, and emptied churches of lots of godly people.
Beyond doubt you will find a whole mixture of faith filled old folk and faith filled young folk, and faithless older folk and faithless younger folk. With lots of vested interest in getting you on their side.
The challenge is to help people see what needs to be set in stone – biblical gospel principle and the extension of the kingdom – and what needs to be as flexible as possible to produce structures that meet current need.
The thing that causes people to get attached to structures and activities past their sell by date, is being unclear about the purpose and identity of the church and being unclear about their part in it. When they fail to see that the reason for doing this or that is the glory of God and the extension of the kingdom, when they fail to see that their service flows out of loving and furthering God’s glory, then structure rather than biblical vision is at the centre.
And so I want to say steel yourself for long, sustained gentle pressure in the same direction of putting biblical understanding of the church and its mission, and a biblical passion for the glory of God, at the heart of the life of the church.