Have you ever noticed that sometimes the church can make itself really complicated? Think about it, we have a tendency to create all sorts of programs. We make funnels to push people through. And we take on all sorts of projects and tasks that sometimes have a pretty low return on the investment. We create ministries that duplicate the efforts of other ministries we’re already doing. If we’re not careful, we create a complicated mess.
But get this: The call of Christians and the work of the Church isn’t actually all that complex. I just think that somewhere along the way, we have let the mission get drown out but a lot of other good things, and a few bad things.
With good intentions, the Church has taken the mission and tried to work it out in ways that don’t make a lot of sense. In our attempt to reach people, we water down the message. And in an attempt to keep people, we wander into the territory of people pleasing. In so many of our churches, we accidentally foster environments where people come to consume something that satiates them for a few minutes. Then, they return to their ordinary lives unchanged.
And, as leaders, we fall into a cycle of just working to get through the weekend while wondering if the work we’re doing really matters.
I believe it’s precisely because you value the message of the Gospel that you might find yourself in a situation similar to this. It’s because you want people come to and enjoy Church. But, inadvertently, in a desire to draw people in, you may have lost sight of the very clear calling that Jesus has given His people:
Okay, that seems a little less complicated. Doesn’t it?
Instead of falling into a trap of pleasing, placating or pandering, my prayer for you is that you’ll step boldly into a path of leading. Leading people to do the things Jesus desires. Let me remind you, its His Church. He promised in His word that He would build it. And the harvest is His. So, pray that He’ll send workers into the field. Be one of those workers, but recognize He’s the Lord of it all. If you believe the church (or organization, or community, etc.) that you lead is yours, you find that it will be unhealthy. Every time. However, when you recognize that you just get to invite people to join you in following Jesus, and get good at sticking to that, it will make a world of difference because you’ll be clear on the mission. And the people around you will be too.
I get it. You still have an organization to lead. There has to be structure to how you invite people to grow. There are funds to manage, needs to meet and a million other things. Yes, yes, yes. But, at the core. It’s still all about responding to the Love of God by loving Him, love your neighbor and making disciples.
In order to strip away the complexity of ministry and get back to the heart of it. I want to share a few ideas that might be helpful.
Unity Around The Mission Will Require Unity In The Spirit.
Have you ever noticed how many places in scripture the Spirit is referenced in tandem with unity within the Church? I’ll give you a clue. It’s a lot.
For example, consider Ephesians 4:1-6. Paul speaks of the “unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. Then he goes on to highlight that each member is part of one body. In other words, he is highlighting that the Spirit of Christ unifies the Body of Christ.
Here’s another one. Think of John 17:20-26. In this passage, Jesus is praying for His disciples. Specifically, His disciples throughout all of time, not only the 12 He had at that time. Jesus is praying that in the same way He and the Father are one, the Church would be one. Through that unity, He is revealed. Have you ever stopped to think about that image? The Father and Son are two of the members of the Trinity. They are different persons. But they are one God. That’s unity. And that’s what we are called to.
That kind of unity is made possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And we all know that the Spirit produces fruit which is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These qualities are what enable us, as the Church, to be united.
When we fail to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, we cannot live in the unity that we’re called to. Without the Spirit producing His fruit in our lives, we’re bound in selfishness, malice, greed, bitterness, immorality, lack of control. Maybe that also sound familiar. But, it’s evident throughout all of scripture that the people of God are meant to live in unity. And that unity is only made possible when people surrender and submit to the Holy Spirit.
What We’re Lacking
If you think back with me to the three things that we, the Church are called it it is simple enough. However, you would think if it was all that simple, the Church would be known for loving God, loving our neighbors and making disciples.
If your church is known for these things, then, praise the Lord! But, let’s be honest, most churches are not. Sure, we might be good at making quilts, running cereal drives, doing Christmas skits. But, are we accomplishing what we’re called to do? If we’re truthful, the answer is probably ‘no’. We pour ourselves into things that make us feel good about us, and into things that are easier to accomplish or measure. As a result, we spend a lot of time and energy on things that don’t accomplish the mission that we’re called to.
What’s preventing us from doing what we’re called to?
Many of our churches have come up with great mission statements. And sure, on paper, they might be something reflective of the call of Christ for His church. But, mission can get really foggy when it goes from paper to practice. We lose sight of how our specific local church expresses and carries out the overall mission of the Church.
I get it, as leaders, it can be really challenging to keep an organization in line with what the mission is. Especially when the organization you lead is primarily carried out by volunteers. When church people have ideas (which we all know they have plenty of), it can be challenging to turn down the ones that don’t fit the mission. Additionally, when church people get offended, it can be easy to fall into a trap of sacrificing the mission in order to placate people. After all, they’re not only the ones who do the work, they’re the ones who fund it.
These things, and so many others, cause mission to fall by the wayside.
Here are three antidotes to losing track of the mission: over communicate, say no and trust God.
People have incredibly short memories and are so easily distracted. (Think of the illustrations in scripture that compare us to sheep… not the smartest critter.) Over time, mission gets lost in the noise of so many other ‘important’ things. As a leader, however, you’ve got to make it a priority to battle that.
Your number one tool for battling the mission distraction in your church is to communicate. Way more than you think you should.
So, while we all know the mission of the Church. You’ll have to get really clear on how your local expression best carries out the mission of the Church. Knowing the context in which you lead, and the unique season that you lead in, you’ll need to figure out how you’re church is best suited to carry out the mission of the Church. It’s absolutely crucial that you know so that you can communicate it to everyone else.
When you’re really clear on the mission of the global Church and your local church, the more the people around you will recognize that it’s not just something on paper, but it’s a guide that the community lives by. When they repeatedly hear and see the expression of loving God, loving your neighbor and making disciples, they can see how they fit the mission and are less apt to either make their own sub-mission or try to commandeer the church’s mission.
Say It Until You’re Sick Of It
You’ve heard “without vision, people parish”…. well without mission, they get crazy! Lack of mission opens the door for disunity. But with clear and audacious mission, people get invigorated, inspired, they know where they fit and become unified around the goal of collectively carrying out the mission.
Every time you open your mouth, you should be tying what you say into the mission. Announcement time in church? Share how those things fit in the mission. And if they don’t, you probably shouldn’t be doing them, but more on that in a minute. Preaching a sermon? How does that sermon enable your specific church to carry out the mission? Leading a board meeting? Make sure the conversation is propelling you toward the mission.
You will eliminate a lot of noise by over communicating the mission. If you fail to do this, it will get drown out. So, make yourself sick of talking about the mission. And then talk about it some more!
Say ‘No’ Like There’s No Tomorrow
You need to constantly reiterate the ‘why’. The mission is the motivation. And if what you’re doing doesn’t move the church toward the mission, let it go.
This can be so hard, especially in the local church. Well-intended people will have a million and one things they want to contribute. But, there is a difference between a member of the Church carrying out an idea and the Church carrying out an idea. As the leader, you can celebrate the vision and ideas given to members of the church without adopting it as a ministry of the Church. If it doesn’t fit with the mission you’re going after, bless them, celebrate them, but for the sake of the mission, say ‘no’ to making it a ministry of the church.
In Ephesians, Paul makes it clear that the leadership of the Church is to equip the body to do the work. So, if a congregant has an idea, equip them to do it. But, if it doesn’t fit with the mission of the church, don’t let it be carried out by the church.
You’ll have to get really good at saying ‘no’. Really. You’ll have to say it a lot in ministry. And frankly, that will turn some people off. They’ll get their feelings hurt. And they might leave.
But, you’ll get better at saying it. And each time you do, you’ll remember the mission. And you’ll remind your people of the mission. There will be learning moments for you and for the people you lead. And over time, the right people to carry the mission forward will stay and the ones who fit a different mission will move on.
As people come and go, and as programs and ministries that distract from the mission go, you will learn to trust like you never have. You’ll trust God because you’ll begin to recognize it’s not actually the people that fund the ministry, it’s God through His people. And you’ll trust God because it’s not even just the people who do the ministry. It’s the Spirit of God through them.
Remember, Jesus said it was His Church and He would build it. Your job is to invite people into the mission and to live faithfully and obediently as God calls. Again and again, you’ll need to trust God because He’s the one who builds, funds, provides for His church.
My friend, let me also remind you of this. He is worthy of your trust. In the midst of chaos, confusion, distraction. Fix your eyes on Him. He will lead you and guide you in all wisdom. He will give you strength to continue to follow Him and call people to join you. Tune your ear to His steady voice and it will be worth listening to Him above all else.
This might ruffle some feathers. But, could it be that we are not doing all that well at carrying out the mission of God because we lack unity?
Think of the gossip between church members or the many churches that split over small squabbles. Think of the jabs that come from certain ‘leaders’ in the church toward others over theological disagreements. Additionally, think of the denominational fighting and disagreements.
Are we unified? Do we operate as one body? The answer is no.
My friend. We’ve got to commit ourselves afresh to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth. Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another”
So much of this, I believe, goes back to poor discipleship in the church. We settle for people making some profession of faith and joining a community group. These are two easy metrics we can count. But do they really measure if we’re carrying out the work of the Church? No. Sure, they make us feel good. But truly making disciples means we do the difficult and messy work of helping to shape their habits, thoughts, intentions. When we teach people how to follow Jesus, their lives will reflect the fruit of the Spirit and unity will be built up in the body.
Choose Unity Through Love
Love is so much more than emotion. It is a decision and a life that is taught, trained and caught through discipleship. If we’re going to take the call of Christ seriously to love God, love our neighbor and make disciples… we actually have to love. We have to be bound together by true, biblical, sacrificial love. This displays Christ and points all people to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of maliceEphesians 4:29-31
Notice the instruction to take command over your words and behaviors. In a world that tells us we’re merely victim of our emotions and circumstances, scripture instructs us to train our hearts, minds, tongues. This is discipleship. To bring greater unity to the church, we must disciple people in the behaviors and ways of love. Teaching people to love as they have been loved makes way for unity in the body. It also prepares the way for people to be sent out on mission.
Paul saw plenty of quarrels, scandals and failures in the church. There were plenty of people who were too busy fighting with each other to carry out the mission of God. But he never lost sight of the invisible reality that he called the Church toward; unity in Christ through the Spirit. This edifies the church and draws non-believers to God.
Simply put, a unified church displays the beauty, goodness and glory of God to a world that looks on. A unified church creates an open door for the Spirit of God to move in and through the Body. Conversely, a church that is not unified turns people away and closes the door to the Spirit moving.
Only when the Church is united under the leadership of the Spirit, is she is able to carry out the mission of Christ.
I’m reminded of the early church gathered in the book of Acts.
It was the church’s willingness to surrender to the Spirit that empowered them to carry out the mission. Without the activity and presence of the Holy Spirit, nothing will happen. You can labor all you want on your own, and you’ll continuously come up short.
Conversely, when the Church learns to wait on and surrender to the Holy Spirit, God will accomplish all that He sets out to do. And we will get to join Him in that work.
Letting Go and Finding Life
For some, the idea of surrendering to the Holy Spirit might sound scary. But, it is beautiful, freeing, empowering. And friend, it is what you and I are invited to as followers of Jesus.
Think again of Jesus’s prayer that we would abide in Him as He abides in the Father. We’re drawn into this divine relationship through surrender to the Spirit. The Church is empowered to do greater things than Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You and I are united in one accord through the Spirit. We carry out the mission of the Church through the Spirit. And we are conformed into the image of Christ through the Spirit.
Now the Lord is the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, seeing the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord.1 Corinthians 3:17-18
You Need Him and The People You Lead Need Him
If you are aiming to do ministry without surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s leadership, you’ll burn yourself out in a hurry. Your results will be limited. And you’ll end up being far, far off mission.
However, if you want to lead and be a part of a powerful move of God, you have to actually follow God. This comes through following His word in scripture. Yes. And it also comes through following His spirit who teaches us how to live out the call of scripture in our daily life.
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God has called His people to a few things. Love God. Love your neighbor. Make disciples. It might sound easy, but we can so easily get off track. We get distracted by so many things. We fight with each other, listen to other voices, forget the things that God has asked of us and we try to do it all on our own. As a leader, your challenge is to follow Jesus with your whole heart through the leading of the Holy Spirit. The more you fix your eyes on Him, and tune your ear to His voice, then the more you’ll be able to communicate the mission to your people, to say no to distractions and to call people deeper into following you as you follow Jesus.
I’d love to hear from you. What is the biggest distraction in your ministry? And how to you catalyze your people to carry out the mission of God?