As we contemplate how to apply Biblical church to our existing churches, we can’t be satisfied with the status quo. We can’t just keep doing it the way we have the past few decades and expect anything to change. Churches are dying, pastors and other church leaders are calling it quits, and Christian values are often ignored and sometimes mocked. Christianity seems to be in decline in the US and it is time that we, the people of God, seek Him and seek the Scriptures to find out what has gone wrong. We are out of alignment with the revealed Word of God when it comes to how we do church and we need to repent and get back in alignment with the instructions and patterns for church in the New Testament.
One area in which this is most needed is in leadership development. Take, for example, a young man named George. George grew up in church, married a cute young lady he met in the church youth group, and felt called to serve God. So he went to his pastor and told him what he was feeling and his pastor told him that he should go to college and then seminary and then maybe he would be ready to serve in the ministry. So George went off to college, but along the way the young couple started having children and financial realities kept George from ever making it to seminary. He still went to church faithfully, though, and even taught Sunday school or helped with youth nights when needed. By the time he reached his mid-life crisis he was bored with Christianity and left the church and began looking into Eastern religions for fulfillment.
Another young man in George’s church, whose name was Fred, did make it to seminary after getting a liberal arts degree. He went because everyone thought he was funny and public speaking came easy for him. It seemed like an easy job with decent pay and a position in the community. So he breezed through seminary, submitted his application to his denomination, and was appointed pastor at a congregation that liked his jokes and his ministry skills. Sadly, though, he only lasted a few years in the ministry as seminary hadn’t prepared him for the rigors of leading a church. His character flaws became earthquakes that shook the whole church, doing much damage and destroying his marriage.
Another friend of George’s, a young woman named Susan who was a friend of his wife, also felt called into the ministry but wasn’t sure that seven years of college and seminary was for her. So she went to do an internship at a large church in a distant city. The church provided a host family and a mentor for her to study with while she put in many hours teaching children and organizing church events. After a couple of years she became quite proficient in teaching Sunday school and was amazing when it came to organizing events. But she felt tired and burned out and even a bit used and abused as she had given two years of her life and had nothing to show for it. So she decided that church ministry was not for her and she became an administrative assistant at a law firm and attended church when she had time.
As the years went by, these same patterns repeated themselves time and again. Time after time people felt called to serve God but each time they were told to go to seminary or teach Sunday school. The pastor didn’t have time to mentor anyone and the thought that the local church could raise up and train its own leaders didn’t even enter his mind. Neither did other ideas like empowering people to lead Bible studies, prayer groups, or fellowship groups in their own neighborhoods. Neither did the idea of challenging people to lead people to Christ or make disciples in their own workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. The pastor didn’t think about any of these things because that wasn’t the way it was done. His job was to preach every Sunday and Wednesday and the people’s job was to come and listen and help with childcare, meals, or maintenance.
After a few decades the pastor began to tire but he wasn’t old enough to retire. And of course his only schooling and training were related to church ministry so he didn’t really have any options except for continuing on the best he could. So, even though he was physically exhausted, mentally spent, and spiritually bankrupt, he put a smile on his face and kept preaching sermons as if nothing were wrong. The church began to decline; his personality didn’t draw people in any longer, and he was too tired to go after the members who quit coming. After a few years of church decline and feeling like a failure, the pastor had a stroke. He survived and recovered, but his preaching days were over and he was glad to stay home and live on his disability check.
Meanwhile the church went through a series of interim pastors who were brought in from neighboring communities and cities. It seemed like the young people weren’t being called by the Lord into ministry anymore. There were more struggling churches than there were young people graduating from seminary. And the elders in the church – those who had been following Christ for decades and had proven character and years of wisdom – they weren’t seminary-trained so they couldn’t step in and preach or teach even though they had the time and desire to do it.
So, long story short, the church struggled along until they couldn’t keep up with the bills for building maintenance, let alone a salary for a pastor. Some people passed away, others simply quit showing up, and the remnant was left with the difficult task of selling off the church building and furniture and mailing a check in to the denominational officials.
As sad as this story is, it happens nearly every day in America. Churches are closing their doors and church leaders are quitting without ever stopping to think about how we do church and how we raise up leaders. We ignore the Scriptures about the Body of Christ and each member doing its part. We talk about the priesthood of all believers but then we turn around and make a select few be responsible for our relationship with God and make them do all the teaching, preaching, counseling, leading, evangelizing, discipling, praying, etc.
And when it comes time to raise up leaders, we ignore the ones that God has risen up in our midst. Those who God seems to be calling we send off to get trained somewhere else. Then we look high and low for an already-trained person that we don’t know to come and lead our church. We ignore the qualifications for leadership that are in the New Testament (leaders should be known for their godliness and good character) and instead look for someone we don’t even know but has the ability to entertain us and hopefully draw a crowd.
It is time for the Body of Christ to get back to the basics of bringing people to salvation in Christ Jesus and then challenging them to give their lives in service to Him. It’s time that we begin challenging people to live for Jesus and teach them how to pray, teach, and evangelize. It’s time that we empower people to share the Good News and teach the Bible and make disciples among their own families, friends, and acquaintances.
In short, we must quit putting on Sunday morning performances and start having meetings where people participate and receive training rather than just head knowledge. We need to raise up leaders in our churches who aren’t entertainers but are instead people we know and trust -- people who are able to teach and able to take the things they have learned and then impart them to others.
Questions for Contemplation and Discussion: 1) How does your church recognize new leaders? 2) How does your church train and empower new leaders? 3) Does your church have more leaders than it needs or less leaders than it needs? Is your church raising up leaders and sending them off to start new churches or bless existing churches or are other churches sending leaders to your church? Why is it happening that way?
Let’s Pray Together: Lord Jesus, You are the Lord of the church and in Ephesians Chapter 4 it says that You give gifts of apostles, pastors, teachers, shepherds, and evangelists to your Body so that the whole Body can do its work with each one doing its part. Help us, Lord, to recognize who you are raising up to be leaders and then empower them to serve You and Your Body and the community around us. Be with these leaders and potential leaders as I lift them before You now….(continue praying as you feel led...) Scriptures to Study: Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 12. Romans 12:4-8, 1 Timothy 3:1-10, Titus 1:5-9,