I'm blessed to be able to pastor our church in Perry and even more blessed to be working with the individuals that I get to work with. Not everyone was able to come on the retreat due to work complications and other situations, but for those who were able to come, I've enjoyed the time spent together. We're family; brothers and sisters, and together there's nothing that can't be accomplished.
Leading into this retreat, God really has been dealing with me about me, about our church, about real ministry, about the definition of success and influence among other things. This past Sunday, Billie and I celebrated five years of pastoral work in Perry and what a great five years it has been. Most statistical books I've read, not to mention the expert advice I've received from other pastors who have "been there, done that," suggest that it takes a good four to usually five years for a pastor to establish a foundation on which a church can grow. During that period, there exists a lot of growing, trying new things, saying hello to new people and goodbye to others. It's all part of the settling process. It's all part of the process of carving out the visionary niche that God placed inside the pastor to create as the visionary for the church and community. After five years, we established this week that without a doubt, a foundation has been established. Facility wise, we are able to meet the needs of our current church with room for small amounts of growth. Financial wise, it's taken five years, but we've finally arrived at a point where we've been able to pay off our projects and refinance efforts to create the room needed to no longer have to worry from month to month about paying bills or writing checks. Identity wise, we are known in our community and have a good reputation in the community. Lastly, we have a solid core of people who are going to support the church in good and bad times. The church then is set up to go somewhere, to be something, to fully pursue and experience the blessings of God and to accomplish His visions and plans for us. But as the saying goes, doing something over and over again and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. To be frank, to continue forward as a church in much the same way we have for the last 5 years will prove to be "insanity" if we desire to go beyond the levels we've reached over the last few years.
That being said, we're moving forward. It won't be overnight mind you, but nevertheless, we're moving forward. Pouring a foundation and then spending wasted amounts of time staring at it, talking about it, and occasionally walking on it, only serves as a waste for a foundation. We must build on what God has started. We must become aware of our strengths and most certainly, our weaknesses. We must take a good look at areas of need and work to make a difference in the Millennial Generation (those born 1980 or thereabouts until 2000) and the yet to be named generation of those born in or around 2000. Present stats suggest that maybe 4% of the Millennial Generation are involved in church and we're on pace to see only 2% of the next generation in church. Plain and simple, we don't have anyone to pass the baton to as a whole. The solution must start at the grassroots. The solution must start in your community and mine. One solution will start in Perry at Free Point.
We will seek to operate with a new Biblical mentality. A mentality that says, "I'm here to serve, not be served." Ephesians 5 lets us know that we are to be equipping saints for ministry, not enabling church attendees to do nothing. If I must be honest, a small group of individuals in most churches, including Free Point over the last five years, tends to do everything. Individuals find themselves having to volunteer to lead or oversee four or five ministries in churches just to make sure things operate. This leads to burnout, anger, and falling out with God, the church, family, or all three. The New Testament church of Acts became a living organism that learned to recognize ministry and needs and sought to fill it themselves rather than ask someone else to do it for them.
The mentality shift may be best described as changing from a triangular, hierarchy approach to leadership to a circular, nucleus approach of leadership. Typically, a pastor is put at the top of the pyramid and receives all the credit when a church does great things and of course all the blame when it doesn't. Underneath that "pinnacle" are the individuals who are known as leaders who are charged with doing almost all the work for the spectators who come out and watch the work taking place on the pyramid. Those not on the pyramid have free range to throw shots at the pyramid workers all the while holding nothing but the sand down under their proverbial feet. This isn't the Biblical model. When the Apostles were faced with an issue of ministry needing to be done in Acts 6, Peter and John didn't add another hat to their repertoire. Instead they told the individuals who brought the concerns to them to help pick out individuals who would serve and the Apostles would bless their choices to go forward. Too many of our leaders and workers in our churches are being asked to wear multiple hats for fear that if they don't the church will suffer. The truth is the church suffers when her leaders become burnt out, overstretched, and misused. It's time for a new approach.
The circular approach finds the pastor and his/her leadership in the middle of the process, overseeing the overall vision of the church or movement. The church grows as the leadership is able to connect with the parishioners to push the circle outward rather than focus on the inward workings of the pyramid model. As the leadership of said church begins to invest in the parishioners, push the vision in all aspects of ministry, vision, and service, encourage participation and proactively plug in parishioners into the main arms of the church, teams begin to develop of individuals who seek to serve and not be served. A circle can continue to expand without ever losing its inner strength unlike a pyramid.
That being said, we will seek to develop teams of servers who will fill the ministry roles and needs inside and outside the church and where there are no individuals with a desire to serve, there will cease to be a ministry. The church doesn't need another program, rah-rah speech, or "blow in, blow out" revival. The church needs change. We need a new mindset, not a pick me up. We must recognize that ministry cannot be forced and the "Field of Dreams" approach of "If you build it, they will come," has proven itself time and time again to not be accurate. Christ died for the church. He's never asked His people to do the same. We live our lives for Him, not a church or a group of people. And should our stand cost us the life of a martyr, let it be understood that death came as a "drink offering" as Paul said unto God, not a sacrifice to the church. Too often we've allowed guilt to lead us to over-volunteer and overstretch ourselves, when in reality, the Lord has never motivated anyone with guilt. It's love that should motivate us to act and when we understand works has no basis of increasing God's love for us, we begin to uncover the fallacy that somehow Christ is impressed by us killing ourselves for the church all the while failing to equip and failing to take care of the main things at home and in personal discipleship.
A few other things that we will be moving towards is establishing Small Group Discipleship as the main DNA of the church. That is to say, Small Group Discipleship will not be a program of the church. It will BE the church. It will consist of both home groups and Sunday School classes. These groups produce discipleship, offer evangelistic possibilities, and promote relationship and intimacy in the body of Christ. We will be relegating many efforts into the Small Group category for enrichment and growth. Ultimately, we're called to make disciples, and we must and will.
We must seek to blend ourselves and stretch ourselves to accomplish what God has laid out before us. Building projects await. Community ministry and projects are on the cusp. God will make a way when His church is prepared to act. A church only looking inward at its own needs and a people only desiring to be served themselves positions themselves completely outside the spectrum of preparation and heartfelt ability to accomplish the greater things of Christ. His example was to serve and to lay down His own interests and desires for the sake of the overall will of the Father. Thus, the church, who has been washed in the Son's blood, filled with His Spirit, and commissioned and empowered for ministry, must follow the lead of the One who is leading us home.
It starts now for Free Point. Things will be different in many ways. Things will be the same in many ways. We will always protect our heritage for a people who forgets their past find themselves doomed to repeat it in the future. However, we also must embrace a new mentality of service and ministry. We must embrace the philosophy that a church consists of saved individuals seeking to serve one another and in particular, their community and the lost. We must explore ways to reverse the downward percentages that guarantee us that despite our services and plans, we won't have an inheritance to pass down. We must embrace teamwork absent titles. We must embrace the philosophy of seeing a need and then meeting the need ourselves. It's my belief that as we do this, we will position ourselves to see the amazing prophecies fulfilled of a new sanctuary for Free Point and the fulfillment of the other projects that have been discussed in past days and those which have been pondered as the preparation goes forward and the kingdom marches forward.
2013 is going to be a big year for Free Point. I don't know in what way it will be big, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it will be big. It will be the beginning of something great. In the world's eyes, in a denomination's eyes, Free Point can hang its hat on the success rack. Growing to a church of 150 and bouncing around that number plus or minus over a five year period after starting with seven is amazing. Building the buildings, refurbishing, remodeling, reestablishing all that has been done has been a God thing. Numerically, the church can be respected in the community and in our denomination's state numbers. But this isn't all. We must become unsatisfied with the "success" of man and understand that true success is found in complete and utter obedience to the will and plan of God. To change nothing is to maintain the level of achievement that Free Point has seen for five years for another five years. That level of achievement may seem great and may produce accolades for a time, but we must ask ourselves, "who are we trying to get attention from?" To step out on the waves is to chance sinking when the winds blow and the waves become scary, but it is also the key to obedience as even sinking proves greater faith than sitting in a boat of contrived comfort and satisfaction. Human fear says to not mess up a good thing, but the Spirit within me and the call of the Word causes me to question the "good" thing and yearn for the "great" and "right" thing.
More information is coming for sure, but Free Point, get ready. It's time to move forward. It's time to embrace the example of Christ and the example of the early church. It's time to be the hands and feet of Christ to a lost world searching for hope, answers, and freedom. It's time and it's coming . . .