A vitalized church—a church that’s growing by reaching the lost—certainly does things that stagnant churches do not do. It talks differently and it walks differently. Its success at fulfilling the Great Commission comes as a result of obedience, not wishful thinking. After all, “What good is it, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14, NLT).
Prior to change of habit comes a change of heart. If you want to vitalize your church, understanding this change of heart is crucial for you and your congregation.
The Preference-Driven Church
Ask yourself if any of these scenarios sound familiar:
What colour should the new carpet be? “I like blue,” says one. “But I prefer green!” protests another. “I hate carpet. We should have tile,” says a third.
What kind of music should we have this Sunday? “I like music with more energy!” says one. “But I prefer more reflective songs,” protests another. “I hate all of this new music. We should have hymns,” says a third.
What do you think of the preaching? “I like more practical teaching,” says one. “But I prefer more theology,” protests another. “I hate preaching. We should spend more time in prayer,” says a third.
The dominant trait in stagnant churches is that every man, woman and child constantly quarrels over getting the church to match their own personal preferences. Everything from the colour of the carpet to the border on the bulletin board will be fought over so people can get their own way.
What does “successful” pastoral leadership look like in these churches? The ideal pastor is Pastor Goldilocks, a man who can carefully balance all the competing demands of the congregation so that everyone (or at least everyone who is influential) gets their own way at least some of the time. Keeping the peace and protecting the privileges of the influential few are the highest values in the stagnant church.
The me-focused religion of the preference-driven church deeply affects our spiritual lives as well. Oh, we still pray, but if God suddenly answered all of our prayers tonight, the only lives affected would be our own. We still practice healing, but we do it very differently than Christ did. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but if you read the Gospels, you’ll see that Jesus spent most of His time healing outsiders, while we only want healing for ourselves.
Why are all of these preference-driven churches dying? Why doesn’t the it’s-all-about-me church grow? Because God will never bless your church; He will only bless His.
The Purpose-Driven Church
Vitalized churches understand at a real heart level that the purpose of the local church isn’t to satisfy all of their preferences, but to be obedient to the Great Commission. Because of this, all major decisions are made in alignment with the commands of Christ.
What colour should the new carpet be? What colour will be most effective in reaching the lost?
What kind of music should we have this Sunday? What kind of music will be most effective in reaching the lost?
What kind of preaching should we have? What kind of preaching is going to be most effective in reaching the lost?
See the difference? Instead of making decisions to please ourselves, we make decisions to please our Lord. Our purpose—not our preference—becomes our driving force.
What does successful pastoral leadership look like in vitalized churches? Seeing lost people found, and found people taught to obey Christ. The highest value is no longer people pleasing, but doing the job our Lord has commanded us to do. The ideal pastor is one who demonstrates faithfulness by his fruitfulness.
How does this affect our spiritual lives? When we pray, we pray for others. When we heal, we heal the outsider. We have an Acts 1:8 understanding of the spiritual gifts, knowing they were given to us as tools to do the job.
Why does the vitalized church thrive and grow? Because its heart is aligned with the heart of God. As a result, it follows Christ’s command to go and make disciples.
Leading the Change of Heart
How do we get from here to there? How do we lead our people from a selfish preference-driven church to a God-honouring purpose-driven church?
1. It starts in the heart of the pastor. We need to understand the heart of our Lord, who scans the horizon looking for His lost son, who runs to him when he sees him, and who celebrates his return. We need to feel the same way and ask Him to break our hearts until we do.
2. It proceeds through our leaders. In our board meetings, staff meetings, and meetings with our volunteers, we need to teach and connect their hearts to the heart of our Lord. The main thing needs to be the main thing. It needs to dominate our discussions and our decisions, our teaching and our training, and our preaching and our prayers.
3. It ends with our people. Whether it’s from the pulpit, the coffee shop, or the small group living room couch, our people need to know the heart of God. They need to know our purpose as a local church. And they need to be personally challenged to follow Him wherever He leads.
John Albiston is a seasoned pastor with a track record of growing churches. He now works for the Alberta District as an Effectiveness Coach to help withering churches turn into thriving ones. This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Enrich, a leadership magazine of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.