I attended the TRIBE conference this past weekend, hosted by Jeff Goins, and a speaker used an illustration I had heard before. He began with, “What is the the most valuable land in the world?” Several possible answers included the oil rich lands of Saudi Arabia, the gold mines of South Africa, the real estate of NYC, etc. The speaker says, none of these and shows a picture of a graveyard.
His point in showing the graveyard was to demonstrate all the dreams not realized, ideas not brought to fruition, and goals not reached. The illustration works, to a degree, but I don’t see the graveyard as the most “valuable” land in the world, the most valuable land is the land in the world is where a church has been planted.
As a youth pastor and associate pastor for 30 years, I cannot calculate the amount of waste I’ve seen the church commit. I have seen money spent on land that was never used, I have heard messages that did nothing to inspire or motivate people to live for Christ and I have witnessed the greatest waste of all, people. The church has been the greatest waste of human potential I have ever seen.
I have seen the selfishness of leadership hold people back because they were unwilling to let go of or share their authority and empower others. These churches, like many others, have squandered their true wealth on building prettier buildings rather than building up the body of Christ to unleash their God given abilities to build the Kingdom of God. What a waste.
I’ve seen this waste throughout the church from senior ministry to children’s ministry with all ministries in-between. Yes, Youth Pastor, I am taking to you too. Pastors, it’s time to stop patting yourself on the back for a great service while you congregation lays underdeveloped. By ignoring the potential of your people, you are leaving money, progress, and most importantly souls on the table.
How can you reverse the decline of the church? It’s not easy, but it’s necessary if you want your church to move forward and your people to experience what Christ wants to do through them and in them.
Make Biblical Disciples
Attendance, tithing, etc are not what disciples do. Disciples are released to do God’s will. Jesus sent out the 72 and empowered them to do ministry. Why is this such a hard concept? Because most Pastor’s don’t want to give up the throne of leadership and authority nor the comfort of their position.
In my book The Disciple Project: Stop The Meeting Start The Movement, And Raise Up The Next Generation of Doers, I share five biblical characteristics of a disciple and one of those characteristics is:
Love manifested though sacrifice – John 13:35, John 3:16
The church of today has lost it’s ability to love sacrificially. It has become survival over sacrifice. I like this quote from Bill Hybel’s book, Descending Into Greatness. He writes:
“In the vocabulary of our world “DOWN” is a word reserved for losers, cowards, and the bear market. It is a word to be avoided or ignored….it is a word that negatively colors whatever it touches. We say: DOWN and out, DOWNfall, DOWNscale, DOWNhearted and worst of all, DOWN under. And down’s antonym is ‘UP’ — a word in our high-voltage society that has come to be cherished and worshiped….a word reserved to describe winners and heroes.”
Jesus said told his disciples, “If you want to be the greatest, be the servant of all” Matthew 20:26
It’s time for the church to descend into greatness once again. It’s time we got back to making disciples and stop patting people on the head for simply attending church.
Let The People Lead
Every class, ever message and every event is designed with giving away the ministry in some capacity. John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and He must increase”. This is true for a own growth in Christ and it is true for the growth of God’s church. I want to see Pastor give away what God has given to them, freely and not as an appeasement.
I want to see different faces, different voices and different gifts at work in the church rather than fixed figure heads which are supposed to represent Christ to the church. As the church, we all represent Christ, why doesn’t the church look like a cornucopia of Christ gifts? I believe it goes back to the fear of losing power. In God’s kingdom though, losing is winning
When I gave up my position as youth pastor, I gave it up so I and the youth ministry could both win. I’m no saint, I left to try and fulfill my dreams, but I also what the youth ministry to fulfill their potential and I believed, right or wrong, that my leadership was not going to get them there, so I left. Since leaving, I have heard great things and a jump in adult and student participation in the youth ministry and for that I am deeply joyful because I love God’s church and I want it to succeed, whether I am the leader or not.
Equip, Empower, Unleash, Repeat
“We don’t have enough leaders” and “We don’t have enough teacher” Is all I ever heard. When I would suggest we have a Sunday school training or a leader training, you would have thought I suggested we sacrifice a goat to the devil.
Equipping is training people in the necessary skills to do a task. I can’t tell you how many times I’v heard, “so and so is out, who’s going to run sound?” Well, why aren’t we equipping anyone who wants to learn how to do sound lights, the computer, etc? Because, someone currently running the sound, lights, and computer, does it and would have their feelings hurt if anyone else did it. One person is keeping 10 others from being equipped.
Empowering is about believing in others. Empowering is about backing people with confidence, even if they mess up. Empowering is about encouraging and reminding people about the bigger mission. Empowering is about saying, we’re in this together.
Unleashing is about taking our hands off the bike. Do you remember helping your kids or someone else’s kids ride a bike? At some point, you let go of the bike and let them figure it out. They might crash or they might soar, either way you have to let go to find out which they will do.
The Apostle Paul had the best idea for setting up the growth of the church,
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16
When each part is working properly, they make the body grow into something loving and life giving.
Churches who do not train, equip, and unleash their congregation to do great things are dead or dying. Sadly, the dying churches are praying for “miracles’ rather than doing the hard work of challenging their people and creating opportunities to lead and serve. Saying things like “It’s too hard”. “It costs too much” and “It’s a waste of time” are the sound of a shovel digging the grave deeper.
It is the church that is the great waste of people potential I have ever seen and experienced. We have the great message on earth and we throwing it away to bad leadership, selfish motives, loose cannons and uninspired keepers of the status quo.
How can the church make a difference in the community? It can quit wasting time, talent and resources on stuff that does not matter and unleash the potential of it’s people to do what God made them to do and what you equip, empower and unleash them to do.
The speaker was not far off when he said the most valuable land was the graveyard, since many churches have graveyards on their property, it will only be a short distance to bury the potential they once had.