11 December 2009

Leadership Fridays: Why We Prefer Church-Building

Yesterday I sat in a room of repentant pastors. We were discussing how we needed to make personal discipleship a priority in our own lives and the life of our churches. It was a humbling realization for all of us. We had considered ourselves sold out to the Great Commission and, yet, in reality, we all felt like we were too busy to see it happen in our own lives. What we discovered was that we had let ourselves become too busy.

After some discussion, it became apparent that each of us had been giving a similar portion of our lives to face-to-face, 2 Timothy 2:2 involvement in our churches. What was remarkable was that each of us came from very different circumstances. For some, administration (finances, facilities, etc) had consumed their time. Others lost time to the events and workings of a multi-staff church. Regardless of our circumstances we were all spending approximately the same amount of time making disciples. This betrayed problems deeper than staff, budget or congregation size. More or less of these things would not help us change. We needed to repent. We chose these priorities and we needed to choose new ones.

Last Friday's Leadership post was dedicated to the difference between making disciples and building churches. Simply stated: "Jesus takes responsibility for building the church and he does not delegate it. What he does delegate is the job of making disciples."

So why do we focus on church building?

1) Church building is less messy.
Disciple making involves sinners. It is a process that takes a railroad grade from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. Along the way mistakes will be made, hard words will be spoken, jealousy and defensiveness will get in the way and misunderstandings will be many. This racks our insecurities and tests our patience. It is a lot easier to develop a sermon outline or an org chart alone with a Caribou Coffee and my favorite playlist. It's easier to plan a small group discussion than it is to open your life over breakfast and the bible.

2) Church building can look more glorious.
Tim Keller once said that America is the most meritorious culture that has ever existed. Here our value is a function of what we build. Pastors size each other by the size of their churches. Small group leaders are valued for their multiplications. Our lack of gospel-identity drives us to build structure that validates our ministry, but Jesus will not share his glory as the head and builder of the church.

3) Church building seems manageable.
I can make flow charts. I can fill calendars. They don't require me to live a life worthy of the gospel. They don't sin. One of the satisfying things about being an engineer was the tangible product at the end of the day. I like that. Making disciples is a process that never sees the finish line and much of it is outside my control.

4) Church building appeals to our religious side.
There is a little bit of the first three in this one. If we build it, they should come and God should bring them. In our religious mind, our hard work, solid planning and good intentions obligate God to respond with a validating blessing. In this system we stay in control and get the glory. It's a dangerous and effective temptation.

Man-made structures glorify man. Lives changed by the work of God's Spirit to apply God's word among God's people glorify God.

Upcoming "Leadership Fridays":
12/18 - "The downstream effects of church building"
1/1/10 - "The downstream effects of disciple making"
1/8/10 - "How we change from church building to disciple making"

Additional Resources
"The Trellis and The Vine" - by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
"What Col and Tony have described here is exactly what I've been trying to do in my own life and in our congregation for years. According to this book, Christians are to be disciple-making disciples and pastors are to be trainers. Superb! This book sets out a crucial shift that is needed in the mindset of many pastors. The authors have carefully listened to the Bible. And they've worked on this book. The result is a book that is well-written and well-illustrated, but even more, a book that is full of biblical wisdom and practical advice. This is the best book I've read on the nature of church ministry. "
- Mark Dever, Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC, USA


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