Sunday was my final day as the primary leader at my church. I stepped aside from that role, believing it was time for the church and for me to branch out in new directions.
One of the reasons I stepped down was because of all the things a church measures that are hard to measure up to (like: attendance, budget, baptisms, current mood, decision-making, evangelistic fervor). And that’s just A through E.
Now, it’s not that those aren’t important things; it’s just that no church ever perfectly matches up its calling with its reality. All churches have weak spots, blind spots, even dead spots. It’s not that this is ideal, or even ok. It’s just that, as long as the Church is made up of people, it will always be the fragile and fumbling Bride of Christ.
I am amazed how, when Paul writes letters to the churches he knows, he, almost without fail, calls them: saints, beloved, faithful brothers & sisters. The same people he chastises for getting drunk at communion (1 Corinthians 11.21), he calls saints (1 Cor 1.2). The same people who take each other to court with letters of complaint (1 Cor 6.4), Paul calls “a letter from Christ” (2 Cor 3.2).
What to make of this? Certainly, Paul is very concerned with how the church is Corinth is living. But he also is very convinced of the power and the purpose of that church. The power of any church isn’t in its systems, its plans, or (and this just amazes me) in the degree to which the church has it “together.” Instead, the power of the church is found in the One who calls us saints. As Paul also writes to the Corinthians: It is Jesus Christ “who will sustain you to the end,” for “God is faithful…” (1 Cor 1.8-9).
What encouragement! What hope! In times of strong leadership, mediocre leadership, or weak leadership, God is still the guide. It’s the power of Jesus that propels. It’s the leading of the Spirit that produces unity and mission.
So, in my final sermon at Fern Creek Christian, I closed by challenging the church to remember who they are. And I said: How cool would it be if, when the new leader begins, he looks around, and this is what he sees:
- kids ministry humming along, because there are plenty of people who love kids without a paycheck;
- middle school and high school students aren’t simply a part of the church, over in the corner somewhere; they are the church, right now;
- life groups that are serious about gathering, but not just to eat and talk; but to be changed, and to take that change into the world;
- a church that believes in strong, healthy, biblical marriages; but one that also values single folks, empowering them to step up, lead, and use their gifts.
At the same time, I hope he discovers a church:
- that primarily speaks English; but also includes, as full brothers and sisters, those whose first language is Spanish;
- that is mostly white, but is striving to truly be a church where people of all colors are welcomed and empowered;
- where some come dressed in their Sunday snazziest, and others in their Sunday simplest;
- where some drive up in a shiny new Ford, while others hitch a ride on a TARC bus.
And I think it would be both wonderful and biblical for the new leader to look around, and see a church:
- where it’s not just men who are fully unleashed to use their gifts, but women, too;
- less interested in planning a impactful Sunday morning, and more interested in impacting people’s lives Monday through Saturday;
- that loves and values folks who prefer things to be more traditional; but those same folks are among some of the first to ask him: How can you help us reach the next generation?
In other words, I dream of a church that invites a new leader to step in and lead, finding that the church isn’t dependent on him — or any other person, for that matter; a church not waiting around for someone to tell them what to do; but a church, with all their flaws, failures, and foibles, simply being the church. Struggling saints, striving for godliness — but trusting that God’s power isn’t limited by their limitations. I think that’s a church that can make a difference. At least, that’s what Paul seemed to think. And with that thinking, he helped spark a revolution — a revolution that, by the grace of God, continues today.