The big question the REACH SA Generate Conference sought to answer was, “How should the church (and how we do church) respond to a changing culture?”
The answer was that we must “make sure we know why we exist and remain faithful to that; and feel free to change the rest.”
We exist to reach non-Christians and grow Christians with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That truth is fundamental and unchangeable. How we manage the programmes and processes that go towards that great goal are flexible and changeable.
They will listen
We commenced the conference with a fine exposition by Ray Galea (who was the main speaker) on having an optimistic view of ministry from Isaiah 6.
We were reminded that God is the true King, seated on his throne, who rules over his world. He is high and exalted; and extremely holy. Even the sinless seraphim cannot look at his blazing holiness. Isaiah is immediately overwhelmed by his unworthiness and sinfulness – as we all should be.
God takes the initiative and makes provision for the atonement of Isaiah’s sin. As an atoned for sinner, Isaiah is super-keen to serve God – however and wherever. He says,
“Here I am. Send me”.
God’s assignment to Isaiah is a doomed one. He is to preach, but the people of Judah would not listen:
“Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
This biblical text may tempt us to have a very pessimistic view of gospel ministry.
It’s crucial to see how the Apostle Paul used this text in Acts 28. Paul is under house arrest and the Jewish leaders in Rome are visiting him and listening to him explain about the “Kingdom of God”. However, most the Jewish leaders refuse to believe. Paul then quotes this text and says that this is exactly what Isaiah said would happen. Paul then adds:
“Therefore, let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” (Acts 28:28)
Thus, we are authorized to have an optimistic view of gospel proclamation and mission. The nations will listen! (The question is, “Will you go?” – like Isaiah in Isaiah 6)
The Generate Conference looked at the practical implications of having an optimistic view of gospel proclamation and mission.
Planning for growth
I was challenged by the following insightful questions:
Are we planning for growth?
Are we making the most of every sermon – expecting unbelievers to be converted?
Do our various leaders share our vision of reaching non-Christians and growing Christians with the gospel?
Do we have a memorable vision statement that is easily memorable?
Are we building ministry teams around us who share the vision?
Are we communicating our unchanging vision regularly to the church?
Is feedback our friend? Are we open to receiving criticism and suggestions?
Are we reading good books on church growth and organizational structure?
Ray recommended, “Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There”, by Gary McIntosh – I’ve started reading it, it’s pretty good!
Do we have reliable statistics and data when making ministry decisions? Anonymous surveys are a great idea.
Does each staff member have a mentor?
Do our church services have diversity? E.g. English, isiXhosa and Afrikaans songs? Do we have men and women of different age and ethnic groups praying and reading up front?
Are we keeping our core business (gospel proclamation) our core business?
Do we follow-up well with visitors and newcomers?
Do we have enough space to grow? When a church building is 75% full it is uncomfortably full and more space is essential.
Are we proactive in managing pastoral care and biblical counselling?
Who will our next staff worker be? The right staff appointment will help grow the church, the wrong staff appointment will hamper church growth.
Are we using well-edited videos in our services for testimonies and celebration stories?
Do we have a clear pathway or identifiable structure for people moving from visitor to serving member?
Do we have written ministry descriptions and expectations for volunteers to avoid confusion and frustration?
Do we have a “who we are” course for newcomers?
Are we helping newcomers to connect to other newcomers?
Would getting rid of the offering bag be a help? (and ask people to give via Internet banking.)
Are we encouraging our members to read the Bible one-to-one with others?
Do we have too many evangelistic events and not enough evangelistic relationships?
Do we realize that ministries are run better by teams, rather than individuals?
Are we equipping leaders to lead teams? Or do we throw leaders in the deep end and only see them when there are problems?
In choosing leaders, do we value character before competence?
Do we recognize pride as the great enemy of effective leadership? Pride is the commitment to promote or protect oneself over against the glory of God.
I thought Ray’s job description for the lead pastor or minister-in-charge was helpful:
- Cast the vision (from Scripture)
- Resource the vision (fund-raising etc)
- Staff the vision
- Work with the governance of the vision and good structures
I thoroughly challenged by the conference and hope to put many of the learnings into practice at our church.