This is part 3 of an ongoing series. Find the rest of the series here.
Healthy Response #3: Focus on PROCESS not content
Would you like to drive yourself crazy? It’s really quite easy—just focus on the content of your church. Your teaching and sermons aren’t as good as they could be. Your worship isn’t as inspiring and vital as it once was. Your leaders aren’t as spiritually formed as you’d like. Your church is plagued by immaturity, a lack of spiritual focus, and diminishing commitments to church attendance. You can’t find enough volunteers for the ministries you lead. There are those among the baptized people of God who don’t know how to pray, only engage the Word of God on Sundays, and don’t know how to behave in loving ways toward one another—let alone the rest of the world!
I might be describing your church. Then again, I might also be describing any of the churches we meet in the New Testament. The church in Corinth struggled to maintain both equality and order in their worship. The church in Galatia overemphasized rule-following. The church in Ephesus had major leadership issues when they transitioned to a new younger minister, Timothy. Enough churches had trouble translating their “right teaching” into “right action”, that James wrote a “general epistle” to instruct the whole lot of them!
In fact, I think there’s a good case to be made that we wouldn’t have a New Testament if first century churches were very good at being the church. Sometimes I think it might be nice to have just one New Testament letter that says, “Keep doing everything the exact way you’re doing it. Don’t change a thing! And just in case you have any questions about what it is that you’re doing right, here’s a detailed list of everything that’s working for you…”
Instead we get corrections, rebukes, encouragement, words of exhortation, warnings, visions of hope, wise teachings, and the like.
Still, as church leaders, it’s very tempting to want our churches to arrive at a fixed point. There’s a great temptation to believe if we can just get all the content of church straightened out, we will finally arrive! If you’re at all like me, sometimes you catch yourself thinking, “Once we get this nailed down, then things will get easier…” or, ”Once we get the right person in place, then things will settle down…” or, “If we can just get over this hump, it will be smooth sailing from there.”
Take it from a minister celebrating the completion of his second year in his current ministry: once you hire a new minister, your trouble is only just beginning! The same is true once you start a new program, begin a new relationship, enter into a new season, build a new building, etc.
Maybe I need to expand my circle of friends and acquaintances, but I have yet to meet a person who has arrived at the part of the life and ministry where everything is easy, settled, and smooth. This is true even among churches and leaders who appear to have it all together. Give it some time, peel back the layers, and the reality is sure to be much more complicated and messy than it appears.
Biological life is the same way—more about process than content. “Life” is not a fixed point at which we arrive someday. The cells in our bodies are dying off and growing and replacing all the time. Our bodies age, grow, mature, and change. We’re all moving targets. This is true of even the most grounded, rooted, and stable among us.
Want some hope for your church and your ministry? Focus on PROCESS. Who are we becoming? Are your teachers and communicators getting better and growing? Are new voices being invited to the leadership table? Are you experiencing the transformation that comes with being rooted in Christ?
Is that person in your church who doesn’t know how to pray on a new journey of spiritual discovery? Maybe their vision of God is expanding and they are searching for a new way to live in relationship with God. Maybe their lack of prayer isn’t an indication of spiritual regression, but a step in the direction of spiritual growth.
Is that person who is now cracking his or her Bible open on Sunday someone who has never read the Bible before this? Or maybe someone coming from a context where the Bible was used as a weapon to punish, shame, and beat people down? The fact that they are discovering life-giving words in Scripture on Sundays might be an indication that they’re maturing in their faith and recovering from past pain.
If your response to every leadership challenge is to try to change the content, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment after disappointment. It will never be good enough. Instead, focus on process. Where are we headed? Who are we becoming? How are we being transformed into the image of Christ? How are we growing? Growth is movement. Growth is dynamic. Growth is process. Focus on cultivating healthy processes, and the content will improve.