A growing number of church leaders are discovering that the congregations they serve are in crisis. Add to that nagging realization the almost daily news that Christianity is being nudged to the sidelines, and it’s enough to foster anxiety in even the most calm of leaders. Alan Roxburgh, in his new book Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World points out some of the responses that churches often make to the decline in congregations. He identifies four inadequate ideas or narratives with which leaders have often grappled over the past forty years—to little or no effect.
First, is the approach of “we have technology so we can fix it.” The assumption is that what is “wrong” with our congregations can be addressed by some technical response. Second, Roxburgh points out the tendency to assume that “good management and control” will right the ship. If only leaders can control the agenda and set proper outcomes, then all will be well. Obviously good organization and structure are important, but Roxburgh expresses deep concern about the tendency to think that control and power are things that leaders manage—as opposed to acknowledging God’s control and power in our churches.
Third, Roxburgh points out the mantra of “if only we can fix the church then all will be well in the world.” His concern here is that leaders assume that the church is the “end” rather than God’s “means” to a greater reality—the reign of God in the world. Fourth, Roxburgh identifies a common move to think that the minister, the paid professional, is the key. “If only we had the right staff person, then all will be well.” Yet such an inordinate focus on paid staff clouds the the bigger story.
Not surprisingly, Roxburgh’s four narratives reflect a lot of what goes on in leader meetings in congregations today. And, according to Roxburgh, these “false” narratives can keep congregational leaders from attending to the really important and life-giving narrative. All four of these approaches assume that the answer for the crisis in our churches lies with human ability, creativity, and exercise of power.
What about setting aside those assumptions? What about assuming that our congregations are really God’s people? What about paying attention to what God might be up to in our communities? What about calling for a revival—and letting that revival begin with our leaders?
God is at work throughout the world. God wants to be at work in our congregations, too!
Dr. Carson Reed is Vice President for Church Relations at Abilene Christian University and Executive Director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. He also serves as the Director for the Doctor of Ministry Program and holds the Frazer Endowed Chair for Church Enrichment in the Graduate School of Theology. Through the Siburt Institute, Carson does consulting work with congregations and church leaders across the country. His teaching and research centers on leadership, preaching, and issues surrounding faith and culture. Carson and his wife Vickie have been married for over 30 years and have four grown children.