Pastor’s Pen (July)
Last month, I started reflecting on some lessons on church life by focusing on love. It seemed like a great place to start. After all, love is the business we are in. What makes it easy for you to love? What makes it a challenge for you to love? Does your love look different when it’s easy or when it’s challenging? Does God’s love look different from our love? Read Matthew 5 with new eyes. I love talking about love.
Now let’s talk about something more difficult: the Lifecycle of the Church.
Like any living organism, the Church has a lifecycle. It is born. It grows and matures. It reaches adulthood. Eventually it grows older, and if nothing intervenes, life will run its course. A living organism measures life with time. A Church measures which lifestage it is in with four aspects of ministry; 1) Vision, 2) Relationship, 3) Program, and 4) Management.
When a Church is born, it starts only with Vision; a compelling purpose/reason to be. The Church understands the only question that matters, ‘Why?” Why does it need to even exist? And as soon as it understands the answer, the Church is born.
Once it has a Vision, people begin to gather and Relationships begin. This is the childhood of the Church. To grow to Adolescence, the Church finds reasons to gather. We call those Programs. The Programs grow, the Relations grow, and the Vision is solid! Pretty soon a system to sustain the Programs is needed and we arrive at Adulthood when Management is necessary to keep everything running smoothly and staying on target.
A Church can plateau at Adulthood as long as it can keep all the balls in the air. The first sign of decline is when the Vision is no longer clear. The next thing to go is the Programs. Eventually the Relationship are difficult to maintain. In the end, the only thing keeping it alive is the Management. And when Management fails, the doors close.
Fortunately, unlike living organisms, death is not inevitable for the Church. A church can start a new life cycle at any point in its lifecycle. Rebirth requires only one thing: Vision. Easy, right?
You know the answer. If it was easy, every church would be growing. So what’s keeping the Church from growing? I’ve wrestled with this question for years. Most of my focus has been on finding the right Vision.
Maybe it’s love. Not as the answer, but as part of the challenge. Love sounds like a compelling Vision, but we love something more than Vision; we love one another. While Relationship is an important element in the life of a church, it is also the greatest hurdle when it comes seeking reBirth. To start over again, a church needs to risk what it may value the most – Relationship. To avoid further decline, a pastor has to have the courage to lead the church in seeking a new Vision. The new Vision will likely have a cost. It will be measured in Relationship. The cost will take a toll on the church and on the pastor. Many churches…many pastors…find it easier to avoid paying the price, and the church declines.
So here are the questions to reflect on:
- Is there any good news in the Pastor’s Pen this month?
- Where do you see River Hills UMC on the arc of Church Lifecycle?
- Why does God need River Hills UMC? Why does the community need RHUMC? Why do you need RHUMC?
- Where do we start when seeking a compelling Vision for River Hills?