In a previous post, I mentioned the "traditional" measures of success in ministry. I'll just call them the three B's... buildings, butts and bucks. During my lifetime, we've developed a culture of "success" in the Church in America. When I say that, I don't refer to a particular local church, denomination, or movement. I speak of the Church as a unit.
We almost worship success. Ironically, even as so many call out pastors who preach "your best life now" or "God wants you to be rich" we (again, as a culture) go to conferences hosted in megachurches by men who have "built successful ministries." We buy books telling all about how they did it. We develop coalitions to adopt their approaches... all in a desperate attempt to be "successful" in our local ministries. It's called the church growth movement.
It's gotten so bad that small churches (especially in rural communities) struggle to find people willing to serve as their pastors. There's no excitement there. No chance for glory. Very little growth potential. So people who do take those positions often see them as stepping stones to larger churches.
You could almost say we've developed a cult of personalities. We value the charismatic leader who draws a crowd. But most people aren't that person. Most of us can't draw crowds with our brilliant preaching.
So the small church pastor looks like a failure. Because he doesn't single-handedly draw in the butts that give the dollars that build the buildings.
The craziest part in all of this is that we don't even see how ridiculous and non-biblical this whole concept is!
As I said last week, the first step is to realize it's not about me. Paul said that in 1 Corinthians 3. "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
Did you catch that?? It's not the pastor's responsibility to make things grow. It's the pastor's responsibility to plant and water. The pastor is a gardener. Responsible for the conditions of the planting. In other words, the pastor's ultimate responsibility is in developing and maintaining the culture of the church. Everything else depends on that. So much so that he goes on to talk about laying the foundation. If the foundation is not solid, nothing built on it will be either.
The culture of a church means everything. With the right culture, people have opportunity to meet Jesus and grow into their fullest human potential in His kingdom.
Most of you reading this know that my son, Josh is actually adopted. He came to live with us as a troubled teenager. The environment (the culture) he'd lived in didn't offer the things he needed for success. So when we took him in, he was nearing total failure. It's no exaggeration to say that had he continued down the path he was on, life on the streets was the best case scenario.
Before he came to live with us, we sat down and talked through expectations. If we invited him into our home, it meant he was part of our family, not a houseguest. There were expectations. He would would be home for dinner. There would be a curfew. School attendance was mandatory. Simple things like that. It was a big commitment from us and from him. We brought him into our culture.
That made all the difference. This boy who stayed out all hours and sometimes disappeared for a couple of days at a time missed curfew twice in the whole time he lived with us. At parent teacher conferences the first term he lived with us, his adviser told me "Just keep doing what you're doing, I've never seen a student turn around as dramatically and quickly as he has." He'd been on track to fail out and become a statistic. Instead, he graduated high school.
That change wasn't because of any brilliance on our part, it was just creating an environment where he could thrive. The rest was in his hands. His success or failure wasn't my responsibility, but creating the healthy culture was.
Culture works the same way in a church setting. With a healthy culture, people thrive. Unhealthy culture shrivels people up spiritually. Changing from an unhealthy culture to a healthy one creates new life.
Culture is a living, flexible thing, and it's the job of church leadership to shape it.
In my next couple of posts, I'll expand on some of what I consider to be foundational in a healthy church culture.