I want to share a story a friend in the ministry told me while we were in New Orleans together. The story is about the lead pastor at his congregation in Houston and a dream he had. (My only wish is that you could hear my friend tell the story.)
Here’s the sketch:
My friend says his church in Houston used to do everything “Willow Creek style”, which typically used to mean a high emphasis on “seeker-sensitivity” and many things piled on many things for people to do (catch the word “do”). They probably had a lot of success in keeping people busy with church things, in church programs, and creating a strong churchy type person (the kind that just loves everything “church”).
One night, the lead pastor of this congregation had a dream. In this dream, Jesus spoke to the lead pastor and said, “Why have you become content to keep a thousand people busy and not make any disciples?” (I wish I remember the words a little clearer!) This just leveled the pastor, as you can imagine. Another mysterious piece is that Jesus was in this dream – which isn’t something I’ve heard much of and never really experienced for myself.
The amazing impact from my hearing of that story is that the pastor listened to Jesus in the dream! His ministry outlook changed and his vision of “success” in the ministry was moved 180 degrees. Instead of many upon many programs to keep people busy, his congregation has been striving to make disciples in a very grass-roots way (maybe I’ll write about that later!). Instead of seeing success as a “successful church system” his with-Jesus leadership has been seeing success as helping people to walk with Jesus and becoming like Jesus as they walk with him through repentance and belief.
When I heard that story in New Orleans, I was struck with a moment of awe. I mean, the people I minister with is dwarfed by this people in Houston (number wise). How is it that this guy in an otherwise successful looking congregation come to the realization that they’ve been missing the point for so long!? …God is definitely on the move.
This story isn’t unique these days, and I cherish that. Many leaders are seeing the need to move from what some have called “consumer religion,” “consumer spirituality,” or what I call “consumer churchianity.” I love the momentum this has today and I love hearing that call to “Go and make disciples!”
Now, what does this look like in my/our congregation? I think it means focus and simplicity. It means that I as a leader will need to redefine my understanding of “success” and plant the seeds of this vision in the hearts of those leading beside me. It means that success isn’t in how much or how big, but how deep, how relational, and how lovingly authentic. …really, I think this is both the easier and harder way. Easier because it’s so simple and so focused: Jesus says, “Go and make a type of people that act and live like I do – fully reliant on the grace of God, becoming more in love with God and the people around them every day.” But it’s also hard: I think it’s hard to break the paradigm of church-success. I think it’s hard to focus on the fact that our call isn’t to make a successful looking Trinity (my church) or an impressive list of activities for people to be involved in – our call is to help people become like Jesus through the Grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit in and around us. The people that call themselves “Trinity” will then in that light of focus become strong and courageous – not caring to leave a namesake for themselves but to help those around them experience the Name of Jesus – the one who has saved, is saving, and will save.
May God guide us and take our hands. May God open our souls into the light of following him – living a lifestyle of repentance and belief, living in the beauty of God’s Grace in Jesus.