I still believe in the importance of having good, simple, understandable, non-obtrusive, biblical, church structures. Top notch constitutions, by-laws, covenants, ministry descriptions, guiding principles, can’t, by themselves, produce healthy churches. Bad ones, however, can make healthy churches almost impossible.
But many good folks in many churches have a stoppage problem, a blockage, somewhere between their beliefs and their values. They believe all the right things, but their values don’t reflect those beliefs and neither do their behaviors.
People without Christ have no hope of heaven. Really? Lost people are no less deserving than we are. Really? It is our responsibility to tell them. Really? Churches are supposed to be making devoted followers of Jesus out of the raw material of lost people. Really?
I’m through with asking church folks what their values are. It’s a waste of time. Our values are betrayed by our actions. Just look at how people live and look at the church calendar.
I’ve realized that if I change church structures without changing church members I haven’t done anything. The new structures will be ignored or rescinded before my moving truck leaves the city limits.
The winning formula seems to be a tried and true one: pray (like crazy) for God’s people, model the values you believe in and use every private and public leadership opportunity you have to challenge people to live out the values that match their beliefs.
But perhaps the most important thing we can do is to unashamedly and directly challenge folks to change their values when we teach the Bible. Here are a few values transitions which many churches need to make:
From placating to problem solving. Many churches are dysfunctional because the leaders – citing the need for “grace” – have failed to address problems and problem people.
From short-term peace faking to long-term peace making. On the world stage it sometimes takes a war to bring peace. In the church we never declare war, but we do sometimes need to exercise discipline, dismiss employees or stand up to bullies. Starting a short conflict can be a powerful peacemaking move.
From comfort to adventure. In our recreation we get to choose between going for comfort (older generations, usually) or going for adventure (younger generations, usually). Since our churches are normally led by elders, is it any wonder that we tend to choose comfort?
From a hodge-podge vision to a unifying vision. Many churches solve the vision problem by cutting and pasting the individual dreams of the church’s key players into one impossible mess. The result is too disparate to ever help the church to achieve the kind of functional, winning unity described by Paul in Philippians 1:27 (“…contending as one man for the faith of the gospel”) or 2:2 (“…being one in spirit and purpose”).
From members as clients to members as ministers. Members should be seen as members of a mission not as members of a club. I thank God for the “one year at a time, meaningful membership” movement.
From board cordiality to board accountability. Change begins in the board room. I’ve served with board members who believed that they never needed to actually do anything, as long as they apologized well.