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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Almost Perfect Church: Chapter 7b- Losing My Focus

At TA we began by inviting people we knew, occasionally targeting “cutting-edge” ads at the unchurched, and praying.  I regularly offered training in personal evangelism, mentioned it frequently in sermons and announcements and occasionally offered services directed at the lost (such as our annual Church In The Park event).  We put together and Outreach/Assimilation Team that met each week to call people on the phone, visit them in their homes and reach out in any way we could.  When the church grew I turned this ministry over to Pastor B who soon disbanded it.  I forget what reason he gave but he seemed to me (and others on the team) to not really have his heart in it.  

Over the next 15 years I kept urging him to come up with a replacement and he kept reporting that he was "working on it."  I later asked him to get involved with the Missions Team on a rotational basis with myself and Pastor T and he soon begged out of that also saying that it wasn't his "thing".  When a leader hires a person and puts him in charge of ministries that that person doesn't have a passion for, it is mostly the leader's fault.  I compounded my failure by turning over the new member's classes to him.  Since he didn't share my passion for emphasizing the need to reach the lost, those who went through the class, including future elders and leaders, didn't see it as central to our lives or to the ministry of the church the way I did and the way we originally emphasized.  Our church became gradually less missional and more ingrown.

Meanwhile, Pastor T regularly took the youth on witnessing excursions and encouraged them to bring their unsaved friends (no matter how “messed up”) to youth group, often in spite of the “concerns” of parents such as elder P, and I always backed him up and encouraged him (not that he needed it) not to be dissuaded. 

Now here is an uncomfortable (for me) truth.  At some point, perhaps about 5-7 years into our ministry at TA, I too lost much of my focus.  Past years tend to blur together and it is hard to remember exactly how or when, but for a period of 3-5 years I got so focused on the church (which had grown fairly rapidly) and the new challenges of a pastoring what was now a multi-staff church of 250 (which is totally different from solo-pastoring a congregation of 120) that I began unconsciously neglecting providing leadership and focus on the central task of reaching the lost.  

We didn’t drop it entirely, not by any means, and Pastor T continued to provide excellent leadership in this area (which, in retrospect, probably subconsciously lead to me feeling I could focus elsewhere), but the truth which I failed to fully appreciate is that most Christians do not view Church or life missionally and biblically but culturally (based on their personal history and experience of church) and that in order to keep a missional church missional, and in order to avoid letting it slide into something more docile and culturally acceptable, a lead pastor MUST constantly keep the vision alive through sustained and tireless effort.

Nevertheless, throughout this time, Pastor T and I would frequently share on Sunday mornings about our own personal witnessing experiences and encourage others to do so during our regular Sunday morning testimony times.  There were many in the congregation who were passionate about reaching the unchurched (Derek, David, Joan P, Kelly, Nikki Jo, Rachel and many others) and I always sought to give them opportunities to share their passion and encourage the others.  And I continued to occasionally teach classes and small groups on sharing our faith and I was always actively studying and seeking out what other churches were doing that was finding success (though the answer too often was, "not much". It was hard to find good replicable models that did not rely on the senior pastor's charisma and evangelistic giftedness, traits that I, like most pastors, did not possess).

While I continued to find opportunities to witness to some of my students in my accounting classes at Shasta College (which was, at that time, my only regular sustained exposure to the unchurched) and to non-believers who found their way to TA, I did not see, at the time, that I was not providing enough modeling or pulpit leadership and that our church was gradually, almost imperceptibly, like the iconic frog in the kettle, sliding into missional mediocrity.

Meanwhile, God had a surprising plan to bring me out of my fog and back to His Mission.  

Unfortunately, this is where things start to get really messy.

Chapter 7c- Finding His Way

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