The Lordship of Jesus Christ and Your Church’s Purpose for Being
What is your church’s purpose at this period of our history? What is its reason for being at this particular moment in its life as a congregation? These are important questions that churches can easily get out of the habit of asking. In fact, I would venture to guess that the majority of American churches never truly pause to ask themselves these questions or to wrestle through a process of arriving at an answer to the of why they exist and what purpose they mean to serve.
It is my experience that most churches never really try to work through a clear, specific, and definitive statement of their purpose, one that will direct their life and ministry for a particular moment in time. There are a number of reasons why most churches never arrive at such a clear, specific, and definitive statement of their ministry purpose. But whatever the reasons may be, the result is almost always the same. Churches without a clear, specific, and definitive understanding of their ministry purpose will always eventually settle into the rut of aimlessly doing the same things they have always done. That road, which many American churches are on, leads to decline, discouragement, and death.
Now, of course, no congregation would say that it wants to be on that road. And you may find instead a lot of people asking that important question: What is our ministry purpose for Venice Church? That is, as I say, the vital question for us to ask. But if we ask that question in the way I’ve just stated it, we like many other church will stumble right at the start. The question needs a little refinement, because it doesn’t really matter at all what “our” ministry purpose for our church is. What does matter is what “God’s” ministry purpose for our church is. And that distinction will make all the difference.
Your church – its programs and ministries – does not belong to you. It all belongs to Jesus Christ. It is not up to you to decide what you want your church’s ministries and programs to be. That decision belongs to Jesus Christ. Each of us and all of us have to set our preferences and desires aside and say to Jesus, “Not my will but your will be done.” And we have to really mean it. Jesus Christ is Head and Lord of your church. No governing board action, no congregational vote can be allowed to have power to change that foundational truth.
So, one thing that means then is that answering the question – “What is the purpose and vision for our church’s ministry and mission at this time in its life?” – is a process of discerning or discovering rather than of deciding. There will, of course, be points at which something like deciding does take place. At some point, the leadership of the church has to decide to put into action that which they believe they have discerned from God. But deciding to act on God’s leading is a very, very different matter from deciding to do what we want to do. In fact, they are in reality the opposite of each other. Deciding to follow God’s leading is an act of self-surrender, an act of submission.
If you want your church’s future to be defined by God’s will and purposes for it, the place to start is also a sort of decision. It is a decision that most everyone in the church needs to make, the decision that you will surrender your church to the lordship of Jesus Christ, that you will allow God’s plan for your church to trump your own desires and preferences, that you will submit to his vision for your church, that you will make his purpose what decides your church’s future rather than any purposes of your own.
If you find that all that makes you feel a bit anxious, I’ll admit that it makes me a bit anxious, too. It may turn out that something that I really want to be doing in my congregation is something that God says “no” or “not now” to. And it may be that God will say “no” or “not now” to something that you really like or that you really want to do. But all this calls for trust – trusting God, trusting that he is good, trusting that he is wise, trusting that his plans and purposes will be always better than ours. And so, we embrace that first great creed of the Church – “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). Embracing that is more than just saying it. The lordship of Jesus is something that we live out – in our own lives and in our life together as a church.
So, I’d like to encourage you to have this kind of conversation in your church. Nurture an attitude of submission in yourself as you live your own life out before God. Ask other members of your church about their own experience of submitting to Jesus Christ in making decisions about their lives. Talk together about what it might mean for your own lives and then also the live of your congregation to take on a self-sacrificing approach to ministry. In particular, arrange to have that conversation with your pastor. Assure him or her of your eagerness to follow whatever road Jesus may set out for your congregation.