Dr. Chuck Lawless was my coach and advisor while working on my doctoral degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have found many of the articles that he posts on the Thom Rainer blog to be extremely helpful. The article that I am sharing below is one that every fellowship should read carefully and ask this simple question, “Is my church an expectant church or a reactive church?”
By Chuck Lawless
The Bible is a story of expectations: an expected Messiah who would crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), an expected people from Abram (Gen. 12:1-3), an expected new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), an expected return of Christ (Matt. 24:29-30), and an expected new creation (Rev. 21). Faith, in fact, is about expectation – the “reality of what is hoped for” (Heb. 11:1, HCSB).
Many churches, though, live in reactive mode rather than expectant mode. In my book, Discipled Warriors, I compare these churches.
REACTIVE churches . . .
- have no recognized vision. They may have a vision statement, but it is simply a sentence on paper. With no clear direction, the congregation wanders in multiple directions.
- are led by “fireman” leaders. That is, their leaders spend their time “putting out fires” rather than casting vision and raising up leaders. Keeping the congregation happy today consumes more energy than preparing them for tomorrow.
- try seemingly every program available. Every new approach is considered a “fix” for the church’s concerns, and leaders change their approaches recurrently. Members are program-weary.
- prioritize dollars to the point of immobility. Perhaps the congregation has faced in the past – or is currently facing – financial stress. Because of fear, they refuse to take any steps that involve financial risk.
- seek simply to keep what they currently have. Maintaining the status quo is the goal: the same leaders, the same programs, the same order of service, the same building. Change is unwelcomed.
- pray primarily in response to needs. A family erupts, and then the church prays. The monthly budget report is alarming, and thus they pray. Even their praying is reactionary.
- generally lag behind in using technology. They may use multimedia, but they do so only with reluctance. Even then, they feel like culture has forced them in this direction.
- have no master site plan. The church is focused on survival today, not expansion tomorrow. No one has invested in facility planning for the future.
- are easily divided. Because the congregation has no driving vision, the smallest disagreements become growing fires – until the firefighter leader steps in to quench them.
- would be surprised by growth. The congregation does not expect growth. They have no programming, structures, or personnel in place for future growth. If God were to bless them with growth, they would not know how to raise the new believers.
EXPECTANT churches . . .
- have a clear sense of vision. Staff and lay leaders alike know and affirm the church’s vision. That vision factors into every budgetary and programming decision the congregation makes.
- are led by “ignitor” leaders. That is, their leaders see their responsibility as igniting fires among the congregation. They ignite a passion for God, a fervor for evangelism, a burden for the world, and a desire to achieve the church’s vision.
- plan strategically in using programs. Programming decisions are not made quickly. Leaders do their homework to evaluate whether a program fits the church’s culture and vision. They devote energy to making programs effective.
- train members to give sacrificially. They know they can accomplish God’s vision only if His people give sacrificially and cheerfully. Thus, they teach financial stewardship with expectancy.
- are never comfortable with the status quo. The leaders and the congregation are continually focused on what is still to come. In fact, change is the norm. A bit of chaos is not threatening if it propels the church forward.
- pray not only in response to needs, but also in preparation for the future. They pray for one another’s needs, but they also pray about yet-to-be reached people, yet-to-be built buildings, and yet-to-be fulfilled plans.
- lead the way in using technology. The church is on the cutting edge of utilizing resources to reach the world. Indeed, they have even learned to pastorally bring along an older generation still figuring out technology.
- have a master site plan. They understand that facility decisions they make today affect the future – and vice-versa. The goals they have for the future influence the decisions they make today.
- do not allow potential division to fester. Clarity of vision and strength of infrastructure (particularly, small groups and accountability) weaken any stronghold of division that might develop.
- anticipate growth. Their “nursery” is ready for any baby Christians God gives them. Indeed, they grieve when growth does not happen.