A Call to Pastors
I am a Nazarene Pastor and I love my church. I am a product of the love of my family, SS teachers and local pastors. I have been educated by our schools, coached by our professors and mentored by people I admire and respect. I love my church but our lack of fruitfulness in the US and Canada is breaking my heart.
Year after year I listen to our General Superintendents pour their heart out at assemblies, begging us to make disciples. Year after year I hear our Regional Director work to equip us to make disciples. This past week the 2018 statistics were released and once again we here in the US are not doing well. In the US and Canada we lost 11,079 more from our worship gatherings. We lost 10,562 from our discipleship endeavors. We lost 3,792 students.
I grew up in the height of the global mission movement of our tribe. The gospel was expanding in country after country. I wept every four years as I watched people from what felt like every tribe and nation march into a General Assembly with their flag. I rejoiced when pastors from Creative Access areas were presented. What most of us failed to notice was that, while we were doing a great job across the sea, we had no idea who lived across the street or who worked in the office beside us. We were content not to know.
Before I get to the challenge and some ideas on what may need to change, let’s look at what is good. Over 46,000 people accepted Christ in our congregations last year. We have started over 100 churches for the 7th year in a row, a consecutive effort that has not been seen since the 1950’s. This is really good news and gives us a measure of hope for the future of our church in the USA.
Despite the good news, it is difficult to hide the fact that the Nazarene’s in the US are in serious danger. I sit by and listen to pastors argue about their thoughts on a painting, a program or a well-known Pastor. We share our lofty thoughts and thump our chest with our righteous and holy language. Then we watched 4 out of every 100 students leave our churches this year. Why aren’t we talking about that?
Our statistics are what they are because of us local pastors. It is time we own our own statistics. The single foundational call of a person who follows Christ is to make disciples who follow Christ who then make disciples who follow Christ. This is it. This is what we are supposed to do.
The following is what I submit to you might be part of the solution if the Holy Spirit is going to have any hope of using us to advance the gospel in the US and Canada.
Prayer - we must search the heart of God in prayer and ask Him to shine His light on us. Is there hidden sin - repent. Is their ignorance - learn. Is s their laziness - get up. Is there a passion for the lost - reach. Whatever begins in the Nazarene church must begin in us individually or God will look elsewhere.
Call to Discipleship - this is the foundation of our call. We have turned discipleship into the transfer of information from the teacher to the learner. We never assess if a person does anything with the information learned. Next week we repeat it and create passive learners who rarely act. If you look at Jesus, the disciples were never taught what they didn’t also do themselves. We have need for serious change here. In my congregation we are engaged in a discipleship focused on table, grace, holiness, love and mission.
Church-based ministries - many churches are really good at offering programs that make church folks happy. If we inventory the time commitments we ask of our people, we will discover they have little time to meet their neighbors and the leaders of the church are to blame. We over-program and make them feel guilty for being less than committed. We must set them free from church programming so they can eat with folks that don’t know Jesus.
Table - this means we must rediscover the value of the table. I am not talking about church potlucks, although value can be found in those. I am talking about a culture where, like Jesus, we say to a workplace outcast, “Come on Zacchaeus, lets go to lunch today.” I would suggest that most in our congregations have very little experience with table and will need trained in how to approach the Zacchaeus around them.
Pace of change - many of us grew up being taught that we should move the local congregation forward slowly. This was good advice when the pace of change in culture was also moving slowly. One of our lay trustees at ENC said, “Organizations lose relevance when the rate of internal change is slower than the rate of external change. Mark Twain said it best, ‘Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.’” We need to evaluate the pace of our leadership.
Space for innovation - I have a dream where we create space in our local congregations and districts where innovative ministers are provided space to speak into how we do church. How we do church has evolved over the past 2000 years. This is not about high church, low church, contemporary or traditional. This is about innovation within whatever context we find ourselves.
Return to essentials - as I considered this I heard you ask, “What are the essentials?” I think this is part of the problem. We struggle to have a cohesive understanding of what is the core to our understanding of who we are and what we do. A failure to understand who we are and what we do is a recipe for denominational decline. What is essential as a denomination has been determined for us. We are Christian, Holiness and Missional. All we need to do now is fixate on those three areas and excel there. What does it mean to be Christian? What does it mean to be holy? What does it mean to be on mission?
Count what counts - we all know that we can get people in a worship service who also attend a small group / SS class / discipleship class who are no closer to Christ today than they were 10 years ago. We need to discover new metrics for what it means to make Christlike Disciples in the Nations. If a person sitting under our influence for 2 hours a week does not appreciably make disciples then we need to reformat those two hours or recognize that there must be a new approach in what we count. Once we know what makes for a disciple then all our metrics must center around that endeavor.
Optimism, pessimism and realism - One of our challenges is a personal one. We have reached a place in our US side of the denomination where some congregations who do not want to change are closing which results in loss. There are signs of new life, as referenced above. Our personal challenge is not to be led by an optimism or pessimism that fails to see what is or a realism that fails to see what can be. We must believe that the Holy Spirit still has the power to change people and congregations that they would experience new life in Christ.
I love my church. I support my leaders. It is time for a grass roots Holy Spirit movement among US and Canadian Nazarenes. I only pray that the Holy Spirit might include me and my congregation in whatever it is that He has in mind. To that end I surrender to Him my life and am ready to make whatever change necessary to advance His Kingdom and make Christlike Disciples in the Nations.