I’ve heard it said that a church will reflect the heart of its pastor. What this means for church leaders is that if there seems to be lackluster faith in your fellowship, evaluation needs to begin, not with them, but with you. People follow their leaders, and if a leader simply looks around and gets discouraged that people aren’t getting involved or participating, then it’s very likely that the spirit of the fellowship will reflect that.
I know how easy it can be to get discouraged. We’ve tried to hold a mid-week meeting for a couple years and it’s just never very well attended. Sometimes is starts out well, 15-20 people the first couple weeks (which is around 30% of our congregation), but after a couple weeks it begins to dwindle and we wind up with the same 4 or 5. Other times, it just starts out with those 4 or 5 and never grows. Sunday school can work the same way. We’ve tried Bible studies, prayer groups, topical studies, and interest groups (like men’s group/women’s group). The response is always mixed, but it seldom sustains. It can be frustrating and it’s easy to assume that people value their busy schedules more than their spiritual maturity.
We’ve tried to preach and teach and create a culture where simply “attending church” by coming on Sunday is not a Christian walk. We need to be the church between Sundays, yet it’s hard to measure whether that’s actually happening, and it can be discouraging. It has been easy to look around and be critical of what is not being done, to be bothered by who is not attending, and to wonder why it seems that no one is bringing new people to church. It would be natural to assess that the church isn’t following the leader, but maybe they are.
One of the most challenging things we can do is honest self-evaluation. I’ve had to ask myself some hard questions: Am I the kind of leader who expects members to attend classes, but easily gives myself a pass for not participating myself? Am I the kind of leader that expects people to roll up their sleeves and serve, but justifies my own lack of participation with Acts 6:3-4? Am I the kind of leader that expects members to bring new people to church, but remains in his office, buried in books, not engaging the community, or maybe not even knowing the names of my own neighbors? People will, believe it or not, follow the leader, even if the leader is a poor one. The apostle Paul said, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Unfortunately, people will follow our example even when our example looks less like Christ, and more like a CEO. Those who are mature enough to discern the difference will likely leave to serve under more fruitful, Christ-like leadership.
If we want to see our churches grow in maturity we need to ask ourselves these hard questions. We need to get back to following Jesus rather than chasing trends or falling in line with social norms, or mimicking what we believe pastors of “big churches” do. Leadership in the Kingdom looks very different that leadership in the world. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). We are a member first, and called as an overseer second. We are a follower of Christ first, and a leader of people second. We cannot be concerned in the slightest about attendance numbers and budget figures … at least not in regard to these things being a reflection of our effectiveness. When we begin to desire greater results before desiring greater devotion to Christ, we have come to a dangerous place. If we begin to see people as projects or a means to an end, then we have fallen into sin and the fellowship will suffer.
Will you join me in a season of seeking God’s conviction, confessing sin, failures, and weaknesses, and bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, positioning ourselves to follow Christ, to honor him — to follow him, and to care for his flock as he does?