It seems like an obvious thing to say, but let me say it anyway. What you are aiming to do will necessarily affect how you do it. That is to say, what you do is necessarily driven by what you are aiming to do. What you do should be driven by why you are doing it.
The problem we often have in our churches is that we get this backwards. Often, what we are doing is not driven in any way by why we might be doing it. In fact, why we are doing it is often little more than because it is what we do.
So, it is not uncommon to go into churches and find them doing all sorts of things. Sometimes some pretty peculiar things. When we ask why we are doing them and what are we trying to achieve by them, nobody is entirely sure. We are doing it because it is what has always been done. We may be doing it because someone once thought it was a good idea but the reasoning behind the idea have been lost in the mists of time. We are doing it because there was a good reason at the time we instituted it but that reason no longer exists but we kind of carried on doing it anyway.
Interestingly, some of these same sorts of impulses come up when somebody deigns to stop something that has always been done – or that has at least been done for ages – from being done anymore. It doesn’t matter what the thing is, or whether anybody has any reason for why it is still being done, we have always done this is the view that often prevails. I don’t have to justify the existence of the bizarre or irrelevant thing, you have to justify why you are determined to no longer do it. Apparently, I cannot fathom what its purpose is and you are doing very little to help me out with that does not compute.
Which brings me back to my original point. Why we are doing something ought to drive what we actually do. We ought to have a reason why we are doing everything that we do in church. If we aren’t entirely sure of the reason, it may be a prime candidate for something we are no longer going to do.
In order to have conversations that are helpful about this, we need to return to first principles. The ultimate reason for us to do anything as a church is because Jesus tells us that is what he wants his church to do. So, if Jesus says it, we ought to do (or not do) it. So, we have to think about what Jesus says his church exists to do. Why are we there and what does he want us to be doing? If we can’t answer that question first, we have no business moving onto thinking about how we might go about doing any of the things he wants us to do.
Once we have figured out what we believe about the church, and what we think Jesus says it is there for and to do, we can begin thinking through how we might achieve those things. So, if the church is (and, in my view, this is fundamentally what we’re about) a group of disciples tasked with making disciples, we need to think about how we might do that.
Again, we have to begin by thinking about any of the ways Jesus tells us he wants us to do this. So, preaching the gospel is key. Submitting to the teaching of the Apostles is important. Meeting together regularly appears to matter. Praying is vital. There are a bunch of other things we might glean too.
Once we have figured out the broad things Jesus wants us to do, and worked out if there are any specifics he puts on how we do it, we then have to think about how we might best achieve the things he has asked us to do. So, we have to think about our context and how people operate. We have to think about the best ways to communicate the things Jesus wants us to communicate to them. We have to think about the people he has given to us in the church and what giftings they may have. We have to think about what we are able to do and what we aren’t able to do.
But in whatever we do, we need to continually think about why we are doing them and what we are hoping to achieve. For instance, if I am committed to teaching God’s Word to his people, I have to think about the best ways to do that. Is it better to do that systematically, book-by-book so people can hear all of scripture or better to function thematically? is it best to have consistent ministry off of one person supported by some others or is it best to have a whole range of voices with no one of them doing the bulk of the teaching? Are there ways of communicating that might be better than others? In answering all these questions, the answer depends upon why we are doing it. What, exactly, are we trying to achieve?
We might run a Sunday School. Even whether that is the best thing to do is a valid question. But assuming you decide it is, there are loads of ways of doing Sunday School. We could just have an hour of games on a Sunday. We could teach the kids about missionaries. We could use the time to help make them more obedient to their parents. We could use a curriculum that follows what the adults are doing or use one that does something totally different. But unless we know what we are actually aiming to do with the Sunday School, there is no obvious answer to which approach is best. Only when we know what we are aiming to do will the answer to the best way to do it become evident.
The same goes for anything we might do. We must ask what we’re trying to achieve before we can figure out the best way to achieve it. Unless we know why we are doing this thing we can’t possibly figure out how best to do it. Which leads us to the inevitable searching question: can you explain why your church does everything it does? Do you know what you are trying to achieve through each thing you are doing? If you do, have you ever asked whether it is the best way to achieve it? How we answer those questions might be quite revealing about our church.