When it comes to church life, there are lots of questions that rear their head again and again. Among them is this: what should we do? Obviously, lying behind that question is a series of others. What, exactly, is the mission of the church? What has God specifically called his people to do? Has he set any boundaries for how they ought to do it? There are many others besides.
But let’s just assume some things for a moment. Let’s assume we all agree that the mission of the church is to make disciples. That is, telling people about Jesus and seeking to grow them to maturity in Christ. Let’s assume for a moment that we all agree the gospel is the key to making disciples. That is, nobody will become a disciple of Jesus without understand the gospel, the good news of who he is and what he came to do. Let’s assume for the moment that we all agree that making disciples, then, involves telling those who don’t know about Jesus about him and telling those who do know Jesus the things about him that will lead to their growth in maturity.
With all those assumptions in place, let’s now ask our question: what should the church do? Or, more specifically, what should my church do? Are there particular things that my church should be doing? How do we even figure out what exactly we ought to do to make and grow disciples?
I think there are two groups of people you need to think about when answering this question. First, who has God given to this particular church? Who are its members? What are their particular skills and interests? What are they able to do? What are they specifically unable to do? We have to look at the gifts, resources and abilities of the people the Lord has given to us and ask what is possible for these particular people to do.
Second, we have to think about who the Lord has placed around us. What demographics are in our community? What are the needs? Are there places these particular people congregate? If not, what ways can we create spaces where that might happen? Are there places they go that I could go with them? Are there places I can go with them where it would be easier, more natural and most appropriate to share the gospel? Are there places it would be inappropriate for me to try and share them gospel with them?
These are not the only questions we might want to ask of these two groups of people. But these are the two groups we ought to be asking these sorts of questions of. 1. Who has the Lord given to us in the church (and what can they do)? 2. Who has the Lord placed around us (and what can we do with them)?
When it comes to working out what your church will do, you first have to figure out what your people are able to do. There is no point coming up with an amazing plan for outreach if it centres around certain key skills your people don’t have or time commitments they aren’t in any position to commit to. You ultimate have to ask what can our people do, what are they interested in, what will they be able to do. Everything else, whilst lovely to think about, is ultimately not workable in practice.
But once you have worked that out, you also need to figure out what your community is like. You might have loads of ESOL teachers to hand. Great as that is, there is no point putting them to work teaching English if you live in the middle of an exclusively English-speaking neighbourhood. Similarly, you may have some Craft Beer enthusiasts, but if you’re in the middle of a Muslim neighbourhood, that isn’t going to be a very fruitful attempt to engage in mission. There are lots of things your people might love, or even be able to do, but you need to think about what would actually be likely to produce fruit in a community like yours. You can enthuse about all sorts of things, or be great at loads of stuff, but if isn’t anything your community has any interest in – or that they would find actively repulsive – you don’t want to be doing that.
But I think these two questions – who do we have and what is our community like? – are the key ones. It isn’t much good saying we used to run a successful Sunday School and have loads of people to run it if your community has changed around you, the culture has changed, and people aren’t interested in coming to those sorts of things. It equally isn’t much good saying our community really need help managing their finances if you don’t have anyone among you with any ability to engage with people that way. You have to marry together what you are able to do and what your community would be interested in doing. You need to match ability with need.
For this reason, I have never been a fan of advertising for people to come in and run particular ministries for us. We run the ministries we run at the moment because of the particular people we have in light of the reality of the community around us. If some of those people move on, we might have others who feel able and willing to take their place. But it is just as likely that ministry may go by the wayside as they move on. When new people come in, they may have a desire to do a different ministry and we want to free them up to do what they are interested in, such as it serves our community around us, rather than force them into a role they don’t feel able to do or particularly enthusiastic about. Similarly, we don’t want to get someone in to run a ministry that was once fruitful but the changing face of our community means we need to do different things to reach them. We have to be ready to say that we need different ministry approaches depending on the nature of the community around us. Pressing on with the “old ways” just because we’ve always done them, even though our community has no interest in them, makes no sense at all.
This is why, in our desire to get a second worker, we have purposefully not been prescriptive. We want someone who will expand the work of ministry here. We want someone who has a desire to see people reached with the good news of Jesus Christ and built up to maturity in the faith. Specifically how they do that is entirely up for grabs. They may slot into existing ministries and expand them; that’s fine. But they may start new things altogether; that’s fine too. They may be excited about stuff we’re already doing or more excited about the potential to do something we’re not doing. So long as it is aimed at making disciples and it genuinely serves the community God has put us in, we want to build our ministries around the people the Lord has given us.