Have you learned that nothing “goes without saying” anymore?
That sobering truth runs counter to our tendency to think there are some universally shared assumptions that all of us agree upon. We may think that everyone agrees with us about what a family looks like, what the Bible teaches regarding some pressing social issue or which is a more effective worship style. We stand before a congregation, a denominational group or even our own family and make huge assumptions that have no basis in reality.
I once heard a high-profile preacher state with conviction: “It goes without saying that the pastor is the leader of the church.” You could feel the tension in the room rise several notches, and one insightful soul behind me whispered, “You’d better let Jesus know about that.”
At McAfee School of Theology’s William L. Self Preaching Lectures in Atlanta this spring, Robert Jones, a professor at Beeson Divinity School, suggested that churches and clergy are especially prone to making these assumptions with regard to Scripture.
Lamenting the biblical illiteracy that plagues most congregations today, Jones urged his audience of preachers to go back to the fundamentals and re-establish the things we hold in common. Don’t take for granted that the building blocks of the faith are firmly implanted in the hearts and minds of your parishioners. In fact, he suggested, assume that they are not. Our biblical illiteracy means that seemingly clear-cut truths must be regularly revisited and reaffirmed.
Does it go without saying that prayer is a daily priority in the life of a believer?
Does it go without saying that sacrificial giving is the norm for God’s people?
Does it go without saying that judging others has no place in Christ’s church?
Does it go without saying that humility is more important in godly leaders than charisma?
You get the idea.
There are many things we may assume are shared values that are actually called into question every day. One of the signs of a healthy church and a healthy leader is giving focused attention to the fundamentals.
Making Jesus the filter through which all such questions pass keeps us true to our calling. If a church can get clear about whose church it is, for example, much of the strife that characterizes congregational power grabs is negated. If the pastor thinks it is his or her church, if members think it is their church, if deacons think they own the place, if the super-pious Sunday School class thinks it calls the shots, or if the contemporary worship group or the traditional worship group or the experimental worship group think they are in charge, the result is always the same: a fractured fellowship plagued by chaos and confusion.
When we not only say but believe and practice that the church belongs wholly to Jesus Christ, and that all decisions and power and vision must pass through him and his example, then much of the chaos and confusion fade away.
Let’s spend some time in our churches articulating the things that we believe should go without saying.
Here’s a short list of ideas to get you started. They will need constant attention and high visibility if your church is to move toward health.
Do these ideas go without saying in your community of faith?
1. We will address each other using the biblical injunctive: speak the truth in love.
2. We will regard our differences as a gift rather than a problem.
3. We believe God loves the whole world, so we will love others as God has loved us.
4. We will find our life by losing it.
5. We will regard worship as an offering to God, not entertainment for ourselves.
6. We will put our trust in God, not conventional wisdom.
7. We expect to suffer and sacrifice and will not complain when we do.
8. We will make time in our schedules for God.
9. We will direct attention to God, not ourselves.
10. We want to live in a constant state of gratitude.
Some things really should go without saying. Of course, the only way something becomes a shared belief that goes without saying is when we say it over and over again and make it a core value that permeates all we say and do. Perhaps this is a good time to be crystal clear about such things.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.