Many churches and denominations are moving beyond denial and discovering that, in many instances, what they have been doing for decades is no longer working. We haven’t been making disciples and now our world and our church are facing the consequences.
We must be willing to change in order to be salt and light. Of course, there are many pinches that come when we face change and decide to work with it. Deacons can do much to help when the pinches come. Below are some of the predictable pinches, as well as some guidance for deacons when the going gets rough.
Pinches Churches Encounter
Churches facing change and willing to begin some self-evaluation encounter several predictable pinches:
- Bumping into “sacred cows” is inevitable in the process of self-evaluation and change. Many believe that because “it worked for me it ought to work for them.” Others believe that since “we’ve always had it, we must always keep it.”
- Trying to live off “successes” of the past is something many want to hold onto. Those who have grown in number, buildings and staff assume that indicates success. Others suggest that since we have members in the pews, money in the budget and a pastor who cares for us, that we are OK and don’t need to change. The churches in this situation are most difficult to change. They can’t or won’t see beyond themselves and their comfort. Realistically projecting into the future is of no interest to them.
- Shifting from taking care of “us” to reaching “them” is painful and even opposed by many. Unfortunately, we have raised a generation of church members who really believe that the church exist for those who are members. That is far from the New Testament mission of the church. The New Testament church exists to fulfill the Great Commission and to reach those outside the walls.
- Shifting expectations of clergy and laity is another threat to many. A careful study of the New Testament reveals there’s no difference in the calling of the clergy and the laity. All are called, gifted and sent into mission. Accountability to God is the same for both. In fact, “clergy” is not even in the New Testament.
- Making membership meaningful again poses a significant challenge. In many churches membership has little responsibility. You don’t have to come, give, go or be involved and you can be a member. Membership policies and practices are changing all across our country to make membership meaningful once again.
- Finding those areas the most people can say yes to is important. In making change, you always change values before you change structures. In doing this, you discern and help people move toward what they can say “yes” to rather than what they disagree with.
- Creating comfortable entry points for the non-believer and non-member offers a greater challenge. Those in our unchurched culture can’t or won’t connect with most of our traditional programs and ministries for a variety of reasons. So, we have to create comfortable entry points for them.
Deacons’ Role When the Pinches Come
- Be a visible, active advocate of and catalyst for change. Remember, your congregation will never go beyond its spiritual leadership, and you are part of that leadership!
- Be a consistent and visible supporter of the pastor, staff and others involved in change.
- Help the congregation move from denial and face the hard realities of the future. Make honest projections about the future.
- Lead by example and servanthood. This is the essence of the New Testament role of the deacon.
- Talk with and listen to your congregation and your community.
- Don’t let fear of change or a few disgruntled members stop the change. It’s better to lose a few members if changes they resist will help fulfill the Great Commission.
- Create change through the remnant. Don’t wait on everyone to get on board or your church may die.
Eddie Hammett is leadership/discipleship consultant for Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and adjunct professor at Gardner Webb Divinity School.
Buy Hammett’s books now from Amazon.com!
Making the Church Work: Converting the Church for the 21st Century
The Gathered and Scattered Church
Reframing Spiritual Formation: Discipleship in an Unchurched Culture