Friday, January 27, 2012

Pruning is Crucial to Continued Health

I remember the time my dad decided that the overgrown, gnarly ash tree behind our house needed pruned. Some might say what he did went beyond pruning.  He cut the tree back to its core trunk and about four or five main limbs (stubbed off about three feet from the trunk).  Everyone figured the tree was not going to ever come back.  It became the talk of the neighborhood.  Eventually the tree began to show signs of life and grew back into a beautiful shade tree for our dog pen and the outhouse that sat directly next to it.

Pruning is used to encourage trees to develop a strong structure, to increase fruit bearing and to reduce the likelihood of damage during severe weather.  The same can be said about the ongoing pruning of organizations.  The growth-life expectancy of a church is ten to twenty years.  Most churches plateau at that point unless they remain intentional about their mission and vision.  That only happens when there is an ongoing pruning of out-dated programs, methods, decor, ill-placed staff and organizational structure that drain and distract from the mission and purpose of the church. 

Pruning is contrary to the nature of things.  Healthy trees and organizations will do some self-pruning as they grow, but left unmonitored, both trees and organizations will grow into cumbersome plants that use up all their energy to survive while producing very little fruit.  They even become dangerous as limbs break off and fall, causing damage as they fall and disease where they tore off the main tree.

God sent a message to several churches in the Book of Revelation that had been around for a while and had developed some problems.  He suggested some pruning and restoration of the mission and purpose of the church.  In Ephesus the business of doing church distracted them from doing "what they did at the first". (prune what distracts from evangelism)  In Pergamum there were wild branches that sprouted into immorality and political maneuvering. (prune them)  In Thyatira there was toleration of wrong teaching and immorality advanced by a strong, popular person. (prune it, risk the uproar)  In Sardis there was a hidden deadness and an appearance of being alive. (prune out the dead so there can be real life)  In Laodicea there was the stagnation of lukewarmness and comfortable pride. No waves  . . .  not hot . . . not cold. (prune the hypocrisy)

These letters sound pretty harsh . . . sort of like what my dad did to that old ash tree.  But God says, I correct and discipline everyone I love. (prune)  So be diligent and turn from your indifference."  

It is really great that leaders are planting new churches and branching out into multi-site campuses, but I think, with the proper pruning, many existing churches can be restored to healthy fruit-bearing bodies that once again advance the life-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.  What do you think?   

Do you know what happens to an old orange grove if you just let it go natural?  I do. (next time)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stop-and-Start - God's Change Plan

Tony Morgan has a series of "stop and start" articles that I have been following.  It is a good reminder that God is not a “stop” God.  He is a “change” God.  Ephesians 4 reminds us that you don’t change by stopping, but rather by putting on or starting something different.  For instance it says a liar is still a liar even when he stops lying.  He is only changed when he starts telling the truth.  Likewise, a thief hasn't changed when he stops stealing.  He is changed when he starts giving.

My big stop/start this year is: Stop worrying and start worshiping. I love the way people break into worship in the midst of the horrors of the Book of Revelation. It is because they see things differently.  The things are the same for everyone, but taking time to consider what is happening in the context of God is what leads to worship.  The church should be seen as a people of worship, not a people of worry.

Some of the other stop and start things could be: Stop comparing and start sharing.  Stop saying negative things and start saying positive things.  Stop watching television and start walking in the neighborhood. Stop drinking soda and start drinking water.

Things usually don't change because we stop doing something.  Change comes when we start doing what we ought to be doing.  What kind of things do you need to stop and start this year?

By the way, this year I am committed to stop watching pastors and churches struggle and to start helping them refocus on God's purposes and power in their lives.  If you want to join me in this effort check out this website and contact me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Conducting the Ministry

Being a pastor is much like being the conductor of an orchestra. God has called us to engage people in ministry, not just to do ministry ourselves.  Ephesians 4:11-12

God has written a heavenly symphony for the church to orchestrate. It is a symphony that will move the souls of men and women.  Each member of His church has a role to play in that symphony.  Each has a certain melody to add to the piece.  In an orchestra each member must be attentive to their part and submissive to the whole score or symphony as the conductor leads it.  Ephesians 5:15-21

Pastors are conductors of the orchestra of saints . . . allowing each one to participate and helping each do their best.  Rehearsing the score, building leadership in each of the sections, cuing the parts, setting the tone and enabling this group of individual musicians (Christians) to make music (live their lives) in a way that touches hearts and attracts attention to the composer (God).  2 Corinthians 3:2-6 
Pastor, don't try to be a one-man-band that pleases the audience.  Church member, don't try to write your own score. Get excited to participate in the symphony God has written for your church.  Remember,  God has written a symphony unique to your church and it is your privilege to perform it before a watching world.