Tuesday, August 16, 2011



In 1897, an envoy from Western Australia was addressing the Victorian Baptist Union Assembly. He painted a graphic picture of a land with long distances, meagre rainfall, a scarcity of water, and a dearth of evangelical preachers. A young theological student, William Kennedy, felt that God was calling him to face the rigours of pastoral and evangelistic work in that distant State. A small Baptist fellowship in Katanning, 200 miles south of Perth, a frontier town with just thirty buildings, called the young farmer-student to be their pastor. There was no other church for 100 miles.

His salary: eighty pounds a year, and after paying the rent (forty pounds a year) he and his young wife often experienced a bare cupboard. The Baptist Union of Western Australia's sole property was an old bicycle, 'fit for the scrap-heap'. But he travelled hundreds of miles on bicycles, preaching and planting churches throughout the 'Great Southern'. And, with the help of people he enthused, and his own bare hands, built church-buildings that were meant to last. (When critics complained that he was building too elaborately, he would fire back: 'I'm building for the future!'). During his first ten years Kennedy built four beautiful churches, several manses, conducted missions in tents and caravans in widely scattered places, won great numbers to Christ, and injected enthusiasm everywhere he went. Eloquent with his pen, he wrote hundreds of letters. The driving force behind his pioneering energy: 'There remains very much land yet to be possessed. Go in and claim it for Christ!'

The biography of this great man, written by Leslie Gomm in a Clifford Press booklet (1959) is an inspiring story.

How do people of energy and vision get to be like that?

The pastors who have relished their work over the long haul have a passion, a life-goal. They're not afraid to take calculated risks to achieve their God-given vision. They 'envision' a certain shape for their church. I heard an effective leader tell a pastors' conference: 'Figure out what the big idea is and give your life to it!' Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God (Carey). These pastors are dreaming dreams about all sorts of outreach ministries.

Researcher George Barna wrote a couple of books trying to answer the most common vision-questions. In User Friendly Churches he notes that in evaluating churches that are healthy, compared to those that are stagnant or in decline, one of the key distinctions is the existence of 'true vision for ministry'.

In his later book The Power of Vision he offers some basic principles and advice:

* 'Vision for ministry is a reflection of what God wants to accomplish through you to build his kingdom' (p. 29)

* 'Visionary pastors often reach out to other pastors by working with them individually or through church-related conferences. Be sensitive enough to learn new ideas for communicating a vision from those who have travelled the path'. 'Interact with successful leaders to understand the content and description of [their] vision, how they arrived at it, how it has redesigned their activities and relationships, how they spread the ownership of the vision, and the ways they champion the acceptance and practice of the vision ' (pp. 31,34, 167)

* 'Vision is not the result of consensus; it should result in consensus' (p. 45)

* 'By definition, all leaders are visionaries' (p. 47)

* 'The purpose of vision is to create the future. Vision has no force, power or impact unless it spreads from the visionary to the visionless' (pp.. 48, 52)

* 'Risk is a natural and unavoidable outgrowth of vision' (p. 50)

* 'Too much emphasis upon a slogan can be detrimental' (p. 59)

* 'You cannot be a true leader unless you are capable of charting a desired destination for your followers' (p. 108)

* 'The absolute goal of vision for ministry is to glorify God'

More specifically, what will the 'next church' be like? While new ways of being church have sprung up in recent years, they have their strengths and limitations. Eddie Gibbs, in his book Church Next, analyses some church models and suggests nine 'major storm centres' churches have to navigate to be transformed.

They are:

1.. From living in the past to engaging with the present. We need to train our people to be missionaries again. Western Society will not be brought back to Christian values by preaching and persuasion alone.

2.. From market-driven to mission-oriented. In a desire to reach out to a local population churches can be tempted to resort to marketing strategies in place of missionary insights. In a market-driven mission strategy the bottom line is numbers: where the gospel message becomes a means for personal fulfillment: where the entire evangelistic enterprise is shaped by those needs the consumer desire to have satisfied.

3.. From bureaucratic hierarchies to apostolic networks. This chapter challenges the role of the traditional denomination. A denomination is destined to failure where the structures are in place primarily as instruments of control, and leaders operating within a hierarchical structure see their role as one of delegating and giving permission. There needs to be a transition:

* from bureaucratic authority to personal authority
* from formal structure to relational structure
* from control to co-ordination.

4.. From schooling professionals to mentoring leaders. In this section Gibbs offers practical suggestions for re-engineering theological education and leadership training, citing Richard John Neuhaus: 'What is needed is not the training of religious technicians but the formation of spiritual leaders.' He suggests that every theological student training for the ministry should stop to ponder the questions:

* Do I regard my education as providing prestige and security in the future?

* Or do I consider it as essential preparation for high-risk mission?

5.. From following celebrities to encountering saints. A W Tozer commented that it was increasingly difficult to get Christians to meetings where God was the chief attraction. We live in a church culture which often undermines authentic spirituality by emphasising publicity hype and celebrity focus. Gibbs suggests that the answers to pastoral effectiveness depend not on one's ability to develop charisma and communication skills, but on one's authenticity as a follower of Christ. He explores the benefits of Catholic, Celtic and Orthodox spirituality, and reminds us of the deep wells of spiritual wisdom in the Protestant, Puritan and Holiness traditions from which we need to draw afresh.

6.. From dead orthodoxy to living faith. If the basic question in the previous chapter was, 'Is there evidence of the presence of God in the life of this individual?', this section poses the question 'Is there an authentic divine encounter as the people of God gather to worship?' 'It is difficult to witness convincingly about a God we do not know and love in our inmost being.'

7.. From attracting a crowd to seeking the lost. Eddie Gibbs critiques the Willow Creek seeker-sensitive model of evangelism which has been so popular in recent years. He suggests that more and more seekers may be looking not in the direction of the Christian churches that regard themselves as seeker-sensitive, but for alternative forms of religious experience. 'Good news sharing is not a declaration from people who have all the answers and have appropriated all that the gospel conveys. Rather we share as much about God as we have come to understand, and we invite others to join us in our pilgrimage through life'.

8.. From believing to belonging. Gypsy Smith used to speak of the five Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and yourself. The fifth gospel reminds us that we can exert no more influence for the Saviour than the quality of our life allows. Those who do not yet know Christ need to discover people like themselves working out the implication of the Christian faith in every area of life, people whose lifestyles and occupations closely correspond to their own.

9.. From generic congregations to incarnational communities. Gibbs discourages churches from basking in the success of highly publicised mega-churches only to discover that they represent models that are not readily transferable. He suggests that churches move from a strategy of invitation to one of infiltration, to being the subversive and transforming

* missionary train their members

* develop as a counter-cultural movement

* disciple through authentic community life

* live adventurously with diversity and paradox

So, back to vision. Bill Hybels writes, somewhere: 'How can I lead people into the future if my picture of the future is fuzzy? Every year we have a Vision Night at Willow Creek. You know who started Vision Night? I did. Guess who I mainly do it for? Me. Every year when Vision Night rolls around on the calendar it means that I have to have my vision clear.

'Every leader needs a Vision Night on the calendar. On that night you say, "Here's the picture; this is what we're doing; here's why we're doing it; if things go right, here's what the picture will look like a year from now."

'We prepare very diligently for Vision Night at Willow Creek.'

The future (in human terms) is shaped more by the visionary gifts of leaders than by any other single factor. Visionary leaders know God, know who they are (again, they've dealt with their childhood stuff, for example) and know where they are going - and they have some idea how they're going to get there.

According to Kaldor and Bullpitt's study of Burnout in Australian Church Leaders, 'Vision Killers' in churches include

* Tradition ('We've never done it that way!')

* Fear ('We've failed before and don't want to fail again')

* Stereotypes ('They are always like that')

* Complacency ('We're doing OK')

* Fatigue ('We're too tired to do that')

*  Short-term thinking ('Let's fix this first')

I believe, that, more specifically:

# Christians should still expect Jesus to return in their lifetime

# We should still have goals/visions of reaching our generation for Christ

# Knowing that '80% is full', visionary leaders are always weighing options: shall we extend (both buildings and parking), relocate, multiply Sunday services, plant a daughter-church? (They have an option to buy all the properties surrounding the church's). They're constantly inventing theoretical structures for their church's government: how can we operate with more people-ownership of our goals, but with fewer people-hours in administration?

# There will always be people difficult for us to love (yes, we're saying it again!): in previous times the categories were racial, sexual, gender, chronological, economic; now three special groups are homosexuals, paedophiles, and Muslims. But to each/all we will say, on behalf of Jesus who loved marginalised people (the 'least, the lost, and the last'): 'God does not share out love to all creatures: God gives all of his love to each of his creatures' (Hugh of St Victor).


Rowland Croucher

July 2002
A Pastoral Survival Guide [9] - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8666.htm

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