We live in a busy world and the bad news is that we are going to get busier further down the road. In the past people thought that they can have a good rest when they retire, but now they still have to work their guts out even when old. Probably they can only stop when they enter their graves. The situation is not better in the church either. Rather than being a place of solitude and spiritual rest, the church has become very much like the working world. It is driven by results, sizes, strategies and techniques. We have become the ones who engineer her success rather than God. In the past, the pagans brought along their beliefs and practices into the church when the whole Roman Empire ‘converted ‘. Today, we also bring the things of this world to manage and run the church. That’s why we are seeing many ‘CEOs’ in the church. The church is corporatized. The church is marketed like a product.
Not that we should not learn from the world or should not adopt things from the world. I think we should and even move on to contextualize and adopt the things of this world to win the lost, but we must be careful of building our own Babel. Though seemingly more spiritual on the outside, the Lordship of Christ is being eroded gradually and subtly. We can be known for being alive but we might be dead on the inside.
We need to strengthen what has remained. We need to let go of our drivenness which so often has resulted in burn outs. We need to forsake that competitive spirit that tend to compare with one another. We need a humble spirit dependent on God rather than try to prove our own ability. It’s time that we fully surrender ourselves to God.
Some disciples may be involved in many areas of services, yet they may not have built deep in their spiritual lives. They need the recognition and the busyness to prove their worth in God. Others need the continual manifestations of miracles, signs and wonders to excite them and keep them going. Some as leaders, interpret the word wrongly and speak according to the meaning they want the Bible to say. Others misquote the Bible and use the verses out of context. We also see leaders running the church as if they were magicians or CEOs. All these problems may not be new, yet little has been done to address them. Why? This is because those who do things in this manner firmly believing that they are doing the right thing.
As such, it is not enough to just build our spiritual lives deep. We can possibly build our lives on the wrong foundation altogether. It is important that we must get it right too. These days we see false teachings becoming more and more prevalent. But sad to say, churches are not making much of a stand. When some prominent figure appears, churches would tend to support regardless of what kind of background the person is from. Sometimes, churches are even not aware of the background of the person. Take the Prosperity Gospel as an example, it can camouflage itself as a sound teaching so well that even the evangelical churches may not be aware of it. Now, there’s the gold dust phenomenon happening in churches. Many Christians are not even asking whether it is biblical. They are not testing the spirits or see whether it is of the world. People are just fascinated and taken in.
It is time for us to be careful of liberalism again. Secularism, consumerism, pragmatism and syncretism have crept into the church subtly to dethrone Jesus. We must be able to read the times of today. We cannot afford to follow the trend blindly. We need to continually search our hearts and test every spirits that come our way. Do not assume our positions and views are always right. As we build deep, make sure we build it right too. There’s nothing better than to go back to the Source.
We are often concerned about the pastors having too much authority, so we often rotate them around in the various congregations. But how about the lay leadership? Though there may be elections almost every year. It’s interesting to note that the same old people often get elected again and again. This is a worrying phenomenon.
Firstly, this usually means that the laity having greater authority than the clergy. It is therefore hard to get things done in church. The church is often trapped to please everyone more than to fulfill the mission of God. The laity would usually drive their own projects in their own directions rather than being aligned to a common vision.
Secondly, this means new leaders are not coming up fast enough. Since the pastors do not have much authority, they end up doing all the ‘coordination’ work in church, leaving them not much time to raise new leaders. Many a times, the pastors do not have a free hand to disciple the people in church. The lay leaders may also hog onto their positions and do little to raise up new leaders too. As such, year after year, the same people are being elected again and again.
Thirdly, there is likely an imbalance of power in church. It is interesting to note that most of the lay leaders in church are in the upper class. They are not just the richer ones in church, they also hold high positions in their workplace as well. Though this is not necessarily bad, but the pastors usually do not dare to meddle too much regarding the lives of these people. As such, money and status can speak louder than God in this situation. As these people are usually in the management positions, they often bring in a lot of management techniques into the church. We often see how these churches are being measured by individual performance and efficiency rather than character and faithfulness. On the other hand, the middle and lower income groups are hardly in the management level of the church. As such, the formation of church strategy and policy may not be sensitive to the needs of these people.
Perhaps it is time we evaluate our church. Some studies have shown that we are attracting more white-collar workers than blue-collar workers in church. Why is this so? Are we trying to build an upper class faith? It is time to see who are we discipling. We should disciple people from various income groups so that we can better represent the church. Have a system to rotate the lay leadership so that there is new influx of younger leaders. Do not let the same lay leaders hog on the power and authority of the church. Make sure there is a good spread of people in the management of the church. As a body of Christ, we can learn from all walks of life.
The challenge we face in church today is not just a lack of discipleship of the believers in church, but a lack of discipleship in the leadership as well. Though leaders are the most important people forming the core of the church, they are seldom discipled. One of the most obvious reason is that they have no time to be discipled because they are serving in so many areas in the church. They have so many meetings to attend. Some of them are even facing burn out. Where can they find time for discipleship? Most of the time, they have to use the Bible to feed others, but hardly do they have time to let others feed them.
Another issue is regarding who to disciple them? The obvious answer may be the pastor but this does not happen most of all the time. Besides the fact that the pastor has even more meetings and activities to attend, a more tricky problem is that he may not have the authority to do so. For some churches, the pastor is employed by the church, as such the pastor is at the mercy of the congregation. The elders who are usually lay leaders have more say than the pastor. The pastor can hardly comment on the church. They just act upon the directions from the elders or the board. Hopefully they have a godly group of elders who can put aside their own agendas. If not, the church will just keep debating and voting on every issues based on their human minds rather than discernment from the Spirit. It would be tough to have these elders placed under a discipleship program. Most of them would just hang on to their power in church. Sometimes there are even factions and power struggle.
Another common problem is rotational leadership. Pastors are usually given four to six years terms in a local church before they are transferred to another church. Though it meant well not to let the pastor hog on to his power to build up his own “kingdom”, it also means that the pastor is not close to the people as compared to the lay leaders. As such, the power and authority of the church still lies with the lay leaders. The lay leaders often think that they know the church better than the pastor and therefore think that they have more say about the congregation and have lots of expectations on the pastor. Yet the pastor cannot do much besides the usual pastoral duties on Sunday because the members are under the control of the laity. These lay leaders are also the chairman for various committees in church, and this makes it even more difficult for the pastor to direct the committees. In many cases, the pastor is accused for not doing enough in each area of ministry, where in the first place they have not allowed the pastor to direct their committees.
Then what about the pastors themselves? Who are to disciple them? Of course, the senior pastor can disciple the younger generation of pastors provided that he has the time and put emphasis on the work of discipleship. However, there are many pastors who like to hold on to the power rather than delegate their power. While they know they should train up the younger generation, they are fearful that the next generation would destroy what they have built up. As such, they cannot let go of the church and the young pastors cannot rise up to take the helm. While the main pastor may be very successful and popular, the younger generation of pastors are being suppressed in leadership. These churches do run a high risk because they are built on the faith and charisma of the senior pastors. If the next generation of pastors are not given the opportunity to rise up, the future of the church would be at stake.
There are no easy solutions for the issues above. It would be easier if we all are humble enough to admit that we need to be discipled. However, this is usually not the case. Not all pastors, elders or deacons like to be discipled. They have so many things on their hands. I must say that these leaders are usually very capable. They are very good at getting things done and organising activities. But the downside is that they often neglect the building of their spirituality and character. What they need is to build in time for peer discipleship. Rather than spending so much time in meetings, allocate time to share about what God is doing in their lives and what they are learning from God. It may also help if each has a buddy where there can be more sharing and accountability. It is a time we put aside our titles and designations just to be our brothers’ keepers. It will be good if we are able to do this for different levels of leadership. Remember, the higher we go, the greater is the need for discipleship. Jesus did not get caught up in meetings, but He spent His time discipling people, especially the leaders-to-be. Spiritual leaders are not there just to get things done, they are the ones leading the way in spiritual formation too. If we are serious in growing the kingdom of God and building successions of leaders, we should start discipling the leaders soon.