The Only Two Questions Any Pastor Should Be Asking Right Now

July 17, 2014 — 16 Comments

Pastors spend a lot of time solving problems, and that means asking questions. Unfortunately, most of those questions are unimportant, even trivial. I know this because I’ve wasted plenty of my own time wondering about these same things.

Handsome businessman daydreaming of his business future
In fairness, many of these questions are forced upon pastors by their job description as the leader of an organization and have little to do with their real work as shepherds of God’s flock.

But a pastor has to earn a living somehow, so most spend the majority of their time pondering things like these—

  • How can I get more people to come to church?
  • Where will I raise enough money to pay the mortgage?
  • How can I direct church ministries and still find time to write sermons?
  • How do I keep the women’s ministry director from strangling the youth pastor?

The Operations Question

All these are versions of the Operations Question, which has to do with managing the church as an organization having property, employees, activities, and constituents. The Operations Question solves the problems of management: staffing, funding, scheduling, time management, logistics.

The Vision Question

A few pastors are asking a different question, which goes something like this:

  • How can I lead this church to change?
  • What strategies will most effectively reach people in my community?
  • How do I lead this congregation in accomplishing the mission?

That sounds better for sure, but the Vision Question is just the operations question with more panache. It’s about doing the same thing better or bigger or with a different audience.

Neither of these questions addresses the fundamental problems the church faces now, which have nothing to do with funding, scheduling, or growth strategies.

Two more urgent questions address the primary problems we face today.

The Question of Character

The first has to do with the character of Christians themselves.

How do I get people to imitate Jesus in daily life as opposed to giving intellectual assent to Christian ideas without exhibiting life transformation?

And that’s what most Christians do because that’s what they’ve been taught. Evangelism, we believe, is getting people saved, which means leading them to make a one-time acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord. That’s the goal, and we’re not that bad at it.

Holiness, so we’ve come to believe, is something beyond salvation. It is leading people be transformed, to think and behave as Jesus did. And that’s really hard to do. Impossible, some say.

So most pastors, like most Christians, bypass this question entirely. Leading people to decide that Jesus is Lord—and, hopefully, come to church—is as far as we go. Though we spend a good deal of time and energy trying to rectify the behavior of people outside the church, we give precious little thought to transforming our own lives.

Which brings up a second, related question.

The Question of Witness

The second fundamental question has to do with our witness in the world, how others perceive us and, by implication, how they perceive Jesus.

How do we transform the public perception of Christians as judgmental, anti-intellectual, and mean-spirited to welcoming, hopeful, and helpful, which is how the ordinary folk of Jesus’ day perceived him?

The church as a serious public relations problem. We’re seen as anti-women, anti-gay, anti-intellectual, and reactionary. Our efforts to make converts—even in the rudimentary sense of leading people to affirm that Jesus is Lord–are constantly thwarted by this. People don’t like us, and we can’t seem to figure out why.

How do we change that?

The answer to both questions is the same.

When Christian people begin to live the way Jesus lived, not simply affirming as true the classic tenets of the faith and not merely avoiding the most obvious evils of our time but pursuing intimacy with God every day and making the hundreds of daily choices to be hopeful, faith filled, gentle, compassionate toward the poor, pure minded, detached from the world, and forgiving, just as Jesus was, we will be changed in character, not merely in name, and others will begin to see the church not as a den of bigots, misogynists, and pedophiles, but as a place of refuge, hope, and salvation.

In short, we will have answered both of the fundamental questions now facing the church.

A Modest Proposal

So here is my modest proposal for the transformation of church and society, a simple two-point plan:

One: Begin to think of salvation as the transformation of your entire self from death to life rather than as mere forgiveness for sin with a ticket to heaven.

Two: Stop telling people outside the church how they ought to behave and give full attention to the transformation of your own soul.

That’s it.

When Christian people live lives marked by hope, joy, and a fresh, new way of living, we will be transformed people, and we will transform the world.

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I'm lead pastor at Fall Creek Wesleyan Church and the author of a few books including A Different Kind of Crazy and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering. When I have ideas that might help you transform your life and community, I post them here.
  • Just Saying.

    I agree for the most part but the fact is if we are truly trying to live like Jesus then there are going to be people who don’t like us no matter what and we need to understand and accept this fact. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be kind. I believe the fruit of the Spirit should be evident but 2 Timothy 3:12 In fact,everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…

  • http://www.paulsohn.org/ Paul Sohn

    Hey Lawrence. Great post! I just stumbled on your blog via Michael Hyatt’s blog. It’s great to connect with another brother and blogger! Looking forward to reading more of your content!

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      Thanks, Paul. Glad to meet you.

      • David Nesamony

        It is a good view point. The main focus is what is transformation. If we love Jesus and our selves we transform ourselves to be like Jesus but we love others we transform them to towards Jesus. the vision purpose and the operational purpose are real. We mainly focus on organization I stead of visioning the future.

  • http://www.basileiamovement.com Eric

    Lawrence, some really good stuff here. I also just stumbled upon your blog, and really appreciate these questions. I like how you link “what we do” to vision. I think a clear vision should strongly direct what we do in the church. Programs, staff, worship, etc. I like to think of vision as the razor with which we say yes or no. Does it align with who we are and what we’re called to do? That’s a great place to start.

    I do think we need a balance of church vision and personal transformation. I am ALL about focusing on our transformation rather than the behavior of others. I also think that unless we’re communicating the vision of our community of faith, it’s hard for people to either jump on board, or look for somewhere that fits them better. How do you balance both?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      Eric, I think that balance is so important. I guess what I’m thinking is that we may have overemphasized these institutional issues (which do matter, of course) at the expense of spiritual growth and a passion for holiness. That may be just my experience, but that’s what it feels like from here. What do you think?

  • http://www.martinamcgowan.com/ Martina McGowan

    Good, interesting and informative post. At least a part of the issue, I think, is that people don’t like church, and we DO know why. But we do not want to do the hard work involved in opening up that dialoge. We are resistant to authentic self-examination, weighing what we do vs what may be truly Christ-like and missional. And here is the hard part- we are most resistant to changing ourselves into the models we profess to be.

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      Martina, yes, it’s really hard work, isn’t it?

  • Pastor Steve Braudt

    Amen – Lawrence! The church/body of Christ needs to be relational, just as Jesus modeled! The vision and transformation of the larger church will happen as members find those areas in common that God has called them to transform! The combined energy (with the Holy Spirit) of these disciples will generate the necessary movement to transform the church and to continue the path towards the Kindom of God!
    Truly Love God and Love Neighbor and direction we take after that will be one of inspired and Divine discernment!

    • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

      That’s my hope, Steve.

      • Browsing

        Quite interesting conversation. Things that make you go hmmmmmmm!

  • TruthWins

    There are a couple of things that concern me about this post but the most glaring is the lack of zeal for souls. Okay, I’m sure it’s not totally lacking, but it seems to at least be potentially diminishing due to the pressures of the world. I am my brother’s keeper and I *should* desire his salvation. It is a true and good act of charity to offer fraternal correction to others. I believe you have succumbed to allowing the world to define you as a Christian. It appears to have succeeded in beating you into submission, which is its singular goal. I understand where you are going with this and I also understand from whence it came. I don’t believe it came from the Holy Spirit, by the way. The evil one loves having Christians become defensive about what we believe to the point of focusing on the persecution (which we were told we will suffer and that it is a mark of actually doing what we ought) so much so that we cease trying to help others live a less sinful life.

  • lacroix

    I’m so weary of scrutinizing every little thing folks say, exploring every little unstated assumption and considering with a fine tooth comb every implication. Here’s the deal IMHO…..most everything boils down to love, is it loving, does it reflect the heart of Jesus. To me, this post bleeds empathy and love and for that reason I love it big dog…..I would gladly place myself under your pastoral care…..you get it, most church going folks, in my opinion, don’t. Bravo sir!

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  • Nanashi

    A triple “Banzai!!!” ( = ‘live long and prosper’ ) to you, Dr. Wilson! Everything, and I mean Everything that speaks to me lately points to the essence of your “Modest Proposal”, above. In essence, Everything from terrific Anime (and there are some amazing series out there, such as Hyouge Mono and The Sword of the Stranger), to the Bhagavad Gita, to Gandhi, to the Hagakure (Stacey Day’s translation alone renders it aright), to Vipassana Meditation, to Oswald Spengler, to Josef Pieper, to C.S. Lewis, to Rico Lebrun, to Odilon Redon, and on and on. What you are proposing is a tall order, but having fled from this suggestion for decades, I am forced to conclude that, ultimately, there is no other option. All else is premature death. A path as narrow as the sharp side of a blade, yet as wide as infinity. Thank you for publishing many inspiring, well-written articles online.

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