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.
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.
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.