Saturday, January 26, 2008

Winning on Purpose

I spent the morning attending a conference sponsored by our district that was based on John Kaiser's book Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission. In fact, Kaiser was there himself. I must say that while his book is filled with great wisdom and insight, he's far better in person. He's funny, conversational, and generally enjoyable to listen to. I'd like to share a couple of insights that came out of the conference.

First, Kaiser points out that our mission as the church is a response to the following question: "Why does our congregation exist?" In turn, one could answer this in one of three ways. First, some churches might (and quit often do) come down on the side that the church is for us. Answering this way is a result of having an inward focus with the result being that the church exists as a "spiritual healthclub" of sorts wherein we pay dues (our tithes) and therefore feel like we should get something back in return (having our needs met). Keep in mind that this is not a salvation issue.

A second way a church could answer this question comes down on the opposite side of the spectrum. Here, we might say that the church exists for others. Having such an approach comes from an outward focus and espouses the belief that the church is for those who aren't here yet. Salvation, the concern for those who don't know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, is of chief concern in the emphasis placed on others.

Thirdly, many churches would answer this question by saying that the church is for both - those in the church and those outside the church. This is seemingly a good answer. It's a safe answer and probably a biblical answer. However, the follow up question to this answer is the following: If the church exists for BOTH, who are you going to serve first? In other words, who gets preferential treatment? Who comes first? The reason why this follow up question has to be asked is because if we simply say that the church is for both, whose going to get the most attention? It's the people inside the church, the current attenders, that squeak the loudest and thereby warrant the most attention. The people outside the church are not knocking down our doors and clamoring for our attention. So, if this happens, and it will if we say BOTH, then in fact we've become inward focused and by doing so, conclude that the church exists for us.

So, this brings us back to the beginning. The church must exist for others first. This doesn't mean that we don't care for the needs of our parishioners. However, it does mean that they aren't served first. In fact, it is they that serve in order to fulfill the Great Commission.

You see, our mission is so important and if we lose sight of it, as many of us in church leadership do, we'll slowly fall into a focus that draws us further and further inward. To do so would be to miss out on God's intended purpose for the church - to reach out to the least, last, and lost. After all, it's not the spiritually healthy that need help, but those who are sick. This is why Jesus came. This is why the church exists today.