Where are the answers?
My family kept them on the top shelf in the dining room. It was also an office, at times a nursery, and where the piano was. I don’t know where we got them from, but I remember them seeing them as a child sitting up on the top shelf, all neatly arranged. Sometimes I would get them down just to flip through and see what I could learn. The encyclopedias were source of knowledge, wisdom, and entertainment for an introverted kid like me. I don’t know if they were a particularly good set, but they were ours. My siblings and I used them for homework sometimes, or just as heavy books to press leaves in. If there was a question that we didn’t know the answer to, we could find it in there.
It’s helpful to know where the answers are. As a child we believe our parents have most of the answers. As we grow up we learn they don’t, and so we begin to look elsewhere. Somewhere along the way my family traded our encyclopedias for a computer. More likely we traded them for an encyclopedia on the computer, (Encarta, anyone?), and eventually for the internet and all it’s wisdom. We are all looking for answers, from how many cups in a gallon to how to fix a broken marriage. One of the keys to appearing smart is not just having all the answers yourself, but knowing where to get them.
When I arrived as a new pastor on the field almost 7 years ago, I came to a church that was looking for answers. There had been the issues that many churches face, and they wanted someone who knew how to fix it. I believed of course that I had the answer, but if you get right down to it I believed that I was the answer. Here were people looking for answers, and lucky for them I had them all. I quickly set about giving them the answers I just knew that they needed. You might not be surprised to know that conflict arose when I was appalled that they didn’t like my answers. And in some cases, they just didn’t like me!
When we have a question about how to fix a dishwasher, who starred in that movie, or how to find the acute angle of a triangle, we know that we can turn to friends, family, or experts, either online or in person. But where should church leaders go when they are seeking answers about how they can get healthy again?
Some believe the answer can be found in the world, that if we change our church to be more like the world then we can get people to come back to church. Others think the answer is in finding that next great up and coming pastor who could sell snow to Eskimos. If a church can find the most charismatic leader available then the church will grow! Others think the answer is going back to the glory days, the ways that the one pastor did it who grew the church so much all those years ago.
How can a church find the answer to bring the church back to life? It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was not the answer this church needed, but I still thought I could find it. I read widely, listened to podcasts, and went to conferences. The answer had to be out there somewhere, if only I could find it. I looked every where for it, except for one place. In the pews of the church. The answer to the question of church revitalization is not found the in the pulpit, but in the pews. A particularly gifted pastor might be a temporary answer, just like a new program might bring temporary answers to a church looking to increase attendance. But over time the lure of those things will fade, the pastor will leave, or families will move on. Only when the members and leaders of a church commit themselves to putting reaching their community for Christ above all other things will a church be able to avoid decline and despair.
Every church has questions. The answer is not to find the next great pastor or staff member. The answer to church health lies in the pews, which is partially dependent on the health of the the one in the pulpit. The answer is not another great pastor, a sage guru with all the answers. Fresh ideas from a pastor might help, but that is a not a cure all. Nor do the answers lie with updating buildings and programs to the latest trends, though those things might be needed.
When a community of believers falls so in love with Jesus that they will do anything to introduce him to other people, then that church will be changed. Work to lead people to Jesus, to love him, to work for him, to share him with everyone they meet, and you will find the answer that you are looking for.