Tag Archives: vision

The Change Agent (the leader who brings about change)

What kind of leader in the church can effectively promote and lead needed change? Aubrey Malphurs in his book, Pouring New Wine into Old Wineskins, suggests at least thirteen different traits of a change agent.

The kind of change about which I speak is not change for the sake of change.  Some church leaders and pastors believe in the philosophy that every church needs to be changed, no matter what.  I don’t agree.  In my opinion leaders ought to make changes that are genuinely needed. What might those be? If the local church is failing in ways that Scripture defines, as illustrated for us in Revelation, chapters 1-3, or has problems similar to the twenty major issues that nearly ruined the ancient church in Corinth (read 1 and 2 Corinthians), then it’s time to change.  If there is corporate sloth, pride, apathy, lack of love, lack of genuine spirituality, immorality, selfishness (ingrown), legalism or any other corporate sins then it is time to repent and exercise faith in becoming like Jesus Christ, as his body.

Without God’s clear directives from his Word, and without God, the Holy Spirit working within the church through change agents (godly leaders, godly men and women of influence, etc.), then change may happen – but it is doubtful it will be the kind of change that is truly needed and that is God honoring. Ultimately God is the true Change Agent; nevertheless, he uses various means and people to accomplish needed change.

So, here are the traits of a leader who can influence and bring about change, which Aubrey Malphurs highlights in his book. A leader:

1.  A leader must be found with proper spiritual gifts, natural abilities and the right temperament to be a change agent.

2. A leader must seek God’s wisdom and will for a vision and plan, asking God if the vision and plan is right for the congregation he wants to change.

3. The leader must have a clear vision and plan for what he wants to do with the congregation he wants to change and be personally committed to the process of change.

4.  The leader must communicate his plan to the proper groups within the congregation. The leader always goes to the key groups within the church before going to the congregation.

5. The leader must not accept initial rejection of the vision and plan as a final rejection. It takes time for others to accept the plan.

6. The leader lays low for a short while upon initial rejection but comes back to the plan several times if necessary, approaching it from several different angles.

7. The leader puts around him people who are sympathetic to the vision and plan. They may be an ad hoc committee or a loose knit group to whom he goes for consultation.

8. The leader must permit other leaders and lay people to interact with the vision and plan so everyone gains ownership of the change.

9. The leader will give adequate time for the vision and plan to sink into the heads and hearts of the lay people long after the essential leaders are on board with the plan.

10. The leader, before implementing the vision and plan, will have a season of prayer at every level of the church.

11. The leader, with support of the ruling board, will implement the plan with excitement and enthusiasm.

12. The leader will not get overly disturbed or discouraged if a few people never adopt the vision and plan.  They will cause internal struggle, seek to remove the pastor, or leave the church.

13. The leader makes sure there is some plan set in place for evaluation of the ongoing plan to determine if it needs modification or scrapping.

D. Thomas Owsley

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The Ultimate Goal for Change in a Church

Sometimes leaders, spiritual or otherwise, seek change within a corporate entity because that fits their personality, or because change is presumed to be a sign of progress (while it may not always be), or because that’s what leaders are supposed to do, or because there is a new model approach to ministry.

There are men who believe that the first thing leaders should do upon newly arriving at the church is to shake up everything and disrupt the status quo.  Yet, change within the life of a local church should be weighed against Scripture while also considering the contributions and value of the church’s  past, its traditions, its current culture, the people’s gift mix and talents, resources, along with several other factors.

In a previous blog I noted the ultimate goal of a God-ordained ministry is:

to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12)

through the faithful exercise of their gifts (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12),

in order to form Jesus Christ in the local community of God’s people through love (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; 4:13; Col. 1:22-29;  1Thess. 3:11-13; 1 Tim. 1:5).  (I’m indebted to D. A. Carson’s books for this biblical insight)

Put another way, the primary objective for the local church leadership should be to form Jesus Christ in that local community so that the body becomes one new and mature man who lives in the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13), in an intimate full-knowledge of Jesus that fosters a deep love for and full imitation of Christ (Eph. 4:13), and who lives in the truth that is spoken and expressed through love (Eph. 4:15)!

If this is not the ultimate purpose for change within the local church then perhaps trying to radically change or restructure, or “shake up the status quo,” of the church is not in the best interest of all concerned.


D. Thomas Owsley

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If It Ain’t Broke… (or Why Change?)

Jj recently asked, “Why change?”  A very good question.  As they say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” The simple, and maybe obnoxious answer, would be “Why not change?”

So, allow me to begin by suggesting some rather good arguments not to change.  First, keeping things the way they are offers a level of stability for the individual and/or the group. Second, maintaining status quo provides some sense of security.  In an era of constant change and flux (in the West it is at a dizzying speed) security can be a good thing. Every person is different, and therefore there are those, for whatever the reasons, where tolerance for change is extremely low.  They need security for their emotional or mental state.  Third, concurrent with the previous two reasons, no or low change brings no or low stress. Of course I am speaking in relative terms since all of life is stressful to one degree or another. It is the capacity to deal with stress (or more properly stated – distress) that factors in to a person’s or group’s response to change.

There is another reason for not changing things, and that is the benefit(s) of tradition. Much has already been written on the good that tradition brings, so I won’t belabor the point here. Traditions inform and help to form the culture of a group. Tradition not only brings stability, security and a lack of stress to a person or group, but it offers connection to others in the past, present and even into the future. That can certainly be a good thing.

Now, back to the original question:  why change?  First, let me say that the change about which I speak has to do with the life of a person who has a saving faith in the life, death, burial, resurrection of the God-Man Jesus Christ. The God who became man to live the life of purity, holiness and righteousness on our behalf and then died to pay our debt to God so that believers would be made right in time and into eternity with God.  Even more, the change about which I speak has to do with the community of believers called the church.

When talking about change in this context I am presupposing:

1.   Not all change is good. Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good.

2.   Change is inevitable. However, from our human perspective change can be serendipitous or intentional, incidental or incredibly significant.

3.   Spiritual, social and numerical growth in the life of a person and church requires change.

4.   To get from one point to another necessitates change.

5.   To move from a sinful condition to a glorious one demands change.

6.   True, biblical reform comes through biblical change.

Not all change is good.

Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good. The history of our U.S. culture is one that reinforces the idea of progress and that all progress is positive.  Yet, as we know, not all progress is beneficial or positive.  I leave it to you to think about all the relatively good things or advances made over the past two hundred years, which have also brought challenges and problems.

For the believer in Christ and the local church, we must be careful to evaluate the “why” of change against the “what” of Scripture. For example, if our personal or corporate worship life is anemic then God clearly demands that to change. If we are being faithful to the Lord in terms of exercising the New Testament “one-another” commands then we ought not to change.  Our starting point and measurement must be what God tells us, not what the latest innovation, scheme, program, method, model, fad or trend says.

Change is inevitable.

However, from our human perspective change can be serendipitous or intentional, incidental or incredibly significant. God did not make a stagnant universe, therefore nobody lives in a stagnant environment. In his providential way, the Potter oversees his creation as it changes (shifting of the magnetic poles, the rise and fall of mountains, the blessing of rain and the curse of monstrous storms, etc.) He also manages the affairs of life from the toss of the die to the rule of dictators. In his redemptive way he is bringing history to its culmination, all in his good time and according to his ultimate design.  God works providentially and intentionally. In fact, God originally designed our planet and the universe to move from one state of glory to another (see below)!

The effect of nature’s activities bring about slight or enormous changes to us. We are more apt to accept natural events that change us than we are to accept intentional change introduced or imposed by others. And, how we perceive the change will impact our response or reaction to it.

In any case, change happens. The real question is not so much “why change” but rather what shall our response be to it?

Spiritual, social and numerical growth in the life of a person and church requires change.

We live in a created world that was intended from the beginning to move from one condition (glory)  to a better condition (glory).  This was even when God declared His original creation as good!

Original man, Adam and Eve, were required to change. How? They were to grow in knowledge of themselves and of God (this was their prophetic function). They were to learn about God, his creation, about self and others by thinking his thoughts about such things.

They were to grow in their relationship to and worship of God. This was part of their priestly function. They were also to grow in their relationship to the rest of creation as they glorified it by ruling over it as faithful and good stewards, and fashioning it according to heaven’s model. This was their kingly function. Through their God-directed and God-anointed labor they were to take the raw materials and re-form them into something beautiful and useful, and presenting the fruit of their labor to God. The moment he began to take care of the garden in the land of Eden, things changed.

As stewards they were to cultivate the earth. As stewards they were to exercise dominion over God’s creatures.  Note that the moment Adam named the animals things changes. They were to be fruitful and multiply, which of necessity breeds change! Even without the introduction of sin and evil, change would have taken place as God’s people would have re-formed creation from one condition of glory to the final consummation of all things in glory.

However, sin brought a different kind of change into the world, reversing that which was good. It corrupted the design for positive and glorious good change into a spiritual, social, and physical entropy.

God’s plan not to be undone, the redemption he brings  causes change in creation, reversing the reversal of sin. The whole point of the Bible is to record this changing dynamic in the universe, a change brought about by God’s recreative and redemptive work through Jesus Christ.

As believers in Jesus Christ and as a local church in Jesus Christ, we are being changed and we must work toward that change from sin to glory.  Granted, it is by God’s Word and Holy Spirit that true, redemptive change takes place. Nevertheless, we are told to deliberately and intentionally labor in God’s saving work as God works in and through us (Philippians 2:12-13). This process of change is, in theological and biblical language, repentance and faith. God desires, expects and demands us to put off the old by repenting and put on the new by faith. This means change.

This God-inspired and God-directed change affects our own and our church’s spiritual and social growth. For the local church this healthy maturity into Christ-likeness means growth, and often, but not always, means numerical growth.

To get from one point to another necessitates change.

This statement should be obvious. But, this statement also begs the question: to what point are we going? What’s the goal?  Ultimately the goal for the believer and the church is a state of Christ-like glory.  If the person or the church is not moving in that direction, then here is a central reason why change is important – it is because change into Christ-likeness is unquestionably necessary!  That is God’s design for us and our final destination. Anything that impedes this must be put aside, removed or destroyed.  Anything that promotes and fosters this must be accepted and employed. This then leads us to and supports the next statement:

To move from a sinful condition to a glorious one demands change.

One of the prevailing themes in the New Testament is that of repentance and faith, going from a sinful condition to that of a glorious one; moving out of the realm of old darkness into the kingdom of God’s marvelous light. To reject this demand for change is to reject Christ.  So, for one example, Hebrews makes plain that an unwillingness to repent, to mature in Christ and to take the pilgrim’s upward path toward that heavenly city will bring about God’s discipline (for true believers) or wrath (for pretenders of faith). 

True reform comes through biblical change.

Since we are called to and designed for dynamic change into Christ-likeness, then change is inevitable and required.  Personal and corporate change as those who believe in and belong to Jesus must and will take place.

This purpose of knowing Jesus Christ is to love him. To truly know him is to love him. to love him is to become and live like Christ. This is transformation and re-formation at its best. Having said this, it must be understood that transforming and reforming people and the church is not the ultimate goal.  The objective is not change for change’s sake. Sometimes we, particularly in the United States, assume that change is what we need – just because it supposedly means progress.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that.

Having been a Christian for forty years I have observed and participated in the numerous programs and models churches have used in order to change, to re-form.  There are a myriad of reasons for adopting and implementing these changes.  We can hear and read compelling arguments, such as “to make a difference in the world,” “to change the world,” “to save the church from impending death,” “to be relevant,” “to grow,” ad infinitum and often ad nauseum.Those reasons are not insufficient, and all too often bring about more harm than good.

That brings us back to the first main point: not all change is good. Good change is good. Good change that is defined, described or derived from God’s Word is unquestionably good.

So, Jj, in answer to your question, Why change?  We are to change personally and corporately because God wants us to change to become more like Jesus Christ.

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The Practices of a Healthy Church

Another good book that I have perused recently, one which I read some time back, is MacNair’s and Meek’s The Practices of a Healthy Church. Drawing upon Scripture and on personal experiences, they wrote the book to help churches and their leaders to evaluate and consider just how healthy their particular healthy church really is.

The excerpts below provide the gist of the material, which may also provide you with some things to consider or even spur you on to getting a copy for yourself.

-D. Thomas Owsley


Assess your church’s health, using these questions from the text:

1.   Are we open to change in order better to conform to God’s will for us as a church?

2.   Are many of our members evidencing spiritual growth?

3.   Do we as a congregation eagerly anticipate God’s blessing on our church, including His adding to our numbers?

4.   Do members sense that their elders both care for and lead them?

5.   Do members sense that their own spiritual gifts are engaged and deemed worthwhile?

6.   Is the importance we attach to Scripture evident in all our meetings and ministries?

7.   In our corporate worship, do we sense the presence and power of the living God?

8.   How is the community different because of our church’s presence in it?

9.   Have we specified a vision and plans to achieve it that realistically reflect our gifts and situation?

10. Are disagreements within our church relatively minor?

p. 16


The definition of church as the presence of Christ on earth also indicates what a good church is.  A good church is one which accurately represents Christ to the world, one which is a healthy spiritual organism, fully embodying this mystical union.  Moving closer and closer to Christlikeness, “growing up into the Head, that is, Christ,” is what the Bible says the church is supposed to be doing. p. 24

This means that the church needs to overcome a natural perception, in order to be to the neighborhood the earthly presence of Christ.  Unless we relate personally to people, our very presence will antagonize them. p. 27-28

One church I served as a consultant typified a maintenance mentality.  Ostensibly, they wanted to hire a youth director, thinking that an influx of young people would enable this congregation of people over sixty-five years old to maintain their existence (note the word maintain!).  At bottom, they really wanted to stay the same, avoid change, and preserve the status quo.  But they knew they were dying, and that threatened their commitment to maintenance.

Had they hired such a youth director, that person would have quickly discovered real opposition to his or her use of the facilities—the church wanted to preserve them, too!  They didn’t want the building worn out.  Can you imagine a church not wanting to use its building?  Strange as it sounds, it can be a strong temptation.  You know as well as I do that a building should be used, not just on Sunday, but as much as possible.  The more a church’s facilities are used, the more that church can serve the Lord. p. 30

The mission of the church is to fulfill God’s will on earth.  God’s will for the church consists of the Great Commission, which Jesus gave shortly before He ascended to heaven…. p. 31

To disciple is to seek to influence someone else to accept Christian beliefs, namely the truth of the Word of God.  Every time the Word influences the world, society, culture, families, or individuals, because a church or church member has communicated it, we should refer to it as discipling. p. 32

Some years ago, after conducting a workshop on church health, I spoke with a minister who came forward.  He was weeping quietly. He told me that during his time in seminary, he had grasped the vital significance of the Reformed faith.  In a homiletics class, he had raised the question of its role in his prospective ministry, especially in his preaching and teaching.  He told the professor about the old and rather lifeless church that had recently called him as pastor.  “What should characterize my preaching in order to lead the church into vitality?” he asked the professor.

“Preach the Reformed faith,” the professor told him.  “When people hear it, it will revolutionize them.”

This pastor did just that.  For the next ten years he made the Reformed faith the hallmark of his preaching and teaching.  He taught and preached it as the revolutionary power that his church needed.

However, no move toward spiritual vitality ever occurred.  Now he bitterly expressed his sad realization to me: “I wish someone had told me ten years ago to make the Bible the hallmark of my ministry!”  p. 55-56


What we must avoid is an improper use of our system of beliefs. We use a theological system improperly if we consciously or unconsciously expect it to bring spiritual life.  Scripture, and only Scripture, brings spiritual life.  p. 57                                                                                                              

We should strive in our worship services, and especially in the preaching of the Word, to make the Bible a living expression of Jesus Christ.  Our teaching must enable members to know their way around the Bible.  It must challenge them to obey what the Bible says.  It must equip them to ferret out and apply objective implications, and discourage them from making selective, subjective applications.  But above all, hearers should walk away not simply having been chastised or commanded, not merely with more Bible content, but having met Christ afresh, having appropriated His forgiveness, provision, and power. p. 72


Healthy Practice #2: The church must engage in regular vibrant worship to God as the ultimate motivation for personal and corporate growth. p. 79


The greatest benefit of light fellowship is that it creates the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to develop deeper, spiritual bonds within the body.  The word fellowship, a translation of the Greek word koinonia, carries with it at least four concepts: deep, fulfilling relationships (I John 1:3), a unified body of people (I Cor. 1:9), communication (Gal. 6:6), and communion (I Cor. 10:16). p. 85

Perhaps we can best express the essence of worship by saying that it is a deep-seated longing, a thirsting for God that is satisfied as He reveals Himself to us.  Worship thus contains two basic elements: the soul’s thirst for God and God’s self-revelation. p. 89

Listeners are offered reasoned support, but not authoritative support for what God calls us to do and be.  Absent is any sense that God’s revelation is being declared.  Logic should confirm and commend the declaration of God’s Word, but it should never replace it.  God the Spirit indwells and works through His authoritative revelation.  To replace proclamation entirely with persuasion or logic deprives hearers of the possibility of God’s power in their lives.

Criticism can also inhibit preaching.  If a pastor feels threatened by possible criticism from a segment of his congregation, his ministry of the Word will be hampered, and the presence and power of the living Lord will in that measure be restricted.  I observed this in one church in which I sensed a certain degree of fear under the surface of the worship.  As I discussed this with the pastor later, I learned that a third of his session espoused theonomy, an interpretation of the Old Testament with which he disagreed.  Whenever he entered the pulpit, he feared their criticism: “They’re going to tell what I did wrong.”  He was exhibiting fear and restraint in conducting the service, and in that measure the powerful and active ministry of the Lord was obscured. pp. 98-99

Throughout human history, God has used worship, an encounter with Himself, to motivate action as well as to glorify His name.  The prophet Isaiah’s experience (Isaiah 6:1-8) is paradigmatic.  He had a vision of the Lord “seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  He saw God surrounded by angels who demonstrated and spoke of God’s holiness, shaking the temple and filling it with smoke. p. 100

The elder encourages believing church members to be what God intends them to be: priests (I Peter 2:5), who utilize their gifts for the common good (I Cor. 12:7), so that Christ’s body is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament” (Eph. 4:16)—a people who “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10).  Paul expresses the elder’s God-given passion to catalyze the church’s growth in godliness: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28-29). p. 130

Throughout these discussions, I’ve maintained that healthy, biblical leadership enhances rather than represses members’ involvement. p. 171

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Filed under Book Review and Excerpts, Healthy church, The Church

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church

(Interacting with Dr. Miller’s poignant book).

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church was written a number of years ago by C. John Miller (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House; 1986).  I’ve read it at least three times in order to give my own life a swift kick in the rump. This book is a call to assess and reassess the pastor’s and elders’ work in the local church. It’s also a call to the local congregation to assess and reassess where it is at, where it is going and what God says about it.  It’s a call to humble repentance as well as a call to dynamic, vibrant faith for all parties involved in the church.

Miller said, Growth that is not inspired by faith in Christ’s power to transform lives is dangerous (p. 18). … So congregations and their leaders today are perilously close to losing the elementary principles of faith that motivate qualitative and quantitative church growth. I am thinking of regular and thorough meditation on the promises of God, ongoing repentance based on the intense study of Scripture, continual personal and corporate prayer, daring gospel communication and discipling, mobilizing every member’s gifts for Christ’s mission to the world, and each congregation working to plant daughter churches (p. 19).

Pastor Miller’s story, out of which this book came, is one of a man who was also a seminary pastor, faithfully involved in a local church.  The church had been complacent, stagnant and ingrown.  After a period of discomfort and personal restlessness, Miller began to seek ways to revitalize the church and to fulfill God’s call and vision for the church.  In his times of prayer and study he learns,

I had rightly discerned that this promise of Christ’s fullness had a past reference to Pentecost and a future reference to the transformed world; but I had missed the emphasis in the Gospel of John on the present application of this promise to those who “are believing” or “keep believing.” I had missed the fact that God wishes to use such promises to awaken us daily from our dryness to claim the Spirit’s refreshing life (p. 24).

Pastor Arzurdia brings this same message out in his wonderful book on preaching. So much of the life of the church, and of my own ministry tends to fall back upon self-effort. How we ought to recall and fall upon those great and  precious promises for a life filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Miller pushes  further: So let me call you and your congregation, not simply to survival for another week, but to radical commitment: to believe Christ’s promises and to do His will at all costs. That will is revealed in His command to the church to go with the gospel to the nations and make disciples… (p. 25).

Such a commitment cannot only come from the leaders or pastor. It must be held by others, especially those in leadership positions.

In his chapter, THE INGROWN CHURCH: God’s Call to Faith and Repentance, the author gives more than an apt description of so many churches.  He says that ingrown churches are gripped by several, if not all, of these following characteristics:

1. Tunnel Vision

Members of the ingrown church body are characterized by tunnel vision that limits potential ministries of the church to those that can be accomplished by the visible, human resources at hand. These possibilities are often further limited by recollections of past negative experiences and perceptions of present obstacles. At bottom, this is unbelief based on a secularized ignorance of the Spirit’s power – His ability to supply us with God’s goals for the church and the supernatural means to reach them (p. 29).

2. Shared Sense of Group Superiority

He (C. Curry Mavis) observes that many smaller congregations and their leadership have become egocentric because of “their fear of extinction.” In his view, “struggling churches are likely to exaggerate points of superiority they actually possess as means of compensation for their limitations.” What they do is build an attitude of superiority over others by elevating a positive feature in the church life of tradition and then comparing this feature with groups which lack this quality (p. 30)

3. Extreme Sensitivity to Negative Human Opinion  Whatever form the opposition takes, we will discover that an ingrown church has given in for so long to intimidation that its fears have obscured vital contact with the promises of God. As a result, fear casts out love for “a world that is falling apart,” a world that desperately needs a community of love (p. 31).

4. Niceness in Tone  Indeed, each Christian should diligently seek to be all of that. But what is often wanted in the local church is unrelieved blandness: a “nice pastor” preaching “nice sermons” about a “nice Jesus” delivered in a “nice tone” of voice. What is twisted about all this is that “niceness” is being substituted for Christ’s holy love, a heroic quality that might not in some circumstances prove to be nice at all. What we really want is to be comfortable and undisturbed. “Nice” is just another way of being safe (p. 32).

5. Christian Soap Opera in Style.  The niceness of the inward-looking church does not go deep enough to hinder the soap-opera style in which many a congregational life is lived. Soap operas are basically a series of endlessly repeated conversations, and gossip (for that is what it is) is often the only kind of “body life” an ingrown church knows (p. 33).

6. Confused Leadership Role.

7. A Misdirected Purpose. It is clear from the foregoing that the controlling purpose in the ingrown church has to do with survival – not with growth through the conversion of the lost….The unity is essentially that of the comfortable, private club determined to protect its institutional values and privileges (pp. 35-36).

Miller, a few pages later, characterizes the problem when he said that we can learn from the Pharisees.  This truth brings us face to face with what appears to be a critical problem: If this awesome authority and invincible, inward power are Christ’s gifts to the church of God, why is so little evidence of all this to be found in the local congregation? …R.C. Sproul compares many local churches to the company of Pharisees active during Jesus’ time on earth. He writes, It was the Pharisees who developed the doctrine of “salvation by separation.”  …To be sure, this is a familiar issue when we are dealing with the ingrown church, with its false separation…. Why is it so prevalent when the authority and the power of Christ are so sovereignly compelling? What is the church missing today?  The answer is to be found largely in our lack of trust.  The passive church member is a person weak in faith. (p. 57).  How accurate a portrayal and evaluation he has made.

So what does he propose as an answer? The first thing he recommends is to evaluate where the church is and measure it against where it ought to be. This requires knowledge of what God has to tell us about the vision, mission, purpose and direction for His Church. From that point we can gain a rather substantial view of where the church is currently at and where it ought to go.

Pastor Miller also suggests several things that is required of a local church, and makes worthwhile recommendations for change. The first is that the local church is to be a missionary church. The living, transcendent God came to claim Israel as His special possession, an act that prefigured the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost to make the church the new people of God, he writes. Peter squelches the idea that the church has a right to exist for its own egocentric interests and comforts. It exists for God, and He is His infinite majesty lives in it as a troubling, transforming, barrier-breaking presence (p. 43). It certainly has no right to live for itself. Yet this is where so many churches find themselves.

In this regard Miller lays out Four Steps to Renewal:

1 Develop an openness to God’s vision for the local church (p. 72).

2. Work to develop an honesty about your sins and weaknesses that lead to change (p. 73).

3. Personalize your relationship with Christ (p. 75)

4. Commit yourself to express God’s glory in every part of your life and service (p. 77).

Secondly, the local church must be a welcoming church. What does the commissioned church do that is different from what is done in the stagnated, passive congregation? he asks. The answer is essentially that the commissioned church is hospitable. It aggressively and joyfully seeks out the unchurched, laboring to welcome them into the church as members of the body of Christ. Its leaders self-consciously reject a “Christian clubhouse” atmosphere and devote themselves to developing in the congregation an open face to the community and the world beyond. The local leaders model a welcoming lifestyle and seek to mobilize others to do the same (p. 81). 

But why do so few Christians today open their hearts and homes to the non-Christian community? The reason is that they are fearful of being hurt by involvement with others. They do not want the trouble and the risk, the exhaustion that hospitality brings, the struggles with sloth that it requires, and all the rest of the suffering that it entails (p. 87).

This statement was highlighted during a pastoral visit I made years ago. The couple have been members of the particular church to which I had just arrived, for many years. One of their complaints was the lack of hospitality that was going on among one another, especially among the elders. The husband protested that in all the years (if I recall it was around twenty years) he had been at the church he had only been invited to three other homes!  While that was certainly a sad commentary on the state of affairs, it was not right for him to be so critical without examining his own heart and behaviors.  So I asked, “Have you practiced hospitality?”  “No!” was his abrupt and quick reply. And why not? The first answer was that it was too much trouble, but probing further, it became clear that  they were fearful of being rejected for not providing adequate or acceptable hospitality. Truly sad.

The third area Miller sees as important for a local church to become is a praying church. There can be no doubt that this is so crucial for a church. So much of the life of the church hinges upon prayer. Miller then brings out something quite interesting when he poses for us just what kind of prayer time do we have?  He titles this section, Two Kinds of Prayer Meetings: Maintenance or Frontline? This prayer meeting in Pennsylvania, he tells us, was intended to function as a frontline battle station. The earlier meeting in California was largely designed to maintain the existing life and ministry of our congregation.  Believers came to the earlier meeting to be edified by a Bible study …and to pray for the internal needs of the church. Expectancy seemed to be at a low ebb among the attenders, evidenced by the fact that none of us bothered to keep a record of prayers offered and answered. I also do not think that Christians came to this prayer meeting expecting to meet God in a life-changing encounter (p. 98).

Miller tells us, By contrast,(to the maintenance-type church) people came to the frontline prayer meetings to be changed. They discovered what Augustine has emphasized, that man’s chief need is to fellowship with God, to find fulfillment in Him, and to experience the abiding presence of Jesus (Pss. 27:4; 36:7-9; John 14:18-23; 15:1-10) (p. 98). Herein is what we need at church – life changing times of prayer!



If there is one thing I would critique, it would be the fact that his focus is a slight bit unbalanced. It seems plain to me that the Bible indeed urges churches to fulfill the mandate to disciple  people. But it is equally plain to me that the primary purpose is to have a passion for, and a love and desire to honor, worship and glorify God. In short, we are to have passion and compassion for God as well as for others. In loving God fully, we then would faithfully respond by loving others: other believers in His church, and loving others outside of the church.

The reason for going out to make disciples, as John puts it in his gospel, is to seek after those who will become worshipers of God. This emphasis would be more balanced, because it would be more biblical. This emphasis would more fully address the malady and sin of an introverted church.

Having said that, in my opinion, the author has done a splendid job helping us define and describe the conditions and symptoms of an ingrown church. He has offered many worthwhile remedies, and urged us toward biblical repentance and the need to think and act biblically. His concern for being outwardly focused is not only commendable, but biblical. As members in the kingdom of God, we are to serve others. His passion for making disciples through evangelism and missions is something we all need to catch. For this reason I highly commend this book.



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What is Biblical Pastoral Ministry?

by James W. Thompson in Pastoral Ministry According to Paul

A very consistent understanding of ministry emerges in all of the letters, allowing us to define it in precise terms: ministry is participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith until it is “blameless” at the coming of Christ. The community is unfinished business, standing between its beginning at baptism and its completion at the end. Paul’s pastoral ambitions, as he states consistently in his letters, is community formation.  p. 20

Our reading of the Pauline Letters, with their constant focus on the ethical transformation of communities, leads to a reaffirmation of the definition of ministry offered in the opening chapter: ministry is participation in God’s work of transforming the community of faith until it is “blameless” at the coming of Christ. This definition assumes a corporate narrative in which the community is unfinished business, standing between its beginning at baptism and its completion at the end. Those who are conformed to the image of the crucified one in selflessness and devotion to others will be transformed into the image of the risen one. The community that has shared the fate of Jesus, dying to its own self-interests, is empowered by God to do God’s will. Thus Paul’s pastoral ambition, as he states consistently in his letters is community formation. Although ministry is concerned with the troubled individual, as the contemporary literature on pastoral care makes abundantly clear, the primary focus for Paul’s ministry is the formation of communities that will be his boast at the end (Rom. 15.:15-16; 2 Cor. 1:12-14; Phil. 2:16; 1 Thess. 2:19).  p. 150

Thus the ultimate goal of the minister is to participate in God’s purposes of transformation.   p. 151

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A Proposed Biblical Vision for the Local Church

Back in 1996, when I was asked to help a small group of people start a church, little did I realize the challenges awaiting us.  One of those challenges was to establish a vision for the church. Why?  Because the local leadership could not agree upon what the vision of the church should be.  Many ideas floated about, several of which were hotly debated.  There were many good ideas, and perhaps many more that were just plain awful.

After months of wrestling through the issue it dawned on me to investigate what the Scriptures have to say – what God’s vision for his church is.  Taking the cue from several of the images of Christ’s Church, the following proposed vision was developed.  Of course, it’s not a comprehensive vision, and it did provoke objections from those who wanted something that accommodated their ideas for the church. However, this proposed vision does give a sense for how the Lord views his Church.

(Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 1:15-23; 4:4ff; Col. 1:18ff)

•    Where it is obvious that this is a church where Jesus Christ is preeminent (Acts 14:23; 2 Cor. 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 1:13)

•    The place where it is obvious that the people have a living, vital, loving relationship with Jesus Christ and for one another (John. 13:34; 15:12-17; Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22;  1John. 3:11, 23; 4:7-13; 2 John. 1:5,6)

•    Where Jesus is glorified and enjoyed by its members (Ps. 73:25,26; Rom. 15:5-7; 2 Thess. 1:12)

•    Where Christians have opportunities to use their gifts and talents for the benefit of one another (where the majority of the people participate in some capacity in the work of the Church) (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:7-16)

•    Where those one-another passages in the NT are exercised in a genuine, loving way. A people-loving and people-serving church.

(Ex. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; Isa. 1:2,4; 63:8; Jer. 31:9; John. 1:12; 11:52; Rom. 8:14-16; 2 Cor. 6:18; Gal. 3:7,26; 29; Eph. 3:14-21; 1 John 3:1)

•    Where each Christian individual and family at Covenant is looked upon and treated as part of the greater family of God; not as separate little units merely serving self-interests (Matt. 12:50; Rom. 12:3-5; Eph. 2:19; Tit. 1:4; Jas. 2; 1 Pet. 5:5)

•    A place of hospitality where people may come and be warmly incorporated as a family member (Acts 2:42ff;  1 Pet. 4:7-11)

•    A place where families may come to be refreshed, encouraged, and nourished in Christ’s truth and love (1 Cor. 13:6; Eph. 4:13; Phil. 3:15-16; Col. 2:19)

•    A place of comfort, refuge, healing, and unity (1 Cor. 1:9-10; 2 Cor. 1:2-7; 13:11-14; Eph. 3:14-21; 1 Pet. 4:7-11)

•    A home where men can learn to be godly leaders, loving husbands, Christ-like fathers (Eph.5:23-31; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:16f)

•    And where women can come to grow as godly women, loving wives and nurturing mothers (Gen. 3:20; 1 Cor. 11:12; Eph. 5:22; 1 Tim. 2:15; 5:14)

•    The place where biblical and godly “family” is taught and caught (1 Cor. 4:15,16; 11:1; 2 Thess. 3:7,8)

•    Where the pastor and elders live out their genuine role as spiritual fathers (2 Thess. 3:7-8; 1 Tim. 4:12; 5:1; 1 Pet. 5:2-4), and where older women are able to mentor younger women in the Faith (Prov. 31; Acts 12:12-13; Rom.16:5,6; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:2-5;  Tit. 2:3-5)

•    The caring, nurturing place where parental exhortation and counseling happens (a spiritual hospital for the hurt, wounded); a true haven of rest (Gal. 4:26; 6:1; 1 Thess. 5:11; 2 Pet. 1:3-11)

•    Where we encourage one another in hope through various ministries of mercy, such as in the ministries of deacons. (Mark 10:43,44; Acts 6; 11:29; 12:25; 19:22; 1 Cor. 14:3; 2 Cor. 8:4; Col. 1:24; 4:7; 1 Tim. 3:8-12; 4:11),

•    Whose reputation is love for one another (John. 13:35; Rom. 12:10ff; 1 Cor. 12:26; 13; 1 Thess. 3:11-13; 5:11)

(Ps. 23; 78:70-72; Ez. 37:23-24; Mic. 2:12; Zech. 12:10; Matt. 25; Jn. 10:1-18; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:2,3)

•    While we are sheep, it is obvious we are Christ’s sheep who no longer wander aimlessly about, but are heading in the same direction

•    The flock whose shepherds (pastor and elders) are models of wisdom, who exercise caring oversight in the local church (Acts 15:6; 20:17-38; 1 Tim. 5; 2 Tim. 4:5; Heb. 13:7,17; I Pet. 2:25; 5:2,3)

•    The place where sheep are being prepared for service; and who are willing to be led through dark valleys and quiet waters (Ps. 23)

•    But also a corral of sheep filled with the full-knowledge of God (Eph. 1:17-19; 3:16-21; 2 Pet. 3:18)

•    Whose reputation is “they are a people who know the Word!” (Deut. 17:19; Isa. 8:20; 17:11; Acts 17:11; Rom. 15:4; 1 Tim 4:13)

(Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 3: 9, 16-17; Eph. 2:19-22; Heb. 10:21; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 2:4-10; 4:17)

•    Envision a church where the people are in a growing relationship, an active commitment, and loving service to God (1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6; 2:1-7; 5:10)

•    A church where worship is distinctly God-centered, Word-regulated, and spiritually alive (with wonder, joy and reverence) (1 Chron. 16:29; Ps. 2:11; 95:6; 29:2; John. 4:24; 1 Cor. 14; 2 Cor. 4:5; Gal. 6:14; Rev. 14:7)

•    Where each person knows how to and enjoys personal, family, and communal times of worship (Deut. 16:13ff; 31:12; Psa. 5:7; 34:11; Joel 2:16; Matt. 19:13; John. 4:24)

•    The place where each one is spiritually growing; building one another up in the Faith through God’s Word, baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 3:10,11; Col. 2:6-7; 2 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Pet. 3:18; Jude 1:20-21)

•    The house of God where prayer is key: spontaneous (praying for someone right then and there), vigorous (with great expectations and enthusiasm), and dedicated (regular times, a prayer ministry, frequent at home and church) (Matt. 21:13; Acts 4:24; Rom. 15:30; Eph. 6:18-20; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:1-3; Philem. 1:3)

•    The church where God brings spiritual vitality and times of  refreshing (revival) for many years (Acts 3:19)

•    Whose reputation is “they really glorify God and enjoy Him!” (1 Cor. 10:31)

(Ex. 6:7; Deut. 27:9; 2 Sam. 7:23; Jer. 11:4; Rom. 9:25; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 4:12; 5:3; Phil. 3:20-21; 2 Thess. 1:10; Tit. 2:14)

•    A people that recognizes and appreciates the heritage of a solid, biblical orthodoxy of the historic Christian Faith (1 Tim. 6:3). A people keenly aware of their spiritual and historical heritage (2 Thess. 2:13-17; 3:6; 2 Tim. 1:2ff;  Heb. 11)

•    A covenant community who understands who they are in Christ:  God is their living God and they are God’s special people (Gen. 17:8; Ex. 19:5; Deut. 7:6-14; 14:2; 2 Tim. 2:10; Ti. 2:14; Heb. 8:10; 1 Pet. 2:9-11; Rev. 21:3)

(John. 3:5-6; 7:38; Matt. 16:18-19; Phil 2:9-11; Col. 1:13; Jude 1:25)

•    A church that clearly lives out the mandate from King Jesus to make disciples of all peoples (Matt. 28:19,20; Acts 28:31; 2 Cor. 4:5; Eph. 3:8-12; 2 Tim. 4:1ff)

•    Where there is a growing relationship and active commitment to seeking out and making fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ (Matt. 10:37; John. 13:35; 1 Thess. 1:1-6; Jas. 5:19,20; 2 Pet. 3:18)

•    With a reputation for conducting Christ’s work through a passionate demonstration of His truth, mercy, and love in our city.  The impetus for God’s grace to see true reformation take place in our local communities (Ro. 13:8ff; Gal. 1:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:8; Jude 14,15)

A people characterized by kingdom principles (Matthew 5-7) who actively promote a culture of Christ’s kingdom where:
•    The proud are scattered, but the humble are exalted.
•    The greedy are excluded but the hungry are satisfied in God (Prov. 16:26; Psa. 17:15: 42:1-2).
•    The prisoners are freed, because sin, guilt and evil no longer bind them.
•    The blind can now see the beauty of God and the deaf can now hear Truth of God.
•    The poor have good news to celebrate: there is restoration, comfort, encouragement, and riches!
•    God gives power to establish justice, mercy, grace and righteousness.
•    People are not takers, but givers of good things. They are servants of one another.
•    A culture of righteousness, peace, and joy in God’s Spirit (Romans 14:7).
•    It is a realm of true empowerment and abundant living (Mt. 19:17, 23-24 cp. John. 3:5, 16:4: 14; 5:21,24).
•    Love is the principle and core value that is embraced and sincerely practiced by all (1 Cor. 13).
•    Kingdom work is from love, mercy and grace that produces real fruit; not for personal consumption but to give to God and to others:
•    Being comforted we comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-7)
•    Having received mercy we show mercy to others (Matt. 18:21-35)
•    God’s glory reflects His light through us in the world (Matt. 5:14ff)
•    Because we have been rescued we rescue others (Lk 10:25-37)

(For some of the ideas on kingdom principles I am indebted to some of Peter Leithart’s older materials on the kingdom of God)

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