Several times now I have sat with a group of leaders from a church as they have tried to thrash out, from the basics, what their church was about. Fundamentally.
Sometimes it was driven by gospel passion, or the vision of a new leader. Once, frankly, it was driven by despair. It was a church I was leading, and as we looked at our overall sense of feeling stuck-in-the-mud, one elder expressed the thoughts of us all. ‘If we don’t change direction, we’re likely to end up where we’re heading.’ The plan in each case was to try to go back to Jesus’ basic blueprint for the church, and build on it.
Whole books have been written on this. If you want a good range of the kind of process this involves, and the kind of results churches produce, I recommend Aubrey Malphurs’ book, Advanced Strategic Planning’.
What has been striking for me, each time, is that all those different churches, in different cultures and countries, produce basically the same blueprint. They all gravitate towards the same basic plan, which should not be too much of surprise, but they all seem to be able to make it uniquely theirs. I call it GC2.
GC comes from Jesus’ summary of what is the most important thing to know. He said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbour as yourselves’. We call those The Great Commandments, and they define us as Christians in terms of our relationships. We are God centred in everything we say and do, committed to consistent and full-hearted obedience. And we are committed to loving each other – and Jesus taught us that anyone is potentially the subject of that love. So the first two questions church leaders should as is:
- How do we express our love of God as a church? How do we make sure that his agenda is central, and his values stated and obeyed? How practically do we help our members love God more?
- How do we express our love for each other as a church? How can we work to make sure that we have proper, growing relationships that move beyond superficial friendships with the few that we like?
GC also comes from Jesus’ summary of what we are to do. ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them to obey everything everything I have commanded you. And I am with you always to the end of the age.’ This is widely called the Great Commission, our shading orders.
Jesus’ authority and presence are fundamental guarantees during the time before he returns. But his presence is promised only as we engage in three tasks: making disciples out of unbelievers, engaging them in the relationships of a church, and putting Jesus’ teaching into action in their lives. This produces three more questions for church leaders:
- Are we actively engaged in the task of reaching a lost world, or just talking about it? How can we equip more of our members to be active in their evangelistic responsibility? Which ways of doing this have proved ineffective that we need to drop? Which new ways do we need to copy or invent?
- Baptism is a mark of belonging to Christ and his people – are we resting content with a passive view of church membership which just counts attendance? How do we turn an audience into a functioning body of Christ?
- Is our handling of the Bible marked by an attention to obeying it? Or do our habits of preaching, small groups and personal Bible Study encourage the acquisition of information, or sentiment?
Great Commandments + Great Commission = GC2.
And that’s why all those churches produced similar results. So how come the best ones produced unique ones? Because they asked three more questions:
- How are each of those five elements of GC2 to be obeyed here, in our cultural context with our unique opportunities and difficulties?
- How are each those five to be obeyed today? How would our answers be different to what we might have said ten, or twenty, years ago? Are we still living with yesterday’s answers?
- How are each of those five to obeyed by us, in our church, with the unique members and gifts God has blessed us with?
GC2 plus a date and a postcode. It’s simple – but takes a whole church to put into practice.