Questioning Our Questions
“Mr. Knox, can you please tell so-and-so to stop annoying me?” “Mr. Knox, why doesn’t anybody come to youth group anymore?” “Mr. Knox, why did we get rid of the couches?” “Mr. Knox, who is going to be at youth group today?” “Mr. Knox, can we watch more movies at youth group?” “Mr Knox, when is the next youth trip?” “Mr. Knox, what’s our activity today at youth group?” “Mr. Knox, why don’t we do fun activities anymore?” “Mr. Knox, can we youth have a monthly meeting to plan out the social calendar, look at the budget and tell you what activities to plan?” “Mr. Knox, can we PLEASE have a lock-in?”
I have been asked each of these questions by our youth, some more times than I would like to count. Look again at the questions: Can you spot the common denominators in the questions?
As you read them, perhaps you are chuck-ling with me, or rolling your eyes. But the truth is, questions are serious business, because the ques-tions we ask reveal our concerns, our frustrations, our hopes, our interpretations. In other words, the questions we ask reveal our hearts.
I wonder… what kind of questions are you asking about our church? Take a second and try to recall the last 5 questions you asked about Westminster.
Were they logistical? “What time does that bible study start?” “What day is…?” Where they practical? “What should we do about the Air Conditioning?” Were they social? “Who is that new couple that has been visiting?” Were they expressions of frustration? “Why doesn’t that per-son stop doing…” “Why did they decide to…”
When people have questions about our church, I generally take it as a positive sign; they are thinking about and care about our church. And, in many ways, it’s a good thing that we have a variety of questions; the fact that we each have different concerns is part of the God-given diversi-ty of the body.
Many different kinds of questions need to be asked and answered as we work together to maintain our church. But have you ever stopped to wonder: what questions is GOD asking of our church?
2 Peter 1:8 suggests to us a question that cuts through all of the clutter and gets to the core: Is our church effective and fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Are we effective? Are we fruitful? Are we accomplishing the mission God has given to us? It seems like such a basic question, and yet, how often do we ask it?
Perhaps, we don’t ask the question be-cause we merely assume that we are being effec-tive. Perhaps we don’t ask the question because when we are at the church we are busy with lots of church activities. Perhaps we avoid the question because it’s uncomfortable. Perhaps we do consid-er the question, but we are too afraid to ask it out loud because we are afraid of the answer or be-cause we don’t know how other people will re-spond.
Or perhaps we don’t ask the question at all because we just don’t have the focus and ener-gy in the midst of our busy lives to think intention-ally. Perhaps because we have little to no sense of being part of a church family, tasked with a corpo-rate mission. Perhaps because we are too wrapped up in our individual concerns to have the energy to ponder such a question.
Wherever you are on the above spectrum, I want to encourage you to ask this question, be-cause asking this question forces us out of our nat-ural tendency to self-centeredness. Asking this question forces us to think like a team striving for the same goal, rather than a haphazard collection of individuals. Asking this question forces us to focus on God’s agenda for the church, rather than on my personal agenda to have my needs and wants fulfilled, my feelings validated, and my opinions heard.
There are many ways we could begin to answer the above question, all of which would take us far beyond the scope of this article. But I would like to briefly focus on just one small snapshot of effectiveness from Scripture that would prompt our thinking in the right direction.
In Acts 4, the Sadducees have Peter and John arrested because of their powerful preaching of Christ resurrected. Examined before all the religious power-brokers of Jerusalem, Peter and John make a powerful defense of their ministry and of the Lord Jesus Christ, confounding the wise men, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
Acts 4:13 gives us a snapshot of effective ministry. First of all, effective ministry results in likeness to Christ. Peter and John had the imprint of Christ stamped upon them. Christ’s influ-ence in their lives was so pervasive and prominent that the Saddu-cees, rulers, and scribes could see the resemblance almost immedi-ately. It was obvious. They talked like Christ, they acted like Christ. The Sadducees “recognized” the image of Christ reflected in the disciples.
Secondly, effective ministry results in disciples who are seeking to make more disciples. Peter and John were not only con-cerned to imitate the character of Christ, or his devotional life, or his theological knowledge, but also his mission. They were disci-ples seeking to make more disciples.
The knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ first transformed their character, and secondly motivated them into a fruitful minis-try of making disciples.
Are we seeking these goals as a church? Are these im-portant touchstones of success for us? When you evaluate our church’s effectiveness, do you do so by these criteria? Do you ask yourself how you are personally contributing to these goals?
Consider with me for a moment the many other ways we might try to measure our effectiveness: The size of our budget; the numbers of people in attendance at worship, programs, or events; the number and impressiveness of our programs or events; the condition of our facilities; the friendliness of our church or the number of friends we have made at church; the amount of visits our website receives; the quality of our Sunday morning music; the giftedness of our pastor; the reputation of our church in our community; the amount of mercy ministry or service projects we have done in the past year.
Many of the issues mentioned above are important, but all of them are peripheral. If we evaluate our church based on these, we are not measuring the core. The core of our effectiveness should be measured in terms of how we are bringing praise and honor to our Lord in the making of disciples who reflect the image of Christ and who are seeking to make more disciples.
Are we being faithful to the mission the Lord gave us? (Matt 28:18-20) Are we staying focused on the core, or have we gotten lost in the details of the periphery? Can we draw a straight line from each ministry activity and each question about our church back to the core mission, or have we gotten busy with ac-tivities and routines that don’t help our church take meaningful steps in the direction of bringing glory to our God in the making of disciples?
Lest you think I’m picking on our church or on a particu-lar person (I’m not, really), let me say that nobody needs to ask these questions more than me. As a youth pastor, the temptation to major in the minors is ubiquitous. By nature youth and children are immature; they don’t highly value spiritual things. By nature they don’t even understand them. And yet, in order to actually have any kind of program, kids have to want to come.
This leaves me vulnerable to a dangerous temptation: to make church primarily about something other than discipleship. Fun, friendship, activities, trips, food, excitement— all of those things are good in their place, but to make those the core is to be unfaithful in my calling. The core of my calling is discipleship. And yet, it is a powerful temptation to focus on the periphery be-cause discipleship is hard. Discipleship is unnatural. Discipleship means calling people to deny themselves. Discipleship means ask-ing people to sacrifice their weekends to read a difficult book and to think long and hard about difficult truths.
Perhaps the most significant reason that this temptation is so powerful is simply that I cannot instill genuine spiritual hunger in anyone else: only the Lord can. While I can certainly model it, pray for it, and encourage it, only the Lord can create a genuine spiritual hunger in other people.
This brings us to a central paradox of ministry: we are responsible for pursuing results that we cannot actually control. Our calling is to make disciples of Christ; and yet, we cannot actu-ally do that without divine intervention. Our calling is to bring sinners to Christ, and yet we cannot even convince them that they actually are sinners in need of help without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
Without the blessing of God, my best gospel presentation is as effective as a gun without ammunition. Without the Holy Spirit’s uncontrollable and unpredictable regenerating work (John 3:8), I am a wet match, a bow without an arrow, a keyboard with-out a speaker; in a word, totally ineffective.
So where does this leave us? In total dependence upon the Lord. He commands us to do what only He can grant (compare Matt 28:18-20 and 2 Timothy 2:25). His definition of effective-ness is one that can only be achieved by His power, His means, and in His timing.
Are we earnestly seeking the Lord’s blessing on the min-istries of our church? Do we have an attitude of humility and de-pendence as we evaluate our effectiveness? Are prayer, patience, and a commitment to use God’s methods the hallmarks of our kingdom labors?
Or have we settled for measuring the periphery?