The first phase of our introduction of our church’s Vision Statement was in our last post, and it included a little bit of showmanship to get the people to focus on something that had never before happened in our church: Leadership. We got their attention by producing immediate results they could see and touch by redecorating and repairing the church building. This was a good thing to do, and it succeeded, but it was a minor thing because it was lacking in eternal results. Phase 2 was the important part, for this phase was designed to begin the process of spiritual growth in the people by teaching them the Word of God in a way that they had not experienced previously.
Before I get into those particulars, it might be helpful to mention that while our phase 1 portion wasn’t something that contained eternal significance directly, it did contain a vital element that no Christian leader should overlook in our culture: It resulted in the people giving the leaders “permission” to take them to the next step. This was not by vote or referendum, it’s much more subtle than that. People will follow your leadership to the extent that you have some kind of a “position”. If you are the pastor, they will respect your position as pastor for a time. If you produce, they will allow to to lead them some more; if you don’t then sooner or later they will stop following you and you will become irrelevant, or worse, a joke. The leadership of our church had not produced in their capacity as pastor or elder for a very long time; the place was more like a social club than a real church; sorry, but it’s true. To run out and announce a vision statement and tell everybody that starting now we mean business might have amused people, but it wouldn/t inspire them to take us seriously. By simply fixing the place up and giving it a whole new look, the people allowed themselves to give the next and much more significant part a chance, thus I say we gained “permission” to lead. It wasn’t in a literal sense, but it was real.
The plan was to change the way our preaching was done so that it would be paired with our Adult Sunday School and driven by the class content. Our class would center on books of the New Testament that have a lot to say about discipleship, the church and living as a follower of Christ: In short, we were teaching discipleship.
We ran into a problem. Our Sr. Minister was an old school preacher who was going to do things his way; and he was preaching sermons that were essentially the same ones he preached in the early 1970’s. The way that I like to describe this is that they were so filled with grace that it was hard to discern truth. With that said, the gentleman is a wonderful guy and has an awesome heart for the Lord, but this wasn’t enough. In class, however, we were pretty much on fire! Of course, you can guess what resulted. The third of our adults who attended class were saying things like, “Wow, I never saw that before” and “this is amazing, I didn’t ever get it before” and so on. I was teaching it, and I focused the lessons from Colossians, Philippians, 1 Peter, and 1 Timothy on self, traditions, service, and the church and took it to a high school level instead of the typical Sunday school 8th grade level. During this time, as a change of pace, I also worked in topical studies on Messianic prophecy, the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25) and Biblical Covenant. We also did a special weekend workshop on Antichrist. Note, that Messianic prophecy, Olivet Discourse and Antichrist increased the number of people who attended because of the fascination people seem to have on these kinds of topics, so you can say that we increased the number of people who attended class, and increased therefore the number of people who might be challenged to seriously follow Christ. Again, this was by deliberate strategy. This went from the fall of 2009 through the first part of 2011.
At the same time, we introduced something entirely different. We called it Bible “U”. Bible “U” was a class taught on Sunday night that was at an undergraduate college level. You had to buy a textbook, there were homework assignments and midterm and final. We ran Bible “U” for a year and a half and it was a great success, but maybe not in quite the way you’d expect. You see, the purposes of Bible “U” were twofold. First, our entire leadership team attended. This was a chance to train them to be leaders. Second, it was to identify who the next generation of leaders would be, and our of this has come an awesome group of leaders!
Going to Bible “U” was something that required spending money, being inconvenienced and a commitment to finish what you start… and in the process, you could also learn some “big boy” applied theology. This was incredibly important to us because we were a church of little Bible scholars who could quote chapter and verse on most anything, but who had no concept of application of chapter and verse. Learning Bible facts is all well and good for a Bible trivia game, but the Word of God is not trivia! Application into real life is what changes lives for Christ.
I hope you are still with me in this post, because the end game in all of this education, growing up and training was relational small groups. Bible “U” gave us our small group leaders.
Everything I mentioned for phase 2 has been classroom learning. Now, let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with classroom learning, but it isn’t really effective “discipleship” either.
Consider how Jesus interacted with His disciples. They had relationships on a personal level. They ate together, travelled together, talked together, sat around the campfire together and Jesus taught them in a relational way; they could see Him putting His teachings into practice. They built relationships of trust together, they built relationships of accountability to gether…
This is quite difficult to do in a classroom where people don’t want to speak up or talk about private things. How do you hold people personally accountable in a classroom without humiliation or embarrassment? You really don’t, but in a small group setting like Jesus had with His disciples, these things begin to happen naturally as the people get to know one another on a personal level.
This was the real goal.