Having just spent last week with clergy from the Diocese of South Carolina who are in the midst of major legal issues due to The Episcopal Church’s (TEC) departure from Biblical Christianity, it seemed good to write about how to stay focused on mission amidst dealing with these broader Anglican issues. Church revitalization takes laser-like focus while at the same time dealing with very real and important broader church issues. How can you do both?
The words “dealing with” are appropriate words. That is exactly what we need to do, deal with the issues. Not ignore them. Not hope they go away by themselves. No, we must engage and deal with heresy in the church, make our Biblical stand, fight necessary battles, and deal with the consequences. Deal with, yes, but not “dwell on” these issues. We must dwell on the mission. Our emphasis must always remain on God’s mission for his church.
I became a first-time rector in August of 2003. That was literally within weeks of TEC’s approval of a non-celibate homosexual man as bishop of New Hampshire. I had to immediately address the crisis while at the same time lead the church from a place of maintenance to mission. I quickly adopted the idea that I would, “deal with but not dwell on” the broader church issues. I chose to “dwell on” the mission of the church and “deal with” the crisis.
Dwelling on the fact that people all around our church were living broken lives separated from God in their sin and who, if they died without Christ, would go to Hell for eternity, kept the mission more important than whatever was going on in the denomination. Sure, I helped organize American Anglican Council gatherings like “A Place To Stand.” Those gatherings were the seed that grew into the Anglican Alliance of North Florida which eventually became The Gulf Atlantic Diocese of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA.) I spoke up at conventions, went to countless meetings, stayed involved and basically “dealt with” what needed to be dealt with regarding the broader church issues. All the while, keeping the emphasis on making the church healthy in order to reach lost people with the transforming love of Jesus Christ in our community. Slowly, amidst the crisis, the congregation turned around and started to grow. It is now a thriving Anglican Church for the unchurched.
Staying focused on the church’s mission amidst dealing with larger church issues is possible! Here are just a few suggestions on how to “deal with but not dwell on” the issues to stay on mission.
- Read the Bible more than Blogs. How is your personal quiet time going? Are you taking time to read, reflect on, and respond to God’s Word more than reading about the latest Anglican issues? Are you making time to get to know Christ better and gain the power to follow him? It will be hard to stay on mission if you find yourself dwelling on Anglican issues while your quiet time with Jesus just gets an occasional nod. If you can more quickly recount what some heretic bishop recently said than what God is currently saying to you then there is a problem. Now it’s good to stay informed to deal with issues – like by reading everything the American Anglican Council publishes puts out as an example! However, even we would say that if you’re reading our updates more that the Bible, you have your priorities misplaced. Dwelling on your relationship with God will help you deal with the broader issues.
- Keep Sunday mornings focused on Worship and bringing in the unchurched. Even as it moves further and further away from Christendom, our culture still recognizes Sunday mornings as the primary time to go to church. Although you’ll want to find other “side doors” into the church, Sunday worship will likely be your large “front door” that people will come through to “check out” your church. Unchurched people who take the risk to come to church are looking for hope. They don’t come because everything is “fine.” So, give them hope! Point them to Jesus! Make them feel welcomed, loved, and that they belong. If you’re talking about denominational issues on Sunday morning they will likely move on. There are plenty of other times and ways to communicate with the congregation to deal with the issues.
- Focus on making disciples who make disciples through your local church. Jesus said to “Go and make disciples…” (Matt. 28:19) Denominations don’t make disciples, dioceses don’t make disciples, disciples make disciples. The local church is the primary place where lives get transformed in Christ. Therefore, dwell on developing a spiritual formation process in your church so there is a clear, doable, pathway for lost people to come in, be born again and baptized, become a member, grow in Christlikeness, find their ministry, and become missionary disciples who go and make more disciples. Dwell on building people and God will build his church.
These are just a few ideas that I put into practice. How else can you deal with but not dwell on the issues in order to stay focused on mission amidst the broader church issues?
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching for the American Anglican Council.