Leading in Church Takes a Leap of Faith
The day my daughter Anna and I skydived together, she taught me a valuable lesson. By jumping first, Anna showed me how to take a leap of faith.
That same year, our church trusted God and jumped. We sold our church building and got out of debt. Now, we worship in a school on Sundays, and on weekdays we’re accessible in a shopping center. We now use our resources to focus on one thing: inviting all people on a journey with Jesus.
We’re an intentionally small church with a purposefully big vision: all of us learn to go into the world as missionaries. We’re not as concerned with filling church pews as with filling the earth with God’s love.
There’s a good chance you might think I’m deluding myself, justifying a small church. But let me give you some examples of choices we’ve made, and you can make up your mind about whether or not we’ve chosen to be a small church or a big church.
We chose not to build a building but gave one million dollars to launch a mission foundation. In the first two years of the foundation, with the generosity of God’s people and by the grace of God, we have begun supporting more than 20 different mission efforts in significant ways in church planting, Bible translation, development, and relief.
We chose not to use money for a building, chose not to go into debt, and chose to use money for ministry and missions instead. We don’t judge anyone for having a building—after all, we meet in a building (a school) and we like having air conditioning, chairs, rooms to meet in, and a stable place we can rent. We don’t judge anyone for owning a building, but we also reject the notion that renting is foolish, that we are not building equity. I have yet to see a church that is really building equity by owning a building. We spend 70 percent less on a monthly basis than we did four years ago, and today we do the same or more in ministry.
We are choosing to break out of the norm within Churches of Christ in some important ways that we do not believe are “church growth” methods. For example, women preach and lead in more ways than traditional Churches of Christ, but we did not start doing this in order to grow numerically. Through many years of discussion, teaching, prayer, and leading of women and men, we believe the Holy Spirit has led us to make these changes as a justice issue, to hear and be led by the voices of women. We did not do this in order to grow numerically, and one of the reasons we added the name “New Generation Church of Christ” is to remain in fellowship with Churches of Christ but signal to people coming to our church that we have some different practices.
A second example is that we did not choose to include instruments in our worship because we thought it would “grow our church in numbers,” and in fact we knew that some would leave if we made this change. So why did we make this change? Because the constant conversations about not using instruments has become a distraction to the future of our church getting focused on more important issues of loving neighbor and collectively acting in service, mission, love, and justice in the world. By ending the discussion about a cappella or instrumental music in our church, we believe we can move on to other more “weighty matters.” Again, we don’t judge others who are a cappella, but it became a distraction for us and a barrier to moving to things we wanted to do in the kingdom. We did not make the decision thinking our church would grow numerically.
Finally, we have decided intentionally not to create a system that depends on me as a celebrity preacher, but to mentor others to preach, to build up communities of discipleship in Bible study, to equip each staff member, shepherd, and Bible study leader to do the work of ministry, and for all people to take next steps with Jesus, and ultimately for all people to become missionaries. We are not trying to water down the definition of what it means to be a missionary, but we believe that every disciple can learn to be a missionary who learns what it means to be in the world and make disciples.
For ministers, shepherds, and members of Churches of Christ—and certainly those in other churches with strong traditions like ours—jumping out of the airplane of tradition, of ties to debt, buildings, worship practices, and justice issues, is going to take a leap of faith.
I learned from my daughter that day we skydived that no one is going to jump out of the plane if you as a leader don’t jump first. The freefall we experienced while skydiving lasted about 40 seconds. It was exhilarating and scary, but it was one of the most memorable times of my life. I’m glad I learned this leap of faith from my daughter. And I’m glad our church decided to take a freefall into love, justice, hearing the voices of women, moving beyond some of the barrier or boundary issues that kept us discussing frustrating issues, and moving into issues in our society we want to impact as a collective body of Christ.