One thing I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that creating and maintaining a Gospel culture within a church can be easier said than done. So many things get in the way of the mission of the church (to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world). Egos, pride, passion, personal interest, lack of focus, focusing on the wrong things, etc. all get in the way of creating a church culture where the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the main focus. Both within the church I serve as well as the American Church overall, I have seen so many things step in front of the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
The church I serve has struggled the last few years to transition from an inward focused church (my priorities, my passions, my projects) to an outward focused church (reach the community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, i.e. a Gospel culture). We have made a lot of progress and are heading the right direction, but there is much work to do. The road has not always been easy, but we are still on the right path.
The American Church has had some obvious potholes in it’s path to having a Gospel centered culture. Most recently, the “fall” of Pastor Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church. Mars Hill was a church that did some incredible things in it’s almost twenty years of ministry, as was Driscoll, unfortunately sky rocketing growth combined with arrogance and ego led to a culture that was no longer Gospel centered and the church’s inevitable collapse.
Both in my church, and the American Church, I have noticed one important fact. Much of the values and priorities of a church can hinge on the lead/senior pastor. My church transitioned pastors a few years ago and we have seen the values of our church shift, in a good way, toward things like outward focus, prayer, affirmation etc. In the global church we’ve seen megachurches rise and fall on the personality, charisma, teaching ability and vision of a single man. So much of the culture within a church depends on the character and integrity of the lead pastor (or ministry leader). A couple quotes from an article I read recently on the collapse of Mars Hill Church…
…a gospel culture is created when the pastor is the most submissive to Jesus in the culture itself. When he models discipleship the most, he will never suffer from creating a toxic culture.
~ Scot McKnight
You need to realize the fact that you are going to reproduce your soul in your church, whether you intend to or not. And if you are sarcastic and defensive and arrogant, that’s going to be reproduced in your people. Your soul, the fruit of the Spirit that’s in your life, your strength and weaknesses as a leader, are going to be reproduced in that church.
~ Rene Schlaepfer
As a ministry leader myself I have learned a lot from our current senior pastor. He is a man that models to our congregation and staff the best qualities of the two quotes above. That is evident in the culture that is slowly appearing within our church. It proves to me that when a leader is loaded with the gospel and a large amount of integrity and heart it changes the people around him or her.
I’ve also learned a lot from guys like Mark Driscoll. I spent the last few years listening to a lot of his messages and paying close attention to the way he led his church. I always have said, “to listen to Mark Driscoll you need to have a lot of spiritual maturity, because he says a lot of great things, but there is also a lot of junk to wade through in the process.” I learned from Driscoll that there are right and wrong ways to lead. Sometimes you are right, and you know you’re right, but the heart behind your message matters just as much as the message itself and has to be evident in the presentation of the message. Even though there were lots of times where Driscoll was right, both publicly through preaching and privately through staff leadership, the heart behind his delivery of the message ruined the message itself. It doesn’t matter if you know where to go if you flatten people on the way there.
I am a ministry leader; even if only part time in a student ministry. Regardless of the level of leadership I have now, or in the future, I don’t want to be known as being right, but an arrogant jerk. I want to be known as a leader that is the most submitted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the most humble, the most loving. If I’ve learned nothing else in the last few years it’s that Gospel focus, humility and love are the qualities that distinguish a great leader. Arrogance and pride may actually create a flash of quick numerical growth in your church or ministry, but it cannot sustain it.
Sometimes arrogance and pride are my default. I have a lot of work to do there.