Thursday, February 2, 2012

A well defined purpose...

A well defined purpose…

As I write this, I’m amazed to see the date and that it’s already February as the year is off to a fast start. Not much has changed in a couple of thousand years of serving the Lord. You see in Mark 6:30-31, the Apostles came back to Jesus after He sent them out to do ministry and they told Him all about it including what they had had been teaching. Jesus’ response to them was refreshing in that he didn’t say, “get back out there and keep at it, time is money.” Instead, Jesus said “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Then we’re told “For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” I love the fact that the Son of God pulled His disciples aside from the rigors of ministry in order to rest and refocus. Ministry picked back up immediately following this time away apparently with great impact with the feeding of the 5000 and a myriad of other miracles shortly after.

With all the hubbub of the holidays and the start of the new year, the earliest time our pastoral staff could pull aside for a planning and visioning retreat was at the end of January. For two days we pulled out of the office and set aside a time to worship together, pray together and work on refining our purpose as a church and our leadership roles. In my “State of the Church” address on January 8th, I stated that we need to analyze what it is that we do and simplify a number of things that hinder the work of the ministry. We seem to have much that keeps us very busy but we need to ask what impact does this busy schedule and myriad of processes actually have? 

I’m thrilled to tell you that our time spent together was a blessing and encouragement to each of us. I believe we came out of this planning retreat recharged, refocused and excited about our future together. We talked much about the need for a well defined purpose for all of our ministries and activities we engage in at Calvary. Most of the time the first instinct is to talk about what we should do and while that is important, what we do should flow out of our purpose. Purpose helps answer the question “Why are we here?” Purpose is not a goal to shoot for; it is our reason for being. Purpose provides direction, boundaries and motivation; a well defined purpose will move you forward to make a great impact. Plans, goals and activities should all flow out of the purpose. Purpose also helps you identify things you will not do.

On the flip side, lack of purpose leads to a meager impact at best. A lack of purpose shifts the focus from ministering to people to a maintenance mode of maintaining programs or massaging personalities. We asked some tough questions related to what drives our church. Is it tradition – doing what we’ve always done? Is it personality – doing what he or she wants done? Is it finances – doing only what we can afford to do? Maybe programs drive the church – doing what everybody else is doing (or because the publishing arm of our denomination is pushing it). Maybe facilities drive the church – doing only what our space allows. Events can drive the church – doing what everyone expects. Some churches have allowed un-churched people to drive what they do so they do everything they can to make church not seem like church – (that sounds silly and it is silly!) Sometimes a “maintenance mode” drives the church – doing just what is needed to achieve last year’s results. These are tough questions to be sure and it’s okay to be honest that some of these components have driven us and currently drive us as a whole or specific ministries. We can’t improve what we’ve not willing to identify as a problem. We also need to understand that sometimes maintenance mode is a necessity because we lack appropriate leadership but it shouldn’t remain that way. These ways of thinking and “leading” don’t leave room to dream of what God might want to do in and through the ministry. Healthy churches are driven by purpose and I know all of us as a staff desire for us to be a healthy church that is flourishing for our Lord Jesus Christ and for His honor and glory.

This idea of a well defined purpose is not new and many of you have probably read this stuff before in Dr. Rick Warren’s books “The Purpose Driven Life” or “The Purpose Driven Church.” Since I don’t want to be guilty of plagiarism, much of these ideas come out of those works. I believe Dr. Warren actually got his ideas from Jesus because everything the Lord did flowed out of His purpose to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The principles shared in those resources are very helpful and practical for both churches and individuals to identify their purpose. Now don’t worry, we as a staff have no intention of trying to turn Calvary into a Saddleback Church clone. Many church leaders have made the mistake of trying to take what works in a Southern California context and make those strategies and goals their own. In the process, they ignore their own ministry context and wonder why it doesn’t work. They simply didn’t take time to identify their own purpose, they just adopted Saddleback plans.

The great thing about a well defined purpose is that it forges your own unique identity and shows us we can minister appropriately according to our unique context here in Harford County. One of the things we want to do this year as a staff is to lead us to help define our purposes. We got the ball rolling a few years ago when we identified our purpose as “Encountering God, Experiencing Life Change.” That’s our DNA, our purpose in a simple concise statement – We want to be encountering God as we “do life together.” We affirm that authentic God encounters always result in lives being changed.

This year we’re going to be encouraging us to think in terms of purpose across the board in our ministries. Our ministries must flow out of our overall purpose of encountering God, experiencing life change in the cyclical process of making disciples. We’re going to have a great time working through this together among our ministry team leaders (our committees). As you see some changes being made, it’s because we are identifying a well defined purpose for ministry so we can introduce more people to the Lord Jesus Christ and make Christ followers out of them.  From an eternal perspective, that is the best purpose any individual or church family can have! It will be challenging, it will cause us to think, evaluate and examine if we’re actually carrying out our purpose. But I am convicted to the depth of my soul we must engage in this healthy dialogue of defining our purpose or we’ll be no further down the road of making disciples 10 years from now than the hamster that runs the little treadmill all day long. The poor critter is wiped out from lots of activity and spent energy but never got anywhere!

So let us begin this journey together of a well defined purpose, from my little corner of the world to yours…
Ralph Green
Senior Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church 
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