By Christopher McRae
There’s a lot of hot air being spewed these days in discussions about the earth’s atmosphere. We’ve moved the conversation from Global Warming to Climate Change. We’ve made the right distinction between local weather events and our worldwide environment. It’s hard to glance at any news source and not note some “expert” going on about how any particular atmospheric phenomenon is or it isn’t related to what is happening. Everyone has an opinion about whether the weather we experience is initiated and/or aggravated by humanity. Or, someone else will opine about the natural condition of reoccurring incidents. There’s the strident insistence that “we’ve got to do something.” While just as vehemently, there are those who declare we can’t’ do much of anything about much of anything, so “why worry?”
My general impression is that everyone has an opinion…whether it amounts to a well-informed one or one biased beyond boundaries of rational discussion is open for further discussion. The problem is that there always seems to be an agenda behind the opinion that, at the very least, calls into question both the assumptions and the conclusions of the one articulating the position.
In church life, leaders need to know the condition of the weather and climate more than any governmental policy maker. Along these lines, Jesus gave us a admonition in the form of a proverb to contemplate.
He (Jesus) replied, “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times!” Matthew 16:2-3
I might change that last phrase just a bit with this challenge: though we know how to read a weather report, we’re basically clueless when it comes to knowing or even caring about the climate conditions in the churches we serve.
For Iowans, these issues are of great importance. The farmer will listen to KICD Radio (AM 1240) with its transmitter and broadcast tower on the north side of Spencer sending its 1000 watt signal across the state. Livestock reports, commodity prices, and weather advisories make up a bulk of the broadcast day. This is information Ag workers need to make informed decisions about their livelihood. But pastors pay little attention to the atmosphere of church life, preferring to add one more program or ministry to the mix, one more encouraging, chastising sermon, one more mission or vision statement, strategic planning session, or mission trip.
Let me just state it bluntly: the climate of a church will eat any and all of your ideas and activities for breakfast. They will be chewed up and spit out before you even know what is happening because you couldn’t rightly interpret the signs. The atmosphere or climate of the church is the condition in which all of church life is lived.
Tough seasons for church leaders are inevitable. There are droughts and storms. There are windswept, lean years. Hail damage from the heavens can destroy a crop. What is it that the pastor need to be paying attention to? It might start with a realization that the ideas and projects that had worked in the past are just not getting the job done any longer. When that happens, a spirit of disappointment can take hold and an unsettling malaise settles in that’s difficult to identify, describe or dislodge. You want to fix it but you’re not even really sure what’s wrong much less how to set things right again.
The five diagnostic questions that are set out below could be a starting point. I would encourage you to gather some of the leaders in your church to ask these questions and discuss how they relate to your church.
• Is there a sense of complacency or urgency? A mission is not a banner on a wall or an easily remembered and readily recited catchphrase. There has to be a call to action that captures the hearts, stirs the souls, and consumes the thoughts of significant portions of the congregation.
• Is there a sense of self or others? The black hole of church life always sucks us towards an inward focus that trumps our passion for others. Unless recognized and fought on a daily basis the sinful selfish inertia will cancel out any inclination to die to self and live for others.
• Is there a sense of stagnation or creativity? The principles of the eternal mission of the church never vary. But the practices of church life must be refreshed in every generation. It’s been said that “what got you here won’t get you there.” New ideas need to replace dated strategies.
• Is there a sense of fatigue or vitality? Being tired is sometimes worse than being sick. We run people ragged with time demands running our church programs, often ignoring the reality of multiple responsibilities families face. Life begets life. No one wants to add one more thing to an already too-long to-do list.
• Is there a sense of “y’all come” or “let’s go?” Being warm and welcoming won’t get it done. It would be nice if we just had that spirit in some of our churches. When was the last time you invited and brought someone to church? If we’re too busy with church life we might be missing the point.
These can help you to identify the problems. Analytical questions will lead you to pinpoint issues that need to be addressed. Knowing what needs to be addressed has to be the first step in coming up with a strategy. You need a weather vane and rain gauge to start with. Knowing which way the wind is blowing and how much precipitation your fields are getting can help you to know what the next step might be.