John McClendon

A recent cruise ship industry article began with this headline regarding the COVID pandemic, “The 11 days of drama at sea that changed cruising forever.” If we were to use this headliner for the local church it might read, “One year that changed the church forever.” We have just been through one of the most challenging times for the western church in recent church history,  resulting in cataclysmic shifts in church practice, and causing leaders to evaluate all their assumptions regarding the church and church practice. If you are like me you have probably wondered what expectations we should have for the church in the future.

We Should Expect the Church to Continue to Survive & Thrive

And He subjected everything under his feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23, CSB)

How we lead the church is dependent on our belief that the church cannot be destroyed by individuals, circumstances, social upheavals, or political policies. It is not dependent on man’s actions but is fitted and knit together (Ephesians 4:16) by the authority and power of almighty God through Jesus Christ.

The church is an organism whose life and vitality is not dependent on the environment in which it is placed but in the Hands to whom it has been entrusted.
The church is alive because it is the Body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:15-16), and its founder and head is Jesus. Yes, there is an aspect in which the local church is an organization, but in the larger scope of God’s plan, it is an organism whose life and vitality is not dependent on the environment in which it is placed but in the Hands to whom it has been entrusted – the mighty hands of Jesus Christ.

We Should Expect Discipleship to Make a Difference

Your ministry of discipleship builds up the body of Christ, until those you are discipling reach unity and maturity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son that is measured by Christ’s fullness (Ephesians 4:13, CSB).

Don’t give up or be discouraged. God’s plan for the church is still in play and He has invited you to join Him in making disciples.
When people come to faith in Christ and are discipled through the discipleship processes and plans God has led you and your church to design, then you will see less of what we have observed over these past months – people being tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning, and through techniques of deceit (Ephesians 4:14). The church will become stronger because of your continued, tenacious, and consistent focus on moving people toward faith and maturity. So don’t give up or be discouraged. God’s plan for the church is still in play, and He has invited you to join Him in making disciples who can be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14) in a world that is growing increasingly darker.

We Should Expect the Church to Live by Biblical Standards

In Him the whole building, being put together, grows into a HOLY (emphasis added) temple in the Lord. In Him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)

If the church should ignore its moral and theological compass, it will lose its way as it navigates the vain philosophies espoused by the world. If society is trending toward a new set of moral standards that are contrary to biblical standards, you must remain strong. If you cave into standards that pervert, bring into question, or outright ignore God’s Word, then you and the body of believers entrusted to you, especially those most spiritually vulnerable, will lose sight of the mission and stray into the darkness. Discipleship does not leave room for individuals to cherry pick which part of God’s standards they desire to follow.

We must guard our hearts from the temptation to adjust biblical standards.
This path is not an easy one but we must guard our hearts from the temptation to adjust biblical standards so that we can hold on to members who don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness, enlist leaders who refuse to live by biblical standards, or attract people without expecting them to repent and believe.

As you examine your expectations of church and church leaders, make sure the standards are biblical but still tempered with grace and mercy. We must continue to love and lead those who don’t follow Christ, to embrace Christ. Additionally we are to love and lead those who do profess Christ toward the lifestyle of a disciple – a life of HOLY living.

The Church Expects You to Lead Humbly

Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:2-4)

Discipleship should demonstrate the transforming power and greatness of God, not the talents and skills of the disciplemaker. Many discipleship leaders might struggle with this, especially in the current narcissistic culture in which we live.

Discipleship should demonstrate the transforming power and greatness of God not the talents and skills of the disciplemaker.
We are bombarded everyday with messages that communicate self-promotion, platform seeking, and recognition gathering attitudes. We should remind ourselves that much of the work of ministry is done in obscurity and the recognition might not ever come.

We don’t wait until we have a platform or a position to lead. We lead where we are, so that those who don’t know Christ or who are striving to follow Christ daily have someone they can follow. Those who follow might not ever see you as their “leader.” They might only view you as the one who gives them a study guide, schedules another group study, or assigns rooms for Sunday School, but you are leading and don’t forget that!

The church needs leaders, not performers.
You might be a senior pastor in a smaller congregation and may feel as if your work isn’t as important as one who has a social media platform or one who pastors a large church. You might be tempted to feel as if you have failed because you are in a “small church” – don’t go there! This is not what the church needs right now. The church needs leaders, not performers.

Helping People Know What You Expect

Many of you are experiencing shifts in workloads, job functions, church expectations, and church structure. You have experienced changes in people’s attitudes regarding church attendance and service. There are probably individuals you haven’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic and you wonder if you will ever see them again. These shifts have caused us to rethink, plan differently, and move toward a new future.

Recently, as a BACE member (Disciple Leader Network Member), I was able to participate in one of our leadership webinars with Integrus Leadership. One part of that session focused on setting expectations. The presenter shared some actions that I have modified in order to help you set healthy expectations:

  • Plan Collaboratively – Don’t plan in a vacuum. Seek input from others in the church. Ask for guidance from key leaders. See if they feel that your expectations are reasonable.
  • Create Clarity – Explain the why, who, what, and by when vision.
  • Communicate Clearly – What is clear and obvious to you isn’t clear and obvious to others. Make sure communication is clear, concise, and repetitive.
  • Listen Carefully – Listen for understanding and empathy. Don’t be defensive in your responses to “push-back.”
  • Proceed Cautiously – Slow down and allow the church members and leaders time to process how you will move forward.
  • Build Continuity – The church needs continuity right now. We have lived in a year of upheaval, uncertainty, changes, pivots, and adjustments. As you lead your church toward a new future, continually remind them of the plan that is in place. Help them learn the “new rhythm” of your church.

Moving Forward

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)

The Old Testament constantly reminds us of what happens to the people of God when leaders quit leading. The results are described in Judges 21:25 this way: In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him. (CSB)

If you don’t cast a sound and solid vision of discipleship, people will cast off all restraint. The Body of Christ needs you to continue to equip them for works of ministry and for the mission. Don’t give up during these uncertain times, but dig in, and move forward!

John McClendon is the Executive Director of BACE (Disciple Leaders Network) and the Discipleship Pastor at Northside Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.