Reality Check begins with these three questions, each with an application intended to encourage abstract thought and open conversations among church leaders. The three questions are:
1) What is the real nature of the Church?
2) Where is society taking us?
3) How can we do God’s will?
There are many other questions that could be asked, but I am convinced that these are the right three. They point us towards the fundamentals. They avoid the contextual dead ends which sidetrack so much of our creativity. Questions like; ‘how long should the sermon be,’ and, ‘why don’t we do more contemporary music?’ imply that sermons and music are givens in God’s design for the Church. We need to ask first what the nature of Church is.
You may want to ask, ‘how do we bring more people into our church?’ But that question assumes that your form of Church is still appropriate for your neighbors to attend. Understanding your neighbor and how society is shaping both their needs and your own, seems to be a more basic place to begin. Church can only meet our need for community and a right relationship with God if it is remains relevant. Often the comments and questions that church leaders raise reveal a deep distrust of the world outside. Many local churches are like swimmers caught in a tide they haven’t the strength to overcome. But if the Church moves with the currents, it can be a rescue vessel for those who would otherwise perish.
Many people want to jump right to questions like, ‘how can we increase our giving,’ or ‘what do we have to pay our preacher?’ Yet these questions assume that the money we receive and the clergy that we support are essential for us to do God’s will as a congregation. When was the last time you sensed a deep partnership with God as you went about your church work? Today, as so many congregations struggle to set priorities and divide fairly diminishing resources, there is a need to ask, ‘if we are to do one thing in the coming years, what would it be?’ For some the answer is to leave a legacy, for others the answer involves adaptation to the postmodern religious environment, for still others it is found in sacrificially giving to some mission, and for a few, it involves continuing to develop the bright, shining qualities of this church.
These three question are based upon the business book, Confronting Reality by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. They say that long range planning and having effective change in any organization depends upon asking three questions:
- What is the nature of the business we are in?
- Where are the external factors and market changes that are influencing our business?
- How can we continue to make money?
As you can see, it was easy for me to substitute Church for business, society for external factors, and doing God’s will for making money. Bossidy and Charan’s book, however, is worth reading by church leaders for the startling tales they tell of talented and highly paid executives who drove their companies into ruin because they were afraid to ask these fundamental questions. On the other hand, these business writers provide also provide detailed accounts of how these questions brought understanding and preceded successful change in the midst of an adverse economic environment for companies like Home Depot and 3M