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We Should All Ask This Question


If you know me well, then you know that I love to read all things related to church. Whether it is theology, ecclesiology (study of the church), philosophy, or new material related to Jesus, I am completely at home with a cup of coffee and a good book in hand. Most of the time, I am reading pretty deep level academic stuff, in part because I am a nerd at heart. I have always dreamed of smoking a pipe, wearing cool glasses, and having one of those blazers with patches on the elbows. Alas, some things may never find their way to fruition. But recently, I made a conscious decision to read a book that is outside of my comfort zone. And while I struggled through the first few pages, once I got into the heart of the book, I found that this writers’ insight is challenging my ideas in a way that I never imagined that it would.

In 2016, Andy Stanley wrote a book titled Deep and Wide: Creating Churches that Unchurched People Love to Attend. If you have not heard of Andy Stanley, he is the founding pastor of North Point Community Church, which is one of the largest churches in America based out of Alpharetta, Georgia. He is a wonderful preacher (he would say communicator) and his influence is felt far beyond the walls of their church. In Deep and Wide, Andy lays out the history of how North Point came into existence and while that section is interesting, the second half of the book is really the one that sticks in my mind. Andy spills a significant amount of ink laying out the Mission at North Point (“to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ”) and asking all sorts of deep level questions about why they structure their church and weekend experiences the way that they do.

The book is designed to not only apply to his situation, but it is set up in such a way that he leads us as the readers to ask about our own churches. While I could spend hours writing about the content in the book, there was one section that grabbed me by the collar. In chapter twelve, Andy talks about "Model and Mission" for churches. Mission is why you exist. Model is how you put your mission into action. Summing up his thought, he says that most churches will be all on board with a new vision and mission, as long as it doesn’t change the model, otherwise known as, the "way we have always done it”. Actually, one sentence says it best when he tells us that for most churches, “New ideas are good ideas as long as they don’t require anyone to actually do anything new”. I wish he weren’t correct, but too many of us know from experience that he is telling the truth. A few paragraphs later, he goes even further and tells us, “truth is, for most churches, sustaining the current model is the mission of the church”. Ouch! While it might make you a little uncomfortable to read that sentence, I invite you to ask if that is not true in your own church. The entire chapter, and really the whole book, invited me to explore how and why we think about church in the frames in which we do. However, there was one sentence that I want to focus on for a moment. According to Stanley,

“One of the primary reasons churches are empty is because church leaders love their models more than they love people.”

Is that true for us? Is it true for your community of faith? In case you need help finding an answer to that question, all you need to do is ask how many times you have heard the phrase “we have always done it that way at this church”. If the answer is more than once, then you still have some ground to cover before you begin to make the shift where you love people more than you love your model.

I am still not quite sure why that statement resonated with me so strongly. I think it has something to do with the churches where I have worked over the past decade. Each one of them has a vibrant, deep, and rich history. Whether it was in Grovetown, Ruckersville, or Gainesville, each church where I have served was well over one hundred years old. Many of you know that the First Baptist Church of Augusta is currently 203 years old! We have been a constant presence in the life of our city since shortly after the Revolutionary War. The number of amazing things our church has done for the city are beyond the ability of any one person to count. I still can't believe that I am associated with a place that has such an amazing story! Yet, in a church with our level of history, it is so incredibly easy to value our “model” more than our “mission”. It is my greatest hope that my church, and your church as well, will hear these words from Andy Stanley as an opportunity to ask about why your people do the work that they do in the community.

There are a few things in the life of a church that need the caveat, “we have always done it that way at this church”. For example, when we are talking about the centrality of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, I think it is appropriate to use that phrase. If you are talking about how your church is a place where all people are welcome, regardless of circumstance or situation, it is my greatest hope that your community can say “we have always done it that way.” But for most of the situations in which we find ourselves, I think a good rule of thumb is to be open to the possibility of change, particularly when it creates a better opportunity to connect people to Jesus. Let’s hope that our love for people, all people, and our commitment to Christ is the real reason why we follow Jesus in the first place.

Grace and Peace,


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