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Is your congregation going on to perfection?

Is your congregation going on to perfection?

When I was ordained, the Bishop asked us John Wesley’s historic question, “Are you going on to perfection?” Of course, we all answered, “Yes,” but I remember hearing a few snickers down the line and in the audience. Once when there were similar snickers in a class at Candler, Bishop Harman remarked: “If you aren’t going on to perfection, what are you intending to go on to . . . fair-to-middling?” Going on to perfection means that we are constantly trying to take the next step in becoming the person that God wants us to be.  I suspect that if Wesley were here today, he might also ask: Is your congregation going on to perfection?  As a church leader, how would you answer?

There seems to be a lot of perfectionist thinking regarding churches these days by some pretty defeated church leaders – at all levels. They have in their minds an absolute definition or statistical profile of what a missionally vital congregation should be. Judged against this perfect standard, many congregational leaders feel their congregation misses the mark so far that they might as well just give up. (Of course, this is understandable when people read official statements proclaiming that only 15% of UM congregations are missionally vital, according to the Towers-Watson Report.) What should leaders of the other 85% do?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus certainly didn’t lower the bar of expectation so that everyone could feel better about where they were spiritually. He raised it beyond where anyone could feel smug. And then he added: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) That would be defeating, if it were not within the context of relational grace and encouragement and, eventually, the promise of the Holy Spirit coming along side to help! And that is why Paul could later write in Phil. 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Phil. 3:12) I think this is the verse that 85% of church leaders need to apply not only to their personal spiritual lives, but in their congregational leadership, as well. 
Many in the business world have heard of “kaizen.” Kaizen refers to a Japanese organizational philosophy of everyone continuously looking for ways to make incremental improvements. Where ever you now find yourself, you take the next step that you can to improve the quality of what you are doing. And you keep doing this: always looking for new incremental ways – baby steps – of moving in the right direction. 
So often we try to make missional vitality too complex. As a friend of mine once quipped, “It’s not rocket surgery!”   It is as simple as constantly trying to make small steps of improvement in the right direction. How could your congregation continuously make incremental steps toward . . . taking hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you?  Constantly asking these 5 questions can keep you pointed in the right direction:
  • How can we be more effective at passing on God’s gracious welcome to the next generations in our community?  
    (Radical Hospitality)
  • How can we improve the ways we prepare a path into Christ’s presence in worship and assist people to respond to Him obediently? 
    (Passionate Worship)
  • How can we do a better job of helping people become more like Jesus?   (Intentional Discipling)
  • How can we enhance how we are helping people discover their unique blessings and invest them in serving others and God’s purposes?  
    (Salty Service)
  • How can we improve how we teach people to trust God’s sustaining “daily bread” and to share generously, as the Spirit prompts? 
    (Extravagant Generosity)
A congregation’s missional vitality – like our spiritual journey – advances not because of single grand efforts, but because of continuous, intentional and Spirit-led small steps in the right direction.  Is your congregation moving on to perfection?
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence