Who's Forming Whom
Successfully leading any organization requires creating measurable, duplicable progress. In a sales organization, the company goals focus around meeting specific targets, or closing ‘x’ number of sales contracts in a given time period. The same can be said about manufacturing, service or any company. The challenge often revolves around differentiating real progress from those activities which just keep us busy. As a writer, I can spend my time researching, planning, organizing, networking with other writers etc. Until I put words on paper and move those completed ideas into the marketplace, I am not a writer.
The heart of ministry is the process of people change. Jesus called us to make disciples, and thereby influence the world in the direction of his kingdom. The challenge we face as a Christ follower or a ministry leader, is measuring the change. How do I differentiate between activity and ministry?
Herein lies the heart of the conflict. Ministry isn’t about creating cookie cutter Christians who all do the same thing and act the same way. Is it? If I attend church regularly, get baptized, participate in the sacraments and can recite a few bible verses, does that make me a Christian? These activities identify my as a member of a group of people who all do the same thing, act the same, and believe the same things. But am I a disciple of Christ? What can I say about successfully creating a group of people who look alike, talk alike, and participate in some of the same activities? Is this the church, or a social club that is organized around Christian ideas?
While running an organization requires creating measurable benchmarks and then moving individuals through those benchmarks in order to create sustainability, leading a church is a much more organic process. Conforming to rules and developing identifiable habits is not the measure of Christianity. We are not called to simply conform. I believe we are called to be transformed into the image of Christ. We are called to return to the image in which we were created, the image of our God. And transformation is a messy process.
Transformation is disorderly. At my heart, I am selfish, and want my own way. Yet Jesus calls me to become self less, and seek the wellbeing of others. Transformation isn’t smooth and often I relapse into my old way of doing things. It seems just when I’m getting the hang of really loving my wife in the way Christ would, something happens and we are back to communication failures, and hurt feelings.
On the other hand, conformity is neat and clean. When I am conforming to the Christian ideal, all I have to do (or so it seems) is remember this 5 point sermon, or apply that 7 point action plan. From the viewpoint of a leader, conformity is controllable. If a person is out of line, I remind him of the rules. “If you are really a part of our group, you will . . . (fill in the blank). . . ” The church I call home grows on the holiness branch of the protestant tree. Looking back, the church’s social emphasis could be easily summed up as:
And don’t hang out
With those who do.
This isn’t transformation, and when our message devolves in this direction, we have lost focus on that which Christ called us toward.
Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may test and know what is the acceptable, pleasing and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12.2)
Transformation requires fundamental internal change, while conformity is external. Transformation involves surrender to another set of priorities, while conformity is attained by self will, and personal effort. More importantly, because we are relational beings, created to be in relationship with each other and with our God, transformation only happens within the context of the vulnerable relationships, while conformity can be learned from text books, sermons, podcasts, and memorizing rules.
In the scriptures we are called is to be “conformed into the image of Christ” (Ro, 8.29). This goal is measurable and duplicable, however it is not simple. Becoming like Christ requires fundamental transformation of our self focuses lives and carnal inclinations. Becoming like Christ requires knowing Christ personally, and then engaging others in meaningful relationship as we pursue him together. Transformation is not an individual sport.
How do you measure your progress on this journey toward Christ likeness? If you are a leader, where is your focus? Conforming to rules is easy, and on some level satisfies the flesh. We can say “Look at me, look what I can do” However, transformation requires that our flesh dies, and we allow the Spirit to live within us to pursue Christ’s priorities.
The Next Step
For the next 30 days, push aside the rules. Whatever measuring stick you use to evaluate your spiritual life, push it aside and focus of Christ. Ask yourself one question. “What is Jesus like, and how can I be more like him?”
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This article is extremely powerful in its honesty and relevance, and as the saying goes "getting into a garage does not make one a car."