No matter what challenge a church might be considering, there are business and commercial models available to address and resolve it. These models are constantly being refined, rejected and resurrected and some are extremely helpful tools for system modification and efficiency. The church, however, is not a business or a commercial operation. It is a community – a community set apart in faith to be a blessing in the larger community in which we all live.
When a church sets out to address conflict, transition, changing demographics, reduced income, increased costs, loss of members, or any of a host of other challenges, it cannot simply reach for one of these business models and expect to become a healthier and more faithful church community. Unlike any other organization in the world, a church is directly connected to matters of faith – to God. Because the church is a people of God, it receives its direction and its sustenance from that holy relationship. As a result, when a church faces organizational challenges, it turns to God – it seeks to put itself in God’s way.
This process of putting oneself in God’s way is known as “discernment” – seeking to align oneself with God and with God’s yearnings. It is not magic and there is no one way of discerning what God is up to in our world. But all of the ways have in common Bible study, prayer, reflection and listening. This kind of discernment is unique to the church. None of the methods suited to other organizations address that identifying characteristic of a church – a community that exists only because God nurtures those relationships.
When a discerning church faces challenges, it turns first to the question, “What is God’s yearning in the context of this challenge our church is experiencing?” We don’t have to guess. The Biblical narrative offers a history of how God’s people have asked this question before. A continuation of that experience lives in the history of the Church. We know where to look, where to find the kind of attitudes and actions God yearns for us to live. Being aware of what God has been doing and yearning, we can observe carefully what is happening within and around us. We can ask, “How might God be calling a people of faith to respond?” Then we look at all that God has given us – our people, our experience, our financial and physical resources – and we answer, “Here we are, Lord, send us!”