The Church of the Redundant


MC knows the scoreNo one wants to think about a pastor dying unexpectedly, but what if yours did?

The church I attend had their 46-year-old pastor die of cancer a few years ago. It wasn’t completely unexpected, but he’d appeared to make a full recovery—only to succumb shortly after returning to the pulpit. People were shocked.

Now the elders in my church held the church together for a year or so while they sought a new pastor. My wife and I came on-board right as the new pastor was called. We feel blessed by this timing.

Some churches don’t recover, though, when a pastor dies or simply leaves for greener pastures. Or the children’s ministry director steps down and no one wants to step up. Or the worship pastor follows that dream to stardom in Nashville and the worship band sort of “goes to seed” in the aftermath of that departure.

It seems to me that a good many churches out there are cults. Not like Jehovah’s Witnesses, but cults of personality. They revolve around a few dynamic individuals. Should something happen to those dynamic individuals…well, you can see the handwriting forming on the wall.

It should never be that way.

Blame it on something in the drinking water in America, but we don’t do a very good job seeing ourselves as replaceable. Worse, people in leadership positions in churches take this to the extreme and find ways to keep from grooming successors. That dog-eat-dog, business world, CEO model permeates too much of our thinking, making us resistant to doing what’s best for the church, even if that best may not be the best for us personally.

The Bible has this to say,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
—John 12:24-25

The church that makes a difference is the one that understands that nothing good from anything that hasn’t died first. In this case, the truth is that I, along with you, must die to any preconceptions I have about “my ministry.” It’s not my ministry anymore than it is yours. It’s the Lord’s. And He only works wonders when the people trust Him enough to do it His way.

When we build our churches on a handful of talented individuals, we only set ourselves up for failure. Our goal instead should be to build a church where each person is replaceable, no matter how much a person might give to the ministry of the church in terms of time, effort, and money.

You see, when we’re dead, none of that worldly striving for position matters. It no longer becomes “my ministry.” The goal isn’t to play out my ministry, but to ensure that Christ plays out His, even if it means I wind up martyred for it. Because I’m replaceable.

Viewed that way, our entire perspective on how we disciple and raise up leaders must change. It forces us to see every person in the seats as a leader on some level or other. It means that anyone should be able to step up into any position within a church at a moments notice. And that’s because God often taps people for ministry on a moment’s notice.

Instead, we’ve created a model where a few of the dynamic people carry those who are all too willing to take up space. And this is what passes for church in far too many congregations out there.

Or we have the reverse where the leadership doesn’t resemble the boardroom of Procter & Gamble, so a handful of self-appointed leaders in the pews clamor to do it their way. Talk about toxic! So much for dying to self and putting the needs of others first.

When you look around the world at places where the Church is growing exponentially, it’s largely in those places where the Christians understand that everyone should be replaceable. The leaders realize they may not be around tomorrow, so redundancy is key. The Enemy can’t cut off the heads of leadership because, like a hydra, more will just grow out of the stumps.

But we’re not at that place in the U.S. Our own history of self-made men and pioneers makes that kind of selflessness impossible without a serious overhaul of our own identity as Americans. But our identity is found in Christ, not the Founding Fathers. And even they were pretty selfless when it came to founding this country.

I suspect that Darwinistic survival of the fittest concepts drive too many of us for us to see ourselves as redundant. But I also think that’s the only way we’re going to weather the storms that come our way as a Body of Believers in America.

Should it be so difficult, really? I don’t think it needs to be. It just means putting down “me” and taking up the cross. It means not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought and esteeming others better. It means working to ensure that no one in our churches is irreplaceable. It means making disciples that conform, each and every one, to the image of Christ and not our own image.

I started out 2008 writing that this needs to be a year where we listen to the Holy Spirit like we’ve never listened before. I also think that 2008 is the year where the Church in America gets serious about laying down self. If it’s about maximizing the 401k plan, then we’re not going to work to make ourselves redundant. If it’s about maintaining a pretty Evangelical kingdom of our own making, then we’re never going  to be humble enough to say, “Lord, here I am. Use me up.” We’ll never make ourselves expendable for the only Kingdom that counts.

Aren’t we all tired of living for ourselves? Aren’t we all a little bit burned out of rushing to and fro to keep the world’s plates spinning?

So where do we go from here, army of the redundant?