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The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 3)Wednesday, March 22, 2023
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. While they have a tremendous impact in a work environment, these challenges can do just as much damage among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed irrelevance; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the third of these three signs.
Immeasurement describes the way that many organizations have little or no measurable ways for employees to know if they are succeeding at their tasks or advancing within the team structure. It’s admittedly a little more nuanced than that, depending on the industry and individual organization, but that’s the basic concept.
In a congregation, immeasurement is essentially manifested where there is little or no help for growth. When church leaders and members think that the status quo must be accepted, when they look at talent or spiritual potential as static rather than dynamic, when they settle with the saved and stop seeking out the lost; then church members will feel a sense of immeasurement. That is, they will begin to subtly believe that there is no way to grow, no benefit to growth, and therefore no reason to grow. This line of thought can be so discouraging.
But the New Testament sets a precedent of personal growth that knows no limits. Paul said, “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Phil. 3:13-14) As long as we fall short of Christ’s own perfection, we have room for spiritual growth. This is true of God’s people as individuals and as congregations.
So, consider a few things that can help us overcome this challenge together.
First, believe that you can grow in the Lord. Believing that there’s no hope of anything better is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if each of us believe that we are capable of more, then we will have the motivation to pursue more.
Second, look for mentors who can guide and teach you, and ask them for their help. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a systematized thing through a church program or effort. Usually, the greatest spiritual growth comes when one person encourages another (remember that Barnabas went and sought out Saul of Tarsus to begin his work as The Apostle Paul [Acts 11:25-26]). Seek out someone who can be your Barnabas and ask them to help you grow.
Third, be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Growth always comes with some discomfort, so expect that to be the case with spiritual growth too.
Fourth, remember that measurable spiritual growth isn’t necessarily accompanied by praise and accolades. But that shouldn’t be the reason that we want to grow spiritually anyway. Jesus instructed us to simply be satisfied with serving God well, even if we aren’t praised for it (cf. Lk. 17:7-10).
Fifth, set the right goals for spiritual growth. Maybe you should set a goal to be qualified as an elder, or to be a blessing like Tabitha was for the early saints, or to improve in your ability to lead in worship, or to be a better teacher to kids, or to be better at reaching out to the lost, or to show hospitality in a better way… In any case, make a plan to grow in some way that will give glory to God. And trust me, your efforts will be noticed, either by God or by man. It will not all be in vain.
If we can all work on these things and encourage each other in them, we’ll find that those discouraging feelings of immeasurement start melting away to make room for ever more joy and fulfillment in Christ and in his church.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 2)Wednesday, March 15, 2023
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. While they have a tremendous impact in a work environment, they potentially present even greater challenges among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed anonymity; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the second of the three signs.
Irrelevance causes a person to feel that they have little or nothing to contribute. It often happens within a congregation when Christians compare themselves to others whose talents are easily observed in assemblies and classes: those who speak, teach, or lead in a public way. Those comparisons—which, unfortunately, are often subconsciously reinforced by the preaching and other voices of leadership that they hear—can make a person think that if their own talents are of a lesser degree or different nature, then they don’t matter. Because of how they hear others talk or see them behave, they may feel that the church as a whole would not even notice if they were no longer part of things.
Surely, all of us can understand why this problem is detrimental to a church family. It causes a perceived separation between those whom Christ has joined together. It shows partiality, whether from looking down on our spiritual siblings or from being intimated by them (cf. Jas. 2:1-9). And it shows a lack of faith in God’s promises, forgetting that he has brought us together in the body of Christ as he sees fit so that it will function at its best. If we judge, whether consciously or subconsciously, that some among us do not compare in talent or ability and are not worthy to be among us (that is, they are “irrelevant”), then we have contradicted the will of God and we need to repent.
So what can be done about it? Here are some Bible-based reminders as solutions:
- First, remember that Christ’s church is his family (cf. Eph. 2:19). In an ideal family, everyone knows they are loved and valued. Not everyone’s family experience has demonstrated that, but it’s the universally understood ideal, and that’s what we should all strive for in our congregation.
- Second, remember that believers don’t belong in the world, but we do belong among believers. We are outcasts from the world, and they’re surprised when we don’t join them in their wickedness (cf. 1 Pt. 4:4). But in Jesus’ church, people who seek him always belong. Differing levels of talent, of attractiveness, of sociability, of book smarts & street smarts, or of competency in any given area… they don’t divide us. As one of our hymns says, “No one is a stranger here. Everyone belongs.” We don’t belong in the world. The only place where we do belong is the church.
- Third, remember that great Christians are those whose names are largely unknown, but who serve God faithfully anyway. I doubt that many would list Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43) as one of the most influential figures in the Bible, but her presence among her Christian community—particularly in the lives of many widows—was powerful. In fact, when she died, an apostle came to her town and raised her from the dead! That tells me that her role in the church mattered a great deal! In the same way, I can’t imagine that any of you have heard of Bertha Baggett, Eugene Pemberton, Gus Lowe, Brenda Crowder, or a host of others who stood firm in the Lord. But I could wax eloquent about their influence in the kingdom and the “well done” that they received from their master when they went home to glory. They weren’t public figures in the church, but they were anything but irrelevant because they served God and others faithfully. Even if you think your gift is only a small thing to offer to a fellow church member, it matters. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (1 Pet. 4:10).
No one in a church family is irrelevant! It’s a terrible shame when Christians feel that, and so let’s all do our best to notice and appreciate each other’s natural genius—the gifts that each can offer to be a blessing in God’s kingdom. Let’s work together and be deliberate to fight agains these signs of a miserable church life.
- Dan Lankford, minister
The Three Signs of A Miserable Church Life (part 1)Wednesday, March 08, 2023
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. And while they work well as indicators of job fulfillment, the principles also serve as healthy admonitions about the quality of church relationships.
- Anonymity: A person feels that he or she is not known or cared about. Others don’t know them well, don’t ask about them often, and seldom make an effort to understand their life struggles or victories. Others often let social awkwardness or intimidation or other forms of prejudice create distance and prevent close friendships from forming. As a result, they feel like an anonymous presence—not well-known or well-cared-for by their fellow Christians.
- Irrelevance: A person feels that they have little or nothing to contribute. Within the church, they compare themselves to others whose talents are easily observed in assemblies and classes and determine that if their own talents are lesser, then they don’t matter. Because of the way that they hear others talk or see them behave, they come to to feel that the church as a whole would not even notice if they were no longer part of things.
- Immeasurement: Basically, this comes down to a lack of growth or even the opportunity for growth. It happens at work when there are no measurable skills or trackable achievements to indicate success. It happens at church when there is a prevailing belief is people just are who they are and little (or nothing at all) is done to help them grow. People feel immeasurement at church when they aren’t experiencing encouraging fellowship or spiritual leadership that pushes them toward faithful Christian living.
Surely, all of us can understand why problems like these are detrimental to a church family. So what can be done about it? I’d like to take this and the next two midweek articles to offer some solutions.
Anonymity can be fixed by all of us making an effort to get to know others. Getting to know others comes with inherent risks, but those risks are worth taking. We’ve all had awkward interactions with fellow Christians when we don’t know each other, but let’s not let those experiences stop us from trying as we should. Right now, our congregation is growing, but we’re still small enough that we could all know each other well (a blessing that many other congregations don’t have), and so we should work diligently toward that. Don’t settle for just knowing a few people; be a blessing to everyone around you. Risk the potential awkwardness and make sure that no one around you is left feeling unknown or forgotten. And if you’re a person who feels this anonymity… I encourage you to believe that those feelings will fade the more that you help others overcome the same feelings. The better you know them, the better known you will be.
These things can’t be fixed by one person or by a select few. It’s up to all of us as a church. So, ask authentically how others are doing and support them through the life things that they’re experiencing. Show hospitality to other Christians. Learn people’s kids’ names. Learn what talents others have and how they are a blessing in the world. Remember that “church” means people, and remember that being involved in church means being involved with your fellow Christians. And all of us can do that.
Overcoming the signs of a miserable job depends largely on the management team at that job. But overcoming the ‘signs of a miserable church life’ depends on the whole church. The problem of anonymity can creep into our relationships if we aren’t carefully guarding against it. So let’s work together at pouring ourselves out for the good of others, and we’ll see the power of God at work within us to do more than we ask or even imagine.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace…” (1 Pet. 4:8-10)
- Dan Lankford, minister
Quiet Quitters, At Work & At ChurchWednesday, November 30, 2022
Have you heard the term "quiet quit"? Articles and advice columns on the 'phenomenon' (I use that term very loosely) of quiet quitting are popping up on business websites, blogs, and newspapers everywhere. And research organizations are busy analyzing and quantifying it. The term has even gone viral on TikTok.
Basically, that's become the modern term for doing the bare minimum requirements when you're on the job. The phrase cleverly labels the behavior or a person who might as well quit because they're no longer going for anything better or more noble than the lowest level. They've checked out of the possibility of growth or advancement or helping others, and now they're just getting by and getting paid.
That problem on the job is at least as old as the New Testament, because the apostle Paul admonished our brothers in Colossae with these words: "obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Col. 3:22-23). We need to make sure that we are learning from Paul's words; that we aren't "quiet quitters" at work. Whether or not it garners any payoff in the workplace, we ought to work as if it's for Christ. And if our work is for him, then it needs to be our very best.
There's also the potential problem of "quiet quitting" on a group of God’s people, and this is a temptation that Christians everywhere face at different points in life, whether they're new to faith or seasoned veterans in the Lord's army. Whatever the reasons, they come to do the bare minimum to remain on the membership of a congregation, but they show no more signs of involvement than that. They don't make connections with other Christians, they attend sporadically, they keep to themselves, they read their Bible infrequently, they know few names their Christian family members, and they turn down invitations to special gatherings like potlucks (or, on the flip side, they only show up for potlucks... kinda funny; kinda not). Churches everywhere have members like this, who do only the bare minimum to remain on the membership.
Having put it in those terms, church starts to seem like the place in life where quiet quitting may be the most prevalent.
So what's to be done about it? What are the remedies? Here are two quick thoughts:
- First, it’s up to every individual; take ownership and decide not to be a quiet quitter. Find a way to GROW, engage, develop yourself and others. If our answer is, "I can't help anyone, I'm too deep into my own problems," then that is all the more reasons to reach out and engage, because someone in the church can help you. Wherever you are starting from, all of us can move toward deeper engagement and stronger fellowship. Everyone has something to offer to someone else. The Holy Spirit said, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them..." (Rom. 12:6)
- Second, it’s up to the leaders to develop a culture of engagement: a place where people have opportunities to build others up (and not just in the assemblies), to see and encourage potential for growth among all, to build authentic connections, and to know that they are valued. The Proverbs writer advised: "Know well the condition of your flocks" (Prov. 27:23), which means that leaders need to be well-connected and well-informed and continually praying for their church members in order to enfold and engage them in fellowship of saints that we are.
The research that’s out there is good for workplaces: It’s so nice when all the elements of an engaging culture are present at work. But especially in a church, people ought to be able to find a vibrant, engaging culture in the group—a place where they know they are valued and where they freely and enthusiastically share that unique value with others.
What can YOU do to make that culture stronger and make sure that no one is quiet quitting on Christ's people at Northside?
- Dan Lankford, minister
The Group AND The IndividualWednesday, August 31, 2022
"The Power of And." It's the simple reminder that while life often seems to present us with two opposing choices, we often have the ability to pursue both if we will give the requisite thought to doing it well. In manufacturing, companies think that they must choose whether to produce a quality product or to produce it quickly. In fitness, we are sometimes told that we have to choose whether to develop endurance or strength. In life and family, we think we have to choose whether to excel at work or excel as parents & spouses. But in all of those cases, there is a way to embrace both good things, as long as we use godly wisdom in trying to do them both well. It's the power of and; not the tyranny of or.
This simple principle should be applied to how we think about church. I find that many elders and preachers are more naturally inclined to thinking about the church in terms of its group behavior or in terms of the individual members who make it up. And while there's nothing wrong with those natural inclinations, we need to be aware of them so that we can deliberately open our eyes both aspects of church life. Because every congregation is individuals and a group.
This means that our group activities matter, and so they should be overseen by the leaders and engaged by the members. Worship assemblies, Bible classes, home devos, VBS and other special events, singing, worship leader training, and preaching... Church leaders should be eminently aware of how these things are going and how we are using them 1) to best glorify God, and 2) to maximize the spiritual benefit to the congregation.
It means that the individuals in a church matter. There is simply not enough religious activity to make up for a deficit of visiting orphans and widows. The extroverts need church fellowship, and the extroverts need church fellowship. Senior saints need to be visited and encouraged, and young folks need to be mentored and encouraged. Parents need someone to check on their parenting and their marriages. New Christians need well-guided Bible study. Engaged couples need Christian marital counseling. People with doubts need someone to shine the light on Scripture to answer those doubts. The socially awkward people in a congregation need friends, and the cool people in the congregation need friends. The rich and the poor both need reminders that Christ is our true treasure. And church leaders should be eminently aware of how all of those people's spiritual needs are being met.
Whether you are a leader in one of God's churches by position or simply by influence, don't pigeonhole your thinking into an emphasis on one or the other of these ideas. We should pay attention to the individuals in our church and to our group efforts. We serve God with both, and so we should serve him well with both.
- Dan Lankford, minister