Thursday, July 7, 2016

Coasting is Compromise: The Importance of Being a Proactive Church

Adapting to new methods to tell the old, old story may be our greatest defense against unbiblical compromise.

by Karl Vaters
Just when you think you’re ahead of the curve, the curve moves. Especially if you’re a small church pastor.

My parents sent me to college with a Smith Corona typewriter in 1978. It was electric and portable. I was ahead of the curve.

Then one day, I saw a crowd gathering outside a classroom, staring in amazement at a fellow student’s homework assignment – a term paper created on a computer.

At that moment I knew my Smith-Corona’s days were numbered.

Buh bye, said the curve.

Most pastors know that feeling. Especially in a small church. We catch a glimpse of the curve up in the distance, then the curve says buh bye and takes off again.

What Not to Do

Pastors tend to make one of two mistakes when we fall behind the curve:

1. Try to compete with the big dogs.

Most of us can’t afford the latest innovations, like LED video screens on the stage, no matter how important the latest conference speaker says they are. We’re just hoping this week’s offering can help us pay salaries and keep up with facility maintenance – if we have a facility to maintain. Or a salary.
Trying to keep up with cutting-edge, big church gadgets on a small church budget is a losing strategy that will end in frustration, burnout and bankruptcy.

2. Dig in and declare that our way is the “right” way.

When we can’t keep up, some of us convince ourselves that not keeping up is theologically correct. It’s a stand for righteousness. A refusal to compromise with worldliness.

Uh huh. Cuz Jesus would’ve used a Smith Corona, right?

Adapting ≠ Compromise

Adapting to newer methods doesn’t need to break the bank. And it isn’t about compromising with a sinful culture.

Adapting to new methods can actually decrease the likelihood of theological and moral compromise.

In fact, I’ve become convinced that adapting to new methods can actually decrease the likelihood of theological and moral compromise. As long as we’re adapting for the right reasons.

The wrong reasons include trying to be cooler than the next church. The right reasons include recognizing that people don’t receive information or inspiration the way they used to. We don’t live in a Smith Corona world any more.
Adapting to new methods to tell the old, old story may be our greatest defense against unbiblical compromise. Why? Because the greatest temptation to compromise comes, not from choosing to move forward, but from the almost invisible magnetic appeal of coasting along with today’s methods and yesterday’s comfort.

When we choose to move forward, we’re more conscious of the change and its inherent threats. When we stand still, we’re less aware of the dangers.

We need to recognize that the world is changing. Instead of clinging to the past, coasting in the present, or chasing the future, we need to do what the Apostle Paul did – use the best methods available to communicate the gospel’s eternal truths. (1 Cor 9:20-23)

For example, you and I are communicating through a blog. Blogs are so new that the term “blog” (short for weblog) only came into existence about 15 years ago.

Most small church pastors can’t travel to seminars and conferences. 

Many can’t even afford a copy of my book. But most of them have access to a computer, so a blog lets them get all the info they need for no cost, at any time. This new technology is simply the best way to communicate the message.

Adapting to new technology hasn’t compromised my message. Not adapting to it would have – by limiting who has access to it.

When we properly evaluate the current needs of our culture and take steps to meet them by using the best means to communicate the message, we’re less likely to coast.

Coasting is compromise.

Proactive, Not Reactive

For most of history, experience was the primary asset a pastor brought to a church. Not any more. Now, adapting is more important than experience.
And it ticks me off. Here I am in my mid-50s, with several hard-earned decades of experience under my belt, and now all that experience matters less than it ever has.

It’s not that experience is unimportant. It just needs to be funneled through our ability to anticipate and adapt in order to capitalize on its value.

But adapting isn’t about being reactive. That’s the challenge many of us have when we worry about compromise. It isn’t about putting our finger to the wind, then giving people what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

Adapting is proactive. It’s about paying attention to the people God has given us to pastor. Both inside and outside the walls of our church.

Adapting is proactive. It’s about paying attention to the people God has given us to pastor. Both inside and outside the walls of our church.

It means noticing how young people communicate so we can join the conversation. It means adjusting the church schedule to fit the needs of parents who both have to work full-time jobs. It means paying attention to seniors so they don’t feel disconnected from the church they’ve supported for decades.

We don’t need more money or gadgets to pay attention to people’s needs. And it’s not a compromise of the gospel message to meet those needs in innovative, new ways. It’s right at the center of the gospel. (James 1:27)

Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal. 

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