When I meet ministers or visit a new church, I have three questions that give me an immediate insight into the leadership, direction and culture of that church. These questions aren’t designed to give me ammunition, they are purely to give me insight. That’s the beauty of diagnostic questions – they reveal the state of play. There is no moral weighting attached to the answer, it’s just to establish fact.
The first question is “What is your theology?” This is to make sure I’m going to get good, bible-based teaching. This does not query quality, just foundation. I need to make sure the church is founded on Reformed Evangelical theology.
The second question is “Who is in charge of pastoral care?”. If the answer is “Everyone” that may sound good, but is actually concerning to me. Because if everyone is in charge of pastoral care, then nobody is. Pastoral care needs to be headed up by a minister (paid or lay minister doesn’t matter, as long as it’s one person with responsibility and authority). Someone needs to have overall oversight to make sure pastoral care is a) happening, b) is happening effectively, c) is proactive and not reactive and c) that ensures that the people doing the pastoral care are trained and coached and supported and have the resources they need.
If pastoral care has no minister in charge or proactive leadership, if pastoral care is delegated to small group leaders, this is a concern. Small group leaders and congregational leaders will undoubtedly do most of the care, but it needs to be led by a minister. If it isn’t, the message it sends is that pastoral care is not important. That may well not be true, but that’s the message it sends. And if it is not led by a minister, it may not be part of the culture. It may lack focus and direction, it will lack communication and effectiveness. If we want a church where pastoral care is cultural, it is important for us to know who leads this.
As my first gentle challenge to our churches, I would like ministers to know that this is important to us parishioners. I would ask ministers to consider leadership in this area and recognise the perception (and reality?) that if everyone is in charge of pastoral care then nobody is. Maybe it’s time for a stocktake. Are your people really ok? Is the pastoral care proactive? Is it cultural?
My third question may be the most controversial. It is “How much does the church give?” That is not how much do your parishioners give. This question is about how much does the church give – specifically, give away. Now, bear with me on this because it sounds like a desperately unfair question. Our churches barely have enough to keep themselves afloat without giving anything away.
But let’s look at this another way. Generosity is rarely “caught” by being taught. Generosity is usually caught and spread by being modelled. I spoke to a Presbyterian minister in Sydney’s outer suburbs and he answered “We give about 10% That’s not a deliberate number, it just generally adds up to about that.” I spoke to an Anglican minister in Sydney’s inner suburbs and they also give a substantial amount – enough to pay for additional part time member of staff if that’s what they wanted to do. But they don’t. They want to model generosity by donating a part of their parishioner given income to a variety of Christian charities and missions.
It’s also important for church integrity and authenticity. Churches want (and need!) parishioners to give and to give generously and joyfully. Given that that is the case, it feels as though it would be right and proper for the church to also give sacrificially. To ask others to sacrifice, but not do so as an institution feels lacking in generosity. If we are to exercise generosity of spirit, and engender a generous and joyfully giving church, then I would gently challenge churches to start giving.
This is a gentle challenge because I understand the financial pressures that churches face. I believe a challenge is warranted however because the parishioners who are asked to give, are also facing pressures. What would we say to a parishioner who wants to give but feels they can’t because of the financial pressure they are under? First of all – grace. We don’t know a persons (or a church’s) story. But if we would encourage the person to step out in faith and if we would motivate them to give what they could – then I would direct these responses to our churches also.
Churches are under immense financial pressure. But I believe that churches should challenge themselves and step out in faith and give what they can – even starting with a few dollars a week. My apologies to any minister reading this and thinking its patronising. I certainly don’t mean it to be. I also don’t mean it to be remotely judgemental. I am merely describing what is important to me in a church and what (for me) reveals where the heart of a church is. I do not believe that generosity can be delegated to an external body. For example, encouraging people to give directly to CMS or Anglicare or BaptistCare or Compassion does not count. As worthwhile as that is, it is not generosity. Churches cannot abdicate responsibility for generosity. Generosity is a non-delegable duty.
I have noticed that the churches who give away resources, tend to have the strongest cultures of generosity. Because culture comes from the top and if the church gives and models generosity, the people are more likely to give and be generous more quickly, more instinctively, and more joyfully. This doesn’t mean those churches are devoid of financial worries. It’s just a noticeable difference in churches I’ve seen.
For any ministers reading this who’s churches do give, I want to thank you and appreciate you for the sacrifice and the hard choices. If you are a minister reading this and your church has not felt in a position to give, I want to thank you for reading this far! My gentle challenge to you, brothers and sisters, is that this is a step out in faith. But it will be one that throws ripples throughout your church.
If you are a church-goer reading this, these diagnostic questions are important – but they should never be used to judge. That is not our job and it’s not healthy, productive or helpful to point fingers or complain. We need to be gracious and understanding. We need to be proactive, positive and helpful. A church having the capacity to self-reflect on these matters should be nothing but praised and respected.
I also think it is important to ask these questions though. We are sheep and Jesus is our good shepherd. But that doesn’t mean we are mindless followers in our churches. It is important to review where the heart of the church is.
We want our churches to be strong, vibrant and teeming with a generosity of spirit that is so visible to our communities that it is shocking to them – shocking in all the best and most wonderful ways.