There’s a word that often comes up when a church is engaged in future planning, and that word is ownership. It’s a call to own the change, own the plans and own the vision. It’s a call to responsibility and stepping up to the mark – to be good stewards of the challenges and opportunities that face us. And it’s not just for the leaders, but for everyone in the church. To own it.
Of course, if you’re talking about who actually owns the church, there’s only one answer isn’t there? God does. He’s the only One who truly possesses the church and its people. But he chooses to make us stewards of it and to use us for it’s growth. Christ is the Head, but we are the living, functioning members.
So, it’s a tension. It’s God’s church and it’s your church. It belongs to Him and it belongs to us. He owns it, but He wants us to own it too. And both of these realities have implications for us.
i. We need to know it’s God’s church when we’re tempted to worry. When the future is unknown and change is in the air. When a church plant goes out or a Pastor retires. When a family moves on or your kids move away. When numbers reduce or a ministry dwindles. We need to remember it’s God’s church.
God provides for his church. He cares for it and guides it and nurtures it. It’s his bride, his family, his household. He will never neglect it. History proves this time and again. In this church, in this denomination, in every church – God provides for its needs. As the Psalm says of God’s city, so it is with the church: “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” (Psalm 46:5, NIV)
ii. We also need to know it’s God’s church when we’re tempted to be possessive. When we’re feeling entitled and owed something by the church. When we’re demanding (of God or leaders) that things don’t change or when we’re getting defensive of our traditions. When we’re acting self-righteously or dishing out ultimatums. We need to remember it’s God’s church.
None of us possess it the way God possesses it. None of us are entitled to our way (“or the highway”) or our personal preferences. None of us are owed any religious comfort or worldly contentment. And none of us are exempt from the call to discipleship, transformation and ongoing change. We all have the comfort of knowing God’s church is in God’s hands, but also, we are all confronted with the cost of following Jesus. The church is not yours to demand expectations of (beyond expecting the gospel, of course).
iii. Yet, we need to know that the church is ours (as stewards) when we’re tempted to slack off. When we’re taking no interest or making church a Sunday-only affair. When our trust in leaders becomes an excuse to fob the needs off on them. When we’re deliberately keeping our distance so church doesn’t impinge on the rest of life. When we custom-build our church package with only the things that suit our lifestyle. We need to remember that it’s our church – all of it.
We need to own it. The ups and downs, the highs and lows, the joys and trials – we need to own it all. It’s not just for pastors and elders to deal with, but all of us. Whether we’re talking about Sunday services or Small Group culture or staffing needs or youth & kids programs or future direction – it needs to matter to each of us.
The problem churches can so often have, is that members will express ‘ownership’ by demanding preferences or highlighting problems, but then refuse to offer any ownership of the solution or change. The church is not a horse that we get a free ride on, kicking it frequently to make it go faster. The church is God’s house and God’s family, which we tend to and work on, together.
On the one hand, it’s hard to urge you to own the upcoming changes at Willo when there’s a possibility I won’t be around to own them myself. On the other hand, whatever decision Cath and I make is all about owning the call for God’s church (both here and elsewhere), while trusting that he will provide for his own. So, I would humbly like to encourage you to own the decisions Willo needs to make about the future, just as Cath and I need to own our decision about ministry calls and service within the kingdom. The congregational meeting (mentioned below) is one excellent opportunity to express this ownership.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29, NIV) Let’s trust God with the unknowns of the church’s future and obey him in the call to move it forward on his mission.