The objective of this lesson: to increase the insights of a congregation into the work of its leaders and leaders' insights into the lives of people in the congregation.
This lesson attempts the impossible. It will seek to acknowledge SOME of the challenges that congregational leaders and congregations face in seeking to be Christian individuals and a Christian community. (1) These challenges are presented as some (not all) of the challenges faced. (2) These challenges are American-society focused. (3) There is no significance to the order of presentation. (4) There surely will be differences in various subsections of the American culture. (5) A whole series could be devoted to many of these challenges.
The word "impossible" is used (a) because there are so many variables and (b) because situations differ in different sections of our nation. The lesson should begin with a plain acknowledgment that it is demanding to discuss such a specific problem in general terms. No discussion will be suitable for all circumstances in all cultures.
The objective is simple: (a) to increase church leaders' awareness that the congregation's members face difficult demands in our society, and (b) to increase congregational awareness that appointed church leaders face a demanding (and sometimes unreasonable) task. The more a congregation and its leaders insightfully appreciate each other, the more effective for God a congregation becomes.
Each congregation should give careful attention to increasing understanding and insight among all its members for all its members. Needs of each section of people will change with needs and stresses. Some will have needs and stresses others do not and have not had. The objective is to increase understandings and insights, not to seek to control and manipulate under the threat of rejection. The basic consideration is achieving God's work, not human comfort and pleasure.
Eight challenges to a congregation's leaders:
It is extremely difficult to lead a group that contains many people who view life and human concerns differently. It becomes more difficult when we realize that a congregational leader is often limited by his life experiences in the way he views life and human concerns. There constantly are many factors involved in leading including spiritual maturity, experiences, background, a sense of responsibility, and compassionate understanding. To be an effective leader demands a lot of thinking, a lot of insight, and a lot of learning on a continuing basis. Leading well involves a commitment to personal growth, not a stubborn clinging to a personal "status quo."
The view that everything in the congregation exists for "me" and the convenience of "my" personal family is a dangerous view. One of the basic values of godliness is an unselfish focus on the good of others. Read Philippians 2:1-4.
Many of God's values do not come naturally to physical perspectives. It is convenient to allow the values of society to become the values of godliness. The values which determine right and wrong are not determined by a society's values and concerns. As an example, consider Romans 12:16-21.
It is simple (1) to expect of someone else attitudes we neither possess or aspire to, (2) to expect of others things we cannot and do not do, or (3) to expect behavior from others that excludes our own behavior. It is amazing to note how often "my" attitudes and behavior are justifiable, but "yours" are not. All of us need to realize that effective leaders must listen to the voices and desires of many as they consider many things in a wise course of action.
The economy will force all of us to make choices we prefer not to make. That will include choices in the congregation's work and focus. Those choices will involve more than the desires of an individual or a group.
The person who accepts the responsibility to lead a congregation should know he will be criticized (sometimes fairly, sometimes unreasonably, and sometimes unjustly). Criticism of those who lead is a social reality in America. Often what is evident to a congregational leader is not evident to some people in the congregation.
Even something seemingly so simple as deciding who should be in a congregation's directory becomes extremely complex because some consider a directory listing as an affirmation of membership--regardless of what statements appear in a directory's opening.
It is not unusual for people to be shocked at news an elder does not posses when he was never informed of the news. An elder is supposed to know the latest news just because he is an elder.
Eight challenges to people who are part of the congregation:
Most Christians (and people in general) are made aware of the complexity of society and the world on a weekly basis. The realities we must deal with become wider and wider. Often a person becomes overwhelmed with change and complexity. As the person becomes more frustrated with both, he/she often seeks comfort in the one thing that should never change--the congregation. For many, a congregation is the one thing that will never change.
As our personal worlds expand at an alarming rate, as aging challenges our flexibility, our godly values are stressed. Fewer and fewer godly things are simple to do. Just living in a world hostile to Christian values becomes more complex. How is a Christian person to respond to complexities that were not a part of his/her past existence? How does one do right when wrong is favored? Merely applying godly values in our society becomes increasingly complicated.
It has not been that long ago in this society that divorce was infrequent, child abuse was unheard of, and friendships were for a lifetime. Now relationships are so unstable that it is a major decision to invest in a relationship. More and more, our society accepts disposable relationships. Today it is possible to be a young adult who has never witnessed marital success or experienced a healthy parent-child relationship. The end result is that people who know how to generate stable relationships are decreasing at a significant rate. Healthy, enduring relationships do not "just happen."
No longer is a person guaranteed that he/she can turn a job into a career. Rare is the person who lives in the same area in which he/she was born. Multiple marriages are common. What was certain in past generations is not certain now. In the midst of all of this we are repeatedly informed that the keys to success are (a) looking young and (b) maintaining a good physical appearance. A person can be shallow as long as he/she looks good.
Increasingly, a person is measured by what he/she has, not by what he/she is. The goal of one's life is acquiring the physical. Life is too often confused with lifestyle. No matter what problem "I" have, the problem can be solved by money.
Increasingly, maintaining the lifestyle "I" had as a teen is not an option. A teen of today may not live as well as his/her parents lived when he/she was a teen.
There are simply too many people to know and to establish relationship with. For the newcomer, the task is overwhelming. To watch people who have been in the congregation for years can be discouraging--"those people know so many and are accepted by all."
There is a group in any congregation of size who do not wish to be known. They, for personal reasons, wish to come on time or late and leave quickly. Often, such people fear being known. These people do not appreciate the spotlight of attention.
Obviously, more could be added to each list. This is a plea for both congregational leaders and all disciples to understand each other by deepening insights and by working together with understanding and respect.
The most common solution to many of these challenges involves a respectful knowing of a person that involves understanding and insight. It is a knowing that does not seek to reject, a knowing that cares, a knowing that replaces dark voids with hope that ministers to people. Congregations must be places that encourage hope in Jesus Christ.
For Thought and Discussion
This lesson attempts the impossible. "Impossible" is used (a) because there are so many variables and (b) because situations differ so much in different sections of our country.
The result: the more effective for God the congregation becomes.
Use, but do not limit the explanations to, the thoughts in the text.
There is no way to predict other challenges that will be mentioned. The challenges mentioned likely will be rooted in experiences. Do a lot of listening and understanding.
Use, but do not limit people to, the thoughts in the text.
Other challenges mentioned are unpredictable. Challenges voiced likely arise from experiences. Listen, understand, and do not allow one person opportunity to monopolize the discussion.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 12
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