Over the past ten months the word COVID, which many of us had never heard before, has become a word we use at least once a day. The average American has been exposed to more information and disinformation regarding a single strain of the COVID family of viruses (COVID19), than they can handle. One virus has created a global concern for our physical wellbeing.
What has intrigued me during this season is that it hasn’t generated an equal concern for our spiritual health. Most pastors and churches are working hard to find ways to survive until they can get back to normal. The goal seems to be to get back to where we were a year ago. But stop and ask yourself, where was the American church in January 2020? Was the average church a healthy church? The reality is that in every statistical area we use to evaluate a normal American church, the average church was not healthy a year ago. From my perspective, THE number one symptom that tells me we have a significant spiritual health crisis in our nation is our lack of mature leaders. Let me elaborate a bit on how I arrived at this conclusion.
Phyllis and I began the New Year by beginning the study of Experiencing God during our morning devotionals. Phyllis had never done the study, and I have found it to be very useful at times in my life when I needed clarity from God. In our chaotic world filled with COVID, racial tensions, political polarization, economic stress, and Christianity’s declining influence, I figured it might be a good time to seek clarity from God. The first principle you study in Experiencing God is that God is always at work around us. The question is, “Am I even expecting God to be at work?”
So I started to pay closer attention. I have been doing a major edit on material I have used for decades to help pastor search committees. In preparation for the edit, I read the book Next: Pastoral Succession that Works by Vanderbloemen and Bird. Although they specifically state, “We are not primarily writing on how to establish a pastor search committee;” it has been a helpful resource.
At the same time, I have been working with several pastor search committees. In the process of helping one, I ran across an “interesting” resume. The candidate had sent a self-composed, in depth cover letter that basically described himself as a superman kind of pastor. It emphasized all that he could do and all the knowledge that he had that would transform their church. It was very “me-centered.” His perspective comes from a faulty definition of spiritual maturity. Disciple-making is not simply the transfer of information but is about life transformation (Romans 12:1-2).
All of this, and a variety of similar things, began to create a swirling vortex in my mind. Ultimately, God used these experiences to create an “Aha moment!” If we, Christians and churches—the body of Christ—really addressed the core issue of our spiritual health problem, I wouldn’t need to help so many pastor search committees and Vanderbloemen and Bird’s book wouldn’t have been so popular. The average American church is not raising up leaders from their own harvest field. This is what Jesus commanded us to do in the Great Commission—to make disciples in Matthew 28:19-20. It is what He had told His disciples to do when He sent the twelve out two-by-two in Matthew 9:38. It is what Jesus told the seventy to do when He sent them out two by two in Luke 10:2. But since the average church in America is emphasizing doing and knowing rather than growing in obedience and Christlikeness, when they need a new pastor they have to find one that some other church has been preparing. And because so few churches are raising up leaders for the harvest, it has become more imperative that I have good resources to share with search committees and Vanderbloemen and Bird’s book will continue to sell well.
When it comes to our spiritual health we are usually treating symptoms and ignoring or glossing over the underlying cause of our spiritual health crisis—our failure to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples (II Timothy 2:2). My prayer is that your personal walk is significantly better than it was a year ago. But, to be all that God wants us to be, we all need to regularly ask God to put a spotlight of truth on areas where we need to grow (Psalm 139:23-24) and be willing to listen to genuine friends—those will to speak truth into our life (Proverbs 27:6). As we do that, we will be able to diagnose some underlying issues that are negatively impacting our spiritual health. Go and become all that God desires for you.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.