Do We have the Right Tools?

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When Jesus commanded his friends to “make disciples of all nations” he established the mission of the Christian church. Through his death, resurrection and ascension we received salvation from sin. Jesus made it clear that salvation, which he paid for and we cannot earn by our deeds, still need to bear fruit. And the fruit of salvation is to bring people into God’s grace. To accomplish this he sent his disciple into the mission field and through words and works, people will learn of God’s love for all his children. 

Thus we can say that while the heart of Christianity is God’s love, the heartbeat is missional. The blood which flows to and from the heart gives life to the body. No organs or tissues can function without the continual surge of blood. Missions are the life sustaining fluid which keeps the Body of Christ alive. If it cannot course from the heart, blood cannot flow back and the heart dies. When it does, God’s love dies in the world. It is up to Christians to keep the blood flowing and the heart pumping so that not only churches thrive but also God’s purpose in the world.

Christians and churches are challenged to do mission work in today’s world. Our resources are limited and the needs are great. Some churches lack money but have people willing to work. Others lack the people but have the money, and many have neither. To compound the problem, there are so many needs in our communities and the world we cannot decide which to serve and so do nothing.  Inertia of indecision occurs and the heart begins to slow down and lose strength.

Redefining the mission of a church and its members should be a priority for clergy and lay leaders. Appraising their resources and then focusing on the mission they are best equipped to fulfill should be among the uppermost priority of a Christians life and the churches ministry.As a woodworker my view is from the perspective of someone who uses tools, in my case woodworking tools. A mechanic, electrician or welder may look at a different set of tools. A Doctor, nurse or medical technician would think in terms of instruments and equipment. Housewives may see what’s in their sewing cabinet or kitchen cupboard or cleaning closet. Teachers think in terms of text books and teaching aids. Whatever we do we address and resolve challenges with the tools we have in our toolbox (or kitchen, sewing room, bookshelves, or medical bag).

The tools I have in my shop determine the project I’m going to take on. Thus my tools limit me to certain undertaking. Since I do not have a lathe, none of my project involve wood turning and thus nearly everything has straight angular form. However if I wanted to do project incorporating rounded wood forms, I would appraise my financial situation, determine if I have room for a lathe and the ability to learn to use one, then make a decision if it is an efficient use of my time, money and space. Will the benefit out way the cost. A housewife who loves to cook may ask is it worth expanding her kitchen or bringing in new appliances so she could develop her skills as a chef. Would a mechanic limit his work to the tools he has in his shop or acquire new ones in the hope of expanding his business and generating additional income?

Churches face these same questions. The problem is they rarely take the time to appraise what they have or what they need to accomplish their mission. And the reason for this is that most churches do not define what their mission is. Somewhere filed away at every church is a written mission statement defining the goals of the church. When you asked the average member, or even one of the lay leader (or clergy!) what that mission statement says you generally get a dumbfounded look of incomprehension.   Without a clearly defined mission it doesn’t matter what tools you have in the tool box. They will simple rust from lack of use and the heartbeat of the church will slow down.  

Before the tools can be dusted off and put to use the mission of the church needs to be defined, understood and committed to by the laity and clergy. There are two ways to identify the churches ministry:See what you have in the toolbox and determine what you can accomplish with those resources.

  • Determine the needs of your community and
    Acquire the tools you need to meet those needs.

There’s an old saying that goes, “If your only tool, is a hammer you tend to look at all your problems as nails.”  This can be viewed as a negative in that we limit ourselves to a finite solution that keeps us “in the box”. But it also helps us make greater use of limited resources. I often marvel at the intricate complexities that woodworkers achieved centuries past. With simple handmade tools they created wonderful works which I can’t do without expensive and complicated power tools today. Congregation may be surprised with what they can do with the resources they have available. It simple comes down to a willingness to use those resources and defining their mission with what they have to work with.  

Thus a church with older membership may be faced with the reality that they are in hospice care and can do little in the way of mission work. However if that church has substantial financial resources, and facing their own inevitable demise, it can use that money in a number of ways to further God’s kingdom. Scholarship funds for clergy, shelter for abused women and children, physical aids such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, glasses for the poor, computers and learning aids for those who can’t afford them, missionary support, church planting  are just a few of the ministries a financially strong but membership weak church can engage in. At the other end churches that are financially weak but have the manpower can provide the muscles and energy for many of these same ministries.

I once spoke with a pastor who was frustrated because he had trouble filling establish ministries which no one had any enthusiasm for. These were “sacred cows ministries” which had to be fulfilled despite no longer being relevant in their community. The minister finally stopped wasting his time and asked members what they were passionate about. On women said she felt a need to find shelter for abused women and their children. So the church started an outreach program and placed her in charge because she had a passion for that ministry.

The needs of a community should also be the needs of the church. Oftentimes members are aware of problems in their area but don’t see a church as a resource for addressing those issues so they remain quiet and frustrated. When a church shows a willingness to address problems in the community and seeks people to do the work, church members are willing to step forward and help.  Once the mission of the church is coordinated with the needs of the community, the congregation should look into their toolbox and determine what they have to accomplish their mission. Most likely they will not have enough, and will have to acquire additional resources. 

Years ago someone gave me an old router used to make profile cuts in wood. It was a poor quality machine and I wasn’t familiar with using it so I put it on the shelf where it collected dust for several years. Then, needing to make something that requires shaped edges, I reluctantly put it to use. The results were impressive and I realized the potential in using this tool. Today there are three routers in my shop, which have opened up many opportunities for creative woodworking.

Churches may be surprised by what tools they have and what they can accomplish with them. Once committed to a ministry the acquisition of new resource no longer become a burden, but a necessity for the health and growth of a church, just as purchasing new equipment can allow a business to expand and be more profitable.  A churches “toolbox” can define a church’s ministry, or the ministry can determine what is in a church’s “toolbox”. Either way congregations need to take a serious look at the purpose of their church. If they desire nothing more than a social club, than that is what it will be. If they want it to serve the community then it will accomplish that goal. Without a mission no one in the church, or outside will see it as resource for change and it’s “toolbox” will be left unopened.