We are prone to ask the wrong questions - as individuals and as churches. No one is immune to this problem. Sometimes it may not be that we are asking the wrong questions, but that we do not give the right questions priority.
I continue to realize the important role our questions have in our lives. The questions we ask determine the answers we seek. The answers we find will inform the decisions we make and the paths we take. Our questions can begin to shape the course a church travels along. Asking the right questions matters.
My wife and I are trying to teach our children to ask the right questions. Rather than asking, “what can I get?” we want them to ask, “what can I give?” Rather than “what do I want?”, asking “how can I serve?” Rather than asking when they get to have free time asking how they can contribute to the family.
One of the most important questions a church can ask
As Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church, it has been my aim that one of our church’s primary questions is “what does Jesus want for our church?” This question orients us in the right direction. It sets our course. Like a compass guiding a ship and its crew through the vast ocean, this question helps to keep us heading toward the right shores.
Most churches would say this is the sort of question they want to be asking. Not many would deny the necessity of asking what Jesus wants for their church, but the problem is one of priority. The error for many churches is not whether they would affirm the question, but whether the question is leading them to seek answers. If the primary question is not what Jesus wants for our church, then a different question is getting priority. If a different question is the primary question, then a different set of answers are being sought. These answers will determine our decisions and our actions.
Take a moment and ask yourself, do you want what Jesus wants for your church? Do you believe that your church is asking itself, “what does Jesus want?” How would it change the course of your church if you sought an answer to this question?
It saves us from ourselves
When our first question is about what Jesus wants, it means our questions are not primarily about what we want. Unfortunately, we are prone to pursue our own preferences, and as we do, our primary questions become about what we want rather than what Jesus wants. Our vision for our church becomes self-centered and myopic. We bicker about foolish things and our hearts become bitter because of personal preferences going unmet.
When the primary question we ask is about what Jesus wants, it saves us from ourselves. Conversations are elevated above our preferences, and our vision becomes aligned with the prayer Jesus taught us to pray - “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are willing to pray the same prayer as Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, “not my will, but yours, be done.”
Without fully realizing it, arguments and debates in churches can quickly devolve to becoming about personal preference, experience or strategy. We don’t stop to unify around what we believe Jesus wants, but we begin with our own perspective. When what I want is not consistent with what another member wants, we attribute it to their lack of care or concern for the church. We chalk up a difference in opinion to a lack of integrity or character. This will get us nowhere.
When a church takes the time to ask what Jesus wants and to seek an answer through prayer, Bible reading, conversation, and reflection, we will find something to rally around. Unity comes when we all begin to align around our vision to pursue our answer to the question, “what does Jesus want for our church?”
Not the Jesus of our imagination
Caricatures of Jesus abound. When asking what Jesus wants, we need to make sure our answer aligns with the Jesus of the Scriptures, not the one in our imaginations. It’s tempting to believe that Jesus wants certain things, simply because I want those things. We can trick ourselves into thinking that what we want is what Jesus wants, because why wouldn’t Jesus want exactly why I want.
Unfortunately, sometimes the Jesus in of our minds is the one we made up to suit our desires rather than the one that has been revealed through the testimony of Scripture. It means that we need to be a little suspicious if we end up believing that “what Jesus wants” for our church is exactly what we have personally wanted all along.
If we are going to faithfully answer this question for our church, we need to make sure that we are getting to know the real Jesus. As I continue to learn about my wife, I continue to grow in my understanding of what she wants. For example, I have come to know what sort of flowers she likes, so when I am at the store I can pick them out and say with relative confidence, “these are the flowers she would want.”
If we want to be able to answer the question, “what does Jesus want for our church?” then we need to get to know the real Jesus. If you are not taking the time to read your Bible and pursue an understanding of God’s desires, then be careful to presume upon what Jesus might want for your church.
It requires prayer, time and reflection
Answering the question about Jesus’ desire for your church cannot come through a quick decision. It will require prayer, time and reflection. If you are going to make a claim upon what you believe Jesus wants for your church, then you will have needed to take the time to pray and reflect. This also helps us to slow down and discern what is my own preference and what is God’s desire.
Here is my suggestion, before you begin telling others at your church what you think needs to change, stop and rephrase your statement. Rather than beginning, “I think we need to...” Pause. Start over and begin the phrase with, “I believe Jesus wants us to...” If you cannot confidently end that statement, then keep it to yourself for the moment. Consult Scripture. Pray. Reflect upon God’s desire for your church. Ask yourself, “Am I confident this is what Jesus wants for our church?” If you cannot say yes to that question, then keep it to yourself. However, If you can say yes, then humbly share your thoughts with someone in leadership who can begin praying and processing it with you.
My fear is that without always realizing it, we focus too much attention on our preferences and desires rather than on God’s desires. Reframing the question from “what do I want for my church?” to “what does Jesus want for my church?” will help to reshape the conversation. And once you believe you have an answer, pray that God’s will would be done and that you would see it happen at your church.