As pastors and leaders we are constantly looking out for resources to empower us to build and nurture disciples in our congregation. What a privilege it was to have Rev. Alton Garrison, the Assistant General Superintendent of USA and Director of the Church Transformation Initiative share his insights on helping churches renew their spiritual vitality and reach their full kingdom potential.
The two-day conference at Subang Jaya AG on 5 & 6 September had a gathering of about 200 AG ministers and church leaders. Rev. Alton’s message was clear from the start: A Spirit-Empowered Church is also an Acts 2 Church.
Organised by Assemblies of God Malaysia, there were over 50 AOG churches from around Malaysia attending the event. However, the event was also open to other churches, with participants from other denominations present as well which brought the number up to about 200 participants.
Participants were taken through a “A Spirit-Empowered Church Model” which brought our attention back to the original Acts Church which was mentioned in Acts 2.
Acts 2: 42
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Based on the verse above, the breakdown of the church model was categorised into 5 functions which are Fellowship, Discipleship, Gift-Oriented Ministry, Evangelism, Worship.
These five functions are familiar in church messages. However, Rev Alton took the effort to reintroduce these values again. He reminded us that sometimes it is the simplest of things that are the cause of the breakdown in church function.
He first began with a health check on each church, by having participants fill in a questionnaire on the Life Cycle and Stages of Congregational Development which began at the birth of the church, to its prime, maturity, and even ageing to death. This was something that was very sobering to know, since if a congregation is not careful, a church may face complete failure in its function and be obsolete.
Once the conditions had been identified, Rev Alton began to list down the many ways to avoid such situations. Among such was an emphasis on church administration and management.
This was one of the most interesting highlights as it gave the leaders an insightful take towards church management and administration. Very often we tend to link these two subjects to the systems and corporations of the world, regarding them as unspiritual.
But this is not the case as we can see in the Bible many instances in the early churches where admin was very much necessary.
At the time, the number of the disciples was greatly increasing. A complaint arose from the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews because the Grecian widows were being neglected in the daily ministry. 2The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It’s not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. 3Therefore brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. 4Then we can appoint those men over this business, and we apostles will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
As you can see, the men chosen were of a good reputation. The only difference between the church and the corporate world is that the church always has the Holy Spirit behind every decision. With good administration and management, the church leaders such as the pastor can now focus on other aspects. Among such is vision.
“Vision always leaks, and as such needs to be constantly repeated over and over again,” Rev Alton emphasized repeatedly. A very important part of church leadership is creating and casting a direction in which the church should head.
As he explained, once a condition of a church is known, it is necessary to take steps that are needed to avoid or counter the decline. One of them is always making sure that the members do not forget the vision of the church.
Proverbs 29:18King James Version (KJV)
18 Where there is no vision, the people perish.
But unlike a corporate company, the vision of a church has to always be in line with the strategic planning of the church. This has to go in line with mission statement of the Church which is the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
As Rev Alton puts it, people tend to be forgetful, and when the vision of the church is forgotten, so is the direction, and purpose for the church.
With vision, unity in the church also can be achieved easier. He gave a realistic view of the church; that it is one of the hardest places to achieve unity in ministry. As shocking as it may sound, this is a sobering reality. The reason is simple yet profound. The reason is because here in the church, people do the work voluntarily unlike the outside world where payment is given. This is so true, as many who serve in ministry go into a state of burn-out due to the fact that to a human point of view, ministry can be a thankless task sometimes.
As such it is of utmost importance that the leaders disciple members in such a way that they are outward-looking instead of inward-looking, so that they have a gospel-centered outlook of ministry which is serving the needs of others.
All in all, it was a very good seminar which dealt with issues of realities that plague the church. Despite some of the concepts being quite familiar in the secular business world such as in corporate management, or human resourcing, Christians should not feel that this is worldly wisdom as all wisdom comes from God. With submission to the Holy Spirit such wisdom can be aligned according to God’s will.
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