Church leaders have a calling to make a difference, both to individuals and to society. They want to see their members grow as people and in their faith, and they want to see the Church making a difference in their community.
But they spend almost all their time caught up in keeping the wheels going round, propping up the institution. The needs of the present congregation are real, sometimes overwhelming, and there is little time and even less energy to devote to reaching out to the local community.
When I talk with them, many church leaders tell me there is a massive disconnect between what they are called to do and what they find themselves doing. Most of the time, they are too busy to think about this disconnect. And when they do allow themselves to consider it, what can they do?
On top of this, many church leaders are living with a deep sense of failure. On one level, a life of pastoral care means a steady accumulation of pastoral failures: situations which were not (and perhaps could not be) handled well. On another level, they are faithfully preaching the Gospel and caring for the people to the best of their ability, week after week, and yet they do not see the Kingdom of God growing into reality.
The theory is that preaching the gospel, pastoring the people and providing the sacraments will result in the people of God growing in their faith, and therefore living, praying and working to see the world transformed and the Kingdom built.
But it is not working out that way for many leaders. Again, the question arises: what can they do?
There is a vast number of people offering solutions. But when you examine these solutions, they tend to boil down to just a few familiar faces.
There is an answer, I believe. An answer which recognises all these concerns. An answer, or a set of answers, which flows naturally out of the new life He has given us, which enables us to respond to the prompting of the Spirit instead of following a book.
You could call it the Church Growth Strategy which Jesus used and taught. That sounds - even to me - like a sales pitch for a new and expensive, fully market-researched program. But I happen to believe it is true. Mostly.
Okay, Jesus did not have a 'Church Growth Strategy'. But He did give us a set of teaching and an example to follow. And if we do what He said and follow His example, the church will grow the way He wants it to - differently, with each unique group of people and place, but all sharing the same family likeness.
So why is this not happening already? One aspect, I suggest, is this: we think our problem is that we are not doing it right, while our real problem is that we are not doing it.
By 'it', I mean the important stuff.
I'm sorry - that sounds harsh. We are doing lots of things, and many of them are important. But Jesus tells us there are just two important things: love God, and love your neighbour.
Much of the time, we are not concentrating enough on the important bit, so it really doesn't matter that much how well we do on the other bits.
In sermons, we say the right things: we tell people they should believe the right things and do the right things. But telling people to do something is not the same as equipping them to do it.
The truth is that most Christians in most churches in Western democracies:
Fortunately, it is usually surprisingly easy to solve (or, at least, start to solve) these problems. And it doesn't involve starting major new programs or initiatives, or asking people to carve more time out of their busy lives.
My aim is to help the church (minister, leaders and congregation together) to discover their unique calling, to find what God wants them to be and to do - or, at least, to take the next step on the journey towards finding this out. We do need to get the destination (mostly) right, but we already know quite a lot about the destination: our practical need is to take one small step after another as we make the journey together.