“Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place?” (Numbers 20:5, NLT).
Recently, my church family has been exploring the theme of transition. I was grateful to preach one of the messages about the discipline of waiting. If you’ve ever felt like you’re in a terrible situation, transitioned from one job to the next, waited to hear from a potential employer, doctor’s diagnosis, or continued in position/circumstance while hoping for a change, continue reading.
This morning, as I began my daily Scripture reading, I was in Numbers chapter twenty. Granted, there’s not too many great application accounts in Numbers, but chapter twenty is a gold-mine of reflection! Moses endures three great life-losses; he loses his sister Miriam, his brother Aaron, and he’s rejected from entering the Promised Land—all within this chapter! There’s a sermon for each of those topics, but that’s not our illuminating nugget of light.
As I was reading, Israel’s question to Moses, “Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place?” (Num. 20:5), it reverberated in my mind. I began to pray through this verse. As I reflected, I began to think—Israel doesn’t understand that where they are is not the end game. This isn’t their home. The desert is not the Promised Land of milk, honey, and blessing. All that they can see is their current situation—they forgot about the promise.
Better not bitter
I think it’s important to realize (at least for me) that we’re on a journey with the Lord. Where he has us, and where he’s taking us are two different things. For the record, while I’m elated to be in the position that I am currently in, that was not always the case. Many times, I searched and sought out new positions, was rejected by employers, and questioned God as the Israelites, “Why have you brought me to this terrible place”?
Sometimes life is hard. So, I wonder how many of us might be feeling bitter because our circumstances are not better? As I reflected on this passage, I was reminded that the desert is not the Promised Land. Israel was grumbling about the journey, about the process to get to the destination. That’s when the light bulb went off. The journey is not the destination. The destination is the destination.
Sometimes we may feel like God is not answering our prayers because we’re enduring a life situation that seems grueling and draining. I know that the job-search experience can definitely seem like a desert experience. But, so is any transition-period. Any time that we associate our current situation as an end-objective in life, we have neglected the power and process of walking with God.
As the Apostle Paul reminded the Philippian churches, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Phil. 1:6). Wherever you may be, it is not the end-game. Transitions are part of the process.
Hence, that “terrible place” that you currently perceive to be in, maybe that’s the part of the journey that will end up being your most productive and learned. But, let’s be honest, no one enjoys the desert-periods of life. Truly, they feel “terrible” and no amount of encouraging words can pay bills, or change specific circumstances.
Yet, if we can change our perceptions, we can change our motivation to endure. For me, I have to remind myself that God is in control. He is guiding and leading—and He knows best. The goal is never the desert, but the desert is a training ground and part of the process.
As Exodus reminds us, “When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (Exo. 13:17). Battles and deserts are part of the transitioning process.
Regardless of the Israeli spies rejecting God’s sovereignty (Num. 13), the desert was always part of the transition and never the end-result. So, what are your takeaways from this message?
Do you perceive that you’re in a “terrible-place”? What can you learn from it?
How can you trust and serve God where you are, so that when you arrive at the destination, He receives the glory?
The Covid-19 breakout placed the global church in a unique situation. Churches were forced to utilize social media or sources like Zoom to maintain connections with their congregations. While the church should be thankful for technological opportunities, we should be aware of possible hindrances to long-term “isolation.” Albeit, platforms such as Zoom can be highly beneficial and should be praised for their ability to sustain connectivity.
Covid-19 may have exposed humanity to a virus, but the impact that it has had on the church could be costly regarding ecclesial movements. No one would argue that social media platforms performed as a much-needed service and presence of stability during a time of instability. The leap to online church was not difficult for most Western churches. Many evangelical churches were already broadcasting services over the same networks—they seemed prepared (as much as prepared can be) for the situation. However, now there seems to be a select few that desire to never look back upon the congregational gathering. While I have significant doctrinal issues with “neglecting the gathering the of the saints” (Heb. 10:25), I have more significant practical problems.
I believe sustained online church strategies will quench the guidance of the Holy Spirit, create reproducible disciple-making obstacles, and hinder the innovative pioneering needed for ecclesial movements. With that stated, I primarily desire to focus on the latter of the three in this short article, hoping to write about the former at another time.
So, let’s address the question: what may be two apparent ramifications for the long-term online church regarding ecclesial movements?
Corporations spend billions of dollars in research and development (R & D). For the most part, organizations utilize the collective collaboration of innovative thinkers and analysts to make important decisions about their products and marketing. Subsequently, Covid-19 disrupted the flow of analytical in-person collaboration. Corporations were forced to use social media or tech platforms to unite their employees like the church.
As Covid restrictions were universally lifted, corporations analyzed data and noted a reduction in their financial overhead. Online employees were not utilizing corporate buildings—hence corporations began to sell off their office space. Perceived as a winning solution—remote work thrived. Businesses envisioned a paradigm shift of savings and streamlining.
Why is corporation data relevant to ecclesial movements? We know that culture has shifted from the church to the marketplace. People are the workplace as much as people are the church—basically, the same people! The people who work from home are also the same people watching online church services. There’s an ease of isolated lifestyles—drinking the money coffee is solace, reporting to work or watching a church service in pajamas, or hitting mute and eating crunchy cookies—yet perhaps it produces a collaborated yet individual apathy of collective motivation.
A recent study of US employees indicates that 75% of those surveyed preferred working remotely at least once a week—while 40% stated that they would leave their job if required to full-time in-person work. While people choose to work from home, those preferences weigh on faith and worship preferences. What happens in organizational and leadership culture tends to overflow into the church.
A recent Lifeway Research study indicates that pastors view disciple-making strategies and technological skills as two of the most prominent areas of needed development. The correlation between online church and culture is evident—pastors feel the pressure of trying to connect with congregants. While refraining from using “lack of gathering” terminology, the reality is that online church is producing a collaborative apathy among believers. While technology is a good tool for the church to utilize, it has also relegated the essential nature of the communion and fellowship of the saints as optional. However, this is not the most significant ramification of online church.
Hindering Innovative Pathways
A study involving Europe, Asia, and the Middle East found that “videoconferencing inhibits the production of creative ideas.” I would love to confess, “I told you so,” but I don’t want to be that guy. Yet, the study is not surprising if one understands that people are created in the image of God. As image-bearers, people were made for relationships.Within relationship building is communication. Communicative attributes are not solely verbal but very much non-verbal.
The manner in which someone rolls their eyes at a new thought or concept, the shifting of weight in a chair, sounds, sighs, and grunts all provide clues and insightful feedback when discussing essential concepts. With the conference call on Zoom, many of those vital non-verbals escape notice—especially when microphones are muted or a screen video feed is briefly turned off. However, non-verbals are not the only suppression of collaborative idea generation.
One study notes the dilemmas between eye focus, video conferencing, and in-person collaboration. The video-conferencing participants only view what they see broadcasted from their colleague’s narrow screen. In-person collaboration requires sharing the same space and “visual scope.” The reality is that “idea generation … requires cognitive focus and analytical reasoning … virtual interaction uniquely hinders idea generation,” recognizing that “videoconferencing groups generate fewer creative ideas than in-person groups due to narrowed visual focus.”Understanding that the research and analysis of the extensive studies by major corporations may not be producing the outcomes they expected. Before corporations begin mass sell-off of office space, some conclude that innovative pioneering occurs best in person.
How might this information directly reveal the hindrance to creating innovative pathways for church multiplication strategies? While the Holy Spirit can direct an individual through a video feed as easily as in-person, human relationships thrive and were designed to use the five senses (touch, smell, see, hear, and taste). Perhaps the sense of taste seems ridiculous, but coffee and donuts or shared meals are still the number one way gospel conversations occur.
The online church could be hindering congregants from having idea-generating conversations. One may argue that these conversations are not occurring in person either, but they cannot be cultivated or experienced without human interaction. Historically, the most remarkable church movements were established and sustained through human interaction, idea generation, and strategic gospel multiplication.
I believe it is wise for the church to look into some of the corporate research. While the church is not a corporation, it is a body of believers that manifests the power of the Holy Spirit and the collective love of Christ. If the church is to reach neighborhoods and communities, strategic divine ideas are essential. We should not neglect our innate senses, design for a person-to-person relationship, communication, and life-on-life.
 Barrero, J. M., Bloom, N. & Davis, S. J. “Don’t force people to come back to the office full time.” Harvard Business Review (24 August 2021).
 Marissa Postell, “Pastors Say They Need to Develop Disciple-Making, Technology Skills,” Lifeway Research, https://research.lifeway.com/2022/03/29/pastors-say-they-need-to-develop-disciple-making-technology-skills/
 Brucks, M.S., Levav, J. “Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation.” Nature (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04643-y
Ever wait for a pastoral search committee to make its selection?
Ever get frustrated with the length of time you have had to wait?
Two months. Six months. Nine months. Eighteen months …
Any pastor that has ever decided to seek another pastorate, for any reason, has probably found themselves patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for long periods. I have always found the pastoral search committee process one of the most ineffective, and perhaps, laborious and drawn-out tasks I have ever witnessed (or been a participant). However, I should note that I have worked in the world of business.
As a former restaurant owner and operator, I was the executive in charge of the hiring process, sometimes of two restaurants simultaneously. My restaurants were high-end establishments; finding qualified chefs and the wait staff was priority one. Sifting through resumes, vetting people, and seeking recommendations was a minuscule part of the daily operations but an imperative one.
So, to say that I am dumbfounded by the amount of time it takes for a church committee to “call” a pastor has at times made me nearly re-consider my “calling.” While I believe in the wisdom of counsel, sometimes I perceive a lackadaisical approach to the process.
To clarify, I would never state that any individuals are purposefully or maliciously lazy in their duty—to the contrary—most pastoral search committees are volunteers that work other jobs. They are required to usually meet once every other week or even once a month—they make reports back to the church about the candidates they have chosen. Sometimes the church may even receive hundreds of resumes, just like any other business in the world. But what if these individuals were tasked at their occupation to hire an individual, and they waited two years?
In the name of “prayer” and “seeking God’s wisdom,” there is a languid pace of selection that does not seem to validate the lengthy process beneficially. Statistics demonstrate that the average search committee takes between 18-24 months from start to selection. That’s two years! In my mind, that is absurd and ineffective! Let me tell you why.
LifeWay research indicated that the average pastoral tenure in a church is 3.6 years. In contrast, a recent Harvard study found that the average tenure of a CEO was at least 7.2 years, double that of the church. The average hiring process for a C-suite level individual was 76 days (less than three months). I utilize the C-suite level statistics to illustrate a point since the senior pastor is viewed on the same level. Additionally, I think it’s appropriate since the average college graduate is hired in 24.5 days and the average across all industries is 43 days. I utilized the largest number.
Imagine waiting nearly two years to know if a specific company has hired you? Imagine the frustration, angst, and not to mention, the difficult task of performing day-to-day activities in a position that you know you are leaving. I have to wonder, would a president of a company question a recruiting agency or inside committee that took nearly two years to fill a position?
A Real Issue
Here’s one of the real issues. The average pastoral tenure is 3.6 years, and the average search committee process takes 18-24 months for selection. In that case, the pastor has proverbially “left the building” a long time before he submits his resignation. Statistics might illustrate that the average tenure could technically be 1.5 years, but I’m not making that case. My point is the search committee process is broken and ineffective. The secular world is much more effective in its hiring process.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking. The church isn’t “hiring” anyone; the pastorate is a calling that necessitates the wisdom of God to make sure of a perfect fit. Sure, I agree, but to what extent? The numbers state that the “fit” was never there, certainly not in the sense of longevity. So, what’s the solution?
I don’t propose to be the expert, only someone that sees hindrances, innovation, statistics, and paradigmatic trends. However, the lengthy pastoral search committee process seems to be a hindrance to the church. How so? If senior pastors proverbially leave their positions two years before the resignation, we have pastors in pulpits that are not focused, unhappy, and probably “going through the motions.” The church needs to be doing a better job at prayerfully and speedily choosing the pastor. The early church chose an apostle by drawing straws (Acts 1:26).
While I don’t think we should be reduced to casting lots, perhaps Luke’s point in Acts is that God is sovereign. Maybe we hone down the selection process quickly and let God do the rest. If you think that the long, drawn-out process of two years will be more beneficial, you might want to re-think that—statistics demonstrate otherwise.
Another solution may be that the church is not raising leaders from within. The church “hires” from outside, bringing in a person that needs to learn the DNA, nuances, personalities, and inner workings of the community and church people. However, I have also found this troubling since most congregations will not respect or trust a leader from within (Mark 6:4). But that’s another topic.
So, my best advice (maybe you have an opinion, too), let us heed and obey the words of Christ, “For the sons of this worldare more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).
 National Association of Congregational Churches, https://www.naccc.org/resources/pastoral-search/
 Dan Marcec, “CEO Tenure Rates” https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2018/02/12/ceo-tenure-rates/
 “How long does it take to hire an executive” https://www.ghrr.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-hire-an-executive/
By now, most pastors know the statistics; 80-85% of all Western churches are in decline or plateauing.Likewise, only 10% of pastors are trained or capable of turning around those churches. As Fezzik from the Princess Bride declared, “If there is no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.” But, there is an arrangement; thankfully, God is raising leaders willing to devote their time and dedication to His mission. As well, he’s allowing people like me to create and teach practical curriculum in our seminaries.
As a church planter, I recognize that there are many similarities with church revitalization. Having been blessed to be a part of the renewal and planting processes, both require dedication and devotion. Of course, intentionality is foundational, but I have always tried to remind myself of the three succinct L-words.
Knowing that church revitalization is a bit more complicated, I would like to share the three “L’s” that have helped me to stay focused when revitalizing and seeking church transformation: (1) love, (2) leadership, and (3) leverage.
As God’s people and called leaders, we must remember that we’re not called to revitalize a building, but people. There will be emotions, feelings, and opinions involved. We cannot ignore the hurts, pains, and scars as if they didn’t exist, but we may not need to make it our focus. For revitalization, change is inevitable and required. If change were not required, then there would be no need for revitalization.
Some people will resist change. I’ve come to realize that some people see the world as ever-changing and never stable. They view the world as chaotic—always remarking, “Things are going to H*** in a handbasket.”
These believers will desire to have “their church” to remain the constant in their life. They yearn for a place that reminds them of “better days.” They require an area of their life that will be free from change. So, don’t attempt to remove the Cantata, old hymns, or the bright pink curtains that the Sunday school made in 1965. However, to the best of your ability, embrace these individuals, bring them close to you, and “love on” them. Remember, most dying churches have a broken spirit; it is your duty to promote love; to build up the body, and to encourage the people of God that He’s constantly at work.
President Truman was given a desk sign that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” As leaders, we must be willing to take full responsibility for our actions and choices. For this reason, we must seek wisdom and discernment from God so that we can lead His people rightly.
As well, we should be aware that we’re called to protect the flock. Sometimes this will be difficult. So, while it is wonderful to see new growth in dying churches, do not be naive about the “consumer” believers that jump from one church to another. They will attempt to hi-jack the vision of what God has called you to do.
Good leaders will pour into other leaders. If the church you serve does not have leadership, then create leadership. Invest time in others, discipling them and training them in navigating and living through the daily rhythms of life as a Christ-follower. Stay focused on the gospel and Christ.
There are many areas that we can leverage. First, always celebrate the “little wins” in your congregation. Investing intentional time and recognition in the body of Christ will promote unity and harmony. When a small group provides an outreach, or a person shares a testimony, or a person gives a “praise report,” it is during these times that as a leader, you need to leverage these events as “wins.”
Second, learn to leverage the community. God has placed the church into a specific culture and location to make an impact. Learning to leverage the community denotes a relationship. One way to leverage community would be to invest in community events. Does the community have a farmers market, special day, or scheduled event—if so, get involved?
Lastly, learn to leverage social media. In promoting and bringing awareness to your church’s existence, the community will see why it exists. While some may people may view this as worldly, Jesus did inform us to be “as wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16). He also gave us the parable of the shrewd manager that realized how to live within culture (Luke 16:1-9). While at this point, most churches are already on Facebook due to Covid, don’t neglect the other platforms. As well, learn to exegete the community by utilizing hashtags.
While the three L’s are not exhaustive, and there’s much more involved in them, they are a means to keeping focus. Love, leadership, and leverage will go a long way if you remain steadfast and conscious of them. Finally, we can do nothing without Christ (John 15:5). As revitalizing leaders, we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and stay deeply grounded in Jesus Christ.
 Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.
These are not philosophical questions but are insightful ones that require honest and reflective responses. Whether we seek to understand innovation and growth in business, organizational or leadership change-development, or in this aspect, my application to the questions—the contemporary Church, regardless, change is happening every day.
While the pandemic has altered how society does global business, everyday interactions with others, the mundane daily tasks, and especially gathered to worship; I think it is imperative to look beyond what is visible. In this short article, I merely want to propose an idea about chaos and innovation; although the concept is not mine, only the reflection from it.
Recently, I was sitting in a Movement Leaders Collective cohort. I was listening to Alan Hirsch explain the concepts of “chaordic organizations.” Alan gave reference to the originator of the idea, a man named Dee Hock, the founder of the VISA corporation. Initially, Hock wrote an article, “The Art of Chaordic Leadership.” Chaordic refers to harmony with chaos and order. Hock defined the term as such:
“By chaord, I mean any self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order.”
The more I studied Hock’s chaord, the more I sensed a lack of creativity or innovation was due to the lack of chaordic impulse. Scientists have perpetually scratched their heads regarding the creation of the universe. Inevitably, they tend to assign some type of explosion or set of events that appeared out of nothing. Without arguing creation theory, my point is understanding that even the Bible affirms that God intervened with “null and void” (i.e., the darkness)— to establish a chaordic harmony.
But, let’s apply this to organisms and organizations. Whether the Church, non-profit, business, or foundation, the need for innovation is paramount. As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Culture is in a constant state of chaordic impulse—it’s constantly changing. Albeit, culture isn’t in a vacuum or self-propelling—people make the culture shift. Overall, paradigmatic movements occur when specific people group(s) invite and accept change.
But, what if culture shifts due to outside circumstances. For instance, in the article, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch note:
“There is no doubt that God has been teaching us all kinds of key lessons over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has been probably the most disruptive event for the Church since WWII and has compelled Christian leaders across the globe to re-evaluate their mindsets and their practices.
The long-held belief that the Church exists almost exclusively in its Sunday/weekend expression has been called into question, and as the so-called “queen” has been removed from the game, leaders have been forced to learn what the other chess pieces on the board can do. This in turn has forced us to reflect on the nature of the Church as a living, distributed, incarnational, network—the very essence and mark of all world-changing, transformative movements.”
As I contemplated Farrah and Hirsch’s words, I thought about innovation—more specifically, how the Church could utilize the cultural chaos to produce systemic order—namely, chaordic nature.
Think of it this way, if any system or organization remains stagnant, there can be no growth, yet the organization may be comfortable. Organizations love consistency and order. However, sometimes too much persistent order is damaging to an organization.
On the other side of that thinking, if an organization were wholly overtaken by chaos, that same organization would probably self-implode for lack of stability. But, if there’s an order to the chaos, then natural growth and creativity occur. Movements transpire through innovation, and innovation happens through chaordic impulse. For the most part, growth periods can be somewhat uncomfortable.
Yet, if I’m answering the first question honestly, I realize that nothing grows out of comfort. Using the caterpillar as an example, with ordered chaos, the caterpillar stays a caterpillar and never experiences flight. A chaordic metamorphosis occurs. Likewise, the beautiful butterfly cannot and will not return to the state of the caterpillar. The butterfly will no longer utilize the same characteristics, attributes, and skills. Life is dead for the caterpillar but fully alive for the butterfly.
The dilemma is that many organizations or leaders cannot see past inevitable death. Their willingness to remain the same is due to fear. The fear of change is greater than the fear of death. However, if the organization leans on chaordic impulse—a harmonious blend of uncomfortable change with order—innovation will occur.
 Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” https://abtslebanon.org, April 15, 2021.
“Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them” (Numbers 11:26).
During the forty-year desert wandering of Israel, things were not so easy. Quite honestly, things are not so easy, today. And, not unlike our own “wandering” in the wilderness of our faith, seeking a “not-yet” Promised Land, Israel began to complain about God’s provision. This account in the book of Numbers demonstrates (once again) how God obligates Himself to humanity, for His mission.
The Israelites complain about the constant supply of manna (God’s miraculous provision) and instead yearn for meals prepared during their Egyptian captivity. It seems food has and will always be an obstacle for man. The leader, Moses, is burned out from the constant complaining and the never satisfied attitudes of the Israelites.
I believe many pastors can relate to this passage, but with hope, should continue reading.
Besides the Lord’s anger toward the people’s petulant behavior, Moses is grieved with leadership-despair. Moses cannot handle the encumbrance of the masses, he insists, “The burden is too heavy for me” (Num. 11:14). And yet, in the midst of God’s displeasure with the people, He hears the cries of Moses and the complaints of the people. The Lord’s hand is never shortened (11:23).
The Lord instructs Moses to gather seventy elders of the people. The elders will become “anointed and appointed” leaders. God promises to “take some of the Spirit” that is on Moses and lay it upon the seventy (11:17). God obligates Himself by providing grace, power, and wisdom.
A great contrast can be seen. The people craved and lusted after food from their enslavement, instead of being satisfied with God’s provision (manna). The Hebrew word for manna means, “What is it?” Yet, the Lord sees Moses’ leadership dilemma and provides, yet again, giving the people (what is it?) — anointed and appointed Spirit-filled community leaders.
The seventy elders gather before the tent of meeting with Moses—the Lord comes down in a cloud and anoints the elders, they begin to prophesy! But, not all of the leaders were at the tent. Two of the leaders never made it—they remained in the community. Afterward, “a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” (11:26).
While Joshua is confused and jealous, Moses understands God’s mission and wisdom—to fill His people with the Holy Spirit to live among one another. Eldad and Medad— two anointed and appointed leaders for community mission (Missio Communitas). Moses declares, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:29).
Indeed, God has brought to fulfillment the snapshot of Eldad and Medad. As recorded in the book of Acts, Peter stands before the entire assembly at Pentecost and recites from the prophet Joel:
“And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants;
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy”
(Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29).
Anointed and appointed for missio communitas.
Every believer of Christ has been anointed and appointed by the Spirit of the living God for community mission—to weep, rejoice, breath, eat, sleep, and live among the people. God’s children are gospel-centered and Spirit-empowered. In agreement with Moses’ declaration, I wish that all believers were like Eldad and Medad, prophesying or speaking the very Word of God within their communities. And more than that—living as anointed and appointed Spirit-filled people.