Re-Wired for the Future
Dr. Kevin Shrum
Since October of ‘05 God has been rewiring me and my family for the next phase of ministry and life. The first twenty-seven years of ministry has been quick and awesome. We have journeyed through school together, served several churches with joy together and have been able to do and see things that we never dreamed we would be able to do and see. But we have determined that we do not want to keep with the status quo, drifting through the second-half of our ministry life. We want to make an impact with the rest of our lives.
The stirring God began in us is preparing us for the next phase of life and ministry. It’s as if God broke open our hearts, reached in and pulled out our spiritual circuitry boards and began rewiring us for a new day. It has been an unnerving, exhilarating and rewarding process, and it’s not yet complete. A personal story is in order to illustrate what we’re learning in this process.
One Sunday morning I awakened with a deep sense of needing to ‘get to God’ in worship with other believers. It had been a rough couple of weeks and I needed a touch from God. We made our way to church as a family. I attended a couple of early morning meetings, taught a Sunday School class, fielded many individual questions and attended to the needs of many in the church, preached a sermon, spoke to many with questions after worship and finally made our way to the car to go home.
Nothing was wrong with any of the aforementioned activities. In fact, all of them were good things, even necessary things – at least according to the structure of the church. But I was weary and tired when I looked at my wife and said, ‘Honey, today I needed to get to God and the church got in the way. And I’m the preacher!’ I wondered how many weary, but committed laymen feel the same way every Sunday as they drag themselves through a difficult week at work only to spend their weeknights and weekends propping up a church system that too often keeps them from the very thing they really long for – God. We needed to be re-wired; and the church needs to be re-wired, as well.
Here’s what we’re learning through God’s re-wiring process. First, we have been reminded that the only constant in life, other than the things of God, is change itself. This is not an original insight. But it’s true. If you expect things to stay the same you will be disappointed. If you get locked into a particular phase of life thinking that things will ‘always be this way’ you will be severely inhibited in your spiritual growth. A renewed sense of commitment is growing in us to see God in the new phases of life, to embrace change and to see where God will take us next.
Second, we have replaced the word retire with the word transition. There is no doubt that one day we will be much older (we’re in our mid 40’s) and need to respond to the changes in our life in appropriate ways. God willing, we have another 35-40 years of service in us. However, retirement is often a dead end for many when it comes to spiritual effectiveness. As a pastor, I have seen too many people retire from work, retire from church work, retire from spiritual growth and eventually retire from life altogether. Rather than transition to new phases of God’s work, too many Christians retire into ineffectiveness and spiritual atrophy.
Third, we are learning that God is planting a desire in us to see the work of the church in new and fresh ways. Our beliefs and convictions have not changed, but our view of how things can get done in the church is shifting. I was raised in and have pastored program churches driven by committees with a rigid leadership structure. I thank God for these methods that have served Baptists well.
Yet, after three decades of doing church this way, i.e. of church growth books, seminars and methods, churches in America are in a period of decline as the old ways show their ineffectiveness for the present and future needs of the mission of the church. Too many churches spend too much time and resources propping up the organization itself. Rather than the organization serving the mission of the church, the organization serves the organization, internalizing the people and financial resources of the church and contributing to a self-absorbed, centralized institution rather than a vibrant mission-sending body of believers.
What remains the same is God’s Word, the gospel of Jesus Christ, time-honored biblical principles of discipleship and evangelism, the effectiveness of building personal relationships with unbelievers and the leadership of the Holy Spirit in birthing a vision for new ways of reaching the lost with an ancient gospel. What does and must change are the methods of the church, i.e. structures, systems, processes, procedures.
Fourth, we are re-wiring ourselves for more cooperation without convictional compromise. The need for cooperation within Baptist life is at an all-time high. Cooperation is needed generationally, methodologically and ecclesiastically. Too often, however, cooperation has led to convictional compromise. The re-wiring process is teaching us to give the benefit of the doubt, to not assume things until verified and to ask honest questions instead of making pre-mature judgments. It is also teaching us to speak truth both to institutional lethargy and theological liberalism.
Finally, we are discovering that God is the God of the past, the present and the future, especially the future. The re-wiring work God is forcing us to look forward standing on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not past, current or even future structures or methods. This reiterates the truth that the things of God do not change, but methods, modes and means vary with time and circumstance.
The new schematic God is building into our spiritual circuitry systems appears to be moving us toward more spiritual creativity, streamlined systems of spiritual formation and a deep desire to know and glorify God by preaching the Word of God and impacting the culture of a new generation.