The Art of Balancing Ideology and Progress

Healthy churches have many points of tension. For example, churches grow by adding new believers. New believers are immature (and typically passionate), which means church programming must balance between immature congregants and mature congregants. Most every pastor has experienced the volley: Yes, deeper! No, too deep! This tension is like a taut tightrope; it tugs in both directions. You don’t want it slack. It’s the same with your church. Good church leaders are expert balancers.

One of the places with the most tension lies between ideology and progress. Ideology is a system of ideals. Every church should have a goal of maintaining ideals in programming, teaching, and preaching. Ideology works because of stability. But every church should also progress. Progress requires change, and change always brings a measure of instability. Ideology is fixed. Progress means movement. Ideology is narrow and limiting. Progress is broad and limitless.

Great churches balance the tension between ideology and progress. Great leaders uphold ideology and at the same time encourage progress. How might this balanced tension look within a church?

Contextualization. We contend for the faith. We contextualize the message. Christians have always had to balance being in the culture but not of the culture, communicating a timeless message in a way the culture understands. This balancing act is one of the most basic in the church. Get this one wrong, and you will fall into either liberalism or fundamentalism. You will be either too hot to culture or too cold to culture. You will either add to Scripture or take away from Scripture. Great churches contextualize (progress) without comprise (ideology).

Discernment. Proper contextualization is a derivative of discernment. Beyond the basic responsibility of contending and contextualizing is the ability to discern. You cannot lead a church without the capacity to discern negotiables from non-negotiables. While contextualization is more of a theological issue, discernment is more a leadership issue. You will end up clinging perilously to the high wire if you cannot answer this question: What’s a non-negotiable in my church? Leaders must be flexible with the negotiables and rigid with the non-negotiables.

Experimentation. The best churches balance failure with success. A church without failures is a church not taking risks. If you’ve never had an event flop, if you’ve never had a program start stale, then you are not leading well. Additionally, it probably means you are not allowing your team to take risks either, which is dangerously selfish. Why stand in the batter’s box if you never swing? People will quickly pick up on your fear of swinging, and they won’t stick around to watch dullness degrade into disobedience. Great churches experiment—they try things without a clear understanding of whether they will work or not. If all your experiments are failures, then you lack discernment. But if you never fail because of a lack of trying, then that’s not leadership—it’s neglect.

Every church should progress. Every church should cling to ideals. And healthy church leadership involves the process of balancing both ideology and progress.

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Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church. He is also the president of Rainer Research, and he is the co-founder/co-owner of Rainer Publishing. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. Sam is author of the book, Obstacles in the Established Church, and the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is an editorial advisor/contributor at Church Executive magazine. He has also served as a consulting editor at Outreach magazine. He has written over 150 articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a procurement consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina, an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
comment_post_ID); ?> "While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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