Where are you?

This is the first question you have to answer as a leader.

Technology can be a great tool for gospel ministry. It helps us create and disseminate content at a rate unimaginable a few decades ago. A kid in Singapore can watch a pastor’s sermon, as he stands behind the pulpit of his church in London, live. A Sunday school teaching in Duluth can get an idea on Saturday night, post a status update on it, and it can be utilized to teach the gospel to a group of middle school students in Flagstaff the next morning.

Technology can be a gross distraction to gospel ministry. It pulls our attention away from those who are right in front of us. A pastor in a small town in Montana tries to implement the latest techniques that are producing numbers for a megachurch in Dallas. Christians, who should be serving, giving, and growing where God has planted them, become ‘virtual members’ of the online campus of a church 19 states East. A youth pastor trying to figure out his theology binges on the sermons of a world-renowned celebrity preacher while tuning out the faithful teaching of the men who stand in the pulpit of his local church every week.

Where are you?

Knowing your context is fundamental. Here are five keys to learning the context within which you lead. You should know that context’s identity, geography, history, theology, and vision.

1) Identity

If you’re reading this, there is a good chance your leadership context is a lot like ours. We are a church. As a church, we look to Scripture to define our leadership culture. This is not simply because Scripture is ‘helpful,’ or ‘wise,’ or ‘contains some solid principles,’ but because Scriptural revelation is the only place we can find the definitive teaching on what a church is, how a church should run, who ought to serve as leaders, and what those leaders ought to be doing. We’re not an organization manufacturing wigwams, but a people making disciples.
Scriptural revelation is the only place we can find the definitive teaching on what a church is, how a church should run, who ought to serve as leaders, and what those leaders ought to be doing. Click To Tweet
How we are structured, our execution of our commission, and our unity and health have ramifications that go far beyond any one person’s experience, our personal fulfillment, or other metrics that are commonly assigned to jobs or organizations where eternity doesn’t hang in the balance.

I understand that “eternity hanging in the balance” is an overwrought phrase. I am not saying that we ultimately determine someone’s eternal destiny. I’m not saying, “People will end up in Hell who would otherwise not be there if you are not good at your job as a church leader.” That’s not true. God is providential in the salvation of His people. That being said, He uses means to accomplish His purposes, including (but not limited to) His people. Your church can be an eternally irrelevant social club or a personality cult while calling itself a “church.” Or you can realize that eternity hangs in the balance, our Savior is building His people, and we should look to His design and mandate in how we execute our charge.

2) Geography:

Where are you, literally? The physical location that your church inhabits greatly influences how you minister. By “church” I mean the people who make up your church.

For us, we are located in the Northwest corner of the United States. This means that we execute our gospel charge in one of the most godless places in our nation. We confront (and stave off in our own hearts) a cultural zeitgeist that is rebellious toward authority, intent on personal autonomy, suspicious of objective Truth claims, and determined to cut its own path.

Additionally, are you in a suburban, urban, or rural context? You will confront different idols in the hearts of your people in these different locales. To massively oversimplify, the American suburban Christian may struggle to engage gospel mission because they are lulled to sleep by a hunger for creature comforts that produces apathy and isolation. The urban Christian may be tempted toward rejection of Scriptural authority, with their senses dulled by secularism and elitism. The rural Christian may confuse Jesus’ mission with their nostalgia for America as they plant their flag on the idol of ‘god and country.’

3) History:

How old is your church context? Are you a brand new church plant or an intergenerational church with a century of history? A newer church will be quicker to accept change because it didn’t exist a couple of minutes ago. An established church will need to be carefully and skillfully led into the next phase of the church’s future.

While it is important to know the history of your context, you also need to know where you are at in that history. Is your church healthier today than it has ever been? Are you in a growth, decline, or plateau phase? If you’re growing, is it healthy growth? Are the people growing, or is the crowd just getting bigger? There is a reason for each one of these phases. A church doesn’t decline or plateau for a long period of time without there being factors on the ground that are driving those results.

4) Theology:

You have to be clear on the theology of your context. We have a diverse history in our local church family, with campuses that have denominational histories in the Pentecostal and Baptist traditions. But we have a united future. We are a theologically clear and principled church family, committed to historic Protestant Christian teaching, looking to the tradition of the Reformers, led by qualified elders who are trained and affirmed from among the local church membership. We are a spiritually vibrant church family, committed to passionately engaging God’s mission, convinced that the Holy Spirit gifts and empowers the body to be the church in every biblically valid and profitable way according to His sovereign providence.

In our era of interconnectedness, it is easy to drift theologically. Twenty-first century Christians have unprecedented access to theological content. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it is vital on a local level that leaders continually clarify and specify the theological DNA of their context.

5) Vision:

Finally, know the vision of your local church. Depending on your role in leadership, this may mean developing and casting the vision. For our context, we are a multichurch church. This means there are multiple interdependent churches that make up our church overall. Our vision is to equip the church to be the Church. This includes planting more gospel preaching local congregations in our metro area and around the world.

Where are you? Lead there. To faithfully lead, you must know your context. This means being acquainted with the vision, theology, history, geography, and identity of the people who make up your local church.