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Church Planting, Thermometers, and Thermostats

Outside TemperatureIsn’t it easier to point out the wrongdoings of others and tell people what to do, rather than be a part of the solution?

My wife and I have noticed this in our children—they love playing the victim. So whenever there’s conflict, instead of figuring it out themselves, they come to us crying out “injustice!”

I wonder where they learned that from? I knew I never should’ve let them watch Sesame Street…

In order to fix this attitude, a few days ago, my wife began teaching them the difference between being bossy and being a leader. Here’s the difference:

  • Bossy people point out the wrongdoings of others, expect others to fix their issues, and are never wrong.
  • Leaders take responsibility for situations, don’t dwell on problems, focus on solutions, and make change happen.

As I was reflecting on this new paradigm of parenting (my wife is amazing by the way), I couldn’t help but notice the similarities that it had with thermometers and thermostats. Let me explain:

  • Thermometers point out what currently is, expect others to do something with that information, and they provide us with the standard—they are never wrong. Thermometers are indicators.
  • Thermostats, on the other hand, take the information from the thermometer and do something about it. Thermostats take responsibility for the environment and focus on solutions. Thermostats are change agents.

Can you see the similarities that bossy people have with thermometers and leaders have with thermostats?

God is already at work in your community, so get better at asking questions.

So what are you? Are you more of a thermometer or a thermostat? This is an important question as it affects the posture that you will subconsciously take in planting and leading a church.

We see this difference all the time, there are churches in our neighborhoods that take the thermometer approach—they strive to become the moral right and standard for the community. They are the ones that expect everyone to adhere to their beliefs and practices, regardless of where people in their community stand in relationship to Jesus. At the same time, there are also churches who take the thermostat approach. Instead of condemning their community, they are active in helping people taste and see the Gospel. They live as an alternate Kingdom community and help people experience God’s presence and reign by pointing them to Jesus.

So what kind of church do you want to lead? What kind of church would be more effective at reaching those who are far from God?

I hope you said, “thermostat” church, but to be fair, here are a few thoughts on how to plant and lead both types of churches.

If you want to plant and lead a thermometer church…

Overly focus on knowledge.

Scripture talks about the importance of always being “ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing so much on the “getting ready” part, that you never have an opportunity to actually share that knowledge with anyone else. Nevertheless, if you want to plant and lead a thermometer church, then overly focus on knowledge.

Have one-off service opportunities.

The beauty of handing out water bottles and cooking in a homeless shelter is that it makes your church feel good. As much as one-off service opportunities are a great way to “introduce” your church to service, unless these opportunities turn into ongoing partnerships, then there won’t be much potential for lasting Kingdom transformation in your community.

Picket issues.

Picketing is the ultimate “feel-good” activity for social change. If you’re the one picketing, it feels good since you’re standing up for an issue, making your voice known, and doing it with others in community. However, unless you’re picketing over a life and death issue like genocide, to an outsider, it just looks like you’re complaining.

If you want to plant and lead a thermostat church…

Listen to your community.

God is already at work in your community, so get better at asking questions. Even if you’ve lived in your community for a long time, take the posture of a missionary and ask God to show you who the people of peace are—the influential gatekeepers in your community. By first listening, God will show you the unique kingdom impact that he is wanting your church to make.

Live in your community.

If God is calling you to plant and lead a church in a particular community, then God will take care of you. I understand that if you have a family you need to take house prices, crime rates, and schools into consideration, but please don’t live 30 minutes away from the church that you’re planting and leading. It just won’t work.

I wish this last point also started with the letter “L.” I guess I could’ve said, “Love your community?” Nevertheless, when planting and leading a church, it’s important that you are actively meeting the needs in your community in an ongoing fashion. However, make sure that everything you do has the Gospel at the center of it. That doesn’t mean you need to share the Gospel every time you help someone who is far from God, but that does mean that you are always praying for an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who are far from God. Did you catch the difference? Don’t do good, just for good sake. Do good so that others will see your good works, experience the love of God, and glorify God (1 Pet 2:12, Matt 5:16).

Meet the needs in your community, but never take the Gospel out of it.

Here are Martin Luther King Jr.’s thoughts on this issue:

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

If you haven’t already picked up on it, I’m obviously biased towards being a thermostat church. That being said, can you think of churches in your community who are taking either approach? How effective would you say they’re at reaching those who are far from God?

Oh, and my children? Well, they’re starting to catch the difference…most of the time.

photo credit: Outside Temprature

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