A recent jobs report revealed an interesting discrepancy in the labor market of the United States. According to the report, there are 10 million job openings and 8.4 million people without a job. Did we read that right? We have 1.6 million more jobs than we have people who are looking for jobs
Yes, we read that right. We have a surplus of jobs in the United States but we still have a lot of unemployed friends. How can that be?
Actually, there are some very logical reasons for this. For one thing, some people aren't looking for a job. They haven't looked for a job in a long time and they aren't going to look for a job now. Frankly speaking, not everyone wants a job. We are always going to have some level of unemployment.
The second reason is a matter of location. The jobs are in one place and the people are in another place. Even with the internet, it's hard to find people who can do the job that's being offered in the places where the jobs are. Yes, we are a mobile society, but even with that, some people aren't going to move to another place in the country just to find a job.
The last reason is the one I find most interesting: we don't have enough people trained in the skills required by the new jobs. We have a shortage of truck drivers because, for one thing, we have a shortage of people with the required training and licenses. We need computer programmers and computer engineers, but we don't have enough of them who are trained and available.
We have the jobs. What we don't have is people ready and capable to do the jobs.
While I was reading this article, I thought about the local church. It's a professional hazard with me. Everything I read is filtered through the lens of the local church. Like the American economy, local churches have plenty of jobs, but we don't have the people who are willing and trained to do those jobs.
I have to confess: the first finger of blame has to be pointed at me and other church leaders. For years, we measured success by attendance. My credibility as a pastor was validated by the number of people I could get to attend Sunday morning worship and other church events. So, we mastered the techniques and skills to drive up our attendance numbers. We became rhetorical magicians and ecclesiastical entertainers and we got pretty good at it. Attendance went up. We were experts at getting people to come to church and sit quietly. We mastered those skills and they seemed to work.
Until they didn't.
Attendance became sporadic. Then, it dropped all together. Of course, pastors blamed culture, but the truth is more painful. We got really good at driving attendance, but we were lousy at making disciples.
A disciple is very different from a church member. A disciple may be a church member but a church member doesn't have to be a disciple. What's the difference? A disciples understands the Grand Arc of Salvation History and the ultimate purpose of God's heart that drives our evangelistic mission. In the military, they call this "commander's intent." This means that every soldier in the unit understands the ultimate goal of the battle plan. That way, if the battle plan begins to fail, the soldiers can adapt in order to still achieve the ultimate goal of the mission. A disciple understands the Commander's Intent of the Great Commission.
Second, a disciple understands their role in the mission. All of us have gifts. No one has all of the gifts. Each of us is created to play a significant, yet particular, role in that mission. Each disciple understands their giftedness. They know what they are good at and they know what they are NOT good at. Then, after proper training, they are released to engage with God on His global mission. All of us have a part, but none of us have the whole mission. Peter was called to reach Jerusalem. Paul was called to reach the non-Jews of the Roman Empire. Both were important, but both were only part of the mission.
Lastly, each disciple is constantly being refreshed, retrained, and refocused as their mission evolves. Every disciple knows they need a regular routine of worship, deep study, and prayer to refresh their soul and inner life. Without this routine of soul care, the disciple will either burn out or flame out. Neither is a desirable outcome.
Disciples need to be regularly refocused and retrained because things change. I have been around long enough to enjoy the digital age. We have gone from computers that took up entire floors to gadgets you can hold in your hand. Churches are no different. They've changed and will continue to change. Our skills and ministries must change with them. I have been the pastor of the same church for over thirty years. The skills I used in year one are nothing like the skills I need in year thirty.
There's an old saying that goes something like this: "Ask the wrong question and you'll get the wrong answer". The trouble with most churches is that we're asking the wrong questions. The question isn't "How many attended?," but "How many were engaged in the mission?". My prayer is that, at last, we'll start asking the right questions. Maybe then we'll stop getting the wrong answers.