He Sets the Lonely in Families (Psalm 68:6)

Five questions that will change the health, direction, and longevity of your church family.

by Scott Hagan

When Jesus invited a nobody thief to be forever with Him in paradise, He firmly established the vibe and values of the church community. The church is supposed to be family-centered, not factory-driven.

The cry “Remember me” said it all. With time waning, one thief decided to stiffen his neck. The other chose to soften his inner life. That move enabled his receptivity to relationship. It gave him heaven.

Here was the Christ, the Head of the Church, somehow finding the space for grace while simultaneously carrying the universal weightiness of human depravity on His own personhood.

In this moment Christ was teaching us far more than soul winning; He was teaching the power of soul withing. “You will be with Me” (Luke 23:43).

The hope of any pastor is to grow a relationship-centered church, a place where the lonely can find a home.

Few churches in America think in these terms. We expose our sublimely hidden value-and-reward system every time we gush over leaders whose attendance tallies are at the top. We then deem them a voice to their generation with little-to-no auditing of the quality of their pastoral work.

A family uses a different set of metrics to measure its success as opposed to the metrics used by a factory. Factories are about volume and repetition. The bottom line for the factory is to increase value for ownership. Families focus on the quality of relationship, not the quantity of reputation. Developing sons and daughters into adulthood is the passion of a family.

People do not build a great family on fragments. Neither do we build a great church on fragments. Building a church is more than having the right pieces; it is about having the right pieces in place. For the church family to receive the lonely there must be a legitimate wholeness and completeness under way. We find the definition of that completeness in the five gifts distributed by Christ following the Day of Pentecost. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, … prophets, … evangelists, … pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).

More than individuals, these gift offices and their leaders were to ensure these five Kingdom initiatives became established in each church. These initiatives stand like five pillars on which we build the church. The absence of one pillar creates the potential for collapse. These five pillars are not the personality traits of a church; they are the DNA of Christ’s body — indisputable elements we must present if we are claiming Christ’s body as ours. In other words, no matter what church, no matter what continent, these five elements must be present for that church to be a theologically accurate refuge for the lonely.

I have organized these initiatives in the form of five questions. As a church-planting pastor, I repeatedly ask myself these five questions when I think about the quality of the church I serve. You cannot neglect any of these as you evaluate your ministry. Certainly, there are seasons where you answer one question more clearly than the others, but a faithful pastor will make whatever adjustments are necessary so he or she maintains balance and effectiveness in all five areas.

The Relationship Question

“It was he who gave … some to be pastors.” An effective New Testament church feeds and cares for its people the way a shepherd feeds and cares for his flock. In times of crisis and suffering, people need strong ties to other believers for support, guidance, and strength.

Are people loving and caring for each other like a genuine family? Are people establishing thriving personal friendships? Do people in need receive practical help from others in the Body? These are the questions I pray over as a pastor. It is not whether we have a pastor in the office; it is about God’s heart for people and His desire that we love and care for every member.

The Presence Question

“It was he who gave … some to be prophets.” An effective New Testament church constantly pursues the presence of God and His power to meet every need. The presence of prophecy is not the goal; the goal is the presence of God.

We must never despise prophecy; but more than a prophet and his prophetic word, I ask myself, Is the presence of God and spiritual presence alive in the church? Are people on fire for God? Are people being baptized in the Holy Spirit? If people are sick, are we offering the prayer of faith for their healing? Do people feel dry in the church? More than a prophet in the office, is God’s presence alive and evident among the people?

The Learning Question

“It was he who gave … some to be teachers.” An effective New Testament church helps people understand God’s Word and how to apply it every day. Classes and teachers and comprehensive discipleship structure are not enough. The pastor must honestly ask if people are learning the Word of God, or if he is just presenting it to them.

Are you and your teachers creatively presenting God’s Word? Are people applying biblical principles to their situations? Are people engaged and curious about Bible study opportunities? It is not whether there is a teacher in the office; the deeper question is whether or not people are learning the Word of God.

The Sharing Question

“It was he who gave … some to be evangelists.” An effective New Testament church is radically committed to sharing the gospel to every person no matter how difficult the barrier. No one by proxy can take my place in demonstrating the gospel. Even when I schedule an evangelist to speak at my church my questions are about the flock, not the guest.

Are people feeling personally engaged in the Great Commission? Is reaching new people a clear priority? Are people using their gifts and talents to present Christ in the marketplace between Sundays? The office of the evangelist is important and necessary, but it is not enough; the deeper question is whether or not my congregation is boldly sharing Christ in their city.

The Influence Question

“It was he who gave … some to be apostles.” An effective New Testament church constantly multiplies new churches and new leaders. Without a missional aim, your church is incomplete. Like a listless family, the church lacks the strength and subsequent influence God designed it to have when it tries to operate without mission.

Do you see mobilizing new leaders as essential for the future success of your church? Do you view multiplying new churches as a command or an option? Are you setting aside money and time so the next generation will have a thriving church in their neighborhood? The apostolic vision, which is the vision for expansion and influence, tends to be the most neglected. The call of leadership is to align the congregation alongside the priorities of Christ’s heart.

When I feel suffocated by the demands of daily ministry or the loss of traction in my leadership life, these five questions have helped me see more clearly again.

Lead strong. Lead long.