When God’s people don’t have a clear sense of who they are, they miss out on what He has for them—just ask Moses.
Having led the Israelites out of Egypt, he was unable to take them into the Promised Land, because they weren’t confident in their calling. Rather than seeing themselves as God’s chosen, they decided they were grasshoppers compared to those currently settling the land. That uncertainty took the Israelites on a 40-year detour. A lack of identity stalled the establishing of His kingdom.
As Foursquare looks ahead, the movement faces a similarly pivotal need for certainty. It might be called an iPhone epiphany.
Author and church planter Wayne Cordeiro waved his 4S in a rallying-cry appeal at Foursquare Connection 2012 in Phoenix, engaging its voice-activated Siri assistant in conversation to make his point.
“What is your purpose?” he asked his phone. “I’m here to help,” was the reply. “Who made you?” Wayne asked. “Apple,” Siri answered.
In an inspirational presentation calling for renewal, the pastor of New Hope (Oahu South Foursquare Church) in Honolulu exhorted those in attendance: “We have to remember who God called us to be.” Referencing his iPhone, he observed: “If this technological machine knows who made her and what her purpose is, how much more must we, the King’s kids?”
Wayne’s stirring challenge centered on Foursquare reclaiming its roots as a movement to ensure future growth. Other Foursquare leaders we spoke with believe that doing so also requires individual churches going back to basics. They urge Foursquare pastors, leaders and lay members to go inward, taking a closer look at who their church is, as a springboard for going upward.
Apple may be the world’s best-known brand, they say, but churches need to improve their own. Not branding through logos and slick slogans, but by embracing the original meaning of the word—the searing mark of an unquestionable identity.
Knowing Who You Are
“When you know who you are, you know what you are to do,” says Andy Millar, senior pastor of Light of the Nations (Denver South Foursquare Church) in Colorado. The congregation was founded in 2009 to reach a wide range of the Mile High city’s different ethnic communities, and has grown to around 125 in the three years since it was founded.
“When you know who you are, you know in what direction you walk; you know who the people are God has called you to reach out to,” Andy adds. “That’s a big deal. Early on in my ministry, I was constantly reaching out to everybody; that’s my personality. But you can’t be focused on everybody.”
Brad Abare, a Foursquare credentialed minister and church communications consultant, has seen too many churches “wandering and wondering” around in their own deserts, like the Israelites unclear of their direction.
“They are too busy copying or looking at what everybody else is doing and figuring out how to contextualize it for themselves,” observes Brad, who serves as Foursquare’s director of communications. The result is often a flavor-of-the-month dabbling with the latest ministry trend or teaching emphasis.
“There’s no consistency in terms of what kind of programs or services are offered,” Brad explains. “One week you are a homeless ministry, and the next year you are doing laser light shows. It’s kind of a schizophrenic mentality—you’re never really sure what works and what doesn’t.”
That sort of flip-flopping not only is confusing to church members, but also off-putting to outsiders, who see no substance. What they do see are mixed messages that make the church seem less like a rock in the community than a pile of shifting sand blown this way and that. Lack of focus also wastes precious resources—money and manpower—and can create frustration and division among members.
Clear calling, on the other hand, leads to wise stewardship of pennies and people. Such is the case for River Christian Fellowship (Kansas City East Foursquare Church) in Missouri, founded a decade ago to enrich the Kansas City Metro’s poor Raytown area.
Early on, the congregation invested $3,500 in buying a dilapidated park and swimming pool for the community—winning long-term favor with residents and civic leaders alike.
“You become known by what you actually do, not by what you believe,” asserts Senior Pastor John Wiley. “Everything we have done is born out of the very clear understanding that we are personally accountable for the community that we live in.”
Being OK With Different
River Christian Fellowship knows that it is OK to be a little unorthodox. Other pastors and church leaders, however, may need to recognize that Jesus may have plans and purposes for the particular part of His church He has entrusted to them that are different from others, says John Whelan, senior pastor of Hope Chapel (Nashua Hope Foursquare Church) in Nashua, N.H.
“It’s like getting a campfire going and putting everything in the same pot on it. The ingredients won’t cook properly, and the fire will go out,” says Pastor Whelan. “The main benefit of having a clear focus is it keeps people from running around saying, ‘X, Y and Z church does this, and so should we.’ ”
For Andy Millar, the difference between focus and fuzziness is like contrasting a swamp and a river. Both have water, but the swamp has no borders.
“The water just kind of seeps out everywhere; it’s dying,” Andy explains. A river, meanwhile, has walls “that create a force. That’s what a church is supposed to be, something with boundaries—not to keep people out; never to keep people in. But there’s a vision, and it flows, and it brings life to places.”
Being secure in who you are as a church also means that it’s OK if some people choose to go somewhere else—you don’t have to try to keep everybody happy.
“You can be confident in welcoming people,” says Gary Dunahoo, senior pastor of LightHouse Church (Newbury Park Foursquare Church) in Newbury Park, Calif. “You are not needing them so much as you have something to offer them.”
At John Wiley’s River Christian Fellowship, everyone is welcome, but “we know who we are primarily called to reach, so if someone walks in and says, ‘This is not the place for me,’ God bless you,” John says. “In my 20s, I used to be the pastor who tried to keep everybody at peace. I’d go through all these hoops; it ate me up and spat me out.”
While a strong sense of purpose frees pastors from having to try to please everyone, it also requires them to be more aware of what God is doing on a broader scale in their cities and to recognize where their fellowships fit within that bigger picture, says Pastor Wiley. And that involves seeing where God is at work beyond Foursquare and being part of that—something that can make the more denominationally minded a little uncomfortable.
Finding Your Personality
To help churches discover their unique identity and assignment, Brad Abare has developed Personality, a sort of Myers-Briggs profiling program for organizations that helps them discern not only their sense of mission, but also the strengths and attributes they have for realizing it.
Gary Dunahoo led LightHouse Church through the process when he arrived as senior pastor last year. From the Personality reflections, the congregation clarified its identity as being a community of “active grace,” and made some significant organizational changes to better translate that into everyday action. They have been working to ensure everything about the church is coordinated and consistent in tone—”from the parking lot in,” says Gary.
But, critically, these externals flow from a clear internal sense of identity. Reversing the process and focusing on things such as websites and how a church looks from the outside, and hoping that produces an inner clarity, doesn’t work.
Too many churches do get bogged down in the peripheral details, though, fears Dan Portnoy. A branding consultant who works with many non-profit groups, he notes that technology can become a trap.
“Websites have to be good enough, but does your Facebook page have to have this and that feature?” he cautions. For instance, “getting 400 ‘likes’ on a photo—how does that help the community?”
For Jason Doescher, finding a church’s identity will drive its individual members into deepening their walk with God. The senior pastor of Living Hope (Hanover Foursquare Church) in Hanover, Mass., notes how Jesus drew strength to fulfill His mission from the Father’s affirmations at His baptism and transfiguration.
“You can’t have mission without identity,” asserts Jason. “That’s why it’s such a big deal to make sure people know who they are before just trying to ‘do something.’ ”
John Whelan echoes the foundational importance of personal discipleship. “Finding out who Christ is in us is the first and primary step,” he says. But John cautions that if a church’s clearer focus means greater fruitfulness, it shouldn’t be so surprising that there will be spiritual opposition.
“The pathway [to identity] is to follow in the footsteps of the Master, and it will require suffering,” he explains. “It won’t come automatically. Everything in hell will be thrown against them to try to distract them and divide them; and some will fall away.”