How’s your church doing?
It’s the question many ministers fear.
As I walked towards a conference centre a while back, I knew the question was coming. It was making me nervous. What would I say? What should I say? Options tumbled through my mind.
Well, there are some encouragements, but lots of challenges and I’m really not sure I can stick at it! No, that would just result in a ‘tumble-weed’ moment—an awkward silence before someone commented on the weather or politics.
What about the social media approach? Stick to the positives. The verbal equivalent of endless holiday snaps with sandy beaches and sunny skies. Or perhaps just a standard platitude. Oh, it’s fine, you know, the usual ups and downs, but God is good all the time!
Before I go on, I must say this was not a Living Leadership conference! Indeed, when I joined a Pastoral Refreshment Conference as a pastor, I found encouragement to look to Jesus and space to reflect and enjoy his goodness. People weren’t scrutinising my ‘ministry’, they were supporting me.
But the question remains. How should leaders speak about the churches and organisations they lead? What if the first things that come to mind are problems, weaknesses, conflict?
The apostle Paul sets an example for us in the way he spoke about the church in Corinth.
And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have perfect confidence in you.
2 Cor 7.13-16
Paul boasted about them to Titus and expressed his confidence in them.
Could you say that about the people you lead?
‘Boast’ (in Greek, kauchaomai) is a favourite word of Paul’s, especially in his second letter to the Corinthians . It usually refers to his confidence in God’s work and purposes (Rom 5.2,3,11; 2 Cor 10.17) in contrast to placing confidence in ourselves (1 Cor 1.29,31; 3.21; 4.7; 5.12) or adherence to the law (Rom 2.17,23). It also describes his confidence in the authority Christ had given him as an apostle (2 Cor 10.8,13,15) and his unashamed confession of his weakness (2 Cor 11.30; 12.1,5,6,9). These statements contrast with the false boasting of the ‘super-apostles’ (2 Cor 11.12,16,18). Paul was determined not to boast in anything except Christ’s cross (Gal 6.13-14). Salvation by grace through faith precludes boasting in our strengths and efforts (Eph 2.9).
This is the word—boast (in Greek, kauchaomai)—that Paul uses to describe things on which we can depend. They are things which give us confidence: God, Christ, the cross, the apostles of Christ. So, how could he use it of a church?
He’s used it before. About the church in Thessalonica.
He spread the word of how the Thessalonians had shown themselves steadfast amidst afflictions (2 Thess 1.4). It’s not hard to see why that church would be Paul’s ‘poster church.’ It was the standout church in his mission reports.
But the church in Corinth? Really?
Had he forgotten the catalogue of problems that he addressed in his first letter (1 Cor)? Factions; sexual immorality; lawsuits between members; dabbling in pagan religious practices; turning the Lord’s Supper into a self-indulgent feast; the misuse of spiritual gifts for personal satisfaction, and arguably the worst of them all: denying the resurrection of the body. If there was any New Testament church an apostle might have been tempted to gloss over, it was this one. But he doesn’t. He boasts to Titus about them and he tells them he has confidence in them.
Wow. What is going on?
The first thing to notice is that this was not the kind of boasting that goes on in leaders’ conferences, mission reports, or church websites. Paul was not pretending that this church was the latest, greatest thing. His confidence was in their readiness to obey the command he had given them. A command to do what was morally right and consistent with the gospel.
Having said that, Paul was not at all certain how the Corinthians would act when he boasted about them to Titus. He seems relieved that they had not let him down. His confidence may have been complete when he wrote 2 Corinthians, but it really wasn’t when he sent Titus their way.
So, how could he boast about this motley crew? This, I believe, is Paul living by the principle he taught them.
We walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Cor 5.7
Paul was not blind to the problems in the church in Corinth. He wasn’t at all certain they would stay loyal to him. He feared they might turn against him and grieve Titus. But his hope was resolutely in God and his power (2 Cor 1.10). For this reason, his hope for the Corinthians to come good was unshaken (2 Cor 1.7). Paul was looking past the short-term challenges to the long game. It was too soon to give up on them. The final analysis of that church and their relationship with him would only come when Christ returned.
So he writes . . .
I hope you will fully acknowledge— just as you did partially acknowledge us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.
2 Cor 1.13-14
What about you? Think about the people you lead.
You know their problems, their weaknesses, and their limitations. But can’t you also see their resources, strengths and possibilities? And, more importantly, don’t you know their Lord and his power? Your hope is in the God who raises the dead.
He raises the dead!
This is why you can be certain that your church or organisation is never beyond hope. There are no ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders in the kingdom of God.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that your church or organisation has a future, either. Even if you lead with sincerity and integrity, as Paul did in Corinth, they may reject you. They may refuse to let you work with them for their joy (2 Cor 1.23). Sometimes the right thing to do—or the only thing you can do—is leave.
However, as long as you are there, never stop trusting (and hoping) in what God can do among his people. They are his, not yours. Have confidence in them, not because of who they are (and certainly not because of who you are) but because you have cast iron confidence in the God who is at work in them. Look beyond the present to what God will do when he perfects his people.
Exhibit both faith and hope.
When the leaders lose hope, others do too. So, keep your expectations realistic, but set your hopes high, for their horizon is glory.
The key to godly boasting doesn’t lie in believing our own propaganda or overlooking the flaws in those we lead. It isn’t found in honing our skills or improving our strategies, either. Although neither is a bad thing.
It is found in our confidence in God.
Boasting in the cross of Christ alone does not mean we cannot take pride in people. Indeed, if we see people as the precious inheritance for whom Christ died, greatly loved by God, and destined for glory, we have ample reason to take pride in them. And we may even learn to love them better.
For our boasting is founded upon our God, whose love and faithfulness are everlasting.
So how’s your church?
I won’t mind if you boast a little . . .
 Of 37 New Testament appearances of kauchaomai, 35 are in Paul’s letters (the other two are in James), and 20 of those are in 2 Corinthians