“MacGyver” was a television show from several years back that featured Angus MacGyver, a special agent in some obscure government agency who hunted bad guys around the world. The plot was always the same. MacGyver would find the bad guys but wouldn’t have enough evidence to close the case. So, he would break into some area where he wasn’t supposed to be, and he would be captured by the bad guys. (He was always being captured! You’d think he would have been sent back to headquarters for more training, but I digress…).
Anyway, once captured, the bad guys would lock him up in a garage or some other room with a lot of stuff stacked around the walls. MacGyver was part genius, part engineer, and part scientist who could make anything he needed out of what he found around him. Using old tractor parts and a box fan, MacGyver would make a plane that would fly him to the bad guy’s secret hideout. Every episode was ingenious, but the plot was always the same:
- MacGyver would identify the bad guy who was doing bad things.
- MacGyver would try to find the bad guy.
- MacGyver would get captured spying on the bad guy.
- The bad guy would lock MacGyver in a garage or storage room.
- MacGyver would use the material around him to forge whatever he needed to overcome the bad guy.
- Just in the nick of time, MacGyver would figure it out and we’d have to wait another week to see how MacGyver would save the day once again.
Every week it was the same show, but it was exciting just the same. Now, why am I bringing up MacGyver? Because I think MacGyver episodes should be required study for church planters and pastors. The new opportunities and challenges facing churches in North America mean leaders of local congregations are going to have to be a new breed of leader — part theologian, part entrepreneur, part counselor, and community activist. More and more, local church leaders will find themselves in situations where major problems have to be solved with only those things at hand.
Here are the hard facts. One in three churches will close in the next five years. Most church plants don’t make it past three to five years. For all our emphasis on church planting, we still haven’t found a sustainable model to plant enough churches to replace those churches that are closing.
So, if we watched an episode of MacGyver? What could we learn?
First, we’d learn to take a look around and realize the hard truth of the situation. MacGyver would always have that moment when he realized that if he didn’t figure something out he was going to die. Most pastors need to stop spiritualizing the challenges around them and see the hard reality they’re facing. For instance, declining membership isn’t God pruning the vine. It’s a sign we’re no longer meeting needs. Until the congregation is honest, brutally honest, the church has no chance of survival.
Second, take a hard look at what you have. MacGyver was a master at assessing his resources to determine what he could use. Remember, Jesus never asks for what you don’t have. All of us are guilty of wishful thinking. If we only had a million dollars, then we could do this. If we only had a better preacher, then more people would come. The list could go on and on. The reality is we don’t have those things. So, what do we have?
Does the church have a gym that could be converted to a childcare space? Are there unused offices that could house local community services? Could counselors provide financial counseling to the local community? Could you set up a jobs program? What old things could we see in a new way?
From these community engagements, could we begin gospel conversations? Could our Monday through Saturday ministry be the focus of the church instead of Sunday morning? Sure, we’ll always have worship, but what if Sunday becomes the day we pray for and praise God for what’s going on in the building Monday through Saturday?
Go outside and look around. Who is around your church? Have the demographics changed around your church? Who’s there now? Who’s moved out? Does the makeup of your leadership team match the community around the church?
With every challenge there is opportunity. Within each church are the skills, gifts, and abilities needed to respond to the new challenges. Some have to be called out. Some have to be refined, but God will not leave His church empty in the face of so much need.
No, it probably won’t look like the church you’ve always dreamed about, but it will be the church the community needs. In the ways it needs to, the church will look like Jesus to the community around it.
Now, look around. Figure it out. MacGyver would. With God’s help, we can too.