This is a metaphor that paints a clear picture of two very distinct church models.
The River model, and the Lake model.
First off, what is church? How do we define it? How we think about church and what makes a successful church will determine how effective we are at pastoring and leading God’s people. Do you have “Lake” vision for the church or “River” vision?
A River and a Lake are made of the same stuff, water, but Rivers and Lakes work very differently. Lakes are limited to either growing or shrinking while Rivers change and move. They have momentum and power and they transport people and goods, taking them further along than where they entered the River. Also, a river can change course, which is an option available only to moving things.
Lake model churches are static and they lack the vital process of discipleship, of developing and maturing people to the point that God sends them out to go make more disciples. They lack direction on how members should progress in faith. The measure of success is a larger congregation, not a fruitful one, and if a pastor looses a mature member of the body that is answering God’s call they see it as a loss, not a victory.
The Lake model forces you to invest a lot of attention, time and finances on material things and programs that the people can attend. Success is measured in attendance and growing a congregation not the healthy growth of the people.
The thing that I appreciate most about my pastors is that they are committed to investing in people. They get excited about seeing people fulfill their purpose, grow in their gifts, function effectively in the body of Christ and answer the call to ministry. They measure success in reproducing people of like faith. They understand the “River” process.
“How many people showed up?” …is Lake thinking.
“What happened to the ones that did show up?” …is River thinking.
Ezekiel 47:9 ~ And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes.
If pastors have a heart to invest in, and develop people, knowing they will leave, they will have an urgency to help them through the process. By getting everyone in their church ready for a possible departure they will ensure the health and vitality of those whom God decides to keep in their church. If they remember that their responsibility is to produce fruit, they will rejoice when God decides to ship the fruit.
The challenges that we face today in building a strong body of equipped believers is greater than ever. The commitment to invest in, and disciple people must be foremost in our thinking. How we measure success in our church will help determine how successful the church will be.
Matthew 28:19 ~ Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,