One of the biggest frustrations for pastors & church leadership is when people visit and we don't have any information on them. What had been promising as a first-time visit may not materialize into a ministry opportunity because, like Cinderella's glass slipper, we may not even have caught their name.
We all have them. They're the cards in the pew/chair. And when we get frustrated at not getting information from people, we're so quick to say "The cards! they didn't fill out the card!"
Maybe they didn't. And maybe there's a reason they didn't. Let's think about 3 questions on why no one is filling out your visitor cards.
1) Do they even know about the card? - It's so easy to fall into the Christianese customs where we talk among ourselves about things only we know about. When someone is a guest to our church, they're not familiar with our culture, lingo, and where the bathrooms are. When a guest sits down, they may not even be aware of the cards in front of them. Or if they see it, that they're supposed to fill something out. That's why we need to communicate it to them that the cards are there and that we'd love for them to fill it out. You can do that by
-Announcing it from the platform during announcements or welcome
-Personally invite someone to fill one out
If your greeters are doing their job, not only will they be a friendly face and an extension of your church's desire for guests, they'll take the next step of encouraging them to fill out a guest card. Follow that up with reminders from the platform. Our music minister holds up a copy of our card so people can not only hear it but see it.
2) Do they know what to do with the card? - So you've gotten a guest to fill out the card. Now what. They need to know what to do with the card. Maybe your offering is over and there's not a way for them to put it in the plate or basket. Again, we cannot overemphasize the importance of communicating processes to those who are unfamiliar. As your cards are handed out or emphasized, give the next step. And include multiple options for the next step. Here are some ways to take the next step, and make sure people know they have a way they can leave their card.
-Put in the offering plate/basket
-Hand to a staff member or volunteer (hint - this is why name tags or signage are important!)
-Leave in the seat
-Direct to a designated Visitor Center (if your church does a goodie bag for visitors you can swap the bag for their card)
However you do it, make sure it's communicated.
3) Are your cards stocked neatly? - You need to make sure that your cards are adequately stocked with pens/pencils to use. No one is going to fill out a card that's not there. Nor are they going to fill out a card without a way to write. Beyond making sure it's stocked, we have to double check to make sure it's neat. If your seat backs are stuffed full of gum wrappers (double bad if the chewed gum is in the wrapper), crumbled grocery lists, or other trash, it's not a good first impression on a guest. Details matter in our impressions on guests. Likewise, are you throwing out cards that have been used as a kids doodle sheet or a scribble pad? It's a small thing, but what we communicate to our guests is often more unsaid than said.
What has your church been able to do that has helped you in getting contact information for follow up?
Full disclosure: I read this book on the beach. Perks of living in Florida. You can hate me if you want.
Dean Inserra has, over the last couple years, become one of my favorite Twitter follows. Dean pastors City Church in Tallahassee, and his book The Unsaved Christian is one I would highly recommend to pastors and church leaders.
For years I've often said that the hardest place to do ministry isn't in the Northwest or New England, it's in the Bible Belt. Sure there's some overt issues and hardships that come from being a Jesus follower in those regions, but in the Bible Belt you'll find something more difficult: people who have been vaccinated by the Gospel. They're gripped with a cultural Christianity that is powerless to save, and they don't even know they're lost. They've gotten just enough of the Good News to think that everything is ok and they have no need of repentance (that's what bad people have to do, and I'm not bad) and faith (after all, I believe in God).
That's what Dean gets after in his book, to look at the phenomenon of the "Unsaved Christian" or the person who identifies as a Christian in name but in reality has no transforming relationship with Jesus. They have a theistic framework of thinking, a (mostly) biblical worldview on morality, and may have a deep appreciation for Jesus. But as so many of us heard in youth group, they're 18 inches from heaven.
Perhaps the most urgent charge from this book is in the very beginning: it's our responsibility as leaders in the church to make sure people recognize they're lost. In the trappings of the Unsaved Christian's life, they can often find a false security in moralism, in church attendance/giving/serving, identifying as a Republican, or by having a sincere appreciation for the work and ministry of Jesus. Despite all of that, sadly many will find themselves hearing what Jesus warned His followers of in Matthew 7 "Depart from me, I never knew you."
Beyond the Bible Belt, we're living in times where >70% of Americans self-identify as Christian, yet the fruit of that identification is many times difficult to see. Packed stadiums emotionally belt out God Bless America and yet our nation cannot get past its historic sins. Churches will be packed for Easter Sunday and return to being half empty the following week. Small towns hold up a banner of being a "Christian" community yet are rife with issues of sin and addiction they ignore in the name of preserving a vestige of the past.
Cultural Christianity has no power to save. Its only power is to numb the conscience. The only hope is the Gospel.
One of the most famous stories from the history of McDonalds is the failed attempt at the Hula Burger. Company founder Ray Kroc had a meatless sandwich in mind to make money during Lent: pineapple on bread with a slice of cheese. His demand for the Hula Burger came to a head in 1962 when a franchisee in Ohio put his Filet-o-Fish sandwich up against the Hula Burger, with the winner getting the company go-ahead. The final score: Fish 350, Pineapple 6.
The man who had taken a unique drive-in restaurant idea and turned it into the "billions and billions served" fast food giant didn't get his way. And for all of us who have an irrational love for the McDonalds fish sandwich (seriously, where do they find square shaped fish?), thank you Lou Groen.
And if you like the idea of grilled pineapple and cheese, you can get the Hula Burger recipe online.
The takeaway lesson from this is simple: as leaders in the church, ministry, or any organization, we are not guaranteed to get our way. Leaders who demand their way aren't really leading, they're dictators. Our job as leaders is to ensure the best and the right ideas are pursued, even if they're not ours. Those who seek out the best will find more fruit, more buy-in, and more traction than if decisions are shoved into people's laps.
Let me offer five ways we can make sure that the best and the right ideas are both heard and implemented:
1. Listen - It sounds simple, but it's not always so. Leaders spend a lot of time talking, it's part of the job. But if we're going to see the best and the right ideas come to the top, we have to spend time listening. And that listening has to be listening that understands, not listening to respond. Listening to understand hears out the reasoning, it is engaged, and it is reserved in its response.
2. Solicit feedback - A lot of times our way of soliciting feedback is the same way we engage in grocery store small talk. We see someone in the dairy section we know, we smile and wave and say "Hey how are you?" and we're on our way to the bread aisle before they can give an answer. We're not really interested in how they're doing, we're just conditioned to ask empty questions like that. As leaders, what kind of tone are we setting when we ask for feedback? Are we allowing ample time? Are we giving attention to those sharing? Are we making eye contact and engaging? Or are we blowing through an agenda or a conversation so we can move on to the next thing?
3. Be humble - Defensive leaders want their way. They're not humble, they're proud. They think everyone else is there to serve them. Humility flips the script. Humility reflects the attitude of Christ and the call of servant leadership. Humility for a leader can be as simple as admitting we're wrong, or acknowledging the accomplishments and contributions of others. Leaders who are defensive, proud, or unyielding are insecure, selfish, and if they're serving in a ministry environment toxic.
4. Discuss ideas, not people - One of my friends in ministry just turned 36, and in sharing that mentioned being told once before by a pastor he served under that you weren't allowed to have an opinion on things until you're over 35. So now that he was 36, he was able to fire away with opinions. When people are the focus of a discussion, or lack thereof, we're not discussing ideas anymore. Good ideas can come from the most unlikely of circumstances. A good idea can come from someone not necessarily in that particular ministry area. And (gasp!) a good idea can come from someone under 35.
5. Celebrate others' victories - When something goes really well, celebrate it. When it goes well, make sure the person who was behind it is recognized and appreciated for it. Leaders who don't insist on their own way will have no problem giving the spotlight to others, and won't take it personal when other people are recognized and valued for their accomplishments.
How have you as a leader helped to ensure that the right and best ideas are championed?
One of the things we love about homeschooling is that Spring Break happens whenever we want it to happen. So we took a couple days last week and carted the family to Disney. There's a lot of joy in the flexibility that we know is unique and not something everyone can enjoy.
It's Spring Break season, and for all of you from the north coming to Florida to soak up the sun and the surf, sorry the water is cooler than you'd hoped. But hopefully it's not so bad sitting under palm trees and enjoying wearing flip flops!
Spring Break is an excellent time for churches and for ministry leaders. Here are some ways we can make sure that we don't waste our Spring Break:
1. Take some time off - It doesn't have to be all week, but take a couple days and invest in and enjoy your family. The kids don't have school, so there's no homework or daytime obligations. Take a day trip or an overnight and hang out together. You don't have to do a cruise or Disney to enjoy family time.
2. Consider giving volunteers time off - If your church has a large number of younger families, Spring Break is a ghost town. People are traveling, they're enjoying the week off, and the mid-week crowd is much smaller than normal. One thing we did this year was cancel our children's programming to give our children's staff and workers some time off. Breaks are good for the body, mind, and soul.
3. Do some long-range planning - The break in a church's regular rhythm can provide a chance to do something a lot of leaders struggle to find time for: long range planning. Map out your sermon series for the summer, look at goals for the rest of the year, get on a white board and start brainstorming outreach or fellowship ideas, or get into a couple good books to help you shape and find God's direction for your church or ministry.
4. Step up your visitation - If you're not going out of town, take advantage of the decrease in road traffic and make some home/hospital/nursing home visits. Many of our shut-ins have little contact with their church or their family. Without having to dodge school busses and moms & dads running late for the tardy bell, you've got a little extra freedom to invest in people many have forgotten.
5. Prayer walk your community's schools - Without anyone on campus, our community's schools become a place you can prayer walk. Some of the things you can pray for are: Safety for students & teachers, opportunities to minister to the school, Christian teachers and administrators to work as salt & light, the church that meets in the school gym on Sunday, and for the Christian groups on campus working with students.
How are you making the most of your Spring Break?
Thom Rainer shared an incredibly helpful article about the warnings of memorials and plaques in churches. If you're in any form of church leadership, this is incredibly valuable. Chances are, your church has some memorials or plaques hanging somewhere. It could be on the backs of pews, on a Norman Rockwell-type painting, or even over a parlor door. And in (almost) every case, it's a bad idea.
I think there are times and places to honor a legacy of faithful service. I think it's entirely appropriate to recognize volunteers, staff members, and pastors during a worship service. I think it's good to celebrate a church's history and its impact in the community. I've even seen churches with a prominent history have a heritage room. Those can be a blessing and reminder of God's care, provision, and work through a local church.
Normally when we think of memorials and plaques we're thinking of those that come attached to a financial gift or to memorialize a person or family. I don't think those are wise for a church, and I'd encourage any pastor or church to determine how they will navigate those issues and decline these requests/demands.
1. They can turn a church into a museum to the past - Museums are wonderful places to visit, they're filled with artifacts and memories and you can get up close to things you've only read about (hint: go to the Smithsonian sometime, it's mind blowing). But museums have one hard and fast rule: no touching. The things in a museum are to be looked at, not used. Churches fall into that with memorials because they become artifacts to look at rather than a facility or space to be used. More so, it communicates an unspoken message about the "old days."
2. They can handcuff a church's ability to use space or resources - Whenever something is done as a memorial, it automatically becomes a fixed piece. You can't move it. You can't get rid of it. You have to keep the memorial where it was placed. It could be a painting, a piano, a pew, or an outdoor fixture. It's there. Churches have to be flexible in their facility usages, most of us don't have 100,000 square feet to use. We have to repurpose space. It's a matter of good stewardship. Memorials handcuff a church from using space or resources for multiple purposes (think a church parlor).
3. They often become untouchable sacred cows - When a memorial becomes a sacred cow, it becomes something that can never be touched, moved, removed, adjusted, or anything. It becomes something untouchable in discussions. Any sacred cow in the church is dangerous, because sacred cows by their existence create a subset of worship and devotion. Normally when we think of sacred cows, we think about programs or ministries that do nothing but can't be deleted, or about spaces that are unspoken claimed (my Sunday school room).
4. They foster a culture where leverage = influence - In a lot of circles, the guy who writes a big check gets the big pull. My college's football stadium was named for a pizza company because the founder wrote a big check to build the stadium, NASCAR's championship has changed so many times because of the big check written by the corporate sponsor, and in college football it seems like every other year a booster writing a big check gets a coach fired. Churches should not be governed or influenced this way. When it happens, it creates an unhealthy culture. The same thing happens when people use their giving as an unspoken vote. It's divisive, it's ugly, and it's ungodly.
5. They cripple a church's ability to move forward - Decisions always have to be filtered through the memorial's donors and family. The memorial becomes something that keeps a church hinged to its past rather than free to look forward to a better future.
How have you handled memorials in your church?
Chances are if you attend a conference at a church it's going to be at a sprawling megachurch campus. They have the ability to host that number of people in their facilities, and they have the staffing & volunteers necessary to help hundreds of attendees navigate their campus.
I was struck by this tweet from Mark Clifton about the scale of our churches, and how it's an exception rather than a rule for churches to be bigger. But in the SBC, the median church size is 70, and the average worship attendance is 145. For the overwhelming majority of pastors, their experience won't be in the big sprawling suburban megachurch. They'll be in single-staff churches, smaller churches where they can still name people and where they sit.
I'm a fan of big churches. I like big churches. Big churches get to be big churches because they did little things right along the way. They have faithful staff. They're led (overwhelmingly) by pastors who love Jesus and have pursued faithful excellence for decades. They reach into their communities and serve in hundreds of ministries that smaller churches can't. And in my experience, I've found them to be incredibly gracious and generous with their time, resources, and knowledge to assist churches.
So what can those of us in the baseball stadium learn from those on the jet? I think there are 5:
1. Be faithful to your DNA - God has wired every local church uniquely with a particular set of qualities and characteristics. That's the DNA of a church, it's who they are. And it works for them. And they're comfortable in their DNA. They're not trying to be something else other than who God has called and wired them to be. How do you get there? Fervent, faithful, persistent prayer, coupled with wise leadership.
2. Focus on your one - We forget that churches don't grow because of building projects or advertising, they grow because people in the pews identify and share the Gospel with their one. Personal connections lead to spiritual conversations lead to Gospel opportunities lead to new Christians plugging into a local church. You don't need to have 100 acres to do that. Even a church of 20 can commit to sharing with 20 people over the next year and see what God does.
3. Stay committed - Beyond the logistical and operational issues in a large church, the top reason I think large churches do well is that they have remained faithfully committed to the Gospel. They haven't deviated or strayed into moralism or compromise. Sure you can find exceptions, but churches don't have to be big to get off their commitment to Christ and the Word. But the lesson we can learn from larger churches is that we have been given a Great Commandment (Love God & Love Neighbor) and a Great Commission.
4. Most things scale down - Normally when we talk about things scaling, we're thinking of how they can scale bigger. But scale works the other way as well. Most of the things that a larger church does can be easily scaled down to fit a smaller church's resources (and budget). You can't afford fingerprint scanners for your children's area? You can still keep check-in tags. You don't need 30 screens around campus broadcasting announcements? It works just the same with 2. So often we come up with excuses when we can simply take what's being done and scale it back.
5. Share fellowship - Even in a big church, relationships are still vital, and fellowship is still important. It won't look the same as your church, but you cannot overlook or underemphasize the importance of building community and fellowship. Don't forget how important it is to get your people together in the same room and around their common identity in Christ.
I geek out every time Apple releases a new iOS update. It's fun to see the changes, the new capabilities, and exploring more of what my phone can do.
I had that love until the last one. Not because it wasn't a good update, but because it comes with a new feature: Screen Time. Every week it gives me a report that's both convicting and mind-numbing.
I'm preaching through Ephesians at our church and the passage I'm working on now is a double gut punch. In Ephesians 5:15-16 Paul tells us to "look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil." Other translations might say "redeem the time." Regardless, even though Paul had no idea how we'd use our time 20 centuries after he wrote these words, they still speak through the ages.
For leaders, our time is our most precious resource. We can navigate financial constraints. We can work around volunteer or staffing limitations. But the one constant is that we'll always have the same amount of time. The best leaders learn to discipline their time and make the best use of it. But what we can't say is that we "didn't have time."
If we want to make the best use of our time, what are some steps we can take?
1. Set limits on distractions - In our ADHD Squirrel world, we're so easily distracted by the ding of our email or our texts. Sometimes we need to protect ourselves from ourselves. So we need to close our browser, we need to shut down our email app, and we need to silence our phone. Very few distractions are worth our immediate attention. Unless your house is on fire or the President is calling, you don't need to feel bad letting it go to voicemail, responding later, or checking messages during some down time.
2. Put it away - I'm the worst about this, so this one is as much to me as anything else. My loathing of meetings goes back to being in staff meetings that droned on, and my only respite was answering messages or checking Twitter. I know. It's rude. It's disrespectful. I get it. I'm not moral grandstanding here. Just saying it's a problem. That's the first step, right? But if we want to give our undivided attention to people, sometimes we have to make the disciplined step to put our devices away.
3. Schedule - I put schedule blocks in when I will reply to messages and emails. If I don't, I'll be a slave to the constant dinging. Returning calls and messages is important, that's why it goes on my schedule. I don't ever want to be thought of as inaccessible. And when we as leaders don't schedule and don't prioritize following up with people, it's easy to get there.
4. Put it away, Part 2 - Putting it away after you get home is just as important, maybe more so, than putting it away in professional settings. This is one I need to get better at. It's easy to kick back and scroll in the evening when you're tired and just want to zone out. Put the phone on the charger, plug the laptop up, and leave it there.
5. Check your heart - We don't necessarily have to bow to a statue to be guilty of idolatry. Idolatry happens whenever we cling to, crave, or serve something or someone with our hearts more than we do God. We've replaced Him with a cheap substitute (see Romans 1), and we've given ourselves over to a god who cannot be satisfied nor will it relent. We can make idols of screens--not just our phones but our laptops and TVs and movie theaters or whatever else we look to for visual satisfaction. At the core, maybe we have a heart issue that needs to be conformed back to alignment with the Word?
A helpful resource is the book 12 Reasons Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke.
Unfortunately if we were to pick an emoji to describe most churches, the “meh” would likely be the most common. Depending on where you look, anywhere from 65%-80% of churches are stagnated or declining. Hundreds of churches close every month, while hundreds more are on life support and draining through generations of savings in the bank.
Meh just exists. As we look around the church landscape, our hearts should break at the number of churches who are content to simply exist. They’re not doing anything, they’re not impacting their communities, and if they closed down tomorrow no one would even notice. Churches that exist have the same routine: doors open, people come in, stand, sit, sing, sit, listen, leave. The next week they repeat, and the next, and the next.
If we were to list out the symptoms of a “Meh” church, I would say these are the seven:
The preaching lacks conviction - Preaching with conviction doesn’t mean brow-beating people or screaming at them. Preaching with conviction means that it is obvious to everyone in the room that the pastor believes what he is preaching and that the passage has gripped him. Pastors who preach without conviction are the first sign of a Meh church, because the opportunity to share God’s word becomes a routine or exercise, not an impassioned and overflowing joy to hear what God has said.
There is no vision - Vision isn’t bound to a statement or a slogan, and it doesn’t have to be printed on a poster. Vision is where a church has an idea or dream of where they want to go. A church with vision has an idea of where they want to go, the community they want to reach, the impact they want to have. A Meh church goes week to week, at best month to month. They use those signs that say “Attendance this week… Attendance last week,” and people look and decide how things are going based on that.
Busyness as a Substitute - Hamster wheels, treadmills, and NASCAR all have one thing in common: a lot of energy is used to go absolutely nowhere. No matter how hard the hamster or the Busch brothers push, in the end they’ve gone nowhere. When churches have busy schedules and tons of activities, they might be missing the point of what it means to schedule. Busy gives the appearance of effectiveness, but it doesn’t accomplish anything. Busy means things are added to a crowded calendar without a filter of asking “Why?”
Programs & Ministries Continue Unquestioned - Not everything we do in a church or ministry is supposed to last forever. In fact the only thing is gathering for corporate worship (preaching, worship, giving, serving). Beyond that, everything has a life cycle, and an expiration date. Sometimes churches keep things going well past their expiration date (I’m looking at you Puppets!) and continue to invest resources, money, volunteers, and time to something that’s not effective anymore. Meh churches just let things keep going and don’t make the hard decision to put an expired program to pasture.
Time & Money Priorities are Inward Focused - What a church spends its time and money on will speak louder than what it publishes and says. When a church’s calendar and budget are oversaturated with inreach and inward focus, the church has spoken volumes about its engagement in the community. When we over-direct resources towards ourselves, we’re essentially trying to keep everyone happy. Meh churches don’t care about lost people or their communities, as long as they have a good time together.
Leadership is a closed, not revolving, door - On one hand we should be glad for people who serve faithfully in leadership for years, if not decades. But at the same time, if we’re not seeing new faces in leadership, serving on committees, nominated for deacon, and stepping into more responsibility, we’ve become a Meh church. Meh churches don’t look for new leaders or fresh faces because “it’s not broke.” A revolving door for leaders keeps ideas fresh, prevents burnout, and develops more faithful leaders. A closed door keeps things the way they are.
Pastoral Tenures are Short - Tenure isn’t always an indicator, but if a church is burning through pastors every 3-5 years, there might be another option than “they used us as a stepping stone.” Pastoring a Meh church is difficult. Very few pastors come into a church with the approach of “I just want to exist, tend the garden, marry & bury, and preach some messages.” Pastors want to lead, they want to reach their community, they want to baptize, they want to disciple, they want to grow. A Meh church can cause a pastor to burn out keeping up with the busyness, or to walk away for another opportunity because they’ve tried all they could do.
What do you see in Meh churches? How else can churches move from Meh and being content to exist towards health and effectiveness?
For the last few years, it has felt like a number of prominent Christian leaders in churches and ministries have found themselves in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Our denomination watched one of its heroes dismissed, we've seen megachurches implode when domineering pastors were finally pushed out, and the Houston Chronicle blew the door open on an issue that should have never been allowed to happen.
For a number of these, the sinking ship was obviously taking on water. Abusive leadership, nepotism, financial mismanagement, firing critics, lawsuits, and more only showed that there was a serious issue that had to be addressed. Because these leaders are in prominence, their shortcomings are wide open for everyone to see, and to comment on.
Whatever our opinions are on whether or not a well-known leader has been disqualified or has rendered themselves unusable, it's imperative we avoid one response: mockery.
Like Nelson from The Simpsons, it can be so easy to watch someone else fall (who very likely had it coming) and laugh. We can share memes, we can make light of it, we can sit back and point the finger and give all the reasons we wouldn't have done what they did. Behind so much of our response is a mocking, laughing, making light of what's tragic.
Proverbs 24:17 tells us "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles."
Instead of mockery or moral grandstanding, our response to any instance of a Christian's fall should be grief. We should be glad for justice, especially in cases where justice is warranted and necessary. But behind our appreciation of justice should be an overwhelming sense of grief.
We grieve for those wronged. Before anything else, we grieve for those who have been wronged. We grieve for those whose pain and suffering went unanswered for years. We grieve for those who were generous and were betrayed by embezzlement. We grieve for those who trusted a friend or a leader and were let down. If anything, the last year has taught us that victims deserve to be heard.
We grieve for the shame of the church. Leaders who blow it don't do it on an island or isolated in an empire somewhere. They blow it in churches or ministries surrounded by real people, in a real community or city that is left to pick up the pieces of something that should have been trusted. Sometimes those churches never recover. Sometimes it takes years. Regardless of how long it takes, those churches bear the shame of the fallen leader.
We grieve for the Gospel's witness being harmed. The message's power isn't lost, but its witness and trustworthiness is. People become (rightly) skeptical of a church who tells them one thing but did something completely different. We don't grieve because attendance numbers might go down or giving might drop. We grieve because eternity hangs in the balance of people Jesus loves and gave his life for.
We grieve for the fallen leader and their family, who will be on the receiving end of the Internet's unceasing outrage. Whatever the faults were, and no matter how much pain has been caused, we should grieve for the family of that fallen leader. They didn't (usually) sign on to be a meme or caricature. We grieve because the fallen leader often cannot make restoration or redemption, they're simply shamed to the point of no return.
So fellow pastors, let's grieve for a bit. The Church has taken its lumps this week. Quite honestly, we deserved it. And we've got our work cut out for us for our witness in our communities and in our culture. But let's get back to work. Jesus promised the Church would endure. And endure we will.
But for now, let's grieve.
There are so many things about being a leader that are, well... fun. It's really enjoyable to dream and cast vision. It's great working with a team you love. It's something to wake up to when you realize your day is going to make a difference in someone's life. But it's not all fun and games.
That's why I love what Eric Geiger has always said about leadership.
When we step into leadership roles, whether it's in a business or nonprofit or even in a church, we're going to have to start a fire. We'll have incompetence in a staff position, we'll have a moral failure in another leader, we'll deal with brokenness and painfully bad decisions someone else makes, and more.
And that's when we have to set a fire. We have to deal with the bad news that we've gotten. Fires aren't fun, ever. They burn, they damage, and even though we all know they're necessary, it doesn't make them any less difficult. The kind of fire we start is what matters.
We can, as leaders, choose to take a Scorched Earth approach. In this, everything gets toasted. You find out something happened and it blows up, literally. Someone in a moral failure is dragged in front of the church and forced to apologize (such as when a young woman gets pregnant outside of marriage, funny the guy doesn't have to wear the scarlet letter). A team member makes a minor mistake and is beat down with a verbal barrage. A family going through difficulty is forced to live it out and even those not affected have to answer. Scorched earth doesn't work. It leaves nothing behind.
Leaders fail when they adopt a scorched earth approach because there's nothing left to be redeemed. Sure you got the point across, but what's left behind? Ashes and charred remains. Nothing can grow and nothing can be restored for years, if ever.
That said, in very rare and very extreme cases, sometimes you need to just torch everything. News broke this morning of a church leader who ruled with an iron fist and was a dictator. That's a time where the elders and leaders have to torch it. You have to deal hard with hard issues, but only when there's no other option. Same thing where a volunteer or worker gets popped for messing with a kid. There's no "second chance" on that. But these cases are rare and exceptional.
The other approach is the Controlled Burn. One of the perks of living in Florida is we don't have wildfires very often. We get hurricanes, Florida Man, alligators, pythons in ponds, crazy thunderstorms, and Disney tourists. But we don't get wildfires. What's blown me away about wildfires is that one practice to stop a wildfire is to do a controlled burn. In a controlled burn, a fire is carefully set and controlled in order to rob the raging wildfire of its fuel to burn out of control.
Leaders who take a controlled burn know there's going to be damage, know there's going to be fallout, know that people will be hurt, know that this isn't going to be much fun. But rather than torch everything, they're careful, intentional, loving, and restorative about the fire they set. In this, there's always the opportunity for redemption. There's always the opportunity for healing and growth. The burn is done in order to minimize damage and maximize hope.
Controlled burns don't dismiss the severity of the situation, nor do they give a pass for bad behavior. The fact they're controlled means that the impact is limited to the specific person or situation and doesn't destroy things unnecessarily. Yes there's pain, and as a leader you might have some fallout to deal with. But it's not widespread. It's not catastrophic. And most of all, it's left room for healing and restoration. For a family with a wayward child, it means not condoning but also leaving a light on and coffee on the table. For a staff member with a moral failure, it means discipline and termination but also care and ministry to the family. For the worker who puts a hole in a window, it means paying for the window without dragging their name through the mud on Facebook.
Pastors and leaders, how do you make sure you're doing controlled burns?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.