Most of us who serve in ministry find ourselves in a typical church in a typical community. Our Sunday attendance is less than 200. We may be the only full-time (or only paid!) staff member. We may find ourselves peeking slowly at our giving totals. We may even have a "Megachurch Next Door" that has all the bells and whistles, brings in nationally known speakers, whose children's ministry is on a giant rocket ship, and whose choir lofts can hold our entire congregation.
Can I be honest? Sometimes I think we find ourselves jealous of the apparent success of these large churches in our community. I think we feel on some level a sense of "competition" or a concern that the larger churches will take over our communities.
But the Megachurch isn't your enemy. It never has been. It never will be.
1. No Megachurch can reach everyone - I heard once from someone that their church needed to be aggressive in the community because "XYZ Community Church was building a campus in the area." No matter the size of the church, it cannot permeate lostness everywhere. Depending on where you live, the surrounding area of your church is anywhere from 50%-90% unengaged with the Gospel. Our county alone has over 300,000 people in it. That's at least 150,000 (but closer to 220,000) people who have no engagement with a local church.
2. Not everyone fits at a Megachurch - One of the strengths of a Megachurch is their size (they're able to do incredible community ministry, host nationally recognized events, and provide an anchor for their surrounding community). But not everyone is comfortable with the size of a Megachurch. Sometimes they're too imposing--my wife was on staff at one Megachurch the truckers affectionately called "Fort God" when their CB signals would get mixed up, and one in my hometown we called Six Flags Over Jesus. There can be too many people, the parking lot may be too big, people get lost, or people genuinely crave a more intimate setting. That's ok. Not everyone needs to be a Megachurch member.
3. Most Megachurches are Kingdom Effective - I've had the pleasure of bumping elbows (literally sometimes) with several megachurch pastors and their staffs. And the overwhelming impression from those guys was that they were sold out to the Kingdom, passionate teachers of the Word, they were committed to missions, and they had a heart for both the Lord and the lost. We shouldn't find ourselves jealous. We should find ourselves thankful for these partners in ministry who can do things others can't. I'll never forget being invited to a networking lunch at a Megachurch in a previous ministry stop. Our host, the Student Pastor, said it best "We want to host this and make it available and make it free, because we can. And we want you to know we love you and are here for you."
4. Bigger ≠Better - It can be easy to look at bigger churches and think that's where we should be, to admire the platform God has given those guys. One lesson I learned early was that the only reason the grass is greener on the other side is because it's been well fertilized. Bigger ministries are a bigger grind, come with a bigger target (look at all the "watchdog" blogs written about Megachurches), and carry expectations other churches don't. Bigger budgets, bigger staffs, bigger impact often come with bigger headaches.
5. Megachurch Pastors are Pastors Like You - They're faithful. They're committed to the Word. They love their family. They care about their church. They long for revival. And they genuinely love pastors. Many will give you an hour of their time to invest in you, to pray for you, and to mentor you. They may have bigger congregations and lead more through their staff than you do, but there's still a connection between you built on a shared calling and commitment to serving the Lord. During my doctoral studies the most helpful and considerate people for my dissertation research were larger church pastors, who wanted to help someone who was where they were before. I'll never forget their kindness and willingness to share with me their insights in ministry.
So pray for the fellow churches in your area, and be committed to seeing your neighbors and the nations brought to Christ and impacted for eternity.
I finally took the plunge yesterday.
I threw out a pair of gym shorts from 1998. Even though they didn't fit right, the waistband was fried, and they were as faded/ratty as you'd expect, they survived every purge. Until I noticed I looked like Steve Urkel with them hiked up.
A lot of churches still have a pair of old shorts. It might be a ministry or program that's been around so long but no one knows what purpose it has anymore. Or it's an aging facility with more water in the bucket than the roof when it rains. Maybe it's a staffing model that's been around since the 80s. Chances are your church has some old shorts, and it's time to throw them out.
One passage that's been swirling around has been Philippians 3:13-14.
I absolutely love what Paul does with this, he puts the past in its rightful place and keeps his eyes forward on where God wants him to go, be, and do. There's a goal forward for Paul, for us as Christians, and for the churches we serve. The past deserves to be honored, recognized, and applauded. None of us have arrived where we are apart from the sacrifice, labor, and love of many who came before us.
But we can't hang on to the old gym shorts anymore. There's too much Gospel urgency.
We have to be adaptable. Things don't work like they used to. No longer can we build a service and attract a crowd. Our primary communication is through social media, not mass mailouts. We're bridging up to 5 generations in our worship gatherings. Old gym shorts hang on to how things were done before. And we can't do that. There's too much Gospel urgency.
We have to be sacrificial. It's hard throwing away old gym shorts. They're comfy, they're known, they're connected to good memories (when I got mine I was in great shape with abs, now I have a spare tire). Throwing out the old gym shorts means that we're willing to give up what's comfortable and safe for what's risky and costly. We can't fund ministries the way we always have, we can't afford to maintain oversized facilities. We may have to ask about downsizing, about merging, about multiplying by going multi-site or multi-service or multi-ethnic. There's too much Gospel urgency.
We have to prioritize. It's really easy to keep stuffing old gym shorts in the drawer. It means we don't have to change. But when we throw them out, we're willing to make a priority of what's most important. For many of our churches, we need to recognize the priority of investing in families. That means we may need to throw out some gym shorts that keep us from making families a priority. Are you using children's areas for storage or are they filled with old, dirty resources? Does the way you set up your worship services, church calendar, and activities take family availability into consideration? There's too much Gospel urgency.
We need to declutter. We're too busy. Our schedules are too full. We need an interpreter to make sense of our church's calendars. Families are pulled in different directions by competing ministries. In the effort to be "all things to all people" we try to do everything. We're cluttered. Just like the drawer full of old gym shorts. What is most necessary to accomplish God's vision for your church? Focus on those. Devote your time, energy, resources, and funding those ways. One of my pastoral mentors shared his greatest regret was "I wish I'd done less so I could have accomplished more." There's too much Gospel urgency.
How have you seen your church throw out old gym shorts and be more effective in ministry?
One of the hallmarks of any SBC gathering is the constant mentioning of the Cooperative Program. I think it's in the SBC constitution somewhere to mention it at least 964 times during a gathering. But the CP is one of the greatest things about being Southern Baptist. And its missions and ministry effectiveness is no less than a miracle. Our previous stop was in Murray KY and outside First Baptist is a historical marker for the beginnings of the CP.
The Cooperative Program is a voluntary, collaborative effort of over 46,000 SBC churches to partner together for missions, ministry, and evangelism. Each church sends a portion of its weekly offering to its State Convention, who keep part of it for ministry in the state (church planting, collegiate ministry, church revitalization, disaster relief, etc.) and forwards the rest to Nashville where the money is distributed to six seminaries, two mission boards, our Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, historical archives, all for the purpose of reaching the world for Christ. It's a lot of numbers. But those numbers represent faithful people giving faithfully and a faithful God using those monies in incredible ways.
So why should we love the CP? I think there's at least 10 reasons.
1. It allows churches of all sizes to impact the world - The church I pastor runs 200 on a full Sunday. We can only do so much. Other churches are 10x our size, and they can do more on their own. But through the CP we're able to support missionaries around the world.
2. It brings churches together - When you put 46,000 churches together you learn that none of them are alike. They're in urban or rural settings. They're ethnic or anglo. They're contemporary or traditional. They're single-pastor or elder-led. They're Reformed or "Traditional." But despite all those differences, one common thread remains, cooperating together for the sake of the Gospel.
3. It's voluntary - Some churches choose to be extra generous with their CP giving, and others have to be more careful because they have a limited budget. Each church has the freedom to give as they see fit, and trust God with the results. We're not forced into giving or threatened with expulsion (the minimum in Florida is $250 a year!).
4. It's accountable - Every year trustees are elected to serve as Convention representatives over each of our entities. Their work is to ensure theological fidelity, and also to ensure that the CP funds are used wisely and effectively. When we give in our churches, we can know that our monies will be used well.
5. It's global - The interconnectedness of our world today means that our missions impact is global even when it's in our backyard. Our seminaries are filled with international students committed to being trained for ministry and then returning home to lead churches and ministries there. Our college campuses attract global students, who are reached with the Gospel. Our church planters are strategically placed in cities around the US and Canada with a global emphasis (NYC, LA, Miami). So a church in Possum Trot, Kentucky (yes it's a real town) can support a church planter in Seattle leading a Chinese church who sends out a missionary to Beijing.
6. Our missionaries are supported - The church I pastor has a retired missionary couple who are our biggest champions for missions and the Cooperative Program. Because of the generosity of faithful churches, they never once had to write home for support, or come off the field for months to fundraise. When our mission board sends a family, they ensure they're taken care of, so all their effort can be on impacting their community for Christ.
7. Students prepare for ministry affordably - One way I've personally benefited from the CP has been the generosity extended to seminary students. Tuition is subsidized for SBC students by 50%, making a world-class theological education both affordable and accessible. Our six funded seminaries are churning out graduates committed to the Kingdom, and carrying on the great legacy left behind by the alumni before them.
8. We have a prophetic voice - In the last year no SBC entity has come under fire more than the ERLC, which is our public policy and ethics channel. But with the ERLC and its leadership under Dr. Moore, Southern Baptists have a trusted, authoritative, and respected voice on cultural issues. With shifting tides on gender identity, sexuality, marriage, abortion, religious freedom, and more, it's critical for us to have more than a seat at the table but a voice crying in the wilderness. Our CP giving allows for the ERLC to speak from a biblical worldview, to voice concerns to Congress and the Courts, and to proclaim the unchanging gospel message of salvation through Christ.
9. Churches get planted - The president of NAMB, Kevin Ezell, shared with us at the Florida Convention that their goal is to plant 1,200 churches every year. That means this Sunday over 20 churches will launch around North America alone. Each of those churches stands as a witness to the community around them for the love of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel. And where churches get planted, the Kingdom expands. Where the Kingdom expands, lives are changed.
10. It has endured - The way we give has changed. Millennials have no idea what a "pocketbook" is. Churches have had to tighten the belt in light of the 2009 recession. Ministries have had to streamline. State conventions have downsized facilities. Networks and digital communication have reduced the need for brick and mortar. But despite all the changes that have happened and have yet to, the process remains. As a testament not only to the work of God but the faithful labor of previous generations of Southern Baptists.
A couple years ago, Forbes Magazine ran an article titled "People Leave Managers, Not Companies." The basic premise behind it was that employee engagement and retention was rooted less in the company they work for and more in who they directly work under. Employees who had a healthy and positive environment from their manager were more likely to stay, be productive, and be happier in their work. But when employees left, they more often than not left directly because of their supervisor.
The connection to ministry is unavoidable. Those who are senior leaders in a ministry, whether you're the lead pastor of a church or the director of a para-church ministry set the environment where those we serve alongside will either thrive or disengage. Whether you realize it or not, even though God called the team you work with, they serve primarily with you.
If you want to make a positive impact on those you serve with:
1. Don't be a jerk - Easy enough. A jerk makes it all about them. A jerk can't celebrate the successes of others. A jerk gets jealous of high performing team members. Jerks make terrible leaders because they're more interested in protecting themselves, elevating themselves, and generally make everything about them. Making a positive impact on your team means you're building them up, cheering them on, championing their success.
2. Listen well - The people you serve alongside carry a lot on them. They deal with the ups and downs of ministry. They carry burdens at home. They get tired. Make sure you take time to listen, sometimes even let them vent. As much as possible, keep an "open door" policy, especially with those on the team.
3. Allow input - Few things can discourage a team like a leader asking for their opinion, only to do the opposite. Sometimes you'll have to take the least popular course. But more often than not leaders ask for input when they want affirmation. In business too often employees feel like cogs in a wheel, and it's often no different in ministry.
4. Champion them - Sometimes in leadership your job is to be a grease trap. You're the filter that catches all the crap that gets thrown your way. That's part of the deal you signed on for. But when you're the filter, you're helping keep your team clean from the critics and grumps. Most of the time the criticism levied at ministry leaders are matters of preference or personal opinion. As the leader, your job is to filter that and keep it away from your team. And in doing that, you're their champion, defending them and deflecting any unwarranted criticism.
5. Value honesty first, loyalty second - On a team where no one feels like they can share, or be honest about concerns, it doesn't take long to get awkward. It gets worse when there's an expectation (or demand) for loyalty. The first thing we should desire is truth. We need someone to tell us our great idea will blow up because it's terrible. We need our team to remind us of our need for prayer. Loyalty is a byproduct of trust. Never forget that.
6. Follow through - Your team is looking to you. They're depending on you. They're loyal to you. They're excited to serve with you. They're committed to your vision. So follow through. Return the phone calls. Don't blow off meetings. Spend time with them. Keep things going forward towards the vision. Reject passivity and being content to exist.
What would you add to help build a positive team environment?
Back in 2013 the Barna Group released the results of a study that found professional athletes were carrying more influence than faith leaders. It shouldn't be surprising, especially among Millennials (or Mosaics, or Gen-Y), that the role of institutional religion is waning. It's a generation, and a culture -at-large, that is inherently distrustful of organized institutions. For many, it's warranted - with the growing sex abuse scandal in not only Catholic but Protestant churches, the reports of extravagant spending of televangelists, and the seemingly weekly cycle of fallen leaders. It should be no surprise that when faith leaders drop the ball, someone else will pick it up.
So the question becomes, how do we reclaim the influence? How do we lead and shape the next generation? I want to use some buzzwords to drive the conversation.
Authentic - If we want to influence, we can't put on the plastic veneer anymore. We need to be ourselves, not the caricature of what we want to be. When we speak, we speak as ourselves. We don't speak in pithy sound bites of trivia. We are who we are, regardless of where we are. One of the ironies is that in spite of being over 90, many hold Billy Graham in high regard, even those outside the Church. Why? Because there's never been a doubt who he was, in the pulpit or outside.
Relationship - We cannot lead those we do not know. And even though Millennials (and our culture as a whole) are more connected than ever before, we find ourselves starved for relationship. We have Facebook friends by the hundreds, but few we can call in desperation. We can connect online on message boards and forums with people around the world. But we struggle to know our neighbors. We must seek out to have relationships with those we seek to lead.
Community - This is the handmaiden to Relationship, the longing for and the unmet need of community. Are our churches places where people find true fellowship, true community? Or are they places where people superficially interact with one another? Are our prayer times simply a sick list or do they yearn for true koinonia, true fellowship with one another.
Purpose - One of my convictions lately has been that far too many churches, ministry leaders, and Christians are simply content to exist. They don't accomplish anything. They just exist, until they die. How can we expect to engage and influence when there's nothing we're aiming for, no reason for our existence other than to simply exist?
Truth - Our culture asks the same question that has been asked since Pilate stood with Jesus, "What is truth?" I believe our influence has waned over the years because of our reluctance to let the doubters push and dig about what we truly believe. We've settled for cliches or dismissive answers to the real issues of life: the problem of evil, the universal guilt of people, the emerging views of gender/marriage/sexuality. And rather than taking time to explore truth, we've embraced tribalism. The difference? Exploring truth seeks answers, tribalism stifles the journey.
I'm optimistic about the role of the Church and of ministry leaders. It won't look the same as it has in the past. We won't have the automatic credibility and influence of a generation or two ago. But when Jesus said "The fields are ripe for the harvest," He wasn't just talking about a cookie-cutter culture. Let's influence well, for the sake of the Kingdom.
The slogan of Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights was "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." This was something often repeated through the show to emphasize what it took to win. If we were to take the same concept and apply it to ministry leadership, it'd be "Thick Skin, Soft Heart, Can't Give Up."
Thick Skin - Leaders who accomplish anything will find themselves taking barbs. It's inevitable. In fact, if you want to avoid any criticism, the answer is simple: Do nothing. Nothing never leads to conflict. Nothing just leads to more nothing. As a leader, you can't allow those criticisms to get to you. You need thick skin to absorb and not allow critics math (see below) to take over. Leaders with thin skin take everything personally, obsess over each critical comment, or feel the need to respond or lash back.
Remember: the person who made the sharp comment to you more than likely moved on from it on their way to the parking lot.
Soft Heart - In ministry you're going to deal with the muddy mess. You'll have families falling apart, funerals, medical emergencies, spiritual crises, and requests for financial assistance. And in those moments we can't allow our hearts to become hard. It's the corollary to having thick skin. A soft heart is able to lead graciously, to shepherd well, and to respond with empathy to problems (even when they're self-inflicted).
Can't Give Up - Guys, don't give up. God called you. God sustains you. God will be with you. God has promised that He'll faithfully finish what He started in you. Don't give up. Don't look for greener grass somewhere else. Don't take the church as a mistress at the expense of your family. And don't give up. Keep a soft heart, you need it to love people through the mess. Keep thick skin, you need it to lead courageously. And you can't give up.
Today at my 1st graders school all the dads were invited to walk with their kids to class, and they had it all done up special for us. We had a check-in area where we got a treat and a sticker saying we were VIP's (Very Important Pops). We even got photographed for the school to post on social media and bulletin boards. Pretty cool way to start a Wednesday.
Dads, let's not ever undersell our importance to our kids. Let's never forget that the impact we have on them extends way beyond the years they're in our homes. It impacts their marriages, their children, their grandchildren, their careers, and most importantly their faith.
Far too often many of us lead our kids spiritually when the sticker is handed out. We bring them to church on Sunday, we give a semi-lukewarm blessing at dinnertime, and we look up from our phones or work or projects to answer questions with "That's really good, go ask your mother."
Dads, God has called us to something much greater. He's called us to shepherd our homes, to love our wives as Christ loves the church, and to raise our children to love God. That's more than something we can do while we wait for the sticker. That means it's something we commit to every day when we get up, that we'll be what God has called us to be.
1. Start by loving your wife (their mom) - If you want to display what it means to be the dad God wants you to be, it starts with your wife. Love her, serve her, cherish her, pursue her, date her, and show your kids why you married her. Jesus loves the Church enough to die for her, and that's the model of love we're expected to have for our wives.
3. Pursue authentic faith - You can't share what you don't have. That's why I'll never be my kids' basketball coach--me teaching them to make a jump shot would be a joke. And unless you're walking with Christ, seeking Him in the Word, passionately worshipping, and faithfully serving, don't expect your kids to do the same. They'll hear, but they won't see.
4. Show up - When you're home and engaged, be home and engaged. One thing I try to do is wrap up everything in the car, even if it means sitting in the driveway on one last phone call. That way I can drop my bag and invest and engage with the boys and Carrie. Emergencies happen, and crises will come, and sometimes you'll need 10 minutes to chill before playing Legos or helping with homework or talking about your day. Regardless, make sure you engage.
How else as a Dad can you make an eternal impact in your kids' lives?
The digital world was on fire this week after the release from CBMW of the Nashville Statement, which was written as a series of affirmations and denials of what Scripture teaches about marriage, gender, and sexuality. CBMW was founded and driven by the Danvers Statement (1987) that set the stage for the recent surge in complementarianism. Complementarianism is an understanding of biblical gender roles that sees men and women equal in value, dignity, worth, and as image bearers, but with different functions in the church & home.
When the Danvers statement was written, it was long before what we see today where gender identity is fluid, same-sex marriage has become not only legalized but normalized, and the "new tolerance" has created a culture largely unengaged with Danvers.
One of the criticisms of the Nashville Statement was the timing of its release. It was released while the nation was focused on Harvey and the images of destruction coming from Houston. For what it's worth, I agree the timing wasn't a good look. I'm sure it was set in place weeks before, but a week or two delay in light of the national landscape may have been wise. That said, I was happy to put my name on it as a signer. I don't believe the Nashville Statement has said anything new or clever - it's affirmed an almost unanimous understanding through church history of Scripture's view on marriage, gender, and sexuality.
But as pastors we don't deal with the abstractness of documents. We deal with the hurting hearts of people. Some who struggle with same-sex attraction, some who have family members who identify as a different gender, some who may not even agree with the affirmations and denials in the Nashville Statement. Now that it's been released, what shall we do? May I propose a few suggestions?
1. Listen Well - It can be very easy to be dismissive of those with whom we disagree. We don't have to read their tweet. We can roll our eyes at their concerns. But as shepherds, we must love people well enough to listen to them. We need to hear the fear and concern and hurt from those that find themselves wondering if God loves them, if we love them. It doesn't mean we agree with them, but we must display what one of my seminary professors called "Convictional Kindness."
2. Stand Firm - Where God has spoken, we must not back down. And God has spoken from the opening pages of Genesis what His design and delight are for us. He has spoken on gender, He has spoken on marriage, He has spoken on sex. And while there have been historical examples of misapplying Scripture to justify an evil (slavery, racism, eugenics, etc.), past mistakes do not automatically mean current convictions are wrong. God's design for marriage, gender, and sexuality is by nature good (Genesis 1-2), and because it is good it is for our best.
3. Love Hard - My heart broke as a former student of mine shared that he was gay. But what never changed, and never will, is my love for him and my prayer for him. We cannot love those whom we do not know, and we cannot know those whom we do not seek. Jesus did this, he came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He didn't wait on them, He went. And He loved. And He loved people enough to tell them "go and sin no more" (John 8:11). I'll never forget what the first pastor I served under said often, "God loves you just the way you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay there."
4. Avoid the Muck - The people who wrote the Nashville Statement are adults. They knew what they were doing. They also can defend themselves. They don't need us fighting their battles for them and slinging around on Twitter. Stay above the low hanging fruit on Twitter. Keep your eyes focused on what God's called you to - to lead, teach, serve, and love the people placed under your care.
5. Buckle Up - The backlash against the Nashville Statement has been swift and from multiple directions. Even conservative Christians have taken issue with some parts of it (especially Article 10 which implies an "all or nothing" understanding). The mayor of Nashville expressed her anger at the city being attached to the document, a community of artists called The Liturgists released a counter statement, Jonathan Merritt wrote a thoughtful piece for Religion News Service, and many of us have had our inboxes and social media hit with comments, questions, and backlash. Expect that to continue. Those who hold to a "biblical" view of marriage, gender, and sexuality are moving to a minority. Our voice will no longer be one from majority or tradition, but more as the prophet calling from the outside for the city to repent and return.
6. Keep the Gospel - The end goal isn't for people to be straight or identify by their biological gender. That's missing the point. The goal is for people around the world to treasure Christ. The Gospel is the main thing - that Christ came for sinners. That includes you and me. That includes the addict, the adulterer, the guy with a secret porn habit, the young adult who runs to dysfunctional relationships, the middle aged man who thinks his job is where his treasure is, and the senior citizen who thinks there's always going to be tomorrow. The Gospel sets us free. And it sets us free from whatever we might find ourselves enslaved by. If you want proof of what the power of the Gospel can do, check out Rosaria Butterfield's testimony sometime.
I love how Merritt ends his article, "Proclamations don’t shape history; people do."
He's right. And as shepherds and pastors, let's lead well to see people from every tribe, nation, and tongue treasuring and worshipping Christ as Lord.
Over the course of his entire career, NBA legend Larry Bird hit 649 3-pointers. Famous for being one of the most deadly long range shooters in the game, he was reported to have shown up to the 3-point contest and asked "Which one of you is coming in second?" For perspective, the 2016-17 Houston Rockets hit 1,181 3-pointers, breaking the 15-16 Warriors record of 1,077. The style, nature, pace, flow, and analysis of the game has completely changed. Bird's season high was 90 made 3-pointers, which would put him 8th just on the Rockets.
What can we take from an obscure basketball stat for churches and leadership? I believe the biggest takeaway is that growth and change are linked together. Churches that find themselves on the slow tick towards death are churches that aren't growing. They're also churches that are unwilling to embrace change. Not the superficial changes we usually think of, like music style or branding. But the philosophical, deeply-rooted change that affects a church's DNA.
I sat in a crowded room interviewing for a student ministry position when a question came from the back "What are you going to do to get our youth group back to the way it was?" My response was simple: "I'm not." What that person, and later I learned the entire church, wanted was to recapture the magic in the bottle that had happened 10-20 years before. They wanted to relive those glory days. But those days were long gone. The people who were part of that had moved on, the community had changed, the leadership had changed. But by trying to relive the glory days (including singing the exact same songs they had for 20 years) they couldn't see why their efforts weren't working.
Whenever there's growth, change will happen - You can't escape it, if you bring new people in they're going to have new backgrounds, new experiences, new baggage, new ideas, new gift sets, etc. One thing we're often too guilty of in churches is demanding that new members acquiesce to who we are, rather than adopt them into a family dynamic. When you start seeing young families attending, there will be an increased emphasis on next generation ministry. New leadership will bring their personalities and giftedness into their position. Most visible is the music ministry - It never ceases to amaze me that churches are aghast when worship leaders do things different than the previous guy, especially if there's an age gap between them.
Change is a two-way street - The other day I tried getting a shirt on one of my kids that they loved (and had picked out). When my wife came in she saw that the shirt was way too small. Rather than adjust to his growth, I tried making it work. A lot of churches, and leaders, do this when they fail to adapt to the rhythms of a local congregation. Leaders who try to replicate whatever they did in a previous assignment are no different than a toddler who tries to hammer the square peg into the round hole. Every context is different. So the nature of change has to work both ways. A leader has to be willing to embrace making adjustments and changes just as much as a congregation should. After a few weeks I had a church member approach me and ask why I didn't preach from the Bible. I was floored and said "Well I do, I keep it and all my notes on my iPad." Lovingly, he shared that it gave a bad impression, so the next week I made sure to have a Bible (and my iPad) on the platform. Something small like that made a big impression and was a big deal.
Superficial change is like painting a haunted house - Adding a new service, changing the name, rebranding the website, bringing in a new leader (I was once told by a church I know that the answer to all their problems was an extrovert in an associate role) are all good things. But they're not a silver bullet. Dumping all your resources into a new worship service when your facilities are falling apart isn't going to attract and retain new people. Adopting a cool name or a splashy website isn't going to fix a church's inward focus. I believe these kinds of visible changes are important (side note: your website is your front door, is it updated? What about your social media presence?), but they won't fix anything. They're means, not an end.
Lasting changes are slow and intentional - Lasting changes are those that outlast you, and hopefully extend several years. And the way to get there is to work slowly and work intentionally. Nothing meaningful ever happens overnight. It's a slow, daily, plodding process. It involves sharing the vision, rallying leadership, building support, and soaking everything in prayer. If you're familiar with John Kotter's Leading Change, you may have found it transferable but lacking something for ministry. That's why I love Them Rainer's Who Moved My Pulpit? I felt like it took the principles from Kotter and applied them specifically to ministry. The driving question behind any change is "Why?" If the change is rooted in a desire to advance the mission, magnify the Gospel, impact the community, remove distractions/barriers in worship, those are good reasons. But if it's about preference, style, something is annoying, you might want to tread slowly if at all.
Growth & change happen when you have an external focus - One of my favorite writers is Carey Nieuwhof, who challenged his readers with the question "Are we focusing more on who we want to reach or who we want to keep?" As we see our communities growing more disengaged with the Gospel or with the local church, we can either turn our focus inside or we can see ourselves as a beacon of light, of hope, of peace, of joy. If we focus inside, we'll build a nice community for ourselves by ourselves. But if we focus outside, we'll see stories of rescue, salvation, relationship repair, and more.
I like the sound of that.
Yesterday was our quarterly Membership Orientation, and I had one person there. On the surface, that'd be disappointing. Putting in time and effort to coordinate a meal, space, materials and resources is a lot of work. But beyond the surface, behind what's visible, is a really beautiful picture of ministry: one.
We lead one at a time. When you're sitting with a prospective member who's excited about what's going on, who has a love for the Lord, who has a desire to jump in and serve, it's a nice reminder that God's up to something all around us. So rather than seeing it as a "waste of time" I came away from that lunch excited about who God has been bringing to us, and the joy from hearing her testimony of God's work in her life. Coolest fact: she got saved at a Billy Graham crusade and found a church "because Billy said to find a church that preached the Bible."
We lead one at a time when we invest in a hurting family. I never believed in the "ministry of presence" until I became a pastor and made ICU and hospice visits. My training is in words, but more important was me being there. We're leading by loving, by serving, and by hurting with those families.
We lead one at a time when we disciple. I wish it worked like a factory, where we could mass produce disciples like Apple makes phones. But it's not mass produced, it's organic. That means you can only do it one at a time. I look back with gratitude at the guys who discipled me over the years. They gave their time and energy. And when we disciple others, we're leading them well.
We lead one at a time when we cast vision. Vision doesn't happen from the platform (although it's important to communicate regularly), it happens as we have conversations in the hallway, over lunch, on visits, and more. That's when we share what God's put on our hearts, how we've sensed His leadership in the church, and what the future can hold if we'd trust Him enough.
We lead one at a time when we're preaching/teaching. When you look out to the crowd, hopefully you don't just see faces. Hopefully you're seeing stories, people who need a word from God that morning, people who are longing for hope, who are teetering on a decision to follow Christ, or more. I'm not saying you tailor your message to Sally or Fred, but as you're preparing and something jumps out because you're dealing with a person or issue related to your passage, pray for wisdom and grace and boldness and compassion as you share. This past Sunday I spent some time sharing about letting anger go, knowing there were several who I'd talked with with long-reaching grudges or past hurts.
How else do you lead one at a time?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.