Sometimes our success can be our own undoing. Oh-so-happy is the experience of the small, united church! Such congregations tend to grow spontaneously:
“Come and check out our wonderful little church! I think you’ll love it.”
And they do come, and they do love it, because we’re all looking for love, and this kind of church is the right place to find it.
So a pastor whose congregation is experiencing healthy growth put this question to me:
“I love the unity we have in our church right now. How can we maintain it as we continue to grow?”
Here are five answers I shared last week: (Read the full post here.)
(1) Don’t ever forget, for one day, that you are in a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:10-20). Someone powerful is out to destroy your church, especially if it’s effective at making disciples.
(2) Make sure you have a clear, simple, unifying dream for what you believe God wants your church to become or achieve.
(3) Do change wisely. This means that you make changes (1) at the right pace and (2) in the right way.
(4) Communicate change lavishly. For that matter, communicate everything
(5) Maintain personal relationships among your leaders as if they are all-important. And don’t think that you can skip this.
Here are three more answers to my friend’s great question:
(6) Use orientation sessions and membership classes to clarify “what your church is about.” Do not assume that because new attendees seem to like what they’re seeing on Sunday mornings that they’re going to be a good fit for your church.
Depending on the size of your congregation and the rate of growth, use monthly or quarterly, Sunday noon, orientation (“Pizza with the Pastor”) sessions to help newbies grasp the “flavor” of your church quickly.
And don’t skimp on membership classes (even if you don’t have membership). Make them thorough and make sure that you deal with the hot button issues that your church regularly faces. Many pastors have learned the hard way that it’s better for folks who are a poor fit to leave sooner rather than later.
(7) Master humility early. This is tongue-in-cheek of course, for nobody masters humility. It’s a bitter pill for perfectionists to swallow but my point is that you’re going to make mistakes. The best pastor with the best board will make mistakes. All the Apostles did. Be glad that nobody’s documenting your mistakes in the Bible.
Here’s how this can look: Even if you seek the leadership of the Spirit of God passionately, you can expect that, on occasion, you will “mis-hear” heaven and do the wrong thing or the right thing at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Be ready for this. Be open to correction. Admitting it to the church will keep good people from leaving and, in fact, endear you to them, since humility among leaders is so rare.
I wish I had known this thirty years ago.
(8) Pray on your knees (spiritually, if not physically), as a leadership team, for God’s guidance.
The Acts Of The Apostles depicts a young Christian Church which was actively, dynamically, led by God’s Spirit. I’m not suggesting that every decision by the leaders of every congregation was guided by special revelation from the Third Person of the Triune God. But my reading of Luke’s wonderful book certainly describes a Church which was looking for regular, meaningful guidance from God.
Did the Holy Spirit retire at the end of the first century AD or when the Biblical canon was completed? There’s no evidence that He did.
Egoless Elders, by Michael Cannon Loehrer, makes the case that groups of mature but imperfect men can put aside their own selfish agendas and truly hear from God. The book leaves you with the picture of a group of church leaders – desperate to know and do God’s will – waiting on the Lord (which means praying with patience, not deadlines), genuinely receiving their marching orders from God.
Will such a wonderful practice lead to perfect unity in a growing church? Probably not, for it certainly didn’t in the first century. But I can tell you from experience that leadership teams which do this enjoy a confidence and unity among themselves which goes a long way toward reproducing that confidence and unity in their congregations.
Next week: More ways to maintain unity in a growing church.