You can’t do this yourself.
David had his mighty men (I Chronicles 11). Jesus chose twelve men, “…that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons…” (f/Mark 3:13-15).
I’m assuming, for the moment, that you are a pastor.
If you’re not, you’re probably a Christian who cares about the vitality of your church and that makes you a prime candidate for being one of your church’s key leaders, whom I’ll be writing about today and next week.
If you’ve been reading this blog you know that the revitalization of your church is possible and you know that God has chosen you to lead this effort. To help you in this task, my last six posts have described six playsfrom a growing, revitalization playbook.
While I’m pretty adamant about beginning with the three scripted plays I wrote about first, the rest of the playbook is describing a number of strategies which God may choose you to turn to at the best possible time for your church.
But you still can’t do this alone. Or, at least, I don’t recommend it.
There is a lot of leadership that you can give to the congregation, as a whole, from the pulpit and the other leadership channels that God has given you: blogs, social media posts, emailed newsletters, congregational meetings, classes, Bible studies, small groups, committee meetings and personal conversations in the church foyer or the café that serves as your second office.
But you’re still going to be greatly aided in this project if you are surrounded by some folks, of both genders and all ages, who understand your congregation’s need for revitalization and are willing to help to make it happen. You need people who – as a former associate pastor and I used to say – “get it.”
Next week I’ll write about building a second tier (a second circle) of supporters: dedicated servants and enthusiasts for this wonderful task, but first things first.
The first thing is to do whatever you can do or need to do to get your inner circle of leaders, your leadership team, on board with this effort.
As I’m writing to the leaders of many styles and sizes of evangelical congregations, I’m going to be very broad with my terms. Your “leadership team” may consist of:
- A board, council, consistory, or even more than one of these groups
- A staff, which might be as small as a part-time associate or youth pastor and a part-time secretary/administrative assistant, or as large as a medium-sized church
- In my second paid pastorate, my “board” was one good man, bless his heart
Whatever your inner circle of leaders is called, you need these people on board with you if your revitalization effort is going to succeed.
The following are a few time-tested, hands-on methods and tips for achieving this important goal:
(1) You will need to understand who you leaders actually are. Ideally, your opinion leaders are the same people who have been duly chosen for official leadership positions. But if the real leaders in your flock are former office holders or the in-laws of office holders, you need to know this. Ask around. Listen carefully. God and your spouse will help you figure this out. In some congregations the current board members are proxies for the real leaders. You may need to spend serious time building relationships of trust with these folks. Treat them as respectfully as you can, without letting them think that they have legitimate veto power over the decisions of the actual church board – which they don’t.
(2) Understand that this process is going to take some time. If your congregation “gets it” and is anxious to get started with the revitalization process, you have walked into a “dream” situation. Wonderful! But this is not usually the case. Most pastors need to earn leadership coupons one at a time before they can start cashing them in. If you are new to your church, you may have been told that you would have a “mandate for change.” In many cases, this mandate was only in the minds of a couple of pastoral search team members.
(3) Understand that you probably won’t live long enough to achieve the ideal of enthusiastic unanimity among your church’s leaders. You will more than likely need to settle for substantial agreement/support and move forward.
(4) Do what you can to get the right leaders in the right leadership seats. Many churches have board/council/consistory members who were chosen for all the wrong reasons. They are, in most cases, good people serving in the wrong ministries. You may need to start “from scratch” by painstakingly teaching your congregation (in Sunday sermons) what church leaders and church leadership teams should look like.
Take heart again! Training or retraining church leaders will lead some good but misplaced and frustrated persons to quickly realize that board level leadership is the wrong way for them to serve. They will bow out graciously and enjoy serving outside the boardroom.
(5) Train or retrain your leaders to function as a unified, unifying, humble, meek, Spirit-led, courageous leadership team. I’ve found that most church board members have received little or no training for the task to which they have been assigned. Most are open to be trained by the pastor who demonstrates tact, respect, humility and understanding. We are blessed today with a number of good books to help us in training or re-training church boards. Some of them are very readable.
(6) Adapt yourself to make the revitalization training of your key leaders accessible.
- Use materials that are appropriate for your people and your church culture. You don’t need the “serious reads” that you would be studying with other pastors. Use books like Thom Rainer’s Autopsy Of A Deceased Church, or his Anatomy Of A Revived Church, or my own Heaven Help Our Church! (if your congregation is seriously troubled) or A Really Great Church! (which was written for small group use) or even this growing playbook of posts.
- Use different materials/formats for sessions with your board and staff, if necessary.
- Meet in times and places that “work” for your people. Don’t just announce what you’re going to do and expect everyone to conform. In seven interim pastorates I trained current and future leaders in seven different formats.
(7) Ask for permission rather than enthusiastic support for controversial proposals. Even skeptics will usually give a likable pastor permission to try something when it is sincerely and humbly requested.
(8) Ask for permission for time-limited experiments rather than permanent changes. “Let’s try a Thursday evening worship service option for one year.”
Pastors: Don’t try to do church revitalization alone. Take the time and effort to enlist your core leadership team to help you in this incredibly important task.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
- How serious is the need for revitalization in our church? Do we know where we are on the church lifecycle?
- How much of a mandate for change exists in our congregation? Does our church have a substantial number of leaders who desire revitalization or is it only one or two individuals?
- Do we have people on boards who would be much happier serving in other ways?
- Have our leaders been trained for their roles? Is there ongoing training?
- What kind of format (time, place, etc.) will work best for training/retraining of our leaders?