With thousands of churches plateaued or in decline, many of which are aging with the future growing more ominous each day, I’ve been searching for simple and powerful steps in a new direction. Many struggling churches are overwhelmed by a culture of “can’t.” They hear the ideas that turn around other congregations, but find most of these beyond their current abilities, resources, and people. There has to be a “can” out there with every church’s name on it.
Suppose there were just two things that everyone in the church could do that would make all the difference. Would that interest you? I am convinced that those two things exist. In fact, here’s how it works–there are two things the pastor must do; and two things the people of the congregation must do; and two things the pastor and people can do together that will create momentum in a new direction.
Let’s start with the pastor’s two things…
1. The pastor must commit to grow himself.
One of the truths I learned as a pastor is that if you don’t have a strategy for growing yourself, no one will bring you one. Fact is, nobody will grow you but you. So every pastor must create a strategy for developing himself to be more effective and knowledgeable about the work of ministry.
Many years ago when I was settling into my first full-time ministry role, a deacon stopped by my office with a challenge. He encouraged me to commit to read one book a week. Now, I love to read so the challenge resonated with me. I said “yes” and told him I would report to him each Sunday with the title of the book I had read that week. He said, “no.” He told me that he would be able to tell if I was reading by listening to me preach and watching my ministry. I realize now how profound that was. Since that day in 1986, I have read at least 50 books each year and believe my life has been greatly enhanced by that man’s recommendation.
Now, not everyone is a reader or wants to read at that kind of pace, but each of us can take charge of our development.
- Video learning is available to the visual learner.
- Books and magazines can help the reader.
- Podcasts are the way the auditory person makes it work.
- Enrolling in a class can help me grow and provides some good accountability.
Somehow…build a strategy for learning and growing yourself.
I have scheduled three learning times in my day–morning, afternoon, and evening. Typically I have a different book waiting for me every time I can steal a few minutes during these parts of the day. Most days, I get to the office 30 minutes early for my morning growth, take an hour in the afternoon when my mind needs recharging to open my afternoon book, and keep a book handy in the evenings. I’ve found that “vegging out” with a book is far better than the TV. Of course, every day doesn’t allow me to spend time with all three such moments, but having a plan means I get there more often than not.
Here’s the bottom-line: If you’re growing, what you touch will grow too.
I learned early on that the people who are following my leadership can’t grow past me. If they do, they won’t be following me anymore. I also learned that when I’m growing, the world around me looks and smells better. Fact is, a growing leader more naturally grows the people around him/her. I’ve been at this ministry leadership thing for nearly three decades now and I am fully convinced that nothing affects my ministry effort nearly as much as my own personal growth.
Build a plan and do it today! If you’re not sure where to start, contact a trusted friend or mentor and gain their help. If you don’t make time to grow, you’re church will never have time to be healthy. If you want to discuss this topic with me, I’ll be glad to share more about the steps I’ve taken toward this critical priority. (Email me at [email protected] .)
2. Every pastor needs a strong team.
To have one, the pastor needs to start building that team now! A strong leadership team gives the church and the pastor the people resources to begin expanding healthy ministry. Also, a strong team provides the support and encouragement a pastor needs to be able to do his part effectively.
Perhaps the two most common ways pastors resist this idea are these:
1. The pastor says, “I already have a good team.”
First, that’s good to hear! But there’s a difference between having a good team and building a strong one. Are you growing your team? Do you have a plan for increasing their capacity through discipleship and leadership training. Are the members of your team growing because they are on your team?
Taking this step starts with planning learning time into every team meeting. If your team is a pastoral staff or group of deacons, spend the first 30 minutes of every staff or deacon meeting in learning mode. One way to do this is to read a book together. Give each team member a copy of an important book and spend those thirty minutes discussing a chapter each month. Or perhaps you can watch a video series together. Don’t preach another message at them, but be sure to engage them in learning through discussion.
As we said last time, if you’re growing, everything around you can grow too. The same is true for the members of your team. Because they are connected to you, they should be growing in ways that affect their entire lives. Invest in them and your influence as a leader in their lives will grow. And as you do, their capacity will increase.
2. Resistance comes from the pastor who says, “I don’t have anyone to work with.”
Then start small. Choose two or three individuals that support you and start growing them. Meet over a book for coffee or lunch. Start growing someone as you grow yourself. If you don’t have a team, don’t wait any longer to start building one. This effort will impact your church’s health more than any program you can establish or sermon series you’ll preach.
Find a few to invest in. That’s what Jesus did, and through sacrifice and much effort, He built a team that became world-changers.
A few years ago, I met a pastor who is building a team of teenagers. These are the people he has to work with so he’s not letting their age keep him from growing their leadership capacity. No matter where you are, you can start somewhere.
The pastor has two steps only he can take in establishing a healthy church – growing himself and building a strong team.
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