As we head into a new year, are you feeling apathetic or energized in your leadership?
I recently overheard a few pastors talking shop.
Yes, I was eavesdropping.
From what I could discern, their churches have seen better days. Which is to be expected. Nearly every church could say the same. The last few years have wreaked havoc on churches, congregations, and pastors. Some churches have grown of late, but if we are honest, most of that growth is at the expense of another church’s decline.
One thing stuck out as I listened to these pastors talking about their churches and the future.
They weren’t all that concerned.
It was disconcerting to me to see their lack of concern. Why weren’t they more frustrated? Why weren’t they more disturbed?
Perhaps they are tired of being tired. I felt that at times during the 2020 – 2021 experience! Every decision I made satisfied half the congregation and the broader community. And staff! There were no easy moments. No time to kick back and relax. The past few years have been emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausting. And if you eat your feelings like I did, physically rough, too.
Or maybe these pastors were simply more faithful than others. Was their lack of concern spawned from their great faith? In fact, I heard one of the pastors say, “Well, Jesus did say ‘the gates of Hades will not overcome’ my church.“
They smiled, turned, and walked away, nodding their heads and shrugging their shoulders in agreement.
I know this is a bit sarcastic, and I didn’t do it, but I wanted to yell over and say, “God has never promised your specific church anything. Your church is not The Church!”
If these guys were right, why are all these churches closing?
Jesus’ movement — his ecclesia — will never be overcome, but your church certainly can.
We have tons of abandoned churches as evidence!
What bothered me was how these pastors seemed to equate laziness to great faith.
They just shrugged their shoulders and left the office at 3:00 p.m. They didn’t express any worry or distress. They certainly didn’t discuss any plans to change the trajectory of their current path.
They probably had a “God’s Got This” bumper sticker. But bumper-sticker theology doesn’t overpopulate heaven.
Lazy leaders don’t experience massive movements.
You never hear the story about the passive leader who launched a movement. Apathetic leaders don’t motivate or inspire people to grow and progress. Lazy leaders aren’t leading — they are lying down on the job.
Listen, if you lead a company and want to be lazy, go right ahead. If you lead your HOA, be as apathetic as your neighborhood will tolerate. If you lead a sports team, remain indifferent and lose all you want.
But come on. If you lead a church, you are leading the most important mission on the planet! How in the world can we accept this calling and be anything but passionate and dedicated to its success?
Our New Year’s Calling
“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” — Saint Augustine
This is the mantra I wish every church leader embraced. God is capable and ultimately responsible for his Church, but you are responsible for putting in the effort to best lead your church. God has never promised your specific church anything. Your church is not The Church.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been a bit lazy as a church leader. I get it. I’ve been there before, too.
Leading a church is perhaps the most challenging leadership endeavor in this world. The expectations are weighty, the help is often light, and they pay… I’ll leave that there.
If you’ve been beaten up and run down, it’s time to get back up and run again. Not to please your congregation, Elders, or community, but because we will pray as if we need God and work as if our mission matters.
How can you take the mission of your church more seriously next year?
Here are 5 decisions every church should make entering the New Year.
1. Decide that enough is enough.
The song Tubthumping by Chumbawamba goes like this: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down.” And then they say it again and again and again. This is basically the only lyric in the song.
I like their sentiment. It’s challenging to keep getting back up, especially after the years we’ve recently experienced. My question is this: “How long are we going to remain on the ground?”
Are you ready to get back up and rejoin the fight? And it’s a fight! We are fighting for marriages, children, justice, and the love of God. It’s time for pastors and church leaders to reengage in the fight to love and lead like Jesus.
2. Decide to love everyone — where they are and for who they are.
We don’t need more pastors and Christians fighting against eternity by choosing to fight for political influence, power, or selfish gain. We need pastors and churches full of believers willing to love people selflessly in the form and fashion of our Savior we claim to follow.
This doesn’t mean that we accept everything a person does, but it does mean we accept them. People are not the summation of behaviors. We must lean into conversations, not conviction, all while creating space for God to do the changing.
3. Decide to remodel your church model.
Even if your current congregants like things good and well the way they are!
Your church model was probably designed for a moment in time, and that moment has passed. Not to be harsh, but that’s what moments do. Most churches still operate their church, discipleship pathway, and services in the same essential fashion as in 1990. Some significant changes have occurred in our culture since then. Like the internet! And a global pandemic.
Current strategies are almost always created for past realities. It’s probably time you rethink how you do church.
This related post may help:
4. Decide to implement a better discipleship pathway.
It’s high time we started prioritizing spiritual progress over participation.
As a lead pastor for 13 years, I saw way too many people “participate” without making much, if any, spiritual progress. Participation isn’t discipleship.
Discipleship is about movement. Churches today must implement a discipleship pathway that offers plenty of on-ramps and incremental steps for everyone in the church.
5. Decide to reach people.
There was a time, say 15 or 20 years ago, when Christianity was cultural. This is a critical difference between our past communities and our current realities.
In the past, when people looked for hope or help, the local church was the answer. Or at least an answer. This is no longer true. Today, most unchurched, de-churched, and nonbelievers do not turn to the church for anything. Mostly because today, people do not automatically like or trust the church, pastors, or Christianity.
Reaching people today doesn’t begin with meeting needs. Millions of people living comfortably in gated communities seemingly have no “needs” that your church food drive will meet. We must back our church model up to engage strangers who don’t like us before we can offer solutions to felt needs.
Businesses have been doing this for decades. Maybe centuries. They call it a “Customer Journey.” Churches need to adopt this understanding to better reach and engage people who are more unreachable than ever before.
I wrote about this here: It’s Time for a New, Comprehensive Ministry Model.
Check it out and let me know if you’d like to see the Church Engagement Journey framework I’m implementing with churches today.
Let’s Do It!
Your mission is way too important to blow off. No organization should be more intentional, strategic, and focused on achieving its mission than the local church. No one!
What could happen in your community if your church decided your mission was this important? How would you lead differently? What risks would you take?
Let’s do it. Let’s decide that we are ready and willing to “pray as though everything depends on God, but work as though everything depended on us.”