POINT OF THE POST...
Leaders spend so much time thinking about what they can DO to make things better, but they rarely consider what they should stop doing. This post gives leaders 5 things to stop doing.
In which direction are your dashboards trending?
If you’re like most churches, I suspect the charts are somewhat all over the place. There may be some good news, some mediocre news, and probably a bit of bad news, too.
While working on my doctorate in church revitalization, I read a LOT of books on the state of the church. It was a depressing degree! Most of my reading was in 2019 and early 2020. And nearly everything I read painted a declining picture of the church.
So…yikes. All the metrics and stats and research I saw were pre-pandemic.
It’s impossible to fully know the state of the church this soon after all the mass shutdowns, quarantines, and restarts. Still, we can all confidently say most macro trends aren’t great.
We can’t change what happened or how people behaved over the past few years or control the choices people make today. But we can work within the culture to recapture the heads, hearts, and hands of people in our communities. Rather than working against culture, we must find a path to work with it.
How can we reverse the negative trends, encourage people to reconsider faith, and inspire people to engage in the life and mission of our church?
As far as I can tell, we first need to make a “stop doing” list.
I’m working with a lot of pastors and church leaders these days. Like you, everyone is working hard to move their church mission forward. Seeing so many churches of different sizes, denominations, and locations reminds us how easily we can get in our own way.
We all need a “stop doing list.”
Your “stop doing” list may look slightly different, but let me give you a few “stop doing” suggestions:
1. STOP Leading in Fear
You are called to pastor, which is a combination of shepherding and leading. I don’t know how to say this more kindly, so here it is: If you’re not pressing the organization forward, you’re not leading.
It’s been said, “If at least one person isn’t upset, you’re not leading.” That may be true. I don’t know. I’ve spent most of my life leading and had plenty of people upset. But for the most part, they weren’t upset with me, but with the perceived destination they felt we were heading to.
I do know this: You can’t lead afraid. If you want to lead, you’ve got to direct. Leaders must make decisions, point toward a preferable future, cast vision, and take the necessary steps to get there.
When I see a leader stuck in fear, my first question, asked with great compassion, is this: “What are you most afraid of? Leading and potentially making a mistake, or not leading and seeing the entire organization deteriorate?”
QUICK NOTE: I understand the challenge of leadership. I led it in the marketplace and in ministry. I created a leadership course that you may find helpful. Check it out HERE.
2. STOP trying to Keep People
I recently heard an interview with Senior Pastor and Exponential CEO Dave Ferguson and evangelism expert Dr. Rick Richardson. You can watch it here.
One element of Dr. Richardson’s research was around thriving churches and their disposition to reach people. In his estimation, becoming insider-focused is the death nail for a local church.
I agree. Church LEADERS don’t focus on keeping people but on reaching people. In comparison, church MANAGERS focus on maintaining who is already here. I don’t mean to suggest that you should completely ignore your congregation, but I do mean you must lead your church to both evangelize and edify.
This is one reason so many churches have not, and will not, recover from the 2020 and 2021 pandemic crisis. I heard it constantly! “We need to get our people back!” That’s a dangerous pursuit. Trying to get people “back” is akin to “keeping” people. If people aren’t coming back, let’s treat them as de-churched or unchurched and work to reach them…again.
3. STOP confusing theology and strategy.
This is a HUGE issue for pastors and church leaders.
Theology defines our beliefs. Strategy determines our organizational systems, processes, and plans.
They are not the same. They are connected in that your theology should inform your strategy, but they are different. And they should not be treated the same.
Think of it this way. For most churches, theology defines your mission and values. But what you hope to do (mission) can only happen when we clearly define and deliver how we plan to do it (strategy).
Jesus understood this. You see it in the Great Commission. What did Jesus want the Disciples to do? Make disciples. How were they to do it? Go to all nations and teach. Teaching application was the strategy for making disciples.
Your church is defined by your mission, but a practical and tactical strategy must drive your organization.
I cannot overemphasize how critical a clear strategy is to your church and community. And btw, hope isn’t a strategy. And neither is waiting for God to intervene and cause the revival. We should “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” — Saint Augustine
“Working” means designing and implementing a strategy that best executes your theology.
One more thing: God seems to agree, too. Remember why he recruited Paul! The Disciples hadn’t left the neighborhood, so he got a leader and strategist!
4. STOP attempting to Control Everything.
Growing churches come with growing complexity. In an effort to control, leaders often attempt to wrap their hands back around the organization that was once just a tiny startup. When leaders behave in this fashion, the organization stagnates and eventually chokes on the leader’s control.
If you hope to control the organization, you’ve already determined the size of your reach and the scale of your mission. You’ll never grow beyond your ability to manage everything alone. I don’t know a single church leader dreaming of a church small enough to be managed alone. That’s not how you overpopulate heaven.
Learning to delegate is a significant first step away from control. You can read some about that here: The Five Steps of Effective Delegation
I also dedicated a module in my Leadership Toolbox Course to delegation.
5. STOP believing the old way will work in our new time.
If your church has plateaued or is declining, you probably feel it’s time to change something. Deciphering what needs to change is the easy part, though. It’s leading the change that stumps us.
Why do you procrastinate change? We all know that nothing improves on its own. We must lead the charge to change. So why don’t we do it more willingly?
That’s a loaded question, huh? I guess most leaders procrastinate change because they realize the consequences of the endeavor.
Let me give you an example from a current client. This church is good with the potential to be great. They have all the resources (funding, building, staff) to reach their community and grow their congregation. But things are declining. They need to update their ministry model to better reach the current culture and surrounding community. We all know this is challenging. But, the most difficult aspect of the change thus far is the resistance from a few key volunteers, a handful of elders, and even some staff.
The resistance isn’t mean-spirited. From what I can tell, it is primarily founded on a fear of the future and some loss of the past.
I’ve written about this extensively already, so I won’t rehash it again. But the fear of future unknowns and loss of what has been well-known creates a strong resistance to change.
Knowing that people will be problems to solve during the change process makes procrastination an easy choice. Organizational and/or ministry model changes bring new opportunities, strategies, plans, job descriptions, staff positions, and more. The greater the change, the more room for unknowns and the bigger the loss.
But leading people through the process of change is a critical skill for a leader. That’s why I included it as a module in my Your Leadership Toolbox Course.
We can’t keep procrastinating what must be done. Every day that passes without us adapting to new situations and community circumstances is another day that allows the irrelevance gap to grow.
Some Additional Change Resources:
- Leading Change and Transition
- 7 Questions to Determine If Your Ministry Model Needs to Change
- The Organizational Habit Working Against Change
Make Your Stop Doing List
That’s five potential items for your list. What else is holding you back? Here’s a bigger question: What’s keeping you and your organization from thriving? It’s not the culture or style preferences or anything external. The rope is tied to something in you. So get it out by stopping the leadership behavior.