10 Transformative Lessons for Healthy Churches and Leaders

“When we have overlooked issues of character because of natural abilities or effectiveness, we have always paid a price.”

I recently rediscovered these “turning-point lessons” that emerged out of a strategic planning retreat of our New Life Fellowship staff team in 2010. At this point, the church was 22 years old. What struck me as I reread these is how timeless and relevant they are for today. The following are my edits and summary out of that discussion:

1. Character is more important than gifting.

Being is more important than doing. When we have overlooked issues of character because of anointing, effectiveness or natural abilities, we have always paid a price.

2. Do not rush.

When decisions were made quickly, without pausing to pray, think and process implications, we always experienced regrets. Seeing the Promised Land without carefully discerning God’s timing led us on detours and painful disciplining from God.

3. Be sure each leader takes responsibility for his or her growth and development.

Our world and church are constantly changing. Thus, every leader needs to be a lifelong learner—humble, curious and teachable. Without the hunger and discipline to make this a priority, the church will eventually outgrow them and their impact will be limited.

4. Take the needed time to develop and communicate clear vision.

Vision is a clear picture of a preferable future. Few things energize and unify people like a compelling vision. When this has been unclear—be it on a ministry or all-church level—it has resulted in confusion and stagnation.

5. Build into the culture sabbaticals for key leaders/staff.

Three- to four-month sabbaticals for our key staff has resulted in the release of rich fruit and significant new initiatives from God for New Life. It has provided time and space for them to hear God in fresh ways and retool for the next phase of their leadership journey.

6. Face the truth and act on it, even if it hurts.

When we have avoided difficult conversations and changes that were needed, we have paid for it dearly. We discovered that we cannot build the kingdom of God by pretending that something is working when it is not.

7. Enforce and be careful not to dilute your values.

When we have compromised on this, due to expediency, it has been costly, damaging our integrity and long-term effectiveness (e.g., who you are is more important than what you do). Declaring values is easy; living them is an entirely different matter. Why? It takes a lot of time, reflection and courage to reinforce them and keep them in the culture.

8. Be faithful to your “charism.”

By “charism,” I mean the grace from God that is unique to our local church. For example, commitment to reconciliation across race, culture, class and gender is at the core of our church. We can learn from other streams and ministries, but we need to be content with the unique DNA given to us from God.

9. Invest in the development of key people.

This has always borne rich fruit. Our strongest leaders have emerged out of this regular, intensive mentoring of the few. To skip this step has not worked, especially in the long-term. But taking the time to regularly strategize and implement a leadership-development pipeline has been key for us.

10. Take time to record and reflect on the hard lessons learned.

This is difficult to do because it requires that we talk about failures from a wide variety of angles, excavating all the mistakes made. And that is painful. Every time we did this, however, the hard lesson learned became a building block for the future of New Life. When we have failed to do this, we have simply repeated the same mistake at a later date.

If you were going to make a list of “turning-point lessons” in your particular ministry, what might they be?

Pete Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and the author of two best-selling books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church. This story was originally posted on Scazzero’s blog at EmotionallyHealthy.org.

Check out Outreach magazine’s interview with Scazzero, “Emotionally Healthy Leadership” »