What I Am Learning

We sat down with a few Outreach 100 pastors to discuss their observations about leadership, their ministries and their personal experiences leading through adversity. For this special issue, they shared insights on everything from dealing with discouragement, to serving in church leadership over the last couple of years, to discipling online attendees. Join us for this enlightening conversation.

“I have recommitted to saying what the Bible says—no more, no less.”

Senior Pastor
Eastview Christian Church
Normal, Illinois

I have felt the discouragement of unwarranted criticism, the pain of critical staff and church members, and the weight of leading while exhausted. I have imperfectly walked through these times by focusing more on my relationship and calling with God, and tightening and deepening my inner circle of influence. I have found that [hearing from a small number of] trusted and spiritually minded voices has served me best, especially during times when I wondered if I was missing something. 

Even after investing countless hours, prayers and ministry experiences in some people’s lives, I was shocked to discover that they quickly gave up on our church or me over seemingly minor issues. Early on, I drove myself crazy trying to figure out what I had done wrong and how I could keep this from happening again. This reality has retaught me to lead through conviction and not what may seem popular or trendy.

I naturally am a shepherding pastor, but sometimes I wonder if I have a leadership bone in my body. However, my closest pastor friends are strong in organizational leadership. Just spending time with them helps me understand and articulate our differences. This interaction spurs me on to growth in ways that I can’t describe. 

To lead well, I have to balance the pain of people hating me (or at least disliking me based on what I teach) and people speaking well of me. This is attitudinal on my part. I try not to heed the criticism or seek the praise.  

I have recommitted to saying what the Bible says—no more, no less. This new spiritual tightrope has made me a better preacher and pastor. Since headlines are constant, and nondivisive cultural verbiage is hard to find, I stick closer to the words I know represent Jesus as taught in the Bible. This often makes people on both sides of whatever issue equally upset with me, but I figure that’s a good place to be these days.

We are working hard at creating a known membership list for our online community. We still count devices and attach a multiplier to get a weekly online attendance, and we believe that number still matters, but the number we are hoping to grow is those who will identify themselves as a member of our online community. Once someone lets us know that they are a member, we follow up with them for online groups, serving opportunities, spiritual decisions, prayer, giving and growth. We hope to grow this online membership to 1,000 in the next two years. Along with this effort, a great tool has been a simple “Text ‘hello’ to the number on your screen.” This is an instant way to help people take the next step of their journey.  

What are we excited about? In the fall, we are launching “Love McLean County,” an organic movement of our people to love and serve everyone in every place in every neighborhood in our county. We also are focusing on what we call “Witness 3” where thousands of members pray daily for three names, identify three places as their mission field and make three invitations of some kind to the three people they are praying for. 

Website: Eastview.church
Founded: 1955
Affiliation: Independent Christian Churches
Locations: 2

“Too many pastors are going it alone.”

Canvas Church
Kalispell, Montana

I have talked with many pastors who feel burned out. Unfortunately, I was often speaking to them too late in the process. I wish I could have talked with them along the way, because I believe that is the key. Too many pastors are going it alone, so they feel alone. The truth is they are not as alone as they feel. If they would reach out to a few other pastors and simply ask, “Hey, how are you doing?” they would be surprised at how encouraged they would become. It is almost as if God knew it was not good for man to be alone.

During the pandemic, one lesson that surprised me—and disappointed me—was how quickly church-attending people allowed fear to make them rude, arrogant and mean. They acted more like citizens of Earth than citizens of heaven. 

Shepherds are often so focused on the sheep that they never look around to see where they should lead the sheep. Sometimes a leader must take their eyes off the sheep so they can determine the direction they must lead. I believe the leader’s job is to take the people where they do not know they want to go, but when they get there, they are happy they arrived. The only way to do that is to have a vision of where you want to take them.

When leading during a time of division, I spend more time preaching about the things that unite us than divide us. I focus on Jesus—his mission, love, compassion, grace and mercy. I genuinely believe the things that unite us are much stronger than those that divide us. And they last much longer than a 24-hour news cycle.

We do our best to get some kind of connection information from our online visitors. Then we communicate with them outside the time they were watching. It could be an email, text, direct message or sometimes even a phone call. The goal is to connect with them outside the typical online gathering to encourage them to engage in other ways.

This year we have created several retreats to help people engage due to the felt need to connect again. We started stage-of-life three-day retreats (for example, a retreat for young marrieds, one for empty nesters, one for singles, etc.) It is incredible how people have invited their friends and made connections within the church.

Website: Canvas.church
Founded: 1929
Affiliation: Assemblies of God
Locations: 4

I don’t think we are as polarized as we are made to believe.

Lead Pastor
Lifepoint Church
Lewis Center, Ohio

During discouraging times, I’ve leaned into my personal relationship with God. I’ve also leaned into my marriage and longer-term relationships with friends as well as talked with a counselor. I land more on the introverted side, but I’ve found that I needed to talk more than I realized. I believe we will look back at these days and see this season as one of the most critical in God’s kingdom influence growing in our country and world. It’s been a difficult season, but our world needs the kingdom and local church, as much as (if not more than) ever. 

Everyone knows the axiom “The only constant in life is change.” However, the pandemic seemingly put trends into hyperdrive. Things that could have taken a decade of cultural change instead happened overnight. It required us to adjust our cultural missiology.

We are all spiritually gifted, supernaturally empowered to act and react as parts of the body. We are not supernaturally gifted in every area; however, a lack of spiritual gifting does not exempt the body from a full expression of the gifts. Pastors must lead with teams that help express the breadth of the gifts.

I don’t think we are as polarized as we are made to believe. Less than a quarter (23%) of U.S. adults use Twitter. However, the extremes on that platform are loud, so we assume that’s how everyone thinks. We are finding more and more that people want to practice the “one another” passages of Scripture, instead of hearing more of the same warring information at weekend services that they hear via common news/social media platforms.

When it comes to discipling online attendees, the best things we have done online are life groups. These groups are for those who must connect virtually. We also provide parents with children’s curriculum to help with discipleship in a family context. 

Each of our life groups is connected to a local ministry partner. We are encouraged about engaging our community by supporting these ministry partners that already exist to make a difference. Also, we have a growing number of rural churches in our network that are without pastoral leadership. We are excited about thinking through how we can help them in transitional moments to reach their local communities.

Website: LifepointOhio.com
Founded: 2004
Affiliation: Southern Baptist
Locations: 5

“We were not going to let geography determine who we would disciple.” 

Lead Pastor
The Church of Eleven22
Jacksonville, Florida

The last three years have been some of the toughest years of ministry that I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve been in ministry for over 30 years. A couple of things have helped me a lot. One is that I have a wife that loves me and supports me like crazy. Second, I have elders who look out for me and help me to live in healthy rhythms so that the tank doesn’t get too empty. They step in before it does, so that I’m able to rest and refuel. Part of how I have dealt with discouraging times is being really honest about them. You need actual friends around you. 

If I were sitting across the table from a pastor who wanted to quit, I’d tell them that the only way you can quit is if Jesus allows you to be done with that season. If he has called you into it and you are a follower of him and he is your Lord, then you do what he tells you to do. Now, you may need a change of environment; you may even need a different role. But you have to do what Jesus tells you to do. 

I have been surprised at how many folks at our church were just casual attendees, not really discovering and deepening a relationship with Jesus Christ. They helped me realize that no matter what you do as a leader, it’s always a Three Bears scenario. For some people it’s going to be too much, for some people it’s going to be not enough, and for some people it’s going to be just right. So, I think the best advice for leadership is what Mary tells the servants at the wedding at Cana. She points to Jesus and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” So, you just do that, and whoever decides to come with you, they come with you. 

You can’t “one another” one another if you’re not with one another. During the pandemic, I was reminded how important worshiping, gathering with the saints, sitting under the teaching of the Word of God, and participating together in whatever liturgy your church has can be for the people of God. So when we gather at our church, we know it’s a supernatural event where heaven meets Earth. 

The gospel is what we’re unified under, not our takes or sides of issues. A part of the reason it’s so important to be together is so that people with different issues can love one another and get along. The further away you are from an issue, the simpler the solution seems. But when we are with one another, praying for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, then we begin to see the complexity of these issues. But I am a pastor not a politician, so I’m not trying to get people’s approval or win any kind of popularity contest. I’m just trying to lead the way Christ has called me to lead, and then whoever wants to be a part of that can come along with us to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish.

We live in a world where everybody wants to be a cowboy, but Jesus calls us to be shepherds. Cowboys count numbers; shepherds know their sheep. Cowboys fatten the cattle so they can make more when they sell them; shepherds feed the sheep. Cowboys get in the back and push; shepherds go first. Maybe the scariest example in ministry is cowboys love being cowboys; shepherds love the sheep.

I would look at Jesus’ leadership and obviously try to model the way we lead after him. I would also free people up to understand that the church is made up of one body with many different parts. You may not have a shepherding gift and a classic leadership/administration/CEO kind of gift, and that is no problem. Just bring some people around you that can help you do whatever Jesus has called you to do.

We had an online presence, but we really throttled down during COVID-19. Our digital footprint has grown exponentially. I just decided that we were not going to let geography determine who we would disciple. We can go so slower with ecclesiological debates about what the church is and what our responsibility to folks online might be. 

What has worked for us is understanding that our online audience is not monolithic. There are some people who are looking for a church, so they check us out online. There is a whole bunch who would consider Eleven22 their home, but they’re not in the room with us for whatever reason. I think there are people that are covenant members of churches all over the country, and they use our online resources as a supplement to their discipleship journey. And then there are some people that no one else is discipling, and they ask us if we’ll disciple them. When we think about it in those different lanes, it helps us in regard to what next step we’re asking people to take. And discipleship ultimately is that—what’s my next step of obedience?

We have an initiative that we have been working on for almost a year and a half that we are going to roll out this fall. It’s called “The 10:10 Life,” which is rooted in John 10:10. We asked ourselves, “What would it look like for our church not to just be pro-birth, but to be pro-life from womb to tomb?” It turns out it involves fighting for the unborn, foster care, adoption, fighting against human trafficking, partnering with first responders, and mental health and suicide prevention care. We also will continue to work with Compassion International to rescue children from poverty, to roll out the red carpet for families with special needs, to help adults with special needs find meaningful work and to start a senior adult ministry at our church. We’re going to read our Bibles and do whatever Jesus tells us to do in regards to loving people from womb to tomb.

Website: COE22.com
Founded: 2012
Affiliation: Nondenominational
Locations: 8