Here are some of the tough lessons I learned along the way as I led an established church through a season of change.
I want to share some things I learned in helping revive a church. I’ve shared these many times in conferences, but I haven’t yet shared them here.
I would always say at conferences to begin something like, “Let me get this out of the way first. I’m not using a lot of Scripture here. Of course we bathe everything in prayer. Of course we follow God’s lead. There are things, however, God gives us freedom and a mind for us to figure out on our own. He let Adam name the animals. There are issues we face everyday not spelled out clearly in Scripture. Something tells me your church hands out bulletins. Your parking lot is likely striped. Which chapter and verse taught you to do this?”
(So, I share it here in case you need that disclaimer also.)
10 THINGS I LEARNED LEADING IN CHURCH REVITALIZATION:
1. You Have to Learn to Prioritize and Manage Your Time.
“Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” —Ephesians 5:15–16
You can’t do everything or be everywhere. Let me say that again. You can’t do everything or be everywhere. This doesn’t ignore the expectation placed on you, but it does recognize your limitations. The quickest way to burnout and ineffectiveness is to ignore this one.
Limit wasting your energy. You have only so much and it spends so fast. You’ll have to ignore a few things to do the very best things. Usually the most energy will be in a few key places at a time. Never fail to capitalize on those important moments in time. (I tried to have no more than 3–5 objectives at any time.)
I realize Jesus took interruptions readily, but he didn’t heal everyone. And, he seemed very focused on the mission he was called to complete. Every week needs a grid of sorts of what you’re attempting to do. Interruptions will come. Be ready for them, because you’ve already prioritized and managed your time.
2. Build Healthy Staffs And Teams—Paid And/Or Volunteer.
You can’t do it alone. Learn to delegate. Read Acts 6 and Jethro’s encouragement to Moses. I’ve learned pastors don’t delegate for three reasons—pride, selfishness or ignorance. If you want to grow a church and make disciples, especially long term, you’ll need to surround yourself with healthy people who build a healthy team environment.
One thing I did micro-manage (and I hate micro-management as a rule) was hiring or adding to the team—especially in the early days. We were looking to change the culture and the best way to do that is with the right people. I’ve learned committees don’t work as well here. (And, I realize that won’t work in every church setting, but this is where I applied my best leadership and administered change.) And if you have the wrong people, address it now.
Churches are notorious for keeping bad people in the name of grace, but where is truth in this? (Jesus came full of both.) I always try to remember—if you’re paying the person—to think of the widow’s mite. That offering is helping pay the person’s salary. And this is true—and even harder sometimes—with volunteer leadership. But, you can ruin a lot of good opportunities and momentum with the wrong people in charge. Again, not saying it’s easy, but it is necessary for leadership to address.
3. Embrace Your Community—Maybe Embrace It Again.
Jeremiah 29:7 says, “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.” Most churches once served the community, but in the days of “build the program and they will come” many churches began to do everything in the building and neglected to get outside the walls of the church.
I think leadership should lead the way. Serve somewhere in the community, besides your church. I think this is critical in community building, but also simply the right thing to do.
As pastors, we expect people from the community to serve in the church. It’s only fair for us to give back to the community that is giving to us. And serving the community will help build the recognition of your church (for kingdom purposes) better than just about anything.
4. Embrace Change and Encourage Innovation—Even When It’s Uncomfortable.
Momentum is spurred by what’s new—by change. You have to live in the tension of change if you want to experience renewal and growth. Change is never popular with everyone, but when you resist it, you are resisting the opportunity to grow. More of the same may be more comfortable, but it seldom produces the excitement necessary for growth (or healing for that matter).
5. Recognize the Sense of Loss in Change.
It’s the number one reason change is resisted. Don’t ignore or underestimate how big of a deal change is to some people. I’ve written before—and put in my book The Mythical Leader—about seven common emotions to change. They are fear, grief, enthusiasm, confusion, loneliness, sadness and numbness. Identify with people’s emotions during the process of change. It’s strategic on your part. It’s also the right thing to do. When people believe you genuinely understand their pain they are often less resistant to change.
6. Don’t Neglect the Past While Building the Future.
This is huge. Perhaps one of the biggest. My phrase is “Rediscover. Don’t reinvent.” It’s arrogant to think you have all the answers. It pushes people into a corner and make them defensive. I spent lots of time in our history room. (I joked that after six months they trusted me with my own key.) I learned our church had a history of innovation, overcoming and bold moves of faith. I could then ask: How can we do that again? By the way, in discovering the past, there may be sins of the past that need to be repented of before you can recover.
7. Make Hard Decisions and Don’t Shy Away From Conflict.
Don’t be naive. As exciting as things can be, not everyone will be excited about it. If you are going to achieve the vision, you’ll have to be willing to stand the test of time. That won’t be easy. With some decisions you make you’ll be choosing between those who buy into the vision and those who do not. You’ll even be determining who sits in your church the next week.
The first three years I asked my wife not to come to business meetings. They were often tense—and that’s putting it mildly. But, if you want to recover, be willing to make the hard decisions and you’ll keep the church open to the idea of growth.
Don’t let a few critics determine your self worth. You’ll have critics—make no mistake about it—and some aren’t very nice in how they offer it (THEY SEND EMAILS IN ALL CAPS.). Even when everyone knows the changes are needed, there will be resistance. And there will be angry people. And when people are angry they say and do things they may not do otherwise.
But here’s what you need to know. If God called you to it you can be assured there are usually more supporters than detractors. The detractors just often have stronger vocal chords.
8. Seek Your Affirmation Among the People God Sent You to Minister to.
You’ll, many times, feel underappreciated. You may not feel you’re doing any good. You’ll second-guess yourself and your calling.
When those days come, get back into helping the hurting people, the work, whatever it is God called you to. Be recharged by the mission—something tells me that’s to reach people far from God, help people grow in their walk with Christ and make disciples. Some people weren’t pleased with Jesus. What makes you think they’ll be pleased with you?
9. Love the People Even When You Don’t Love Everything About the Church.
You may not like some of the structures of the church or the processes you have to go through to make change. But you must love the people. And, loving the people will help you lead the transitions you need to make.
Years ago, God convicted me that if I focus most on loving him, that loving people in any church, any city or any setting will be easy for me. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbor. But love God first.
10. Refuel Often; Protect Your Soul.
I found the more we were growing and the more change was occurring, the more I had to get away and regain perspective. I had to renew and recharge. Sometimes even re-engage with the vision.
I can’t lead for growth if I’m drowning in the demands of the present. Church can be brutal. Established churches will eat your calendar. Establish early on—or as soon as you can going forward—that your family comes first. No one is going to protect your soul for you, or your family. Protect what will be there even after the church.
Again, I hope this helps. I really do love you, pastor, and your church.
This article originally appeared on RonEdmondson.com.