by Bob Whitesel, Biblical Leadership Magazine. 12/6/21
During the pandemic more worship services, including holiday events, have moved outside. And while the novelty of this has attracted some, should these outdoor venues continue after the pandemic?
I believe they should for three reasons.
First, the outdoor venue allows people to experience worship from their cars, which can be important for physically challenged people.
Robert Schuller tells a story that changed my view of drive-in worship. It seems that early in his church-planting career in Garden Grove, Calif., he was unable to find a suitable location to hold their worship service. So, on a temporary basis, they used a drive-in movie theater.
Of course, the novelty of a “drive-in church,” coupled with the image of car-crazy Californians, led to national media attention. As a result, more people began visiting the church and the church grew.
But the drive-in theater location was only meant to be temporary. Once they had enough money, Schuller and his team intended to build a traditional church building, without drive-in options.
But then a woman from the church contacted Schuller. She explained how her physical disabilities made it hard for her enter a church building and be comfortable. Even if she was able to enter, uncomfortable stares from ushers and congregants gave her less than a peaceful experience.
She explained to Schuller that she was like a full participant in drive-in worship. And she asked them to continue a drive-in option with the new church building. Schuller’s mission statement had been “find a need and fill it.” And with the drive-in option, they had stumbled across an under-reached people group: those with physical challenges.
In response, their new facility (and every other worship facility Garden Grove Community Church built) offered a “drive-in option.” Drive-in options are not needed because they are unique, but because they can connect with an underserved, physically challenged community.
Second, the outdoor venue allows people who are susceptible to illness to worship in a safer environment.
Research shows (Flavil Yeakley, Univ. of Ill.) that a motivating factor for many people who visit a church is personal illness or death of a family member. Our church visitors are often asking spiritual questions about life, health and death. And not surprisingly, in the new normal there is an increasing interest in health and the cleanliness of our churches.
Outdoor venues are safer for those with compromised health. And this reminds us that everyone should have unrestricted access to worship opportunities. A poignant example was when children, often viewed as social nuisances, were welcomed by Jesus unreservedly. Matthew 19:13-15 describes it this way (The Message):
One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.
Third, an outdoor venue allows people who don’t yet feel part of your church-going culture, to join you semi-anonymously.
Our dress expectations, insider terms and unspoken territoriality are all too familiar to non-churchgoers. Not surprisingly, visitors become apprehensive when entering our unfamiliar cultures.
Yet Jesus asked us to humbly make the Good News accessible. Mark 6:7-13 (The Message) describes Jesus’ inaugural instructions to his 12 apostles this way:
Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
And, Paul descried actions he took to minster cross-culturally, stating:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NIV).
Did this mean Paul changed his theology for different cultures? No, according to verse 21. But he did change his language, his illustrations and his locales, “so that by all possible means I might save some.”
During this pandemic God may be pushing you into new ways to connect with underserved portions of your communities. Look for the fruit from these endeavors and ask God to give you the boldness to expand your proclamation of the Good News.
Don’t fall for these 3 newbie turnaround traps … Do this instead (and start out strong).
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, May/June 2019.
As I prepare to teach my course titled “Turnaround Church” at Fuller Theological Seminary this fall, I thought it would be helpful to describe the most common traps into which inexperienced turnaround leaders fall (and ways to avoid each).
TRAP 1: Being hired to do the work of revitalization.
Why this trap occurs:
Hiring your way out of trouble is a standard practice in the for-profit world. However, because their business model operates on a for-profit basis, it allows them to plow profits into hiring their way out of adversity. Nonprofits run mostly on volunteers and small staffs. They have leaner budgets and usually cannot afford a hiring solution.
The lean-staff and “keep it simple” alternative has been immortalized in Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Luke 9:1-6 (MSG):
Jesus now called the Twelve and gave them authority and power to deal with all the demons and cure diseases. He commissioned them to preach the news of God’s kingdom and heal the sick. He said, “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns—get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, leave town. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and move on.”
Commissioned, they left. They traveled from town to town telling the latest news of God, the Message, and curing people everywhere they went.
Do this instead: Mentor & delegate.
This is may be hard for trained church leaders, because they feel they have been hired to be the experts. Thus, they customarily attempt to do most of the work themselves. However, this usually leads to burnout. Instead, church shepherds should model Jesus’ example of giving his disciples responsibilities and then sending them out to minister to others (Luke 9:1-2).
Mentoring is characterized by a back-and-forth dialogue with the mentee regarding how the processes going. We see such examples in Jesus’ dialogues with his disciples, for instance Matt. 17:18-20 (MSG):
He (Jesus) ordered the afflicting demon out—and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well. When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, “Why couldn’t we throw it out?” “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.”
Delegating is slightly different from mentoring. It means giving others something you could do yourself, but allowing them to learn as they fumble their way through. Jesus, as the omniscient Son of God, knew his disciples would be unable to cast out demons (Luke 17:19). But still he let them try. In His omniscience, Jesus knew an important lesson would be driven home if the disciples first had a chance to flounder and then learn from that experience.
TRAP 2: Giving (and requiring) 110% effort.
Why this trap occurs:
People usually feel that if they overwork themselves (e.g. give 110%) they will succeed. This manifests when a leader works more hours during the week than for which one is paid. Such leaders may expect volunteers to increase their hours too. A trap occurs when burnout, neglected families and leadership turnover result. Billy Graham stated similar regrets:
“Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have many regrets. I have failed many times, and I would do many things differently. For one thing, I would speak less and study more, and I would spend more time with my family.” (billygraham.org)
Do this instead: Adjust everyone’s duties
Remind them that the church is going to need to do different things and that there are two ways to do this. One way is to ask everybody to give extra, e.g. 110%. But, you recognize this only leads to burnout. Remind them you don’t want to see them or yourself burned-out or families neglected.
The second, and more rewarding way, is to ask them to purge from their duties 20% of what they are currently doing. Ask them to use that 20% to become involved in new activities, e.g. involved in a new service or a new community outreach. The principle is that this requires, for the sake of spiritual health, to pull back and reduce their current volunteer efforts by 20% to open up 20% involvement in new activities.
Exemplify this yourself. Acknowledge that you are unable to continue to do everything the previous pastor did while at the same time reaching out to new generations and cultures. Remind them that you don’t want them, or you, to sacrifice family or spiritual well being. Show them you have too much respect foryour and their spiritual health.
As you ask them to readjustment their volunteer activities, suggest they write this down and submit their “readjustment” to the person overseeing their work.
TRAP 3: Promising big changes too soon.
Why this trap occurs:
Plateaued and dying churches have been dreaming about health for so long, that they often expect it to take place too fast. In addition, models they see of healthy churches are usually many years in the making. My experience and research has let me to believe that healthy church change is slow, but deliberate. In fact, one of the most knowledgeable researchers on organizational change, Harvard University’s John Kotter (Leading Change, Harvard Press), found that “celebrating small-term wins” leads to more change, more quickly.
Do this instead: Plan for & celebrate short-term wins
Meet with the church leaders and discuss what the church should look like in five years. Then ask them to describe what would it should look like in 2.5 years, one year and six months. Map out several goals for the next six months, asking yourselves which are most likely to be attained. Write these six month goals down and begin to create tactics to reach them.
As soon as you reach any of your short-term goals, celebrate! The key is for people to see and celebrate progress. For effective change, people don’t have to see enormous changes, but they do need to see movement.
The word strategy comes from the Greek word for a military general: strategoi. The generals of ancient Athens, led by the forward-thinking Pericles, undertook a grand building project to make Athens the cultural and political center of Greece. The Athenian generals’ strategy paid off, with beautiful buildings such as the Parthenon, making Athens the Greek capital.
Subsequently, in the military field the word strategic has come to refer to the bigger-picture planning that is done before a before a battle begins. Strategic leaders see the big picture, and envision outcomes before the battle commences. They intuitively know what the results should be, even though they are not experts in getting there. In the military, strategic leaders are generals, admirals, etc.
An analogy from the world of art may be helpful. The strategic leader is akin to an artist. He or she seems the dim outline of the future, perhaps a gleaming office tower or an eye-catching museum. They can envision what it will look like once it is complete. But, they seek only general forms, shapes and appearances. They see the art and the results.
In the military
Strategic leaders are intentional, big-picture leaders who deal in theoretical, hypothetical concepts and strategies. For example, in World War II generals such as Dwight Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery strategically knew that France must be invaded and wrestled from the German occupiers. The decisions to invade North Africa, Sicily, Italy and eventually France were decided upon by the generals. But, once each of the invasions commenced, leadership was put into the hands of tactical leaders.
In the church
Let’s look at some typical characteristics that distinguish leaders in the church. And, in my consultative work, I have routinely witnessed that pastors can be drawn into the ministry by two competing roles.[ii]
1. The shepherd. Many pastors enter the ministry due to a desire to help fellow humankind with a hands-on, relational, personal and mentoring type of leadership style. This is analogous to the guidance of a shepherd, and is reflected in scriptures about nurture, care and cultivation such as in Isaiah 40:11, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
And, this is exemplified by Jesus who is described as, “our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). Pastors drawn by this role often become relational leaders.
2. The visionary. Pastors in this category have an overriding desire to make a significant impact for Christ and His kingdom. They are impassioned by statements such as John 4:34-38, “‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying, ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Visionaries have what church growth researcher Win Arn called “church growth eyes … a developed characteristic of individuals and churches who have achieved a sensitivity to seeing possibilities….”[iii] Pastors drawn by this leadership role usually become strategic leaders.
3. A mixture. Oftentimes pastors and church leaders have a mixture of the two above roles and may fluctuate between one or the other at various times in their ministerial journey. However, it is important to note the dissimilar nature of these roles. One seeks to build interpersonal camaraderie and intimacy, the other seeks to attain a physical forward-looking goal.
In the former, intimacy is the purpose, and in the later the future goal is the purpose. Which is needed? They both are, but the wise church leader will employ each as the circumstance warrants and as their abilities allow. Thus, let’s look a bit more at strategic leadership.
Pastors attracted to the ministry because of a vision to make a significant impact for Christ often exhibit strategic leadership. And, they are often passionate about their work, for they see the depravity of humankind and they perceive how Christ provides the necessary answer.
Subsequently, they are often highly enthusiastic and energetic about reaching people for Christ. This passion can sometimes be misconstrued as a fervor for growth, size or power. And, such negative attributes can sneak in. However, what customarily motivates these individuals is the picture they envision of many people coming to know Christ.
As such, visual and revelatory scriptures hold great sway, and they can readily perceive the “great multitudes of Revelation 7:9-10 “… a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
In the change process
Strategic leaders are the first to notice that change is needed. This is because they are always looking ahead. To a degree, they live in the future better than the present. Thus, they can be frustrating to work with if not accompanied by the tactical leader. Strategic leaders thus see the need for change, and love discussing the rationale and theories of change.[iv]
They know what the change should look like, but they have trouble seeing the individual steps to get there. Thus, they are critical for the change process, for they look ahead and see where the church is going and needs to go. But they are also frustrating for other leaders because strategic leaders know what the results should look like, but they are weak at envisioning the step-by-step process.
Strategic leadership is “future directed.”[v] Strategic leaders often want people to move forward, and thus they are the first to start moving in new directions. Historian Martin Marty said they “are extremely sensitive to where people are, but are not content to leave them there.”[vi]
Other names for strategic leaders are:
1. Visionaries (George Barna,[vii] Leith Anderson[viii] and Phil Miglioratti[ix]).
2. Role 1 Leaders (Phil Miglioratti[x]).
3. “Top management” (John Wimber, Eddie Gibbs[xi]).
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 2/21/19.
One of the most influential art forms in American history first appeared in its current form on public walls in the late 1960s.
Graffiti is an improvised, colorful and risky art that is layered on public buildings, bridges, railway cars and subways. A product of urban artists who often eschew training, it is a fitting metaphor for another characteristic of millennial leadership.
While modern leadership often disciplines itself to keep colors and lines in their place, millennial leaders create a leadership collage of colors, symbols and statements. (Paradoxically, the style known as “modern art,” including the works of Matisse, Picasso and others, shunned the orderliness of previous periods of art and acted as a precursor to millennial thinking. This demonstrates the broad strokes and limitations underscored by the term “modern.”)
Some of the attributes of graffiti artists are:
Led by spirit and passion
Breaking human convention for the sake of improvement
Creating a collage of colors, styles, messages and meanings that make the world take notice
Different artists add their style to others’ art
Personal symbols and icons retain individuality.
And, graffiti often contains reoccurring elements, including:
Name or epithet
A philosophy line
Synergy created by blending multiple shapes, styles and colors
Graffiti reminds us of the improvisational, risky and outward-focused collage of Millennial leadership. This is not for the faint-hearted, nor the small-minded.
Graffiti leadership embraces risk
In response to these modern perils, the Millennial leader seeks a more elastic and organic approach. While the modern leader tries to create stability and minimize risk, the millennial leader recognizes that chaos is a byproduct of the human condition (Romans 3:23, 5:12). According to organizational theorist Mary Jo Hatch, the millennial leader “embraces complexity and uncertainty and their contradictory demands.”
When researcher Lois Barrett and her colleagues studied churches that were effectively reaching young non-churchgoers they found that a reoccurring pattern was “taking risks as a contrast community.” This is a church that is learning to take risk for the sake of the gospel. It understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of its Lord. It is raising questions, often threatening ones, about the church’s cultural captivity and it is grappling with the ethical and structural implications of its missional vocation.
A moving example of risk-taking comes from the story of John Perkins, a black man who left Mississippi after his brother was shot by a policeman. After an encounter with Christ he retuned to Mississippi to work with children during the turbulent civic rights struggles of the 1950s. Eventually, Perkins founded a Christian ministry that included student tutoring, co-ops to share food, child care, nutrition programs, medical facilities and Bible studies. This was risky behavior in 1950s Mississippi.
The millennial leader understands such risk because as Lewis Drummond observes, “In postmodern terms, we might say that Jesus came to bring equal access and opportunity to this in substandard living condition, to give voice and identity to those other than the dominant elite and to alleviate the ravages of capitalistic imperialism and colonialist economic aggression.”
Lois Barrett concluded, “These congregations seem to be living by a set of rules different from that of dominant culture. Their priorities are different. They act against ‘common sense.’ They are trying to conform to Jesus Christ rather than to the surrounding society.”
Such risk-taking for the sake of the missio Dei is akin to the risks a graffiti artist takes for one’s craft.
In the military, relational leaders are the men and women who lead skilled teams on critical assignments. They have an immediate, urgent and vital task to perform. They may not see where their efforts fit into the bigger picture, but they are the masters of relational leadership. They lead an intentional and personal effort to build a team of interdependent soldiers. While the key to strategic leadership is forecasting and theorizing, and the contribution of tacticians is precision and allocation, the skill of the relational leader is his or her connection with their team and the ability to think creatively, improvise, adapt and be successful.
These are the skilled craftsmen that build a house and give it the working components. They are often knowledgeable in a certain predefined field such as electrical, heating/cooling, framing, etc., because of the complexity of the task. And, they like to see the immediate results of their hands. One relational leader told me, “I like to see immediate results from what I am doing. I do not have the patience to wait for an outcome. That is why I am a painter. I like to see the results right now from what I am doing.”
In contrast, the strategic leader may wait years to witness the culmination of a project, and thus may leap to a new idea before the first has come to fruition. The tactical leader is also patient in waiting for the project to be completed, but the tactical leader finds it rewarding to see that progress is being made and the end goal is getting nearer. However, for relational leaders, seeing immediate results in even small steps is one of the most rewarding parts of the process.
In the Church
My dad was a sergeant in the military, and initially a relational leader who led his small team of second service ushers successfully for four years. Like many relational leaders in our churches, Dad enjoyed getting the job done. I often remember how fulfilled and satisfied he was after church, where he had faithfully discharged his duties with his team.
In the change process
During the change process these are the church leaders who get things done. They often see things from the viewpoint of their task. If they are an usher, then as my dad, ushering seemed like the most important job in the church. Still my dad, like many relational leaders today, knew that the church was an organic organism of many functions and ministries (1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 4:11-13). But Dad so enjoyed the task at hand, that at least for him and his giftings this was the most important job imaginable. As a result, he discharged his duties with speediness, precision, care and results.
Relational leaders have the knowledge, skill, relational abilities and dedication to get a job done. Once the parameters are defined and they see how their task fits into the bigger picture (they are helped in this by the tactical leader), the relational leader can accomplish almost anything. Anthropologist Margaret Mead observed, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” [xxvii]. And, thus the contribution of the relational leader is critical to the change process.
Relational leaders often love their job so much that they do not see themselves “moving out” of this role in the foreseeable future [xxviii].
But, if the relational leader does not have the go-between of a tactical leader, the strategic leader’s vision may be too imprecise to motivate the relational leader. Thus, we see once again while all three types of leadership are needed, it is the glue the go-between tactical leader provides that helps the relational leader move the strategic leader’s vision forward.
By Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, 6/12/18.
Though the church began to grow again on my first turnaround effort, knowing the following would have made the journey more pleasurable for both myself and the congregation.
I wish I had known #1. Church revitalization will take 2 to 3 times longer than you expect.
As my first church revitalization effort, I asked and received a one year contract. The church and I felt this would be sufficient time to turn the church into a new direction. But, at the end of one year I had only gained enough social capital for the congregation to start trusting me. It took another year, which the church graciously offered to finance, before the first signs of change emerged. However, when small fruit emerged at the end of the second year it provided a foundation for revitalization to actually emerge in the third year.
Here is a timeline that works in many congregations, yet it’s slower than the church or the shepherd usually desires.
Year 1: Fact gathering and building up the social capital needed for the congregants to trust you.
Year 2: Implementing small change in the organization. Small victories can begin to convince reticent members of the church the validity of the new direction. More on this in “ Things I wish I had known # 2.”
Year 3: Church systems begin to change. Often times church leaders think if they change the system, then the congregants will change. But because the church is an organic institution (1 Cor. 12:12-27) changes in the system must bubble up from changes in people, not from top-down changes dictated from the top. A three year process gave this time to happen.
I wish I had known # 2: the power of small victories.
In year two, initial but small goals were attained. One of our small goals was to see in both the spring and fall a “Newcomers Sunday School class” emerge. We publicized the date for the beginning of the class even when we didn’t yet have any visitors. But once we published the date, suddenly members in the congregation started inviting their friends to church. The newcomers’ class provided a tangible target. Thus, small victories in the second year convinced the congregants we were headed in the right direction.
I wish I had known #3: Don’t speed up too fast just because you have some small victories.
The small victories got the church excited and soon they were ready to launch a worship service oriented towards younger people. At this time I came under a lot of pressure to begin the service immediately before it was thoroughly mapped out, staffed and prepared. Many of the leaders had read books that discussed how a church can grow up to 15% by adding a new service. And because the church had limped along not meeting it’s monthly budget for about 18 months, the pressure of an added revenue stream push the leaders to decide a new service was necessary sooner rather than later.
I advised and eventually convinced the leaders a slowed down approach was warranted, so that the new service could be better planned and developed. I fact, this new service did not begin until almost 11 months after we began planning it. The slower paced allowed new and younger leaders to be recruited and prepared. The extra planning time seemed excessive to me at first, but in hindsight it was just about right. It allowed the turnaround church to develop indigenous leaders who reached out in a well prepared worship expression.
I wish I had known #4. Don’t expect new people to support the church financially or physically for some time.
The newcomers kept our church at arms length for almost a year or more before they decided to become part of our membership. They seem to thoroughly enjoy the newcomers class, but when membership was mentioned they often stiffened.
In response I used the metaphor of dating.
The first date: I said when new people visit a church, it’s like being on a date: you aren’t ready to commit to a long relationship but rather want to get to know the other.
The second date: Going to the newcomers class was like a second date: it was a time to get to know about the hopes, aspirations and purposes of one another.
Engagement: After completing the newcomers class I said they may want to pray and consider becoming a member. I encouraged them to consider more carefully their level of involvement, their spiritual gifts and how they would fit in. I also stressed that the engagement could be as long as they needed.
Marriage: Finally I explained that when they agreed to be part of a membership class, this was like marriage. They were not marrying to just a local congregation church but also to the body of Christ as present in His people.
I wish I had known #5. You must spend more time in leadership development than you think.
As the church began to turnaround, there was an influx of people excited about the church’s direction. But this sometimes draws people who did not fit well in their previous church, because they were not mature enough to take on leadership responsibilities. I learned the hard way that sometimes people who come to a revitalized church are often people who need revitalization themselves – because their involvement in another church has not been a healthy one. Therefore I developed leadership courses and a mentor/mentee system so that new leaders could be vetted and trained before they were put into volunteer roles.
I wish I had known #6. There’s more power in spiritual transformation than most people realize.
People began to share testimonies about how their lives were being changed by the Holy Spirit. An emphasis upon salvation began to refocus the church. Older members recalled how in the early days the church, they had also emphasized conversion accompanied by powerful testimonies of change. Older members began to see that a turnaround in spiritual climate mirrored those times in the past when the church had been happy and healthy.
As a result I train turnaround pastors in the importance of understanding a church’s history and to pinpoint when they had been alive in the past. Usually a church had been alive in the past when the church was involved in evangelism and conversion. Reminding a church about this part of their history, made it more palatable for their present… the salvation of individuals.
7. Last, but not least, is the power of a praying congregation. I set a goal for the prayer ministries to grow at the same rate as the church. If the church grew 10% in six months, we then expected 10% more people involved in prayer ministries. It has always seemed to me a spiritual principle that vibrant prayer life in a church would lead to a vibrant church.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 5/29/19.
Jesus called His Church to come out from among the restless divisiveness of Jerusalem and be an avenue for God’s remarkable love for neighbor and God. The very words the biblical authors used for God’s love in the Old Testament (chesed) and in the New Testament (agape) described God’s steadfast, committed and pursuant love. This uncommonly potent and persistent love was the love the Church was to reflect.
Here are five principles to focus your church on reflecting God’s love and reaching those who are hurting and longing for security.
1. Not condemnation, but aid.
Shunning and shaming is a tactic that rarely works when people are suffering. Chiding people with statements such as, “You are wrong. You are sinning!” is usually not productive. In fact, Jesus emphasized that conviction of sin is not the church’s job, stating:
If I don’t go away, the Companionwon’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
When he comes:
He will show the world it was wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment.
He will show the world it was wrong about sin because they don’t believe in me.
He will show the world it was wrong about righteousness because I’m going to the Father and you won’t see me anymore.
He will show the world it was wrong about judgment because this world’s ruler stands condemned” (John 16:8-9, italics added for emphasis).
Jesus’ repeated use of the emphatic “He will show the world…” reminded His hearers that despite the tendency of religious people to condemn and shame, conviction was the duty of the Holy Spirit.
However, the human role is to pray and rehabilitate, not persecute. The Church’s task is thus to provide aid with candor and honesty. Such a church becomes not so much an abode of recluse saints, as a community of caregivers.
2. Unfiltered agape love.
To help those ravaged by violence and abuse, the church must be a front of unrelentless and unfiltered love by reflecting the agapelove of the heavenly Father. Cambodian refugee Somaly Mam movingly writes, “I strongly believe that love is the answer and that it can mend even the deepest unseen wounds. Love can heal, love can console, love can strengthen, and yes, love can make change.”
Unfiltered love does not mean turning a blind eye or disregarding sin. Rather unfiltered love means that it is truthful love that is not filtered by contempt, by disapproval, by scorn and/or by oddity. Unfiltered love emerges when caregivers realize that but for the mercy of God they could be in the same predicament and in need of the same consolation.
Also, everyone in a safe-haven church seeks her or his role in caregiving. Everyone seeks to do one’s part in fostering an environment of love and health, where the ill-treated and injured can recover.
3. Take the ill-treated into our daily life (i.e., home).
A helpful scripture that sums up theimportance of a haven is Romans 15:7. Paul, addressing the divided world illustrated in the story that began this chapter, states, “So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory.”
The word the Common English Bible (CEB) translates “welcome” is translated in other versions as “accept” (i.e., NIV). Still, the Greek word carries the welcoming idea better than the latter, indicating “the idea is to take something or someone to oneself, illustrated by inviting someone into your home.”
Therefore, this scripture might be paraphrased as the following.
“In the same way that Christ also welcomed you,” the church “for God’s glory should take the stranger into our life in all the ways that would mirror taking them into our personal residence” (Romans 15:7 paraphrased).
This would mean meeting their daily physical needs and their emotional needs. Today, when so many people have suffered violence striding brazenly and victoriously through their world, it is critical that the Church sees her task as not an intermediary (pointing those in need to others) but as primary caregiver (meeting others’ needs directly).
4. Compassion and assistance for the ill-treated.
As we create safe-havens taking more and more needy people into our faith community, all Christians must grow in their ability to render effective assistance. Our human inclination is to be self-seeking and to pull back from others’ needs. And so, putting first and then meeting the needs of others becomes difficult.
However, to overcome this limitation it is helpful to recall that humans are created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Christians thus should reflect His image in their actions. But, how do we live out God’s image? It becomes easier if we follow theologian Anthony Hoekema’s suggestion that the image of God is best viewed as a verb rather than a noun.
Hoekema states, “We should think of the image of God… not as a noun but as a verb: we no longer image God as we should; we are not being enabled by the Spirit to imageGod more and more adequately; someday we shall image God perfectly.” So, the Church’s task is to imageor modelGod more clearly, through daily welcoming and attending to those ravaged by a heartless world.
5. Standing up for those ill-treated.
Being created in “the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27) also means that all people, regardless of how they feel about their heavenly Creator, are nonetheless created in His image. This requires the Church to hold accountable any person who tramples that image, for such action offends God and should also offend the church. Oscar A. Romero stated:
As holy defender of God’s rights and of his images, the church must cry out. It takes as spittle in its face, as lashes on its back, as the cross in its passion, all that human beings suffer, even though they be unbelievers. They suffer as God’s images….whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom.
Safe-haven churches are thus not only settings for healing, but also for advocacy. They remain connected to the downtrodden and disheartened; standing up for their rights as well as giving them a pathway back to health.
By Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 12/18/19.
During 30 years of consulting and coaching, I’ve found three simple questions that leaders can use to diffuse criticism. Today responding to criticism is increasingly important, because divisions must be defused before they spread into viral polarization. Here are three questions that will accomplish this.
Elsie Keith, CEO of Lucid Meetings, provides the first question to ask when you are criticized or in a highly critical environment. It is to be curious and reply with curiosity.
“Wow, ok. I hear that you feel xyz. I want to understand that better. Can you tell me more about where you’re coming from?”
This reply doesn’t mean you agree, but it does tell them they’ve been heard. It begins to establish a rapport between the two of you. You weren’t acquiescing to their criticism. But you’re letting them know they’ve been heard and that you want to learn about their perspective.
Depending on how you count them, in the New Testament there are between 200 – 300 questions that Jesus asked his listeners. In fact, as a rabbi or Jewish teacher (John 1:38), Jesus would be expected to ask questions.
For example, even as a young man, when Jesus remained in the temple he defused his parents’ criticism as they arrived. “His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” Jesus replied, “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48-49 NLT).
Jesus wasn’t acquiescing to their criticism (e.g. “why have you done this to us?”). Rather he let them know they’d been heard. Then he deepened their understanding, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 NLT).
While talking with Dr. Rob Voyle, a colleague who utilizes counseling skills called “appreciative inquiry,” I learned the next two questions to ask.
“What do you need to be able to move on?”
“Anxiety is always about the future, not the past,” Dr. Voyle told me. Therefore, when criticism is given it’s because someone is not able to see a preferred future. Instead, they see a future that worries them.
Jesus’ response in John 1:38 NLT gives us an example. “As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God!’ When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus. Jesus looked around and saw them following. ‘What do you want?’ he asked them. They replied, ‘Rabbi’ (which means ‘Teacher’), ‘where are you staying?’ ‘Come and see,’ he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day. (John 1:36-39 NLT).
Asking others about the future and what they need to get there, is the second question. “If you focus on the past you’ll just hash it over with no resolution or progress” Dr. Voyle stated.
How many times have we hashed out the past only to find ourselves in the same polarized state after hours of discussion? This is because the direction of our discussion is wrong. It should not be about the past, but about the future (or you’ll get stuck in the past). Once you’ve asked question number one, letting them know they’ve been heard, then it’s time to focus your discussion on what’s ahead. Focusing on the future and their role on it moves the relationship forward.
The third question is to figure out where the person fits in the future solution.
“What do you love to do, what you want to do more than anything else?”
This helps you and them begin a dialogue about where they fit into the solution. You want their participation in the solution to be based upon what they want to do. But, you also want them to understand that their participation might require them to do things that they won’t enjoy.
In Jesus’ leadership we see that though he is omniscient and knows their questions in advance, he engages in the following questions and answers.
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.” “What is your request?” he asked. They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?” (Mark 10:35-38 NLT)
Jesus asked a question that pointed out that their desires were fleshly, carnal and self-serving. Then, Jesus put those desires in perspective by saying that following Him meant being immersed in bitter pain, suffering and sacrifice. In the biblical lives of James and John we see that Jesus’ answer began to foster in them humility, tenacity and sacrifice. James eventually was stabbed to death on the orders of Herod (Acts 12:2) and John would live many of his elder years in a slave-labor colony on the island of Patmos (Rev. 1). Both had changed from their boisterous, self-seeking nature ( they were labeled, “sons of thunder”) to become models of sacrifice and service.
So as I coach leaders about receiving criticism while charting out a future strategic plan, these three questions are critical. To recap, begin communication by responding with curiosity. The second question is to ask them what they need to be able to move forward. And the third question is to ask what they love to do and discussing together what their participation in the future will look like.
With these three questions you can begin a discussion that will quickly move the focus from criticism … toward a solution.
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
The first type are those the NIV calls “unreliable friends.” In the Hebrew, rea`,it is defined more like a “companion” (ESV, HNB) that journeys with you because they benefit from your companionship.
Leaders will always encounter these type of people. These are the ones that partner with your leadership because of what they derive from the relationship. They get more than they give. And they are probably the majority of our partners in leadership.
The second type of friend, in Hebrew ahab, is one who “loves you as family.” Leaders will also encounter these people. They may be fewer and farther between, but they are evident because it is their nature to give to another rather than to take. Hang onto these relationships. They will be there with you through good times and more importantly bad times.
This proverb also suggests many of the first types of friends (companions) lead “to ruin.”
The second type of friends will “cling to you” (Hebrew dabeq) like family.
To help visualize (and identify) those friends who love you like family and will cling to you through difficult situations, we have only to look to the friendship exemplified by the New Testament disciple: Barnabas. His very name means son of encouragement. And, he was the one who encouraged skeptical disciples to accept the redeemed Saul, now named Paul.
In my life these people who have clung to me and stayed with me like family have been the greatest source of encouragement. They don’t seem to be the majority, maybe only 10 percent of the friends I know. However, I love them and value them.
The author of Proverbs reminds us to deepen our relationship with the “Barnabas friends” who will last forever.
The first inclination when writing on the starting place for church revitalization will be to focus on prayer. That is most likely (and rightly so) because we want to remind ourselves that we can’t do it without Christ’s help.
I’m not suggesting that prayer is not important for church growth or even that it should be postponed. It is!But I’m suggesting we first must understand what we’re praying for.
Therefore, the first question that must be asked before chruch revitalization is, “Whose needs is a revitalization effort intended to meet?” In fact, in church revitalizations there are three needs that often come into play. And after 30 years of consulting chruch revitalizations, I have come to believe if you pick one of them you’ll succeed. But, if you pick one of the others, you will usually experience failure.
Reason 1) Meeting the needs of a church’s congregation.
Often church revitalizations are launched because a church wants to survive. Members remember its illustrious history, the close bonds of friendships that were forged there and the many good things accomplished in their past. And they want to want to preserve these legacies for future generations. I’ve often heard leaders say, “We want to ensure this church lives on by younger generations coming to it.” And while this is laudable, this will be in adequate to successfully revitalize a church. That is because of two reasons.
Reason A: Younger generations quickly pick up on a church’s desperation to survive. They’ve experienced and rejected churches that are not interested in meeting their needs, but rather interested in preserving the church’s aesthetics and culture, to which the younger generations may not relate.
Reason B: A church’s desire to retain a legacy, even a good legacy, can overshadowed the real purpose of revitalization: to introduce more people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 10:1-16).
Reason 2) The second misguided, but common, starting point for church revitalization is to focus on meeting the needs of the revitalizer.
The revitalizer may feel that they want to start anew with a new type of church. This is similar to what motivates many church planters, i.e. the leader wants to grow an organization that they can form over in the vision they reimagine. They want an organization that they believe will be easier to lead, more like they want and filled with people like them. But this focus will also usually fail. That is because revitalizing a church, like church planting, is a missional effort that usually requires us to be challenged and uncomfortable.James states, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (2:1-4 MSG).
We must expect and be satisfied with the pressures and pains that come from serving Christ in missional activities. Regrettably some people today don’t look upon leadership as a missionary might. Missionaries know that they are going to sacrifice what is comfortable and familiar, in order to bring the Good News to people in need of it. Missionaries I know are leading threadbare, uncomfortable lives in service. Yet, when it comes to a church revitalization, we often want the most comfortable and potentially successful neighborhood in which to revitalize a church or plant one. Rather we should be looking at those with the greatest needs, putting their needs first and putting ourself last.
Reason 3: Meeting the needs of non-churchgoers.
This is the reason that leads to successful revitalization.A revitalization effort by its very name focuses on revitalizing an organization. But perhaps instead we call it re-focusing an organization. We all know that it doesn’t take long after a church is planted or even revitalized, that it begins to focus inward and mainly on its own needs. When that happens the church increasingly becomes focused on programming, staffing and churchgoer activities that make its congregational life more comfortable.
But, a church that is revitalized must first become refocused. That happens when the focus is to turn our eyes to the harvest and seeing its need.My father grew up on a farm. He knew that when the harvest was ripe you stopped everything else you were doing, even going to school, and went into the field until the harvest was complete. Jesus talking to a similar agricultural society, prepared them to endure hardships in mission by utilizing an agricultural metaphor:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Luke 10:1-12, MSG).
Thus, I’ve found that a church revitalization starts by a profound and persistent refocus on whose needs are you called to meet. Then your prayers can be focused.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Biblical Leadership Magazine, 11/16/19.
Warren Buffett has a famous rule he calls the Noah Rule: “Predicting the rain doesn’t count, building an ark does.”
Because most leaders in today’s fluid job market will transition to a new position sooner than later, leaders should be preparing for transitions. Currently I am writing a doctoral-level course on “interim and transitional ministry,” and in doing so I have been reminded by multiple authors about the importance of creating a transition plan before you need one. Here are five lessons to consider.
1.Don’t call it an exit plan, because it should be a transition plan. If the leader looks selfishly at the transition, they will usually see it as a way to exit a situation. But looking at it this way will usually leave the organization in the lurch. Rather leaders should be preparing a transition plan that helps both organization and individual. Jesus had many hard conversations with his disciples about his impending crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22; Mark 8:31). What if Jesus had said, “I have an exit plan.” That would be self-centered and inauthentic of Him.Rather Jesus spoke of “the new covenant (promise)m written in my blood” (Luke 22:20, Message Bible).So create a transition plan that takes into consideration the the church, as well as the leader’s, needs.
2. A transition plan allows the leader to find and nurture mentees. As I conduct research on transitions, I find that one of the most damaging aspects of leadership transitions is when the leader has been a hands-on, do it all themselves person. This leaves a huge gap when the leader leaves, that often cannot be filled quickly. As a result the organization often declines during the transition. Again Jesus‘ example of selecting his disciples years before his ascension, reminds us of the time needed for delegation and experimentation to foster a smooth transition (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-34; Luke 5:1-11).
3. Letting others know about your plans will not necessarily push you out sooner, but can actually give you time for a transition. One of the first consultations I conducted 30 years ago was for a pastor who the board was forcing out because he wouldn’t embrace contemporary worship. He explained to me that he was ready to move on to a church that practiced mostly traditional worship, but they were hard to find and he would need 12 to 18 month to find one in his denomination. I encouraged him to meet with the leaders of the church and discuss his heart’s desire in worship style. I told him to explain that he was not against contemporary worship, rather it was not for him. He replied, “That’s not the way it’s done in our denomination. Once you tell them you’re thinking about leaving, they push you out.”
I reminded him they were already subtly trying to push him out, so it really didn’t matter if he told them. And I reminded him that if he told them now it would be a sign of candor and honesty. “If they appreciate your many years of loyal service,” I replied, as I believe they did, “They will work with you if you demonstrate that you want a transition that is good for the church and is good for your family too.”
He did as I suggested and offered to spend 18 months helping the church make a transition to a new pastor. The church leaders agreed, because they too did not want to be without a pastor without sufficient notice. Today that Pastor is “pastor emeritus” of the congregation. He is invited back to preach several times a year and for all church milestones. “I was skeptical,” he said to me many years later, “But being open and honest resulted in a long-term relationship I am thankful for every day.”
4. A transition plan takes more detailed planning than most people think. A transition plan isn’t just transitioning from one leader to another, but it is also usually a time of transitioning the organization and even sometimes the staff. Therefore the change is not just about a person, but it’s about two more things: a) the people who are friends or work alongside the leader and b) the future personality of the church.
a) Some churches require that staff members resign when the lead pastor resigns. This can be good in some situations, especially if there is a toxic leadership culture.But at other times this is a denominational or church tradition. Yet in almost all situations it puts hardships upon the paid staff who must resign. Putting together a transition plan in advance allows these people to prepare as well as look for other positions. When the leader keeps to themselves the information that he or she is going to leave, they often rob the other staff members of the ability to plan for their professional livelihoods. Without planning staff members are often unfairly upended and their families bear the pain. Church leaders who say they want to build a family church, must consider the families of those who will leave or be forced to leave when the leader transitions.
b) Also when a church’s personality needs to change, it will take some time to figure out what this new personality will be. Set up meetings with key stakeholders in the church to discuss and compromise on where the church is headed. We see this at the Council of Jerusalem, when James brought together all parties to discuss and foster a compromise that would allow the Great Commission to expand while respecting differences in cultures (Acts 15).
5. Finally making a transition plan in advance allows you to modify your transition plan as the leader and the church’s circumstances change. Planning a transition and giving it time to develop allows the church time to plan for the transition and figure out what it wants to be. And, the leader might find that the type of position she or he or she desired has now changed. As Proverbs 16:1 (Message Bible) says, “Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word.”
In 30 years of consulting I have observed that time and planning allow for prayer, dialogue, experimentation and the Holy Spirit to guide a transition that does not thwart a church’s health or growth, but enhances it.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: During a shutdown, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have an opportunity to prepare for rebounding and renewing into healthier churches. Here are articles I’ve written about how to accomplish this (published by magazines with national platforms, i.e. Outreach Magazine and Biblical Leadership Magazine). These articles are excerpted from my book: “Growing the Post-pandemic Church.”
Excerpted below you will find …
How to use these difficult times as a springboard for churches to rebound and renew,
With greater long-term health and more powerful Good News impact.
Now that banning gatherings is becoming commonplace, the faith community will be temporarily forced to morph into something new (or maybe something old, read on). During this time and afterward some churches will thrive, but others may struggle. Having coached churches for 30 years, trained hundreds of church leaders and earned two doctorates in the field, here is my forecast with survival options for those churches at risk.
Taking it to the streets: Lessons from a life of urban ministry by Harry Louis Williams II, aka OG Rev., a street term for “respected veteran of the block” (InterVarsity Press, 2019). This veteran minister and budding academic weaves together stories from the inner city with biblical narratives to demonstrate what every chruch, suburban, rural, micro- or mega-, can do to missionally heal the divisions in society. He covers it all, commuter churches, aging churches, wealthy churches, church planting, gentrification, prosperity gospel, racism, slavery, radicalism and reconciliation. To each problem he suggests practical and biblical steps almost any church can undertake to rethink urban partnerships and begin to heal American’s divisions. To understand a culture, you need a guide. And OG Rev is one of the best I’ve encountered. If you are not from an urban culture and before you launch a ministry to it, absorb the stories contained in this book.
Why church? A basic introduction by Scott W. Sunquist (InterVarsity Press, 2019). To the question, “Is the church losing its relevance?” the author offers a well-thought-out critique, believing the church has lost its focus on its “only two purposes”: worship & witness, and suggesting a practical five-step solution.
The church of US versus them: Freedom from a faith that feeds on making enemies, David E. Fitch (Brazos Press, 2019). While OG Rev approaches America’s divisions from his street-level view, David Fitch uses his well-honed skills as a theologian to address the divisions in America from a clear and biblical theological perspective.
My latest article for @BiblicalLeader Magazine has become a chapter in my 2020 book, Growing the Post-pandemic Church. In it, I discuss how you can keep your church from declining during a pandemic. Check out the article below and see their website for the full article.
Now that banning gatherings is becoming commonplace, the faith community will be temporarily forced to morph into something new (or maybe something old, read on).
During this time and afterward some churches will thrive, but others may struggle. Having coached churches for 30 years, trained hundreds of church leaders and earned two doctorates in the field, here is my forecast with survival options for those churches at risk.
Churches that will suffer the most:
Churches with aging buildings and no savings
During the 20th century having an impressive building was a way to make a church’s presence known. Many churches borrowed their way into debt to restore, renovate and expand older facilities. When downturns in attendance occur (and they always do) such churches may not have the flexibility made available by sizable savings.
They are vulnerable because they do not have contingency plans for an attendance downturn. If a roof needs repair, a boiler replaced, etc. a church may find itself no longer inhabitable after a quarantine.
Impressive facades, of course, weren’t the way the church became known in the New Testament. Paul reminded the church that they should not be known for their physical attire, but instead he encouraged them to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12, NIV).
Survival options: Look for ways to cut overhead by selling, leasing or giving away facilities that drain budgets. Research the correct amount of savings a church like yours should have and create a savings plan. Also, begin to build your church’s reputation upon compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. These are the best avenues to make a church visible in a community.
Churches that have overbuilt
A church building craze exploded in the ‘70s and ‘80s and led to many sanctuaries that are outsized for their current congregation. Even a megachurch (a church of over 1000 attendees) may still have hundreds, if not thousands of attendees. But the cost of oversized facilities and their upkeep may mean that that even these churches have little resources available for unexpected expenses or low offerings.
This problem arose in part because of a popular 20th century adage (not supported by research) that, “If you build it, they will come.” And so, the size of the expansion was customarily based on the size of the congregation at the time of building.
For example, a church in the 1990s may have been running 400 people in an early service and 600 people in a second service with a facility that seated 800. An architect might suggest combining the two services (not a good idea, because it decreases options in times and styles) and combine into one service in a new 1,600 seat sanctuary. “After all,” the church leaders reasoned, “400 plus 600 equals 1,000. And, a new sanctuary of 1,600 would give us room to grow.” But, when the service times and styles were merged in a large cavernous sanctuary, the church began to run only 700 people. A lack of options in times and styles started the church on a downward trajectory.
Survival options: Look at ways to right-size sanctuaries. Converting part of the sanctuary into classrooms, welcome centers and prayer spaces can create intimacy in the once larger space. And look for ways to monetize facilities.
My co-author Mark DeYmaz in his book, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes & Offerings Are No Longer Enough and What You Can Do About It, outlines dozens of ways churches can lease out portions of their facilities, create local business hubs, develop shared working spaces, etc. to increase income from aging buildings.
Multisite churches, who own their own sites
A trend in the 20th century was for growing churches to purchase older church buildings, theaters and community buildings in which to hold satellite worship services. Many times denominations did this to encourage growing churches to take on the expenses of a closed church. But, because of the reasons cited above (e.g. the cost of maintaining the facilities) when combined with attendance drops, liabilities were rapidly created.
Survival options: Lease or rent sites for offsite services. And look for opportunities to sell, lease or give away facilities you own. This promotes longterm flexibility when demographics, styles and finances change.
Churches that rely on the onsite Sunday morning offering
With the proliferation of online giving tools, most churches have embraced online giving. However, some have not and this creates hurdles for supporters. Even churches that have misgivings about online tithing, offerings and pledges will rethink their strategy when the church is dispersed.
Survival options: Create and promote an online giving option. Many denominations have a preferred online giving tool to use. Then educate your congregation about why disciplined giving and online avenues can help a church to thrive.
Churches that put on a Sunday spectacle.
Some churches spend an inordinate amount of time and money on the lighting, sound, musicians, broadcasting and staff associated with putting on an elaborate Sunday morning experience.
These Sunday morning expenditures will now be seen as optional, as churches are forced to focus more on smaller groups as a way for people to be connected and discipled. And, congregants may discover that smaller groups which are flexible and meet in neighborhoods are more enjoyable and convenient.
Survival options. Many of today’s young pastors have created youthful churches that are moving away from Sunday performance and toward more organic expressions of church. I provide a look at 12 categories of organic churches in my book, Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations. Most of these emerging congregations prefer less staging, softer music, audience participation and smaller auditoriums (capacity around 200).
Churches that will survive:
House churches, pub churches, café churches and online churches.
These entrepreneurial smaller churches are often dismissed by leaders of more established congregations. Typically they meet in rented or free facilities. Their low overhead allows them as small churches to more easily survive fiscal cycles brought on by a quarantine.
Churches that have spent their money on staff, rather than spent their money on facilities.
The trend in the 20th century was to expand facilities and stretch staff. This created overworked leaders. Then, when emergencies arose small staffs were not able to handle the extra workload. But if a church spends its money creating a team of experienced and talented staff, these entrepreneurs can create innovative online options.
Churches with bi- or co-vocational leaders.
My colleague, Dr. Jay Moon, describes bi-vocational pastors as those who work two jobs until the church can support them. He describes co-vocational pastors as those who work two jobs, never expecting the church to support them full time.
In other words, the latter have a clear calling to leadership in the marketplace and to leadership in the church. Because the co-vocational pastor does not envision a time where she or he will be in full-time employment of the church, they may be able to make longterm decisions without personal financial needs clouding their judgment.
Still, both can be an advantage during times when churches are unable to physically meet. A bi- or co-vocational pastor will become less of a drain on the church finances. And a pastor who is involved in marketplace leadership will better keep her or his pulse on needs in the community.
Churches that are young, having been recently planted by a mother church.
Planting a church is an arduous endeavor that requires creativity and entrepreneurship. It takes tenacity, good theology and a balance between ministry and family. The very balance needed in a good church planter can help him or her maintain equilibrium during attendance swings brought on by viral quarantines. And, did I mention that many church planters are bi- or co-vocational? That’s another strength.
Good news—most churches will survive.
My 30 years coaching leaders has led me to believe that God empowers his people to survive and thrive in difficult times. The Bible is overflowing with people that God empowered to overcome adversity. Church history further attests to this.
Christians have a grit whereby they come together and work for the long-term existence of the community of faith. It may mean that the facilities, staffing and priorities may change during and after a quarantine, but the Holy Spirit and God‘s will for his church will not change.
A Scripture reminder is Paul’s admonishment that “We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us” (Colossians 1:10-14, MSG).
What every church can do to increase survivability
Focus on making learners, as Jesus commissioned us in Matthew 28:18-20. Your goal should be to help congregants “learn” during this time, not necessarily congregate.
Focus on small groups as the primary venue for discipleship. Research indicates that most people stick with a church when they are involved in a small group which meets regularly for Bible study, prayer and service. The Methodist movement was founded and grew because of such small groups. And Jesus exemplified this when he chose 12 learners who he apprenticed to become his 12 apostles.
Focus on prayer and serving the needs of others. During a difficult time Christ does not want us to make foolish decisions about our health. But he does want us to think of others as more important than ourselves. This means considering ways we can help others during this period and therefore let Christ’s light shine through us. Philippians 2:1-4 (MSG) sums this up fittingly:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Autocratic leadership will continue to be replaced by transformational leadership. Autocratic leadership occurs when a more knowledgeable “elder leader” tells or directs others what to do. Better described as “paternal leadership,” it is less attractive to millennials who have experienced leadership decisions through collaboration and over electronic mediums. Transformational leadership however occurs when a leader publicly demonstrates that he or she wants to improve and transform their own leadership style while helping people become transform their lives too. We see this latter aspect in Jesus’ leadership, when he didn’t castigate or excommunicate the leaders he was developing when they failed in their leadership (for example, Simon Peter’s fails are recorded over a dozen times, Matt 15:16, Mark 10:13, Luke 22:24, Matthew 17:24, etc.)
Leaders will encourage several organizational visions built around one mission. A mission is a church’s biblically based “reason for being” according to Barna, McIntosh, and Whitesel/Hunter. Also according to these authors a vision is a specific, envisioned, future outcome. But since churches are becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-congregational, trying to focus on just one version won’t get enough buy-in from most congregants. Today what I label “micro-visions” create short-term wins, because they are quicker to attain and can be quickly embraced by different church subcultures. This does not mean a large number of visions. The average church today is only 75 attendees and might have just a couple of visions suitable for its size. A mega-church of several thousand, however, might have 6 to 8 visions representing different congregational cultures. For example, traditional members might envision a choir, Sunday school classes and reaching out to a senior living center nearby. The church’s millennials might have a vision for interactive sermons, online small groups and reaching out to homeless people in their communities. Churches are realizing that they are increasingly multicultural organizations and so to work together they must embrace one biblical mission with several different visions.
Leaders will willingly live on less. Millennials are skeptical of leaders who proverbially “feather their own nests” with monies from the congregation. Younger generations have seen leaders become disconnected, for example when baby boomer leaders lived a much higher lifestyle than the congregants they served. Millennials are determined to change this. For example, millennial church planters are increasingly bi-vocational and many full-time millennial pastors are choosing to become bi-vocational to better connect with non-churchgoers. Living slightly under the median income of the congregation one serves (rather than slightly above it) will increasingly become the new norm.
Leadership will be learned through artificial intelligence, virtual reality, online courses and even gaming. Online learning continues to be a disruptor that is making specific leadership topics available to leaders that need them quickly. Online certification programs such as ChurchLeadership.university, InterimPastor.university, etc. are making high-quality education in specific topics, available at a small fee to many people around the world.
Leaders will increasingly spend more of their time with non-churchgoers and the needy, balancing their time between them and Christians. Fuller professor Donald McGavran warned of “redemption and lift,” meaning the longer a person is a Christian the more they are lifted out of the daily world of the non-churchgoer and thus increasingly insensitive to the needs of non-churchgoers. John Wesley, living 300 years earlier, recognized this too and required all leadership groups to serve the needy on a regular basis. Tomorrow’s leaders recognize that staying connected to the needs of those that don’t yet have a personal relationship with Christ is equally as important as spending time with Christians. Jesus spent time with those who needed him but did not yet believe in him, even to the chagrin of his family (Mark 3:20-34).
Leaders will increasingly be about leading non-churchgoers further along their spiritual journey, not just about leading Christians. In the next decade, Christian leadership will be less and less about leading a church, but increasingly about leading non-churchgoers toward better lives and potentially a relationship with Christ. In the past, being a good church leader was mainly about helping Christians develop their skills. But emerging leaders are recognizing that leadership is equally about helping nonbelievers move closer to Christ on their belief journey. My friend and Fuller professor Richard Peace tells about witnessing to a young atheist, who afterword said that he was no longer an atheist, but now agnostic. At first Richard was discouraged, hoping to see this young man have a conversionary experience. But then Richard realized he had helped this young seeker move one step closer to understanding who Jesus is and having a personal relationship with him. Richard began to pray for that young man, having seen a movement in that man’s spiritual journey towards the ultimate experience of transformation.
Respected leaders won’t be leaders of big congregations, but leaders who are growing and changing. Over the years I’ve seen a great deal of distrust develop regarding leaders of large churches, some of it earned but most of it an occupational hazzard. A natural distancing occurs in leadership (remember McGavran’s warning of “redemption and lift”) that brings about suspicion and skepticism in some of those that want to be led. Subsequently, followers in the next decade increasingly want to know that their leaders are continually learning and changing for the better. They want to watch leaders repent, adjust and rely on the Holy Spirit to improve, called sanctification (Mark 11:12-25, 2 Cor. 3:18, Phil. 3:12, etc.). The next decade’s leader will not seen as on a pedestal, but upon a journey of self discovery with the Holy Spirit at her or his guide.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 12/23/19, Biblical Leadership Magazine.
Most people are familiar with the classic and oft sung Christmas carol: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Fewer people may realize that it was Charles Wesley who wrote the words to this tune. Still fewer people may know that Charles Wesley had an important leadership principle in mind when he penned his Christmas classic.
Charles, and his more well-known brother John, were the practical and theological leaders of the Wesleyan Movement, which today has grown into many varieties of Methodism, including the United Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Church of God in Christ, Free Methodist, Freewill Baptists, Church of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Seventh-day Adventists, Church of Christ, Foursquare Church, Calvary Chapels, Vineyard Churches, Salvation Army, many others and, of course, Wesleyans.
In fact, a sizable 26% of all Christian denominations can trace their history back to the Wesleyan revival.
And music was an important leadership principle in that revival. Charles wrote between 5,000 and 8,000 hymns (it depends upon who you ask). He wrote the lyrics, putting them to carefully selected tunes by composers of the day. In fact, it is said that Charles dictated to his wife his final hymns from his death bed.
Charles’ motivation was because he realized that good biblical leadership required hymns to meet the needs of the congregants who sung them. And, in part his hymns were written to address an important need.
Most of Charles’ listeners where were biblically illiterate and many were functionally illiterate too. Therefore, Charles wrote hymns with clear theology, but in memorable phrases. His goal was to help those singing remember biblical truths that they could not read.
Even in the time of the Wesleys, the religious story behind Christmas was being discarded in favor of rampant commercialism. Only a year after his conversion Charles Wesley penned these words to educate people to the unimaginable sacrifice that God took by sending his son to earth as a newborn infant.
John Wesley even said that Charles Wesley’s hymn book was the best theological book in existence.
Leaders should understand those they lead. And for Charles this meant using seasonal celebrations combined with poetry and finely crafted theology to educate those who knew little of God’s Good News.
I’ve observed that church leaders usually spend a great deal of time selecting the right music for Sunday services. And they should. But, I’ve also noticed that some music, both traditional and contemporary, tends to be weak in theology and message. Perhaps such songs are utilized because of the catchy music attached, rather than the principles embraced.
Today Christian leaders often worry about a decreasing knowledge of Christianity amid the rampant commercialism of Christmas. Charles saw a solution (which has survived almost 300 years). He wrote finely crafted and theologically powerful songs, set to memorable tunes by contemporary composers.
In an increasingly biblically unaware world the Christmas Carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” can serve as an example of how Charles Wesley wrote lyrics that educated while they inspired. So the next time you hear the Christmas Carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” make up your mind to follow Charles’s example by picking or crafting songs that not only inspire, but also enlighten.
People usually sense a need for change immediately prior to the point of spiritual transformation. If God intends spiritual reconnection to be a reaction to crises, then how do we help people in the midst of crisis?
Churches often mistake going, baptizing, and teaching (the hows) for the goal of making active, ongoing learners. So, with this in mind, let’s look at the hows of making active, ongoing learners.
I often ask my client churches to honestly tell me what they perceive as their church’s primary goal. This is not a scientific poll because these churches need to grow and they realize this (or they wouldn’t be hiring a church growth consultant). But their answers may mirror yours.
Since large gatherings can create excitement and attention, they often overshadow the key discipleship venue of small groups. To combat this, leaders must ensure that the church’s emphasis upon small groups is highlighted noticeably in official statements.
These are missional patterns that almost any church would want to embrace. But many people first react negatively toward the missional term because it is new and they do not fully know its meaning.