As a church leadership coach, I often use a video featuring Craig Groeschel to help church leadership teams develop core values. Craig makes the statement, “If you are going to reach people no one else is reaching, you have to do what no one else is doing!” Wow! I find his words both inspiring and uncomfortable. Craig is talking about change. Personal change. Changing what we do. Changing what I do.
Change is hard, but growth requires change. I don’t want to stop growing. So I can’t afford to stop changing. Neither can you. Change requires we do things we have never done before. Change requires we go outside of our comfort zones.
For me, teaching is in my “wheelhouse.” I love to unpack truth. I love to take a complex issue and make it clear and easy to understand. I can build teaching PowerPoints in my sleep. It’s how I am wired. Writing comes much harder. It is unfamiliar territory.
Potomac Ministry Network Superintendent Ken Burtram has challenged me to translate my fifteen years of church leadership coaching knowledge and experience into print. The goal is to create a new custom Church Leadership Coaching process for use in the Potomac Ministry Network. Below are some of my goals for the project:
- Churches should be able to complete the entire process in one year.
- Each teaching/coaching session should be no longer than three hours. That way it can fit into a Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, or even a week-day evening.
- The process must be designed for church leadership teams.
- It should be designed primarily to benefit small churches (less than 200 in weekend attendance.)
- The process should use adult learning principles.
- The process should follow the principles and steps in John Kotter’s classic book, Leading Change.
The superintendent has asked me to curtail my travel schedule during the month of December in order to concentrate on writing. One of my biggest challenges is what Chip and Dan Heath refer to as the “curse of knowledge.” I have read so many good books, heard so many great leaders, been part of so many great classes and seminars that it is hard to pare this wealth of material down into the most important and practical core principles.
I’ve just finished reading Chip and Dan Heath’s interesting book, “Made To Stick – why some ideas survive and others die.” Especially fascinating is the Heath brothers’ emphasis on using STORIES to make ideas memorable. Chip and Dan are business authors, and the book is not aimed at the Christian audience. However, one example they cite is the uncontested, all-time BEST communicator of truth, JESUS CHRIST. In particular, they walk us through the story of the “Good Samaritan,” pointing out how memorable and “sticky” His story makes the truth. The Bible clearly tells us, “Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, He never spoke to them without using such parables” (Matthew 13:34 NLT).
This brings me to one of my personal shortcomings as a teacher and preacher. Often, I have way too much content, but not nearly enough of the right stories and illustrations to make the truth easily applicable and truly memorable. As “Christ-Followers,” I believe almost all of us could do a better job by following Jesus’ example of telling great stories and using vivid illustrations.
In “Made To Stick,” the Heath brothers point out two powerful functions of the RIGHT KIND of stories.
- Stories that DRIVE ACTION through SIMULATION – these help us see what we need to do and how we could do it. The right story makes truth concrete and actionable.
- Stores that provide INSPIRATION – the MOTIVATION to do it. These help us want to do better and be better by providing an inspiring example.
I sometimes joke that it could be said of me, “Gary doesn’t say anything without a PowerPoint.” I DO like using PowerPoint because it helps me bring focus and clarity to a concept. However, STORIES are far BETTER than PowerPoint in helping people REMEMBER and APPLY truth.
For a number of years I coached pastors at the Assemblies of God national Church Planting and Revitalization Boot Camps. My passion is to help pastors and churches succeed. Therefore, I always worked on the revitalization side of the boot camps. My goal was to help existing churches “turn-around” and become healthy. We used to tell pastors at the boot camps, “The next best thing to being well – is being well on your way!” This statement recognizes that regaining health for a church (or individual) is a PROCESS – not a quick fix.
Progress usually is not as rapid or dramatic as we desire. However, making a good start and refusing to give up is the key to eventual success. It is important we celebrate and value gradual forward motion. The truth is, our church (or we as individuals) did not get where we are over night. Reversing our situation and regaining health won’t happen over night either. It will be a process that requires perseverance as we continue to take next steps.
Above is a graph of my weight loss for 2015. I have been working to improve my physical health for several years now. I wish the progress was more dramatic. I’m not happy with my current weight, but I am down 109 pounds from the 355 pounds I used to weigh! I have to keep reminding myself, if I keep moving in the right direction, I will eventually get were I need to be.
The same is true for pastors and churches. If you keep growing as a leader and Christ-follower, if you keep your church moving forward – even gradually, you are headed toward God’s preferred future for you! “The next best thing to being well – is being well on your way!”
In January of 2015, Way of Faith Assembly of God, in Fairfax, VA, began the LDR (Leadership Development Resources) Process. Every other month, Pastor Bill Parkinson and his team has invested an entire Saturday to meet with me and work on strategies for the future of their church. As of the month of September, the group reached the half-way point in the process – a significant milestone. But, even more exciting is how God has blessed the church. Back in January the weekend attendance was about 70. Recently, weekend attendance hit the 200 mark – a 186% gain in attendance in less than one year!
Way of Faith has one of the largest and most diverse teams I have worked with. The team is multi-ethnic and includes both “Senior Saints” and younger people. All are great thinkers and fully-engaged participants. IT IS ALWAYS POWERFUL WHEN A PASTOR AND A CHURCH TEAM WORKS TOGETHER! Good things are bound to happen, and it is exciting to see how God has given Pastor Parkinson and the church favor is reaching out to a widely-diverse international community.
Congratulations, Pastor Parkinson and the team at Way of Faith!
This morning, Friday, September 11, 2015, Ken Boa’s book, “The Perfect Leader – Practicing the Leadership Traits of God”, is available free for a limited time as a Kindle E-book download from Amazon.com. Ken Boa is a well-known author who has written several classic books on discipleship and spiritual disciplines. Dr. Boa is the President of Reflections Ministries, an organization that seeks to provide safe places for people to consider the claims of Christ and help them mature and bear fruit in their relationship with Him. He is also President of Trinity House Publishers. Click HERE to visit the book’s Amazon listing.
Here is the book’s description:
Ken Boa hits the mark. You don’t have to look very far today to come across “popular” ideas of leadership that try hard to mimic biblical principles. The problem is that’s all they do… mimic. Boa propels leadership a giant step forward with the revelation of the ultimate Christian leadership model.
Boa rejects the compromises found in much of today’s teaching that force-fit secular standards into a biblical mold—ideas that hover around humanistic ideas of fairness, kindness, and basic morality. Instead, Boa challenges leaders to do a serious evaluation of their approach and to follow the leadership qualities exhibited by God in his Word.
If you are interested in getting a free copy, act right away. The book will only be free for a limited amount of time.
For a couple of brief stints, I worked for former District Superintendent, Bob Rhoden. Bob is widely-known as a gifted leader. However, gifting aside – Bob was a man who was continually reading and learning. Even in his last few weeks in office, he was STILL reading new books and recommending them to other leaders on the team. A few years later, when I interviewed Bob to ask his best advice for young pastors. High on his list of best practices was the challenge to “Be a life-long learner.”
Right now, I’m in the middle of a non-ministry read titled “The 4-Hour CHEF – The simple path to cooking like a pro, LEARNING ANYTHING and living the good life” by Timothy Ferris. Part of my interest in the book comes from the fact I have been working to recover my personal health for the past several years. I have eliminated most sugary, starchy foods, processed foods, and almost all fast food – hence, my interest in learning to prepare fresh whole foods from scratch. The gratifying result is that I have lost 107 pounds so far and have seen my blood sugar drop from a diabetic high of 400 and return to normal non-diabetic levels.
The book’s title is quite a boast, but I have found it a stimulating read on a number of levels. So far, my most intriguing takeaway is Ferris’s simple formula for LEARNING ANYTHING. He makes his concept memorable by using the acronym, DiSSS.
D-DECONSTRUCT: What are the minimal learning blocks that I should start with?
- Ferris suggests you start by creating a LIST of people to interview (successful people who already DO or teach what you want to learn)
- Contact them by email and give them a CONTEXT for the specific area you want to ask about.
- Email questions to them to probe for BEST ADVICE and BIGGEST MISTAKES to avoid. Also ask for suggestions for other people you should talk to.
S-SELECTION: Which 20% of these learning blocks should I focus on for 80% or more of the outcomes I want?
S-SEQUENCING: What ORDER should I learn the blocks?
S-STAKES: How do I set up stakes to create real consequences that help to guarantee I follow through?
I recently completed the book, “The Externally Focused Quest,” by Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw. In broad strokes, the authors discuss how to move from being an “internally focused” church to becoming an “externally focused” church. However, the thing that really grabbed me was the subtitle of the book, “Becoming the best church FOR the community” – what a challenging concept!
When we strive to be the “best church IN the community”, we put ourselves in competition with all of the other churches in the area. We tend to ask, “How can we be BETTER than they are at attracting and keeping people?” However, if you think about enlarging the “Kingdom of God”, other churches are not our competition. They are actually our teammates.
A pastor of a small church recently told me, “I’m not just the pastor of this church. I am a pastor to this community.” That, I believe, is the right point of view. Kennon Callahan urges a congregation to live a theology of service, not a theology of survival. He writes that “Small, Strong Congregations find ONE EXCELLENT MISSION that matches their gifts and their community, and then live that mission out in a legendary way that serves the people of their community.”
How can your church become the best church FOR the community?
Swanson and Rusaw list nine critical issues:
- FOCUS – externally focused churches look out the window at the needs and opportunities for service and ministry around them.
- PURPOSE – God has given you and your church the gifts and strengths you have FOR A REASON. The authors suggest we were all created to believe, to belong and to BLESS. How can we BE the church by blessing and serving our community like Jesus did/would?
- SCOPE – Are we trying to build “OUR church” or are we working to build the “Kingdom of God?” Pastor Murray Robertson writes, “When our works supersede our words, God’s kingdom shows up.”
- MISSIONS – Most externally focused churches want to be the best church for the community AND for the world. Take a look at what you are doing globally. Are there things you need to change?
- PARTNERING – Swanson and Rusaw suggest we will do very little “partnering” if we limit ourselves to ONLY working with those who “believe what we believe.” A better question may be, “Do you CARE about what I care about?” This can open the door to partnering with community organizations as well as other churches in worthy community-serving endeavors.
- SYSTEMS – How can we create structures and systems that enhance, strengthen, and sustain externally focused ministry? “Leadership is not just about finding leaders but also about creating GOOD SYSTEMS. An average leader in a good system will produce more than a great leader in an average system.”
- EVANGELISM – At this year’s Family Camp at Potomac Park Retreat Center, Bible teacher David Watson urged us to be on the lookout for “divine appointments” – times when God is giving us an opportunity to listen to someone’s story, begin or deepen a relationship, and to minister to others. Swanson and Rusaw note that externally focused churches “deploy Kingdom laborers, not just community volunteers.” Doing good deeds can create an opportunity to share the good news. Teach your people how to recognize the “God moment” – the time God enters a conversation, and how take next steps without being pushy or aggressive.
- CREATIVITY – Externally focused churches innovate. Every church has six resources, 1-people, 2-facilities, 3-prayer, 4-finances, 5-technology, and 6-time. How can you be entrepreneurial by repurposing how you use these resources to become the best church for your community?
- OUTCOMES – How should we measure success? In the past it has been, “nickels and noses,” but is there a better way? The authors suggest we try to “get everyone in the game,” They suggest we, “provide regular, easy-entry opportunities that give people the chance to change the world.”
One excellent book, is Gary McIntosh’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All – bringing out the best in any size church. McIntosh writes that many small churches suffer from low morale caused by the way they see themselves. Much like ten of the men who were sent out by Moses to survey the promised land, they see themselves as “grasshoppers,” too small to DO anything, and too small to GIVE anything of significance to the people in their community. McIntosh says churches which believe this are suffering from what he calls, “Small Church Image.”
On page 181, he lists “Ten Signs of Positive Self-Esteem.” you can use the list to quickly assess the morale in your church. Just check each statement that is TRUE about your church:
- Our members FEEL GOOD about our church.
- Our members want OTHERS to EXPERIENCE our church.
- Our members GET INVOLVED in the life of our church.
- Our members look to the FUTURE more than the past.
- Our members are willing to take reasonable RISKS.
- Our members take PRIDE in maintaining our church FACILITIES.
- Our members feel our church is SOMETHING SPECIAL.
- Our members are constantly AFFIRMED by their leaders.
- Our members set high standards for EXCELLENCE.
- Our members have VISION for the future.
Seven or more checks indicate a church with a healthy self-image. Six checks or fewer is cause for concern. Three or fewer checks mean self-image is dangerously low.
How to RAISE MORALE?
- Set and achieve REACHABLE GOALS. Don’t aim for the impossible to start with. Almost any improvement (as simple as fresh paint, cleaning or repair) can help to boost morale.
- Be sure to CELEBRATE WINS. We need to celebrate every improvement, every right behavior, every win. Celebrating victories helps to raise morale. What you talk about and reward gets repeated!
- Be a HIGH TRUST LEADER. Trust is the coin of leadership. Keep your promises. Keep commitments. Keep confidences. Always do the right thing with a right attitude. Do your job well.
- Lead with INTEGRITY, don’t ever manipulate decisions to get your way. Prove that you have the best interests of your people at heart by the way you lead. Practice true servant leadership.
In his book, Small Strong Congregations, Creating Strengths and Health For Your Congregation, Kennon L. Callahan outlines eight key areas he uses to measure the health of a small church (200 or less in attendance). He indicates that if a church can score well in FIVE of the eight, it tends to be a STRONG small church that ministers by living out a theology of SERVICE rather than a theology of SURVIVAL. Here are the eight areas of measurement:
- Mission and Service
- Compassion and Shepherding
- Community and Belonging
- Self-reliance and Self-sufficiency
- Worship and Hope
- Teams, Leaders and Congregation
- Just enough Space and Facilities
- Giving and Generosity
After completing the book, I sat down and created an initial version of what I call the “Church Strength Finder.” It is a brief 2-page, self-scoring questionnaire that will help you and your leadership/ministry team discover your strengths as a church. Both Callahan and I believe building on your strengths is a wise way to improve the health of your congregation.
Recently, I wrote a brief post recommending the 200churches podcast. I personally started by listening to the very earliest programs of this podcast which now has over 130 episodes 0n iTunes. One that was a real gem was Episode 14, “Eight Ways To Build Relationships With Your Church Board.” (Click here to access the episode directly.) This episode features a brief cameo by business author Michael Hyatt, a prolific author, blogger and podcaster. The cameo features a question from a frustrated young pastor who is considering resigning. Hyatt offers an insightful and challenging answer well worth the listen. (For more about Michael Hyatt click HERE to visit his website.)
Pastor/podcasters Jeff Keady and Jonny Craig go on to make the following additional suggestions:
- Spend time with your leaders – off property.
- Learn to really listen to them.
- Sincerely ask for their input… and mean it!
- Talk about values with the goal of shared values.
- Exchange expectations, in both directions.
- Affirm, encourage, compliment, and praise them – privately and publicly.
- Challenge them to use their gifts and expertise for Christ and his body – all leaders need a challenge.
- Counsel them in their areas of struggle.