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The Warrior is like The Authoritarian, with a few important variations. For example, they are less emotionally controlled than The Authoritarian. In fact, they are usually heavily influenced by an authoritarian’s leadership. The Warrior is fearless and approaches leadership like a battle. They attack problems zealously. When they see wrongdoing or injustice they are the tip of the reformative spear. Their preaching might sound like an army drill sergeant. The Warrior has a profound sense of duty and is very comfortable with authority structures.
Strengths: dependable, reliable, bold, brave, courageous, protective, principled, ethical, honorable, and self-sacrificing. The Warrior is not easily swayed by winds of culture or popular opinions. When they believe something is right they hold the line. They are uncompromising (in a good way). They don’t wait for public opinion to tip in their favor before doing necessary things. They make people under their care feel safe and protected. They know how to take the vision of others and make it a reality. Warriors are hardworking, prepared, and follow direction from leaders without complaint.
Weaknesses: anger issues, impulsive, harsh, heavy-handed, impatient, insensitive, and narrow-minded. They can be smart but impulsive. Honest but overly blunt. The Warrior can become so fixated on one mission that he fails to see peripheral problems emerging. Their shock and awe tactics sometimes result in collateral damage. The Warrior, without the help of the Holy Spirit, can be unforgiving, vengeful, and overpowering. The Warrior wrestles with the impulse to preach mad and tell everybody off.
The Organizer is always prepared, systematic, and plans everything down to the final period. They plan and then they plan some more. They organize and pre-arrange everything. They are detailed and meticulous. The Organizer is cautious, calculated, and calm. They are forward thinking. They anticipate the future and learn from the past. All these traits are reflected in their teaching and preaching. The Organizer loves meetings; they have meetings to plan meetings.
Strengths: rarely caught off guard, The Organizer is dependable and handles complicated operations with ease. They’re not intimidated by mundane or boring tasks. They hold everyone around them accountable and manage people closely. They communicate efficiently, albeit briefly because they are always juggling several major projects at once. In a secular environment, they make great managers. The Organizer will communicate things clearly and repeatedly.
Weaknesses: Organizers are rarely caught off guard because they have a contingency for everything, but when they are it makes them crazy. Usually mild-mannered, the unexpected unglues The Organizer. It’s typically manifested in an outburst of anger or an awkward tantrum. Also, they can be so tightly scheduled they fail to make room for the working of the Spirit. Their constant planning feels overwhelming to more spontaneous personalities. They seem awkward in settings where spontaneity is required. The Organizer has trouble unwinding. Their focus makes them seem unapproachable and anti-social; even when they’re preaching. However, they’re usually much more sensitive and caring than they seem.
The Motivator is nearly the opposite of The Organizer. The Motivator may appear organized but they are normally off the cuff. They have expressive energy that fills a room. They know how to connect emotionally with a crowd or an individual. Their zealousness is contagious, they can sell sand to a camel. They have an uncanny ability to gauge what people are thinking and feeling. The Motivator will make you laugh and cry at the same time. They can be deadly serious and hysterically funny in the same sentence. If given enough time, they can turn a “no” into a “yes”. The Motivator helps other more organized leaders launch their vision.
Strengths: persuasive, influential, impacting, memorable, intuitive, intense, complex, sensitive, concerned, and dynamic. The Motivator is skilled at getting other people to get things done. They are team minded. They connect quickly with others and make a lasting impression. They are vision casters, futuristic thinkers, and they can see potential that others miss.
Weaknesses: pushy, overly aggressive, impatient, forgetful, demanding, rash, and careless. They don’t mean to be dishonest but they are so focused on the moment they often make promises they can’t keep. It’s not unusual for The Motivator to make a claim or promise and simply forget about it the next day. Motivators tend to exaggerate when making a point. They are results driven and demand immediate responses; when they don’t get immediate responses they become very frustrated. The Motivator can become manipulative. Motivation and manipulation are similar but not the same; motivators straddle that fine line.
The Weeping Prophet shares many similarities with Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations. Their ears are finally tuned to the voice of God. They are sensitive and heavily burdened for the sinful condition of the world. Their methods and deliveries may seem drastic but it flows from an unbearable burden for the lost. They wrestle in the Spirit realm and make sacrifices others would not make. God speaks to them in vivid and exclusive ways. Their prayer life is strong. They are deniers of self (their ministry is fueled by fasting). They are given to outward explosions of powerfully felt emotions. They are often misunderstood and marginalized. They preach and speak forcefully, prophetically, and authoritatively.
Strengths: deeply spiritual, convicting, corrective, self-disciplined, anointed, deep, God fearing, focused, forthright, honest, observant, sacrificial, and biblically astute. The Weeping Prophet is no stranger to the presence of God. They speak with revelation. They are not afraid to speak truth in hostile environments. They are willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. They pull other ministries out of the pit of carnality. They see dangers ahead and they ring the warning bells loud and long.
Weaknesses: grapples against paralyzing depression, suffers under the weight of the spiritual burden, and can easily become isolated. The Prophet can go from the mountain of faith to the valley of doubt in an instant (think Elijah right after Mount Caramel). Their introverted personality makes working with others difficult. Their quirkiness and eccentricities can be off-putting (think John the Baptist).
The Dreamer is a visionary. Like Joseph, they don’t always know what the vision means or how it will work. Also like Joseph, God speaks to them through visions and dreams. They have big plans, they spend a lot of time looking ahead. Their dreams often seem farfetched and fantastical. They suffer setbacks but they keep dreaming. They inspire others to reach for bigger and better things. The Dreamer knows the status quo can become deadly tomorrow. They prepare and equip themselves and others for the future.
Strengths: vision caster, prepared, inspiring, spiritually sensitive, forgiving, patient, kind, competent, dependable, and helpful. Other ministries become jealous and dismissive of The Dreamer but they would be in a world of hurt without them. The Dreamer has a God-given vision that ensures a healthy future.
Weaknesses: easily misunderstood, naïve, cryptic, vague, and emotional. The Dreamer sometimes shares the vision prematurely out of sheer exuberance. Their excitement gets the best of them. Their trusting nature invites pain and disappointment. They have a bad sense of timing; they know the “what” but they rarely know the “when”.
The Wall Rebuilder is a modern-day Nehemiah. As you know, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls around the city of Jerusalem. The temple had already been rebuilt but now the city was without protection; Nehemiah took on the awesome task of rebuilding broken down walls in the face of hostility from virtually every direction. The Wall Rebuilder works tirelessly for the restoration of righteousness. The Wall Rebuilder appreciates the protection that holiness brings. They see exposed weaknesses. Anticipate dangers. They rebuild what others have left vulnerable. When other ministries crash and burn, they move in with a restoration mindset. Sanballats try to turn their ministry into a punchline but The Wall Rebuilder just prays and keeps on working (Nehemiah 4:1-7).
Strengths: restorative, uncompromising, uplifting, convicting, calculated, prepared, disciplined, sacrificial, hardworking, trustworthy, brave, insightful, and perceptive. It’s hard to fool The Wall Rebuilder, they see through bluffs and blusters. Their work keeps other people safe and protected. While some view walls as constricting, the Wall Rebuilder sees them as a bulwark against the enemy.
Weaknesses: workaholic, harsh, stoic, insensitive, and hyper-focused. The Wall Rebuilder can get so focused on the walls they neglect the temple. They are loving but layers of self-discipline may give them an indifferent exterior. Often overworked, they suffer from exhaustion, discouragement, and anxiety. The same personality traits that make them spiritually cautious also cause them to be extremely untrusting. They write people off too quickly and struggle with unforgiveness.
The Martyr is the modern-day Stephen. They may not be literally killed; however, they give everything they’ve got to the work of the Kingdom. Their life is truly a sacrificial offering unto the Lord. They are the church planters, the missionaries, and the forerunners of revival. Many times, they never have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labor. They give financially until it hurts. They give of their time and energy until they have nothing left to give. They are pioneers that dig out a work in barren wildernesses. They are unappreciated, unassuming, and unselfish. Subsequent ministries owe a great debt of gratitude to The Martyr.
Strengths: selfless, hardworking, giving, humble, sincere, idealistic, visionary, steady, bold, faithful, unflinching, uncompromising, and courageous. The Martyr does the right thing no matter what. They do what others are afraid to do. They go where others are afraid to go. They speak when others are afraid to speak. They work when others are too tired to work. They are tenacious and sure footed. They don’t have to be propped up by others to stay the course. They have an inward assurance and strength that keeps them moving forward regardless of the obstacle. They are foundation layers and spiritual brick makers. Tragically, they suffer tremendously and make the ultimate sacrifices when needed. They are the unsung heroes of the faith.
Weaknesses: it’s hard to say anything critical about The Martyr (for obvious reasons), but they do have personality weaknesses. For example, they are so driven it can lead to drastic physical and spiritual burnout. They struggle to balance family and ministry successfully. Because they are so unappreciated they are not immune to toxic levels of bitterness. They can unintentionally become isolated and lonely. They don’t prioritize rest which is spiritually and physically hazardous. The Martyr fights against cynicism and is sometimes excessively critical of those who are less devoted.
If you are a pastor wanting to be more self-aware, a saint hoping to better understand your shepherd or a pastor who wants to better understand other pastors, this article is for you.
Pastors and preachers are people with personality strengths and weaknesses just like everybody else. They’re anointed and God called, but that doesn’t mean they lose their distinctiveness. Pastors are not monolithic. This diversity of personalities and leadership styles is helpful and necessary for the overall health of the Church.
I’m fascinated by personality studies. There are hundreds of them (I still prefer Why You Act the Way You Do? by Tim Lahaye). Like many teenagers, I was awkward with a touch of moroseness; understanding why people acted the way they acted helped me make sense of the world, and it still does (here’s a very brief online temperament test that tends to be scary accurate).
From a ministry leadership standpoint, having a grasp of basic personality types is invaluable. When you understand personality differences you are less likely to be offended or caught off guard by common weaknesses. You spot strengths faster and see buried potential in people as well.
Even more importantly, understanding your own personality creates self-awareness. Knowing your own temperament will help you avoid lots of grief. We’ve all worked alongside people who are completely unaware of their flaws and overconfident about mediocrity. Or worse, they can’t see their own tremendous potential. That lack of self-awareness is dangerous in a leadership paradigm.
I’m a pastor’s kid and a pastor. I’ve spent my whole life observing preachers and pastors from all around the world. I love pastors and have been blessed with the opportunity to regularly interact with dynamic preachers. Over the years, I’ve observed fourteen distinct pastoral leadership styles that are a direct result of personality types and influences.
Most pastors and preachers are a mixture of several of these styles but predominated by one. Each of the styles listed below contains distinct giftings and shortcomings. I don’t think one style is any better than the other. What’s important, regardless of which leadership style a personality enables, is that the strengths are cultivated and the weaknesses are minimized.
My prayer is that this list will be helpful to pastors and maybe a few saints as well. Most problems between saints and pastors are nothing more than personality conflicts. Many saints misunderstand their pastor’s personality and find unnecessary offense and vice versa. I highly respect and honor every pastoral temperament and mean no disrespect by discussing them in this format. The Bible gives us snapshots of spiritual leaders from diverse backgrounds and emphasizes drastic differences between personalities. It’s still that way today.
So, let’s jump into the fourteen distinct pastoral personalities and their resulting leadership styles. Remember as you read, you or your pastor are likely a blend of more than one of these styles, but one will outshine the others.
The Theologian is a master of doctrinal dispositions and a student of Scriptural nuance. They are intensely smart. The Theologian is well versed in even the most obscure details of Scripture. Minutia matters in a big way to this kind of pastor. They’re likely to be a more introverted temperament with a strong sense of self-discipline. The Theologian’s quiet confidence and knowledge inspires and brings clarity to those around him.
Strengths: attention to detail, doctrinally sound, calming, focused, inspire spiritual confidence, produce well-rounded disciples, mentor other leaders, produce helpful resources, and hold the line against invading false doctrines. The Theologian is an irreplaceable and indispensable resource within the kingdom of God.
Weaknesses: The Theologian struggles with being heavy on information and light on application. They can be extremely introverted (check out this article for introverted leaders). At times, they borderline being extremely anti-social. The Theologian’s hyper sense of focus can easily be mistaken for unfriendliness. The Theologian’s natural tendency when teaching and preaching is to remain bland and detached; making an otherwise powerful presentation, low impact.
The Teacher is much like The Theologian minus the extensive doctrinal savvy. That’s not to say they don’t have strong doctrinal grounding, they do. The Teacher fills an important and tragically underemphasized role as outlined in Ephesians 4:11-13. Although their ministry may seem less dynamic on the surface, nothing could be further from the truth. The teacher grounds what other more extroverted ministries leave unfinished. In many cases, The Teacher is introverted but not always.
Strengths: mentally disciplined, consistent, highly organized, carefully structured, well-rounded, dependable, typically compassionate, produces helpful resources, inspires confidence, exposes and corrects false doctrine, strengthens other ministers, and produces other ministries. The Teacher is extraordinarily dependable, trustworthy, and unflinchingly honest.
Weaknesses: usually lacks creativity, resists healthy changes and struggles to engage people emotionally. The Teacher finds it difficult to be concise and naturally overloads people with more information than they can retain in one sitting. The Teacher’s high level of intelligence can unintentionally seem arrogant and condescending.
The Authoritarian has an enormously outgoing and strong personality. This leadership style is usually coupled closely with one of the other personalities on this list. The Authoritarian has a top-down mindset. Authoritarians are confident, self-assured, and strong willed (making them exceptionally gifted and effective preachers). They make an impression everywhere they go and are easily spotted in any setting. Authoritarians have a keen sense of right and wrong, loyalty and disloyalty, honor and dishonor, and law and order. They command respect and inspire others to do great things. Many of the great leaders in the Bible were authoritarians.
Strengths: brave, concise, competent, efficient, inspirational, self-disciplined, and confident. The Authoritarian inspires the kind of loyalty that generals have when leading troops into battle. They are fearless, focused, accomplished, disciplined, and courageous. They never do what the crowd is doing just because the crowd is doing it. They make fierce friends and worthy adversaries. They are a true leader in every sense of the word.
Weaknesses: ego, pride, unwillingness to change course when needed, tone deaf, unkind, quick-tempered, and reckless. The Authoritarian struggles to accept wise counsel and respect the reasoned opinions of others. Because authoritarians are so often right, they don’t handle being wrong very well. Strong people are attracted to an authoritarian’s leadership. However, more sensitive people are easily wounded by The Authoritarians aggressive personality. Without meaning to, authoritarians occasionally harm gentler personalities without even knowing it. The Authoritarian naturally lacks compassion for weaker vessels. Because loyalty is so important to The Authoritarian; disloyalty (whether real or perceived) is met with overly punitive measures. Their mission mindedness makes them extremely effective in completing tasks but generally, makes them lose sight of the feelings and emotions of the people around them.
The People Person is an interesting blend of introvert and extrovert. In the right setting they are incredibly outgoing, but in other settings they become unusually quiet. The People Person likes people, likes to be liked by other people, and likes people to like other people. They are talkative, emotional, engaging, charming, fun, humorous, witty, and networked. They thrive in a crowded room. They thrive off the energy of large groups. They dislike being alone. Their effervescent personality makes them terrific communicators. Their preaching and teaching is often full of humor and down-to-earth relatability.
Strengths: passionate, compassionate, likable personality, great communication skills, super relatable, community builders, bring other personalities together (networking), very creative, open to ideas and opinions, make people feel loved, and big hearted. The People Person operates on bursts of creative and emotional energy that is compelling and contagious. They always have big plans that usually includes bringing people together in one way or another. They are inclusive and exude self-confidence even when they don’t feel confident.
Weaknesses: quickly discouraged, easily offended, insecure, prone to bouts of melancholia, sometimes quick-tempered, disorganized, lack follow through, forgetful, appear shallow, and enigmatic. The People Person has lots of big ideas but doesn’t implement them well because they constantly overlook “pesky” details. In worst case scenarios, that same inattention to detail causes them to be doctrinally imbalanced. Because they love people deeply they are also hurt deeply by people. The People Person seems confident but often wrestles with profound insecurities. Their desire to be liked can be detrimental when making difficult decisions. They handle rejection poorly. The People Person’s desire to be center stage may cause them to feel jealousy when others are in the spotlight. They privately battle depression but most folks would never know it.
The Orator is not a standalone personality trait although it does become a defining characteristic for many pastors. Not all dynamic orators are great leaders and not all great leaders are dynamic orators. However, when the two are combined it becomes incredibly potent. Biblically speaking, I think the apostle Paul was an example of a powerful orator (Acts 17:22-31). The Orator is demarcated as being an incredibly moving preacher and communicator. Regardless of their other traits, they have the uncommon innate ability and God-given anointing to move crowds via preaching. Their preaching calls people to repentance, builds faith, motivates change, encourages, convicts, and shapes entire generations. The Orator is not typecast into one personality or leadership style. Their gift crosses lines and spectrums. Some are extremely inward while others are highly outgoing. Some pour themselves out while preaching and finish empty and spent, while others are fueled up by preaching and finish with a frenzy of energy. Regardless, their gift is usually in high demand.
Strengths: highly skilled communicators, heavily anointed, insightful, introspective, unique, inspirational, thought provoking, culture shaping, smart, mentally organized, prepared, persuasive, influential, compelling, convincing, adept, well-read, forward thinking, sensitive to the Spirit, and they exude confidence. The Orator often plays a key role in influencing movements and instigating revival on a large scale even without official positions or titles.
Weaknesses: pride and ego are dangers that every single spiritual leader must navigate, but this is especially true for The Orator. Because they are so gifted and well-liked their egos can swell easily. The Orator needs the anointing just like every other preacher, but they typically have natural abilities that could just as easily make them great politicians, salesman, motivational speakers, or actors. This means, if they aren’t careful they will rely on their own ability rather than the Lord. Also, because powerful orators are in such demand they may not always have time to develop other leadership skills before they are launched into public ministry. As the old saying goes, “not all great preachers make great pastors, and not all great pastors are great preachers.” Because orators love preaching and communicating so much, it’s often difficult for them to invest their time into developing other important attributes. However, when they do, they are amazingly impactful within the kingdom of God.
The Nice Guy is just that, a nice guy. This person genuinely cares and has a sincerity that cannot be denied. They lead from a solid core of kindness. Their personality is gentle and calming. Everyone they meet feels loved. Everything they do flows from love. They can be introverted or extroverted but meekness (not weakness) is their dominate trait. This kind of leader’s personality is usually coupled with a complimentary style; typically, The Theologian, The Teacher, The Orator, The People Person, The Poet Performer, The Organizer, The Motivator, The Weeping Prophet, or The Dreamer. They reap a loyal following because of their sincere and warm demeanor. I imagine John the Beloved (John 19:26-27) as a biblical example of the Nice Guy.
Strengths: kindness, compassion, empathy, loyalty, sincerity, warmth, and relatability. Notwithstanding other flaws, much is forgivable with The Nice Guy because they are so likable. People are drawn to them like a magnet. Their love for others flows from their love for the Lord.
Weaknesses: on the surface, you wouldn’t think The Nice Guy could have weaknesses, but they do. They dislike confrontation more than the average leader, making them anemic in crisis situations where confrontation is needed. They are often too slow to rebuke and correct, which causes problems to escalate that could have been alleviated. They are susceptible to being victimized by manipulators and blindsided by pretenders. The Nice Guy may shy away from necessary doctrines that might offend the hearers. In other words, sometimes they forget that love must often be tough.
The Poet Performer is artistic, talented, and entertaining. David comes to mind as a biblical example of The Poet Performer (1 Samuel 16:16). The Poet Performer doesn’t necessarily have to be musical, but they are always creative, imaginative, and gifted in some artistic way (oftentimes they are multi-talented). They are cerebral. Like David they can also be a warrior, but they are predisposed to spiritual things. Praise and worship comes as naturally as breathing to The Poet Performer. They are anointed in almost everything they do. They are emotional, sincere, and sensitive.
Strengths: aside from their talent, The Poet Performer is smart, intensely spiritual, focused, and passionate. Their worship compels others to worship. Their creativity helps others to experience God in dynamic and dramatic ways. They breathe life, energy, and passion into the Church. When The Poet Performer preaches it is with cadence and rhythm, almost like a spoken song.
Weaknesses: much like The Orator, The Poet Performer is prone to egotism and pride. They have so much intrinsic talent that even if they stop depending on the Spirit, they can still manipulate a crowd’s emotions. They receive a lot of adulation (deservedly), which if not received correctly produces narcissism. The Poet Performer’s emotions fluctuate wildly (just read the Psalms); hysterically happy one minute and manically melancholy the next. Selfishness is another personal battle that many Poet Performers must fight.
Caveats: again, I feel compelled to mention that most ministers are not a perfect match to any one of the above traits. The strengths and weaknesses are generalities, not absolutes. Also, commenting on weaknesses is not intended to be disrespectful or to help generate criticism. Rather, the intent behind this writing is to help us address issues with clarity and resolution. If you take the time to peruse the related articles below you will find that I support apostolic ministry and believe that pastors should be vigorously supported. Saints, I believe you should give your pastor the benefit of the doubt and lift his arms when and where he is weak. Celebrate his strengths and honor his faithful service at every opportunity.
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Take the pulse of your congregation to determine if they want to grow and reach the lost. Most churches that aren’t growing simply don’t want to grow. Perhaps the pastor wants it to grow but the saints don’t share the vision or feel the burden. There are numerous reasons that churches don’t want to grow; laziness, complacency, fear of losing position or control, anti-social tendencies, fear of change, less access to the pastor, and more. Getting a true sense of whether or not the church is sharing in the burden to reach the lost is paramount. If the church doesn’t share in the burden all efforts will be sabotaged and in vain.
Have big events. There are built in big events that happen naturally in every church paradigm. Easter and Christmas are perfect examples, although more could certainly be identified. Let’s break it down this way, if you divide the calendar year into quarters you should be hosting at least one big event per quarter. That’s a minimum of four big church events a year. Find events that mobilize and energize your congregation. This creates a buy-in that produces the kind of excitement that propels saints to invite people to something that they are passionate about.
The key to doing this well is choosing the right kind of events that generate excitement in your local church and community. Also, if you do too many big events you will likely burn out your members (these things take lots of work) and you will choose quantity over quality. If you do too few big events, you will lose momentum (and spiritual momentum is very important).
I’m not referring to simply bringing in a guest speaker (although that certainly can play a large role in the process); I am talking about doing things on a fairly large scale that generate excitement and garner the attention of your community. It’s very difficult to tell you what that should be in your local setting. It should be something for which you can create quality mailers to help promote the event. Getting something in the hands of church members that they can easily give to people is key.
A few ideas: back to school giveaways, revivals, fall festivals, concerts, dramas, conferences, kid’s programs, banquets, lady’s events, men’s outings, youth activities, anything involving good food, church anniversary celebrations, and on and on. Creativity, understanding of your local culture, awareness of your church’s strengths and weaknesses, and strong sensitivity to the Spirit is essential to identifying what big events will be best for your church. After committing to a big event, plan, plan, plan, plan, and plan some more. Invite, invite, invite, and invite some more. If nothing else, Easter and Christmas should be seasons where you go all out.
Make the altar call a part of the service. Once again, this point is all about a shift in mindset. When a minister gives the invitation to gather around the altar this is not the end of the service but rather the beginning of the altar service. This is the culmination of everything that has taken place so far in the service. This is where the saints rededicate, sinners find salvation, and prodigals rejoice in their restoration. Yes. I realize that God can move anywhere and at any time, but the altar service is a faith charged atmosphere that must be taken seriously. Empty altars result in empty pews. Quiet altars equal a church in need of revival. Remind the church over and over again that the end of the sermon is the beginning of something powerful not just the stepping stone to grabbing a bite to eat.
Be multicultural. I have briefly written about the concerns of racial tensions here. Just let me say, Heaven will not be white, black, brown, or yellow. It will be filled with people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9). Heaven isn’t going to be one big southern gospel singing-along or even a black gospel convocation. Nope. It will be multicultural and the Church should be a natural reflection of that diversity. If your community just happens to be predominately one culture fine, but if not, your church should be welcoming and inclusive to every ethnicity. If that bothers you, you’ll really dislike Heaven (if you make it).
Respect, honor, and support the ministry (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 1 Corinthians 9:7-11, Matthew 10:40, Galatians 6:6). We live in a culture of dishonor and that bleeds its way into the Church. It subtly impacts the way we view, treat, and interact with ministry. Churches that refuse to properly honor, respect and provide for ministry to the best of their ability are by default dishonoring God. We know that the office of pastor is an under-shepherd (Jeremiah 3:15) to the Great Shepherd (John 10:11). Therefore, churches that refuse to give honor to that which God honors are in a precarious place, to say the least. Obviously, pastors are not called to “lord” over the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3), but they are worthy of the honor due a God-ordained office. If they lead well, they are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
It would be foolish to assume that honoring the ministry has little to do with church growth. Having a biblical view of ministry unleashes anointing, unshackles the pastorate, fosters unity, develops trust, invites the favor of the Lord, demonstrates integrity to the community, and is absolutely apostolic. Giving honor is not about stroking ego’s or flattery, it should not be perfunctory, nor should it originate from a place of pride. Rather, honor should radiate from our relationship with God to the spiritual authority that He has placed over us. Show me a church that hesitates to honor ministry and I’ll show you a dying church. Having said that, I know that all pastors are not honorable. I’ve written about that subject here. But godly ministry is always worthy of high honor.
Covet the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:39, 1 Corinthians 12:31). The Berean Study Bible says to “…eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1)”. A quick study of Scripture makes it clear that we should genuinely desire and anticipate the operation of spiritual gifts in our church services and beyond. There is no substitute for the work of the Spirit in our churches. We can only do so much with our own ingenuity, programming, and preplanning. All our efforts are in vain without the Spirit.
Combat carnality. I’ve outlined some snapshots of what a carnal Christian looks likehere. As my dad often says, “You won’t win the world golfing, playing video games, and watching television.” That’s not to say that golfing is wrong or inherently sinful, the larger point is that it’s about priorities. Churches that develop a top down lust for pleasure and entertainment grow stale and lukewarm. They lose their sense of urgency and grow powerless. Like Esau, they sell their birthright for immediate gratification. To be clear, I’m not against relaxing and setting aside time for fun, but when the quest for fun overwhelms the work of the Kingdom there is a fundamental problem that must be addressed.
Call people to repentance over and over and over again. This is not just for the unchurched, even the Church needs to be continually called back to a place of repentance. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the quintessential verse quoted to call people to prayer, but many fail to notice that God is speaking directly to His people in this passage. Notice, the language “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways…”. These are commands that we usually direct towards the unchurched, but God makes it clear that repentance must begin within His own family. Churches have a way of passive-aggressively superimposing convicting sermons and calls to repentance upon unbelievers. Church growth will always be out of reach until a local congregation humbles itself through prayer and repentance.
Have good church. Every service matters. Every altar call matters. Every song matters. Every sermon matters. Every lesson matters. Every note played matters. Every iota of praise lifted towards Heaven matters. Make every service count. Make every moment count. Refuse to phone it in or go through the motions. Of course, some services will be more memorable and impacting than others, but every service matters. Pour passion, energy, and resources into every service.
The Church is not a building. Announce that loud and long. A church house is simply a gathering place for the church. The church is a collection of believers who are striving to walk with Christ and grow in spiritual maturity. View the physical building as nothing more than a resource. This simple shift in focus can mean the difference between treating people correctly or incorrectly. For example, if preserving a building is more important than treating people correctly the building has become an idol. People are the church the building is an instrument designed to help people. Sadly, we sometimes place more emphasis on our place of worship than the people who make it a place of worship.
Lead people don’t beat people. Leadership can be incredibly frustrating and exasperation leads to ministerial burnout. People will disappoint, fall down, rebel, attack, and cause incredible amounts of unnecessary pain. This can be mega taxing on the pastor and every other minister working within the church. The temptation can be to verbally beat people into submission. Although, there is a time and place for godly correction a sustained culture of negativity from pastoral leadership becomes toxic over time. In the end, people will not respond to being constantly berated regardless of how deserving of said “chewing out” they might be. Lead people with love and by example. Harsh correction should be the exception, not the rule.
Take care of your building. I know buildings are expensive and keeping them nice can be a real financial strain, but there is simply no excuse for trash and bad odors in a place of worship. It subliminally signals to visitors that a church just doesn’t care so why should they? However, beautiful buildings do not guarantee growth and growth does not guarantee beautiful buildings. And while I whole heartedly believe that you can grow anywhere with the help of the Lord, we must be good stewards of whatever place of worship the Lord has provided for us.
Refuse to be swayed by every wind of criticism but don’t dismiss criticism off hand. Every church leader from pastors to Sunday School teachers know the painful sting of criticism. Oddly, it tends to be worship leaders and soundmen who suffer the most brutal assaults and opinionated rampages. Sometimes it’s outright criticism or it might be of the passive aggressive “people have been saying” variety. No matter “how” or “who” it’s coming from criticism hurts. It’s almost paradoxical but there are two extreme responses to criticism that are counterproductive. On the one hand, some leaders are swayed and gyrated by every wind of criticism rendering them completely incapable of leadership. On the other hand, some leaders inoculate themselves from criticism so carefully that they never accept constructive criticism. There is healthy disagreement and there is unhealthy disagreement. The ability to discern the difference is a vital component of leadership and church growth.
Foster a prodigal welcoming environment. Yes. It’s biblical. When prodigals come home it should be a celebration. not a time for telling them how bad they messed up. You might be surprised by how many churches get a bad attitude towards prodigals. Don’t be like the angry brother, be like the celebrating father.
Grassroots word of mouth is still paramount. This goes hand in hand with our previously stated goal of emphasizing a lifestyle of evangelism. There is simply no substitute for personally inviting people to church. If everyone in your church would invite as many people to church on a weekly basis as possible the results would be staggering. Studies suggest that the average church member rarely invites anyone to be their guest at church. Out of all the expensive outreach pushes that we have ever done the most impactful has been simply printing up business card sized invitations and making them easily available to our church members. We ask our members to take two and invite two on a weekly basis. Invite friends, family, and co-workers because they are the most likely to accept. But don’t stop there, invite the waiter, the girl ringing up your groceries, the family in the doctor’s office, and everyone else that you possibly can. This takes intentionality and a change of mindset. Talk about it all the time. Keep the cards out front where people can pick them up on their way in and out of the church. Make it really convenient for your church members to get their hands on those invitation cards. Take away all their excuses. Talk to them about how to invite people. Give them encouragement, tips, and pointers. This sounds too simple but it is extremely powerful.
Connect with evangelists who are anointed and gifted harvesters. There’s not much commentary needed here, but I can tell you that a pastor can preach an evangelistic sermon one week with little response. The evangelist can come the next week and preach the same message and the Holy Ghost will fall like rain. It does not mean that the pastor is not anointed. It means that God anoints people in different ways for different seasons of ministry.
Don’t major in minor doctrines. I’m amazed by pastors who spend large amounts of time teaching and preaching candy stick doctrines that have almost no practical application or spiritual benefit. I’m not necessarily talking about false doctrine, but who really cares if the final trumpet will be one long blast or an upbeat medley. I’m sort of joking, but you get my drift. People won’t work all day, rush home to freshen up, and drag the kids to church over and over for midweek Bible study if they aren’t receiving teaching that is applicable to their lives. Right or wrong, they just won’t. I know of a church that ran a month long series discussing whether or not there are female angels. Not only is that kind of thing totally irrelevant, but it takes valuable time away from legitimate subjects that desperately need to be preached. Warning, this is going to sound harsh so if you’re really sensitive just skip down to the next point; preachers who regularly major in minor doctrines are either totally out of touch with the needs of their church, self-absorbed, or spiritually tone deaf. I know for myself, it’s often tempting to preach about obscure and unimportant things simply because it interests me. But that’s not my purpose or calling as a preacher, and it’s not yours either. If you really need to get it out of your system; write a book, or a blog, or talk it out with a peer but please don’t waste the church’s time.
Stop doing embarrassing things! Just stop it. I know embarrassing things are going to happen occasionally and that’s okay. But chronic public spectacles of awkwardness and blush-inducing moments are a sure growth killer. Some examples, it’s not really necessary to read out loud the prayer request for so and so’s bowel congestion, don’t make the congregation suffer through long rebukes couched as a testimony, and if the church isn’t equipped to play a video clip smoothly just don’t try to play a video clip (it goes back to a previous point that it’s better to do a few things well than to do a ton of things poorly). Some of you are reading this and it sounds petty or even elitist to your sensibilities, but I assure you that these types of things heaped together become a profound problem. A culture of embarrassing awkwardness will weigh heavily upon a congregation and repulse guests. It rests fully on the ministries shoulders to eliminate as many of these situations as possible. Once again, embarrassing things are going to happen from time to time, I am referring to frequent issues that are left unrestricted or even exacerbated by the leadership culture of a church.
Bonus thought: your church is not called to be an extension of a political party. Many years ago a pastor friend of mine endorsed and helped campaign for a local politician. He even had the official speak at his church. A few weeks later the news broke that the politician had been accepting bribes, visiting prostitutes, and selling drugs out of his campaign office. Bottom line, politicians are not the remedy for societies woes; Jesus is the answer to our local and national problems. When communities have apostolic revival they will naturally elect solid leaders. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t vote or have strong opinions, but don’t intentionally turn your church into a political battleground.
In the last post, a foundation was laid to emphasize principle aspects of developing vision. That vision, obtained at the heights of the mountain, must be brought into the valley where life is lived. One of the greatest failures of attempted visionaries is the attempt to cast vision from the tops of mountains. Why? Because nobody lives on the mountain. Flags are planted on mountains but tents are pitched in the valley. One of the greatest examples in scripture that captures this top-down approach to vision development is found in the narrative of Moses and the Tabernacle. In fact, there are three primary elements revealed in this narrative that, if present in a local church, will translate to success! I call this the “Threefold Cord of Development.”
Cord #1: The Visionary
Seldom has anyone considered the awesome responsibility that was given to Moses while he stood in communion with God at the top of Mount Sinai. Consider with me the obstacles of Moses. First, Moses had to somehow transition the vision he received vertically (mountain) to the horizontal (valley). Somehow he had to take what no one in the valley had seen or heard and compress it into a vision the people would understand and promote. Every leader reading this recognizes what a challenge this can be.
Secondly, Moses had to convince the people to join together in a unified effort to build the Tabernacle. While this may not seem difficult at first glance, one must remember that Moses’ congregation was one of the most negative, rebellious, and discontent groups of the entire Old Testament narrative!
Thirdly, and this takes the proverbial cake, God not only sought an offering from the people but He demanded that the people must have a true desire to give freely (Exodus 24:1). Consider with me the ramifications of this! God wasn’t going to accept an offering of obligation. In other words, God refused to allow His vision to be built upon compulsory and begrudging givers. Every leader reading this should grasp the enormity of Moses’ task! How many offerings have you seen turned away today because people felt “obligated” to give? Exactly! However, Moses casts the vision and the people give exactly the way God had desired, so much so, Moses is forced to tell the people, “enough!” How does this happen?
First, it is important to recognize that vision without a clear and easily posited purpose is destined for confusion and noncommittal response. Clarified purpose in vision is crucial because purpose always drives design. In turn, this drives commitment to a vision. When the Wright Brother’s set out to design a flying machine, they did not draft blueprints for something meant to traverse underwater. Their underlying purpose drove their design; they wanted to fly! Because of this, their designs were driven to facilitate that specific purpose. People are willing to invest in something that has purpose! It was this very thing that motivated the Israelites to respond the way they did when Moses (the visionary) presented the vertical vision on a horizontal level.
God never gave Moses the blueprint for the Tabernacle without an intended purpose. In the case of the Tabernacle, the intended purpose was that God would “dwell in the midst of His people.” Obviously, seeing the people’s activity in designing the golden calf, they desired a “God in the middle.” This purpose (God’s dwelling) was enough to motivate the people to buy into a vision they themselves had not heard or seen. The abstract vision that Moses had received at the top of the mountain became a recognized reality for the people because it tugged at a deep longing within their hearts.
This is seen again in the events of Nehemiah as he stood before the people and declared, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach” (Nehemiah 2:17). As a visionary, Nehemiah put his finger on the pulse of the people and offered them a purpose to rebuild. Nehemiah tied two things together: 1) the hand of God was involved in the action of rebuilding and, 2) rebuilding would put a stop to the reproach they were living under. Instantly, due to a visionary that articulated a clear purpose, the people declared, “Let us rise up and build” (vs. 18).
In both instances of Moses and Nehemiah, vision grabbed the hearts of the people and stimulated internal desire which motivated them to action. They saw the extreme benefit of what the visionary was asking and, in turn, they were willing to give their time, treasure, and talent. Vision must have a visionary! It must have one that can articulate the possibilities of things caught at the heights of spiritual mountains. One that can unify, motivate, and inspire a group of people to invest in grand designs of spiritual origin! This is the first element vision must have; a visionary.
Cord #2: Vision Crafters
It is important to understand that a visionary leader is only as good as the team that assists in developing the vision. For a church, this is true among the departmental heads and figures of the church. God understood the dynamics of having men who could articulate the Divine blueprint by means of anointed craftsmanship. It was one thing to give Moses the design, but another to raise up men who could bring about the abstract vision into the present world of concrete reality. Bezaleel and Aholiab were such men. They were men that God filled with the “spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 3:3). They were given insight and spiritual direction to “devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship…. that they may make all that I have commanded thee.” (vs. 4-5).
The word “make,” (vs.5) means to “fashion, shape, or squeeze.” It is a creative word (cf. Genesis 1:26; 2:18) that implies the action of bringing “thought” into tangible existence. Just as God fashioned man according to His own image so these men would fashion a Tabernacle after the pattern God had delivered to Moses. Every visionary must have spiritual, key-figures, that are anointed with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to devise “cunning works.”
The Hebrew word for “cunning works” is used 56 times in the Old Testament, primarily as a word that connects to the idea of “thought.” Ultimately, when used in the context of fabrication, it signaled the ability of the workman to fabricate from imagination. Steven Covey once wrote that “all things are created twice.” First, there is the mental creation; the mental blueprint of design. Second, there is the physical creation where the mental becomes the physical. Moses had men, led by the Spirit of God, that could bring the vision from mental thought to concrete reality.
A visionary must have men and women that are plugged into the spiritual current of Divine vision. Nothing can replace God-anointed individuals who support and establish the visions cast by a visionary. Nothing can replace men and women who, down to the smallest detail, fabricate the Divine purposes of God within a local assembly. This is one of the most crucial ministries in a church today. A visionary must have individuals that he can trust to get the job done without strife, deviation from the specifics of the blueprint, or personal ambitions of glory. I have preached across the nation that we need a revival of vision-crafters! We need men and women that will get into a place of prayer and “anticipate” the direction of the visionary! A visionary must have vision-crafters!
Cord #3: The Congregation
This leads us to the third, and often overlooked, element of vision development; the congregation. A visionary that casts vision and vision-crafters that bring vision into concrete reality are impotent without the congregation! Often times, when consulting the commandments of the Tabernacle, we fail to realize the importance of congregational support! Moses cast the vision and vision-crafters were present among the people to build, but the congregation was needed to provide the materials to bring the Divine blueprint into reality!
However, the congregation needs to understand their crucial, needed place within the threefold cord of development! Nothing arrests development more than a disconnected congregation! When God set about to implement the construction of the Tabernacle, He recognized that the foundation of success rested on congregational support! The materials that the vision-crafters would need to design the pattern cast by the visionary was in the hands of the congregation! This is how God develops vision! However, and this is crucial, purpose always comes with provision! Let me explain.
When God asked the Israelites for the materials to build the Tabernacle, He wasn’t asking for what He hadn’t already provided them. Where did the Israelites get the gold, silver, and materials? In fact, where did they get so much of the materials that Moses had to turn away their offerings? The answer is found in Egypt.
Exodus 3:21-22 (KJV) 21 And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty: 22 But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.
When you begin to trace out the materials given to support the building of the Tabernacle you come to realize that God had made provision for every facet of the design. In fact, God had ensured that everyone would have something to give toward the building of the Tabernacle. The men, as Scripture reveals, above a certain age, gave a half-shekel of silver for ransom. That combined half-shekel of ransom served to cast the foundation sockets of the Tabernacle. The women and children, well they carried on themselves the gold, silver, jewels, and raiment they had taken from Egypt.
However, all provision comes with assignment. God provided but He had an intended purpose for the provision! Sadly, when you look at the events of the Golden Calf, God’s provision was assigned to a purpose that God had not designed. The golden earrings in the ears of the women, sons, and daughters, was broken off and cast into the forge of idolatry. Anything that is used outside and apart from intended purpose is called abuse!
The vision-crafters were assigned talents and abilities for the intended purpose of building the Tabernacle. The congregation was given provision for the intended purpose of supplying the materials the vision-crafters needed to build the Tabernacle. I have taught this concept throughout my travels and the one question I have asked is, “how many Golden Calves are we building?” In other words, are we being stewards of God’s provision and using provision as God intends? After receiving a monetary blessing, a job with more free time, or a myriad of other blessings, when is the last time we got down in prayer and asked God, “is there an intended purpose for these blessings?” In other words, maybe these blessings aren’t strictly for my own pleasure or enjoyment. Perhaps you are giving me more time to accomplish something you need done at the church? Perhaps you blessed me with this substantial bonus because you need me to help towards buying a church van?
I have said many times, and I will say it again: “God has the cattle on a thousand hills but He often asks me for my cow!” Why? The economy of God, within the threefold cord of development, involves an active participation of every member within! The visionary, the vision-crafters, and the congregation must act as a unified unit! If these three things can operate according to their intended purpose and the time, treasure, and talents God has provided are appropriately assigned then you have the resulting visitation of God’s manifested glory. As Moses stepped out of the door of the Tabernacle, built by the vision-crafters, and provided for by the congregation the glory of God fell. The threefold cord of development effectively moved God from the mountain and into the middle.
Timothy Hadden, happily married and the father of three young children, has spent the last six years traveling extensively, both in the United States and Internationally, as a sought after Apostolic evangelist. Many of his revivals, often spanning several months, focused on creating a spiritual environment that promoted a deep move of God thus enabling a spirit of revelation that further developed existing local ministries and empowered local church congregations to a greater dimension of Apostolic understanding and authority. The effects of these revivals are still being witnessed throughout many church congregations nationwide. Recently, having felt the call of God to leave the evangelistic field, he and his family have relocated to the Portland Oregon Metropolis where they are developing a church plant called Antioch Northwest. Already, less than two months on site, they are seeing unprecedented signs and miracles in one of the least churched cities in the Northwest. Currently, if he is not teaching Bible Studies, canvassing his city, investing in his family, or working on the demanding schedule of a church-planter, he is writing several books that he hopes to publish in the not-so-distant future. You can find more of his writings www.searchofkings.net or, for more information on the church-plant, visit www.antiochnorthwest.com.
Let me make a few disclaimers right from the beginning. First, not all big churches are healthy and not all small churches are unhealthy. Big churches are not necessarily better than small churches and the reverse is also true. However, if the body is not growing it is dying. This is true spiritually and physically. That’s not to say setbacks, sicknesses, and dry seasons won’t temporarily stunt growth, but the key word there is “temporarily”. Long-term stagnation or decline is a sure sign of an impending downward spiral if something drastic doesn’t take place to fix the problem.
I grew up in a small church plant that my father started in 1983 (the year of my birth), and I grew up alongside the growth of that church. Churches must grow into maturity just as a child grows into maturity. If a mother church grows strong she will give birth to daughter churches that will repeat the process over and over again.
The number one reason small churches stay small is that they want to stay small. This reality is often hidden stealthily beneath the surface making it difficult to spot. But if you watch carefully you’ll see it manifested in dozens of little ways. They literally have no desire to grow. Again, I love small churches, but small churches are in direct violation of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) if they have no desire to see new souls added to the church. And if a church doesn’t want to grow it will not grow.
One final clarification, 99.9% of the time the pastor desperately wants the church he oversees to grow. The lack of desire for growth typically comes from the congregation, not the clergy. In best case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) is simply complacent towards the churches growth. In worst case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) actively tries to hinder the churches growth. Regardless, this is a problem that must be addressed head on or it will choke the life out of a small congregation. Here are nine contributing reasons that small churches often don’t want to grow.
The church simply doesn’t want to suffer through a building program. This usually stems from either a faith problem or a stinginess problem. Sometimes well-meaning church members confuse good stewardship with stagnation. A small building that’s been paid off for 20 years is a wonderful thing, but if you can’t continue to grow in that building (or the location hinders growth), it’s time to take the necessary leap of faith. For other less sincere saints, they simply don’t want to commit financially to the vision of revival (think Ananias & Sapphira).
The church has lost sight of its purpose. Many churches gradually forget the urgency of the hour. They become content with their own salvation and forget that Hell is still a reality for their community. They forget that God has placed them within that community to reach the lost. It doesn’t matter how many missionary plaques you hang on the wall if you aren’t being a missionary to your own region. I often hear people say, “some give by going, and some go by giving.” I know what they mean, but it gives the impression that only certain elite people are called to reach the lost. Wherever you are right now, that’s your mission field. Far too often we allow our giving to replace going into our own harvest field.
The church has lost its love for people. Many times, it is that simple. Bitterness, pride, harshness, and unresolved anger can rip the love of Christ right out of the hearts of a congregation. At its peak, it results in a harshness so severe that it rejoices rather than weeps at the lost condition of “reprobates” and “sinners”. Hell, is a reality that should move us to tears, not cheers.
Spiritual lethargy, exhaustion, and laziness. I understand that revival and evangelism are just plain hard work; emotionally, spiritually, and physically. People who have participated for many years in the process can easily grow weary in well doing (check out my writings on this subject here and here). Some folks are just lazy by nature and this bleeds into their spiritual life as well. Revival and laziness are like oil and water; they just don’t mix.
Institutional racism or a clique mentality. I’m truly afraid that the church is still one of the most segregated places in America (click here for a related article). But God has called the church to be multicultural and accepting of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures. Some congregations want revival only if all the new people look and sound just like them. Yikes, that’s a big problem. I’m just glad the apostle Peter allowed God to change his heart so a Gentile like me could be a part of the Body of Christ.
Rampant carnality and materialism. When a church grows carnal they just don’t have room for spiritual concerns. They’re too busy with sports and movies to care if their neighbor is going to Heaven or Hell. Financial blessings are a wonderful gift from God, but we should never squander that gift on trivial things that constantly distract us from the Kingdom of God. Churches fraught with carnality and materialism would rather talk about anything other than spiritual things. They don’t have time to be inconvenienced with revival, and they do the absolute minimum they can do for God (check out this article entitled You Might Be a Carnal Christian If…).
The church doesn’t want to lose constant or immediate access to the pastor. This one is very common and even understandable to a certain degree. Saints instinctively know that as a church grows it will become harder and harder to gain immediate access to the pastor for counseling or anything else for that matter. In many ways, it’s like an only child who resents the idea of a baby brother or a baby sister. They grow jealous of the attention that their parents must devote to their new sibling. This is understandable but only to a point, if it turns into outright aggression towards new babies in the Lord it must be dealt with lovingly but firmly.
A certain element within the church desperately wants to maintain power, position, and influence. Ah, this is a big one. It’s very insidious, extremely dangerous, and usually carefully disguised. It can be anything from worship leaders and singers who feel threatened by new people who are talented or lay ministers who feel threatened by young babes in the Lord who feel called to preach. It can be anyone who feels like their position might be threatened by an influx of new people. It can be a wealthy saint who enjoys being perceived as the wealthiest saint in the church, or a talented musician who enjoys being perceived as the most talented person in the church, or board members that want to keep their authority consolidated. It can even extend to the entire congregation and their desire to keep a strong influence over every aspect of the church, therefore, they perceive new people as a threat to that power. This is almost never articulated out loud but the signs are there if you are paying attention.
The congregation has an institutional bias against the culture of growing churches. Some people are just conditioned either by their upbringing or their preconceived ideas of how a church should be to dislike large churches. In extreme cases, people like this consider big churches evil, but they’ll usually use code words like “full of compromise” or something of that nature. The reality is that small churches and big churches alike can fall into the trap of compromise. Some people fear that large churches are incapable of being friendly or warm. The reality is that small churches and large churches can fall into the trap of being unfriendly and cold. A church shouldn’t desire to grow just to be large, but it should want to be large because it wants everyone to be saved.
Final caveats: I realize there are other reasons small churches stay small. Local economies, transient locals, spiritual onslaughts, poor leadership, tragedy, rapid leadership turnover, seasons of sowing, difficult locations, and more can all be relevant factors. Also, churches go through seasons and holding patterns that are temporary conditions. I am talking about chronic conditions. However, it would be unwise to casually ignore these points without at least considering the very real possibility that one or more of these problems could be at work.
What is vision and how does one define such an abstract concept? Vision can speak of physical sight, divine premonitions, dreams, or abstract ideas and thoughts. Therefore, vision as a word can vacillate dependent upon its context and, for each user, can mean something completely different. For many, vision is merely a projected goal that serves to motivate either self or others. However, in the context of religious leadership, vision is often a dynamic projection of a seemingly unattainable possibility that challenges the status-quo.
Vision for the true spiritual leader, unlike the secular, is both horizontal and vertical. To best explain this, think of a ladder whose bottom feet are set upon the earth (horizontal) and whose top reach into the heavens (vertical). This best encapsulates vision as relates to the spiritual leader. Therefore, the success of the religious leader (the visionary) is the ability to connect the vertical to the horizontal. Think of vision as a seed. If vision is not cast into the soil of earthy ground, it can never take root and develop. Vision, by itself, is an unplanted seed whose germination depends upon its being sown in the fields of the horizontal. However, casting the seed of vertical vision into horizontal fields merely engages the process of germination. This is just the beginning.
Consider the human body. First, everything begins with conception and, from that point forward, the developmental stages of growth begin to occur. Vision is no different. First, vision must be conceived, yet too often, this is where failure occurs within the visionary process. Improper development of vision results in visionary stillbirth. Because of this, vision often remains static and results in an unchanging environment that returns to repeat an infinite cycle. Sadly, too many men desiring to act as visionaries do nothing more than proclaim the conception of vision as the actual breakthrough. Did breakthrough occur? No! To better illustrate this, there is a vast difference between promising technology and breakthrough technology. The former speaks of the potential of something in the future whereas the latter speaks of the actual realization of here and now results. Promising vision is a long way from the realization of vision but there is a bridge between the two called development.
When a child is conceived in the womb of the mother, conception is the initial stage and everything from that point forward leads toward the eventual breakthrough of a healthy child. The bridge between conception and breakthrough is development. The pregnancy itself is laborious, painful, and uncomfortable. Everything about the pregnancy and the anticipation of breakthrough demands changes in almost every area fathomable. However, and this is crucial, breakthrough (birth) doesn’t end the narrative of development! Breakthrough is the beginning! Vision is no different!
Herein, in regards to vision, too many would excitedly pump their fists in the air and declare, “It’s happened!” The relief, after all those long weeks and months carrying around the weight of a developing vision, can become a lulling siren of complacency. Too many churches are stumbling over the headstones of infantile visions because they didn’t realize the work was just beginning. Let me make a statement, loud and clear: the devil has adopted way too many spiritual newborns that were left in the field due to the negligence of a mother (Ezekiel 16:4-5).
Newly birthed vision is exciting! It’s exciting to look around and see, touch, and partake in the labor of bringing the vision to realization. However, at this point, one should expect less sleep, less vacations, and less hobbies. The first moment that newly birthed vision is held in the arms of tangible realization the mindset of the church must go into a mother’s protective process. Ears must become attuned to the myriad of cries and eyes must watch for subtle signs of sickness or abnormalities that may arise. Call the visionary breakthrough revival, harvest, or a myriad of other religious pseudonyms; but I call it the beginning! Talk about having another baby (vision) only after you have secured the process of maturation in the current baby (vision)! Don’t develop malnourished visions!
Resources must be in place to ensure the proper development of the vision. This is why, all too often, long before the birth of a vision we put the proverbial cart before the horse! Many times, latching on to an Old Testament principle, we “build the extra room” but exhaust our resources so that we come up lacking the necessary staples of infancy development! A large room with a comfortable bed means nothing to a starving baby! Secure the horse before you buy the cart!
The strength of developing vision lies in its singularity. It is impossible to find a needle in a haystack…or is it? What if one were to take a very large magnet and place it alongside the haystack? Exactly! A concentrated, singular force would draw upon that needle, once deemed unfindable, and bring it to the surface!
This is why, when one gives birth to vision, peripheral issues seem to arise. The enemy recognizes that singular, committed focus on newly birthed vision is crucial! If the enemy can implement anything in our peripheral to break our alignment, he will succeed in potentially killing, stealing, or destroying what we have fought so hard to bring to breakthrough!
“No man”, Jesus declared, “having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God!” In other words, don’t start the process without dedicating all of your time, treasure, and talent to the entireprocess! Consider what Jesus was saying! Those that aren’t committed to the entire process to ensure maximum development are not fit for the kingdom. Although the word in the Greek carries the connotation of not being “useful or prepared for” it literally means, “well-placed.” In other words, the man that doesn’t commit to the process of development with a singular, undivided focus is “out-of-place”! God doesn’t cut crooked paths, he straightens them!
Nothing stands out in Scripture more poignantly in regards to undeveloped vision than the condition of the house of God that Hosea confronted. “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? …. Consider your ways! Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink, ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.”
Note from Author
This concludes, in part, a greater portion of a larger treatise. Part two, which will serve as the conclusion of the matter, will deal with the three key things every church must have in order for vision to reach maturation. These three elements have served to turn the tide in many churches across the nation. In fact, if found in a local church, these three elements cannot lead to anything but success.
Timothy Hadden, happily married and the father of three young children, has spent the last six years traveling extensively, both in the United States and Internationally, as a sought after Apostolic evangelist. Many of his revivals, often spanning several months, focused on creating a spiritual environment that promoted a deep move of God thus enabling a spirit of revelation that further developed existing local ministries and empowered local church congregations to a greater dimension of Apostolic understanding and authority. The effects of these revivals are still being witnessed throughout many church congregations nationwide. Recently, having felt the call of God to leave the evangelistic field, he and his family have relocated to the Portland Oregon Metropolis where they are developing a church plant called Antioch Northwest. Already, less than two months on site, they are seeing unprecedented signs and miracles in one of the least churched cities in the Northwest. Currently, if he is not teaching Bible Studies, canvassing his city, investing in his family, or working on the demanding schedule of a church-planter, he is writing several books that he hopes to publish in the not-so-distant future. You can find more of his writings www.searchofkings.net or, for more information on the church-plant, visit www.antiochnorthwest.com.
Today, I awoke in a frustrated state, as my dogs raised the alarm. Their urgent barks were interrupted momentarily by low guttural growls as they raced from window to door in agitation. The guard dogs were on the prowl, warning of imminent danger; or were they? Many argue a guard dog is the best alarm, money can buy, but I’m not so sure I agree.
You see, once I awoke enough to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I knew in my heart there was no true threat. I had seen it too many times, in mere seconds they would transform from frothing beasts to their normal sweet, amiable selves, clamoring for a belly rub. Dogs are unable to differentiate between a real threat (a thief) and the “evil” mail carrier. I have watched my own dogs sleep through a knock at the door, softly twitching their paws content in their dream state, just to attempt a death-defying leap through a glass window to defend the household from the “danger” imposed by the garbage truck. No matter, how we try to sugar-coat it, the reality remains, all dogs are in truth dumb, regardless of the tricks they know or their loyalty to their human family.
In today’s society, many have reduced themselves to nothing more than guard dogs. Some, like a dumb, lazy dog choose to sleep, unconcerned with the effects of today’s decisions on future generations. The pressure of political correctness has stifled free speech, sensitivity to “micro-aggressions” has overridden wisdom, demands for “trigger warnings” have made people fearful of open debate, and a political platform has displaced logic. Although, many champion an era of “new tolerance”, the current climate has, in fact, created one of the most philosophically intolerant time periods in human history. This intolerance automatically labels all truth claims as suspect and few are willing to take a counter-cultural stance. People willingly sacrifice the power of their voice, the essence of their humanity, and their spirituality for a comfortable, blissful sleep. While a moral revolution takes place, many bury their head in the sand and remain unmoved. They choose to navigate without a compass, set adrift, anchorless on the changing winds of popular opinion. The temptation to deny reality and cling to the mirage of a utopian dream beckons and those who surrender to its siren cry welcome the sleep of spiritual death.
Others epitomize the aggressive, guard dog on the prowl. They demand individuality at the expense of truth and are obsessed with the concept of non-conformity. Many ardently state their disillusionment with everything considered “too mainstream” and choose to draw lines of demarcation. This is most evident in the various ways our culture self-identifies across socio-economic, racial, ethnic, educational, philosophical, religious, sexual, and gender lines. Their attempts at originality are articulated via mass-produced bumper stickers, copy-cat tattoos, branded clothing, political flags, and mass-produced entertainment. The cries of this generation are unmistakable as they fight to protect the territory they’ve arbitrarily defined. Their area of marked defense is ever changing, shrinking and expanding as individual emotions shift, trends change, and public opinion polls swing. The guard dog mentality has created a self-absorbed culture of violence and discord, which has fractured society beyond human repair. After all, a “good” guard dog doesn’t sleep through a time of revolution, but stands, prepared to rip out the throat of anyone who crosses into its territory, whether friend or foe.
Though the church is immersed in this extreme culture, it is imperative, both ministers and saints recognize we cannot slumber and we cannot rage. There is simply too much at stake for God’s people to follow the lead of society. We cannot afford to simply “wing-it” and hope for the best. Our response must be determined, deliberate, and decisive. We are hopeless if we merely reflect the failed guard dog mentality of culture.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, speaks of those God commissioned as watchmen. However, he does not commend them for a job well-done; in fact, he rebukes them as nothing more than “dumb dogs”. He indicts them as “blind” and “ignorant”. He suggests they value the comfort of sleep more than the safety of God’s people. (Isa. 56:10). When the Christian feels overwhelmed by the obstacles and wickedness of this world, slumber is a very real temptation. It is easy to ignore the signs of the times and the monumental shifts in culture. Often we see this evidenced in the following ways:
Churches and saints who still operate according to a nineteen-fifties approach to ministry and daily living. They continue with business as usual and fight to maintain a cocoon of protection from all secular influence. They placidly sleep while the enemy prowls. Their unwillingness to acknowledge the effects of the post-modern worldview creates an entire generation unprepared to face the challenges and obstacles of the twenty-first century.
Others embrace a neutral, permissive attitude in the name of love and tolerance. The assumption that compassion and a good example alone are enough to change hearts and lives, robs the church of any true growth. Dynamic oratory skills are not a replacement for solid Biblical teaching! When the priority is to avoid offense and confrontation, nothing is established as a moral or doctrinal absolute. Individuals abandon growth and embrace spiritual stagnation. Some even limit the spiritual development of children and new converts to prevent them from offending, by virtue of their walk.
However, simply closing our eyes to everything unpleasant does not lessen the impact society has on the minister, the church, or its saints. While we refuse to acknowledge the enemies’ approach, a generation is slaughtered mercilessly. The church must rise to the demands of the times to do anything less is sin. (Ja. 4:17) Furthermore, sleep is surrender and surrender is not an option!
The alternative is just as destructive. God forbid, the body of Christ adopts the same dog-eat-dog mentality modern society has perfected. The church confronted with the vehemence of culture cannot stoop to society’s methods of communication and unabashed, self-preservation. God never called His people to an attack dog mentality or a pit bull ministry. Doctrine and holiness is not the church’s squeaky toy to protect by tooth and claw. Truth should never be defended based on an intellectual decision or principle alone. The church functions at its best and doctrine is most effectively articulated when His people are sincerely in love with God and His Word.
Though secular society lives in the muddied waters of moral ambiguity, reliant on emotions alone to define their understanding, the church does not have to do the same. Thankfully, Scripture provides a lifeline! In fact, I would argue, God’s word speaks directly to our current situation. There is no excuse for a morally ambivalent church, just as there is no defense for a saint that doesn’t represent the Savior in word and deed. We must exemplify true Biblical Christianity in the way we live, minister, and lead. Our passion and love for the Creator is demonstrated through a loving, but honest approach to the sins of this world. So, in the midst of the extremes of a guard dog culture, God demands the church look to the timeless words of Scripture.
First and foremost, we must learn what it truly means to be the church of the Living God. It is not merely a title we wear emblazoned on our shirts or a placard we hang behind the pulpit. The early church didn’t accidentally turn “the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) Their level of effectiveness in evangelism was a direct result of the depth of their relationship. They didn’t reflect the world, but rather the God they served. Non-conformity is an illusion. Ultimately, how we spend our time and energy, where we set our affections, and what entertains us will define us. The choice is ours; will we conform to the broken, self-destructive worldview of the guard dog or the liberating image of our Creator and Redeemer? (Jn. 8:32; Ja. 1:23-25; Ro. 12:2) It is impossible for us, to know the mind and heart of God if we refuse to spend time getting to know Him through prayer, fasting and His word. When we learn to fully trust God He will shape and define us, so our character will mirror His. Philippians, chapter two explains that God, Himself “took upon him the form of a servant” (Ph. 2:6-11). In the face of such great condescension, we must not be offended when He asks us to humble ourselves for His service. After all, we must realize, before He called us to be saints or ministers; He called us to be His followers and servants and that call doesn’t change. The temptation to embrace an extreme mentality fades as we turn our eyes away from our own desires and the distractions of this life and focus our hearts and minds on Him alone.
Secondly, we must learn the power of obedience. The guard dog is often difficult to control growling and snapping without regard for its master’s command. But, Scripture tells us “obedience is better than sacrifice.” (I Sa. 15:22). Sacrifice is required for the overcoming, Christian. However, our sacrifices are meaningless, unless they are accompanied by a willingness to obey the One we claim to worship. When we are in love with God, submitted to Him, and growing in our relationship with Him; obedience is a natural response. Holiness and right living, no longer feel like an imposition, because His spirit compels us to demonstrate our commitment to Him with our lives. In essence, we learn to walk in the spirit. (Ga. 5:16) If we hope to be God’s instruments for revival, we must learn to obey Him. He isn’t looking for an aggressive church straining at the leash and foaming at the mouth. His heart desires men and women, willing to submit to Him in obedience and allow Him to order their steps.
The Bible is clear. When we recognize who God is, we are faced with the reality of our own inadequacies and must choose how to respond. John 9:38-40 gives us a perfect example of this concept in action. Jesus didn’t heal the spiritually blind of the Pharisees, because they refused to admit their weakness and continually claimed to see. The revelation of His infinite wisdom and omniscience, demands we willingly acknowledge the limitations of our own finite human understanding. The sooner we admit our human intellect is powerless in the face of pain and spiritual brokenness, the sooner we can communicate, in His strength to a world in need. There is no excuse for an ignorant church or saint and despite the claims of some, ignorance is never bliss! We need His wisdom and discernment. God knows the height and depth of our knowledge, it’s impossible for us to pull the wool over His eyes. This is why He promises that if we ask in faith for wisdom, He won’t chastise us, but will empower us. (Ja. 1:5-6) The wisdom that comes from above has the power to move us beyond complacency and emotionally charged responses. When we surrender our understanding at the feet of the all-knowing One, He enables us in the following ways:
a. To identify the enemy – There are true enemies and we mustn’t spend time attacking the proverbial windmill (ala Don Quixote) or fighting the wind (I Co. 9:26). We have to know who and what we fight against. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, that our battle isn’t physical, but spiritual. Furthermore, he states “…the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God…” (II Co. 10:4-5) A spiritual battle requires a spiritual approach. When the disciples failed in healing a demon possessed child, Jesus told them “…this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Mt. 17:14-21). We must be sober, vigilant, and culturally informed. But, without prayerful surrender and putting “…on the whole armour of God…” we face the reality of defeat. (Eph. 6:10-18) His discernment grants us the ability to focus our time and energy in the right direction. Instead, of battling perceived enemies, we can preach timeless Apostolic truth, strike at the heart of the enemy, and teach our generation how to apply the principles of Scripture to their lives.
b. To distinguish the lines of battle – The war for the hearts and minds of an entire generation is ongoing and the fences we construct, should with each post hole dug mark the field of battle. Ultimately, if the sheepfold we build is too small, the sheep will feel trapped and fight to escape, but if it’s too large, the enemy can creep in unaware. The sheep’s safety is determined by their nearness to the shepherd and the shepherd protects the sheep by staying close to the Great Shepherd. Therefore, our positions on matters of morality, entertainment and holiness must not be based on an emotional response or an intellectual analysis. We must resist the urge for a knee jerk reaction to anything new or foreign but must rely on His wisdom to teach us where to draw the lines of battle, when to fight, and how to protect God’s people. (Jn. 10:1-18)
c. To sound the alarm – If we act within our own wisdom and sound the alarm without cause, we are no better than the little boy who cried wolf. We sacrifice the power of our witness, when we simply attack everything we don’t understand. But, when we submit to His wisdom our message will ring with prophetic timeliness and resound with the voice of eternity. The collective sound of the church will echo with the clarity of a trumpet, warning of danger and beckoning sinners to a place of repentance and refuge.
Although, at times the devices of the enemy may seem overwhelming, God does not excuse us from our responsibility to Him. Instead, He fully equips His people through initiating a relationship with us, teaching us the power of obedience, and imparting His wisdom. He gives us the power to not only endure times of change and unrest, but to thrive! The Apostle Peter defined us not as guard dogs, but as “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…” So, it’s time we abandon slumber and rage and “…shew forth the praises…” of the One who called us “…out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (I Pt. 2:9)
Jennifer Mast is a graduate of Indiana Bible College and has worked full-time at IBC, since 2004, serving in various capacities. Currently, she is the registrar, as well as an instructor for the Biblical Studies Department. She teaches a number of courses including; Gospel of John, General Epistles, New Testament Greek, and Biblical Hebrew. In addition, she holds ministerial license with the United Pentecostal Church. She is a passionate preacher and teacher and has a burden to communicate His word to the world.
If you’re anything like me, you’re leery of church growth books and articles. I’ve read them by the dozens and most of them are either completely irrelevant for apostolic churches, full of platitudes, totally unrealistic, or so technical that you need a college degree just to wade through the formulas. It can be more discouraging than encouraging by the time you’re through. I’m writing this with that in mind.
I’ve hesitated to broach this topic for some time now because just writing about church growth can sound smug and braggadocios. I for one, do not claim to have all the answers or a magic formula that will fill every pew overnight. In fact, I don’t even think filling every empty seat overnight is truly healthy in most circumstances. If your leadership structure is too small to handle a sudden influx of hundreds of brand new spiritual babies you’ll see a lot of premature deaths. In my opinion, consistent gradual growth is the healthiest form of church growth. It gives the leadership and the congregation time to adjust when and where needed.
For the record, I don’t serve a mega church. But by the grace of God, Apostolic Tabernacle has grown in attendance by over 150% in 5 years. Our church has benefitted from a wonderful legacy and stellar stewardship from our Bishop. There was a tremendous small core of godly saints when we arrived. We’re also in a highly populated, although economically struggling, metropolitan county. In spite of those blessings, we’ve had plenty of setbacks and failures. We’ve tried things that flopped and we’ve made mistakes. We still have lots of room for improvement. That’s all part of the messiness of revival. I’m telling you this because there is no one size fits all path to church growth. Every city is different, every church is different, and every situation has nuances that must be identified before sustainable growth will take place.
Keep in mind, the average church loses about 10% of its membership on a yearly basis. Some of these are healthy losses like job transitions or college student move-aways, and some are due to spiritual backsliding and the church hoppers that we all know so well. This means that for a church to grow annually by 10% it actually needs to grow by 20%. As I’ve written in the past, Gideon had to lose some losers before the victory could be obtained. Not all losses are a bad thing, and not all gains are godly. So this article is about healthy church growth, not just temporary crowd generating activities.
After evangelizing for five years all over the US in churches of every shape and size; I’ve had the privilege of seeing almost every church paradigm imaginable. I’ve observed first-hand what to do and what not to do. Both have been instructive and helpful. I’ve tried to whittle these church growth insights down to universal truths that transcend into every apostolic church setting. Let’s get started.
You get what you preach. I love deep sermons that explore the rarely mined gems of Scripture, there’s definitely a time and place for that kind of preaching, but I’m amazed at how many churches think preaching the basics is boring. If you rarely preach the plan of salvation, you’ll rarely see people obey the plan of salvation. That goes for holiness too. If you want people to evangelize, talk about it. Talk about it a lot. I would suggest taking inventory of how often you are preaching core doctrinal subjects. Most are surprised at how rarely they actually tackle doctrinal fundamentals. Furthermore, I know the trend is to have less church, but less church means less opportunities to preach into different situations. I realize it varies from church to church, but for us, Sunday mornings tend to be evangelistic, Sunday nights are the best opportunity to preach specifically to the church, and midweek Bible Study is the time for digging deep and mining for those Scriptural gems. If the Bible tells us that people are saved by the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21) then shouldn’t we be preaching more not less? As churches have less and less church they also have less and less preaching, and sometimes almost zero teaching. Laying Scriptural admonishments aside, we live in a culture that demands options and opportunities. Shouldn’t we be giving people more service options and opportunities not less? Can you imagine a hospital only opening its doors once a week? If you rarely have church, you rarely have preaching, and for those who are trapped in the 24/7 work culture, missing their one-weekend service option can be spiritually devastating. On the opposite end of the spectrum are churches that never preach beyond the platitudes and always preach down to the lowest common denominator. They render all preaching down to spiritually anemic bullet points that leave people spiritually malnourished. There is a time for meat and a time for milk.
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).
One man cannot do it all. Churches that think a lone pastor can and should do everything are destined for failure and pastors who think they can do it all are crazy. One person cannot be on call 24/7, preach and teach great new sermons, visit everyone, attend every event, be a financial guru, be a janitor, plan ahead, keep his family healthy (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), teach home Bible studies, cultivate relationships, manage day to day building operations, win souls, pray for the sick, maintain a personal prayer life, study, counsel with people (sometimes for hours on end), and mentor other leaders. It’s just not humanly possible or healthy. Even Jesus didn’t do all those things. Even Jesus had a leadership team of twelve. Even Jesus went away for days to pray and fast. So what’s the solution? Delegation.
Some things must be delegated to volunteers, and as soon as possible additional pastoral (and administrative) staff should be brought onto the team. Jesus demonstrated this process when he began sending his disciples out in pairs to preach and pray for the sick (Matthew 10:1-5). Quick thought, no matter how large the church, there’s never quite enough money in the budget for new ministerial assistants or support staff. Taking that leap of faith is vital. Most churches peak out because they max out their leadership’s capabilities. Ironically, one of the surest signs that a pastor is a great leader is if he can be gone for a week and everything still operates smoothly. Again, churches that refuse to add additional staff and train qualified volunteers always plateau. Period.
Many years ago Pastor Paul Mooney said something about church structure that shapes my thinking even to this day. He likened the average church leadership structure to a small table. He poured a bucket of sand onto the table and compared the sand to saints and church growth. The table easily contained the majority of the sand with only a few specks trickling off the edges. But as he continued to pour sand over the table eventually the majority of the sand began dramatically sliding off the sides onto the floor. His point was clear, the only way to sustain more growth is to build a bigger leadership table. None of this should be interpreted to mean that you should use sub-par leaders out of desperation. No. The only thing worse than maxed out leadership is toxic leadership on your ministerial or administrative team. Delegation is only effective when it is delegated to the right kind of leaders (read more on that subject here).
Be consistent. I’ve outlined the importance of consistency in leadership here. But beyond that, churches must be consistent as well. Remain consistent in the mission, purpose, culture, plan, and apostolic identity.
Insist on excellence. I’ll never understand why some churches develop the mindset that doing your best is carnal. You can’t just show up and wing it and expect God to bless your halfhearted efforts. Insist that your singers and musicians do their very best. Insist that your ministers give their very best in preparation and dedication. Insist that your teachers, greeters, and volunteers give their very best. Call people out of mediocrity. If you don’t take church seriously no one else will either. Practice, plan, prepare, and lovingly pressure people to be the best that they can be for the sake of the Kingdom. People who have grown complacent and comfortable with mediocrity will dislike you for a season until they see their own personal growth. Eventually, they will be glad that you insisted on excellence. No matter how small your congregation is you can call them to do their absolute best for the Lord.
This also means that not everyone who wants to do something should be allowed to do exactly what they want to do. For example, not everyone is musically gifted, which means that not everyone should be allowed in the music program. This can be awkward but it’s less awkward than having visitors flee from your off-key church services. Not everyone has the gift of teaching. Not everyone who wants to preach is called to preach. Not everyone who wants to decorate is gifted in decorating. The same goes for media, design, kid’s ministries, hospitality, and general leadership. Insisting on excellence means that sometimes you have to say no and redirect people towards their area of gifting. I know. I know. This is easier said than done. But it must be done or you will wallow in a sea of mediocrity that repels visitors and discourages your saints.
I’m not talking about absolute perfection. I’m talking about common sense policies. In the corporate world, they call this personnel placement. Meaning, you place people where they are best suited to be productive based on their talents. Knowing where you and others fit in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:19-25) is a biblical imperative. Paul made it clear that the hand is not better than the foot, but the body will not function correctly if the foot is trying to operate in the same capacity as the hand.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might… (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; (Colossians 3:17,23).
Love, equip, encourage, and care for people. People can tell if you genuinely love and care about them. There’s no replacement for this quality. Spiritual leaders who love the lost and the saints will equip them to withstand spiritual onslaughts, hardships, and teach them how to thrive spiritually. Love means more than smiling and having a good time. Real love tells the truth and confronts painful realities. If you’re struggling to truly love people, ask God to give you a new heart.
Expect a mess. In case you didn’t know, America is a post-Christian nation. Meaning that now more than ever, people are going to bring baggage with them into the church. Multiple broken marriages, addictions that you’ve never even heard of, tons of false doctrines, strange philosophies, and on and on and on. If that makes you wildly uncomfortable it’s time to reshape your perception of ministry. Imagine a hospital full of doctors and nurses that can’t stand the sight of blood; it definitely wouldn’t be a very effective environment. Churches that get all dizzy and faint-hearted at the sight of sinners have forgotten where they came from and their commission. They alienate the very people that Jesus has called them to reach. Squeamish churches will not grow. Churches that are condescending towards sinners will not grow. Churches that only welcome pristine people will never grow, nor are they godly. If it hadn’t been for a righteous man who was willing to pray for a hateful, messy, murderous, blind sinner named Saul there would be no Apostle Paul (Acts 9).
Additionally, conversion does not make all the baggage magically disappear. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8). Yes. God forgives. Yes. God removes eternal damnation after repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). But a lifetime of sowing sinful seeds will produce a painful earthly harvest for some time. Thankfully, the Fruit of the Spirit and the sowing of spiritual seed will eventually replace bad harvests with good harvests. For example, God can deliver an alcoholic from addiction in a single instant, but that doesn’t mean the broken relationships the addiction caused will be mended overnight. New seeds will slowly be planted, growth will begin, and the Fruit of the Spirit will bring about the healing. Taking this hodgepodge of analogies one step further, Jesus referred to salvation as being born again (John 3:1-8). Peter continued the metaphor by referring to new Christians as infants (1 Peter 2:2). Birth is messy. Babies are messy. Even toddlers are messy. My mother would be quick to tell you (based on my teenage years) that teenagers can be the messiest of all. Growing churches love spiritual children enough to keep cleaning the mess and raising new believers into full maturity in Christ.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Protect the platform and the pulpit. The people on your platform and in your pulpit are a reflection of the values and culture of your church. Just because someone wants to preach doesn’t mean they should be allowed to preach. Just because they want to sing and can sing doesn’t mean they should sing if they don’t reflect the biblical values and culture of an apostolic church. Earlier we were talking about standards of excellence but now we are referring to spiritual protection. You can avoid a lot of spiritual heartaches and perceived inconsistencies by keeping your platform and your pulpit carefully guarded. This is easier said than done; do it anyway. Scripture repeatedly warns us that wolves will try to invade the church and cause division (Matthew 7:16, Matthew 10:16, Acts 20:29). Be careful and use discernment. Don’t give influence to people who could be spiritually harmful to the church.
Pray. Fast. Study. Rinse. Repeat. Make prayer a priority. Maintain corporate times of prayer and fasting. Equip and engage people to maintain personal Bible study habits. All leaders are readers. Study, study, study (2 Timothy 2:15).
Preach and teach with clarity and conviction. I’m noticing as I write these thoughts that much of my focus revolves around preaching. I make no apologies for that, preaching has always been central to apostolic revival. The New Testament Church was birthed around Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost where the Holy Ghost was poured out (Acts 2). Using Peter’s sermon from Acts chapter two as an example, you’ll notice that he was completely confident in his delivery, he spoke from the head and the heart, and he spoke with clarity. In other words, he was clear and understandable. He didn’t leave any wiggle room for the hearers to squeeze in their own interpretation of what they needed to do to be saved. I hear far too much ambiguous preaching these days. Fuzzy preaching that sounds brilliant (or sometimes just incoherent) but makes it hard to pin the particulars down. This isn’t always intentional. Sometimes it comes from a desire to sound intellectual, or maybe it’s just poor communication skills, sometimes lack of preparation is the culprit, or possibly it stems from a subconscious fear of offending the hearers. In worst cases, it comes from internal doubts and disbelief. You don’t have to be a great orator. Passion, conviction, confidence, anointing, and clarity are far more valuable qualities than just being a wordsmith. Bottom line, clear preaching isn’t always the prettiest preaching but it produces apostolic results. Study thoroughly, know what you believe, say what you believe, believe what you say, and let God do the rest. Secondly, a clear distinction must be maintained between teaching and preaching. Many churches are seriously off balance in one direction or the other. They have tons of preaching and very little teaching or vice versa (this goes back to the problem of having less and less church). There really must be a balance between the two for healthy spiritual conversions and spiritual maturation to take place. Interestingly, most pastors struggle to accurately define the biblical differences between preaching and teaching. I’ve often heard people make the tongue-in-cheek statement that teaching is just preaching with less screaming. That’s funny but horribly inaccurate. Teaching should never be used as an excuse to be boring, uninspiring, or less anointed. Robert L. Waggoner gives one of the best differentiation between teaching and preaching that I have read. Waggoner writes:
“The primary meaning associated with the nature of preaching in the New Testament comes from the fact that the Greek word most frequently used to describe a preacher was that of a herald. A herald was one who announced a message, generally from the king or some other ruling authority, to those who had not heard it before. Preaching in New Testament times, therefore related primarily to announcing good news. In the New Testament, the content of that good news centered around the themes of Jesus Christ, the Word, the Gospel, and the Kingdom. On the other hand, the nature of teaching in New Testament times was primarily to explain ideas and their implications, and to exhort people to live by declared values. Whereas the message preached was the message announced, the message taught was the message explained, clarified, and applied, with exhortation to live by it. Whereas the message preached (announced) was primarily for the purpose of conversion, the message taught (explained, clarified, applied, with exhortation) was primarily for the purpose of building faith, Christian conviction and character. Essentially, preaching lays the foundation for teaching, just as an announcement lays the foundation for further comments. Both have the same message. Their points of emphasis differ. Whereas the content of preaching may be narrowly defined, the content of teaching is in broad terms.”
With this definition in mind, many churches lay a lot of good foundation with preaching but never adequately build upon it with solid teaching. This creates tons of spiritual babies that never survive into maturity. On the other hand, churches that are imbalanced on the teaching side of the equation are constantly trying to build structures on weak foundations.
Volunteers are valuable. As I mentioned earlier, there’s never going to be a big enough budget to hire the staff needed to fulfill all the needs of the church. Even large churches rely heavily on volunteers. Sunday school teachers, ushers, greeters, behind the scenes tech engineers, cleaning crews, board members, youth workers, bus drivers, outreach teams, hospitality teams, altar workers, and more are usually volunteers. They are the backbone of your church. Love, respect, appreciate, honor, lead, train, and equip them. Do not take them for granted.
Refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. Let me say that again for impact, refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. The idea that compromise always results in church growth is a huge myth that many have swallowed hook line and sinker. This often makes watering down the Word seem attractive even to preachers who actually believe in sound doctrine simply because they feel a desperation to grow. I’ve made this point in a previous article but it bears repeating, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise (or likely never preached apostolic doctrine in the first place) without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publicly or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. If you’re an apostolic church and you’re not growing it’s not because of your doctrine. There are probably many reasons you’re not growing, but standing for apostolic truth is not one of them.
Consider this, recent studiesare showing that liberal mainline churches are in sharp decline while Pentecostal churches are still experiencing dramatic growth worldwide. This leaves researchers scratching their heads because we Pentecostals tend to be doctrinally dogmatic which is terribly politically incorrect. Biblically correct churches are outgrowing politically correct churches because they stand out as a beacon of light in a philosophically and doctrinally hazy world. To be clear, it would be better to preach the truth and stay small than to preach a lie and be damned. I would rather lead a small church to Heaven than lead a megachurch to Hell.
Know your limits. Even super-duper mega churches with deep pockets can’t do everything well. Find the things that your church is really good at (probably through a process of trial and error) and do them really well. It would be better to do a few things passionately and excellently than to do a hundred things badly. If your church isn’t exceptionally gifted in music don’t try to put on a music conference or a concert. That’s counterproductive. Find what you’re good at (and your church is good at something) and double down on it. Doing more stuff for the sake of doing more stuff is a terrible idea. Busyness for the sake of busyness is a recipe for burnout and church-wide depression. Oftentimes, less is more. Just because other churches are doing it doesn’t mean that you have to do it too. In fact, your focused efforts and unique abilities will set you apart in your community in a good way. By the way, the reason many church growth books are grossly unhelpful is because they want you to imitate every move of another numerically (although not necessarily spiritual) successful church. Unfortunately, your church may not be gifted or motivated in the same ways by the same things. You must identify your localized abilities and focus on them with laser-like intensity.
Trim the fat. Once you’ve found what your church is really good at and what it’s really bad at its time to trim the fat off the “sacred cows”. You’re going to be met with a lot of resistance at this point. You’re going to hear a lot of things like, “But that other Church does this and we should too” or “But we’ve always had this program” or “But everyone else is doing it this way or that way.” Stand firm, once you start doing things just to do things you will lose purpose, passion, and perspective. Cut out time-consuming, cumbersome, unproductive, expensive, and counterproductive programs as quickly as possible. To review, it’s better to be known for doing a few things really well than for doing tons of stuff really poorly.
Don’t be a seeker-friendly church. Be a God friendly church. Remember, God is the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:38), and He alone gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be friendly to seekers (you absolutely must be friendly), but the term “seeker friendly” has become synonymous with churches that try to create a generic and culturally acceptable worship environment. Again, if we use the book of Acts as our model, we find that the Church was anything but generic. The apostles spoke boldly into hostile and conflicting cultures with their primary concern being to please the Lord, not people. If God gives the true harvest than being a God-pleasing church should be our main concern. Churches that are more interested in pleasing people than God attract crowds and nothing more. Churches that are more concerned with crowds than the Gospel throw Super Bowl parties and churches that love the Gospel throw Holy Ghost parties. That’s a generalization, but the point is valid. A crowd does not make a church, but a book of Acts church will attract a crowd. When God starts moving, people in a cold world will be attracted to the warmth of the fire.
Promote praise and worship. I have explained the often overlooked differences between praise and worship here. God dwells among the praises of his people (Psalms 22:3). Praise sets the tone and the right atmosphere of faith for preaching to be most impactful. Praise drives away dark spirits (1 Samuel 16:23) and turns mourning into dancing (Psalms 30:11). Praise gets our flesh out of the way making room for the moving of the Holy Spirit. If you want revival you must promote and cultivate a worshipful church environment. Like it or not, you can gauge the spiritual temperature of a church by its praise and worship. Outward praise is not a replacement for spiritual depth, but you cannot claim to have spiritual depth without outward manifestations of praise. A church that refuses to be demonstrative in praise is in direct violation of countless passages of Scripture (Romans 15:11, Psalms 22:23, Psalms 33:1, Psalms 66:8, Psalms 67:3, Psalms 98:4, Psalms 100:4, Psalms 102:18).
Define revival. As Rev. Wayne Huntley often explains, many churches confuse revival with evangelism. The root word of revival is “revive” meaning to bring back to life or to infuse with fresh strength. You can’t revive something that has never been alive. Revival is for the saints and evangelism is for the world. A church that is not constantly being revived will not grow. A dead church cannot give birth. Having said that, evangelism is something altogether different. Evangelism reaches beyond the walls of the church house into the lives of those who are lost. The distinction between revival and evangelism is important because what revives the church does not always produce evangelism. Evangelism does little to no good without a revived (alive) church.
Revival and evangelism must be approached as two distinct processes that are connected but unique. Otherwise, a church will fall into the trap of having revival without evangelism or vice versa. I’ve preached in many churches over the years that settled for having terrific revival but never evangelizing. They needed to learn that being revived over and over again is not the same as reaching out to the lost.
Let me address an elephant in the room that is seldom mentioned; many churches love revival but they dislike evangelism. Sadly, many congregations grow very comfortable with their crowd of friends and they become content to just have good church and leave their community unchanged. This is a direct violation of the Church’s mandate to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Every church needs to be taught that revival must overflow from our church services into spontaneous bursts of community evangelism, which leads nicely to the next point.
Live evangelism. Often, churches relegate evangelism to group events like door knocking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 110% for door knocking and passing out flyers and water bottles at the park on a hot summer day. All great stuff, but if that’s the extent of your church’s outreach efforts your church is either dead or dying. Evangelism is a daily lifestyle, not a weekly or monthly program. Every growing church has one thing in common, saints who organically invite and encourage others to visit their church on a regular basis. This organic church-wide evangelism is not limited to friends and family members but includes strangers and acquaintances. Growing churches live evangelism as a constant lifestyle everywhere they go.
Have a long-term vision and short-term goals. I’ve laid out the case for yearly preaching plans here. My thinking has drastically evolved concerning church planning over the last several years. I used to disdain the idea of being overly planned because I felt that it hindered spontaneity and the flow of the Spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. God honors planning. God knows the future and He can give us direction a year in advance just as easily as He can give us direction ten minutes in advance. Every church regardless of size should have an annual planning session mapping out a schedule for the upcoming year. That calendar should be neatly printed and made readily available to the entire church. This keeps ministries and activities from overlapping. It gives each ministry an opportunity to suggest strategies and develop a game plan. It promotes unity and creates general awareness. Obviously, there must be a level of flexibility throughout the year in scheduling and things will be tweaked and changed as needed, but every ministry and department will operate best within the structure of yearly preplanning.
Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). That word quench in the Greek literally means to “extinguish” or “to go out”. In its normal context, the word was used to describe putting out sparks, fires, or flames. Many churches either intentionally or unintentionally quench the moving of the Spirit. If you read the context of the passage you will notice the next verse admonishes the church to “despise not prophesyings (1 Thessalonians 5:20)”. Spite towards spiritual things automatically hinders the Spirit. Churches that develop a top-down aversion to preaching, prophecy, the gifts of the Spirit, praise, prayer, and holiness are perverted vessels that put out revival fires. Some churches love prophecy but they despise praise. Some churches love preaching but they disdain the operation of the gifts of the Spirit. Some churches love outward holiness but they dislike the very sinners that the Church is mandated to reach. These imbalances hinder the Spirit and create dangerous droughts. Learning to be sensitive and responsive to the moving of the Spirit is paramount in terms of church growth. A spiritually tone-deaf pastor will stick to the program even when the Spirit is flowing in another direction. A spiritually insensitive preacher will miss windows of opportunity when and where the Spirit is trying to flow. While I affirm that we must do all things “…decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40)” it is always orderly to abstain from quenching the Spirit’s flow.
Deal with sin quickly, mercifully, and decisively (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20). Sadly, sin is going to infiltrate the lives of even the most trusted of saints from time to time. Even worse, it’s possible that trusted leaders in your church will fall into sin. It can be tempting to procrastinate addressing the issue at hand. Don’t do it. The festering will grow worse and leave a wake of destruction in its path. Make the necessary adjustments and corrections as quickly as possible. Take decisive and integrity-laden steps of action. And above all, be merciful and restoration-minded when and where possible. If you publicly oppose sin but privately tolerate sin among the core of your church or within the leadership structure over time the entire foundation of the local church will be weakened. If sin within a church is left unchecked for a long enough period of time it will replicate and spread like cancer until a church is no longer a church; just a collection of backslidden posers.
Have a guest follow-up ministry. As I peruse over what I’ve written so far, I’m realizing that the vast majority of these points are mindset oriented. They are mostly spiritual principles. But for those of you who are technique-minded, you will appreciate this point. Guest follow-up is a technical imperative for church growth. Yet, I am amazed by how many churches either have zero guest follow-up or very insufficient guest follow-up. To put things in perspective, if someone goes through all the trouble of getting ready and driving out to your church to visit they are the most likely converts in your proximity. I’ll double down on this point, if someone pointed a gun to your head (silly hypothetical) and forced you to choose between having a guest follow-up ministry or a neighborhood outreach ministry, you should choose guest follow-up. Studies have shown over and over again that a church is far more likely to get someone to come back than they are to convince someone to visit for the first time sight unseen. For the record, I absolutely believe that churches should be using every means of evangelism possible.
There are gobs of ideas out there about the best way to do a guest follow-up ministry. By the way, I prefer the word guest over visitor because the word visitor has a temporary connotation while the word guest is more welcoming and permanent sounding. Regardless, here are a few basics of guest follow-up. One, have some kind of welcoming area with a stationed greeter (preferably a very friendly and warm person) who is equipped with guest information cards. Two, the greeter’s goal is to make guests feel welcome, answer all of their questions, and acquire the guest’s contact information. Three, a letter from the pastor should be mailed or emailed to all guests within the following week. Four, a quick personal phone call or text (some people prefer this) from an actual human being should be initiated. Five, add them to a mailing list so they can be invited to all major events and activities throughout the year (unless they request to be removed from the mailing list). Those are the very basics. Many churches do personal visits. I did this in my early days of ministry but found that people were a little creeped out by having someone randomly show up at their house (maybe it was just me). Some churches with big budgets send a gift basket with all kinds of logo-covered goodies and edible treats. I think that’s great if you can afford it but unnecessary. However, I do suggest three things if your budget allows: 1) provide all your visitors with a very nice looking (professionally printed) brochure complete with information about beliefs, programs, media, service times, and ministries, 2) give away nice but inexpensive pens with the church logo and website emblazoned on it (people will use pens forever and it will serve as a gentle reminder of your church), 3) give away refrigerator magnets that contain your church contact info (people love fridge magnets and they will use them). This may seem like a lot of trouble but it will reap immeasurable benefits.
One last thought regarding this point (and this just might be the most helpful thought in this whole article), tell guests that you want them to become a part of your church. I mean, literally say those words to them out loud. Don’t just assume that they know how you feel because of your friendliness. Don’t say, “I really hope you visit again” as if they will always be an outsider trying to get into the club. Say, “I’m really hoping that you’ll make this your home church and become a part of what God is doing here”. One is exclusive and one is inclusive. Tell them they are wanted and mean it from the bottom of your heart.
Be a self-aware church. Over time it’s easy to lose perspective and awareness of how we are coming across to our guests and to our communities. Individuals can do it and churches can do it as well. For example, just because we think we are a friendly church (I’ve never been to a church that didn’t think it was crazy friendly) doesn’t mean that we are actually a friendly church. Be friendly, don’t just act friendly. Meaning, many churches become proficient at going through the motions of “friendliness” without truly having a caring or loving desire to know and help people, and they don’t have the self-awareness needed to even realize what has happened. But people can quickly spot all the things that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to in our comfortable surroundings.
In many ways, it’s similar to how I feel when people visit my home. My home doesn’t seem dirty, messy, or disorganized until guests show up, and then I start noticing every flaw and imperfection. The difference between church and our homes is that most folks rarely have guests in their homes, but we constantly have guests in our churches. Make a conscious effort to look at your church like you do your house when you know that company is coming. If nothing else, keep the platform and altar area clean, organized, clutter-free, and pleasant. Why? Because the platform and altar area is where people’s attention will be focused 99% of the time. Do your best to “awkward-proof” your platform as much as possible. Meaning, avoid tripping hazards, weird set-ups where singers are practically on top of ministers who are seated, chairs that make strange noises (funny story goes with this tip), busy seating arrangements that people have to weave around like a maze, bad lighting, exposed tangled wires, decorative arrangements that are easily bumped or fall with little provoking, and odd instrument and musician placements that conflict with the overall environment.
Being self-aware also means that we realize that unchurched people often don’t understand expressions and words that are common to us. No. I’m not one of those guys who wants to dumb down our preaching or secularize our expressions, but I do think we should pause often and explain to guests what we’re talking about. Yes, sir. That’s just common courtesy and good manners. We know exactly what we mean by God is going to “split the eastern sky wide open” but a guest just hears a weird, scary sounding phrase. Self-aware churches do a lot of patient explaining.
Along those same lines, if you announce that everyone who wants to be a part of “such and such” needs to talk to “so and so” without visibly showing them who “so and so” is, every one of your guests and newer saints is going to feel completely lost and excluded. Self-aware churches do lots of introducing people to people.
Utilize the power of social media and onlinepresence. I’ve written many times about the dangers and pitfalls of social media (here, here, and here). However, it’s simply irresponsible when a church fails to harness this powerful outreach tool. Our church reaches over fifty thousand people each month via iTunes and podcast, and much more than that through our online presence. The vast majority of people in your community will check out your church online before making a decision to visit. Very few people show up without doing a little research these days. If possible, set up a podcast where people can listen to your lessons and sermons. Have a website, it doesn’t have to be state of the art but it needs to be updated (don’t have announcements posted for things that have already happened) and very informative. There’s no such thing as too much information. Tell them about your church, what to expect, what you believe, all about your vision, your ministries, your leadership (many church sites make it challenging to even figure out their pastor’s name), your service times, and your location. Link your site to various social media sites and utilize them to the best of your ability. Ideally, someone trustworthy and tech-savvy should be shepherding this ministry (and it is a ministry).
Don’t be ashamed of your apostolic identity (Romans 1:16, Luke 9:26). Hollywood isn’t ashamed of their spectacle. In fact, the world has never been prouder in spite of the chaos that it’s in. Do not be ashamed of the name of Jesus, holiness, Apostolic doctrine, the moving of the Spirit, exuberant praise, passionate preaching, or our Pentecostal heritage.
Beware of the Grasshopper Complex (Numbers 13:26-33). Remember the ten spies who gave an “evil report (Numbers 13:32)”? They said that they could not take the Promised Land. Mostly because they had spotted intimidating giants. They famously whined, “…we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in theirs (Numbers 13:33)”. They were suffering from an Inferiority Complex. They were so impressed and oppressed by the perceived strength of their enemy that they lost faith and paralysis took control. Many churches suffer from a Grasshopper Complex. They see thriving false churches, encroaching evil from every side, political pressure, cultural decay, obstacles that seem insurmountable, and they are frozen in fear. This is fundamentally a faith problem. Here’s the deal with giants; the bigger they are the easier it is to hit them with a slingshot. Okay. I know that sounds flippant and sometimes the battle is extremely intense. But in the end, we either trust God for the victory or we don’t.
I’m a pastor and I’ve been hurt by pastors. In fact, my most painful experiences have come from individuals who should have been spiritual shepherds. I’ve counseled with enough people to know that I’m far from alone in that scenario. Thankfully, I’m a preacher’s kid with a father who’s the real deal. He believes what he preaches and lives it too. I’ve had that consistent role model to follow when other peers and leaders let me down in dramatic ways. For that, I’m truly grateful
Let me be clear, I’m not talking about petty grievances of the “they didn’t shake my hand” or “they didn’t appreciate my potential” variety. I’m talking about legitimate situations where a pastor (or minister) was blatantly, perhaps even chronically hurtful, sinful, or harmful. Neither, am I talking about leadership differences, stylistic clashes, or minor judgment lapses, I believe in pastoral authority and apostolic boldness. I am comfortable receiving rebuke and correction from a spiritual leader. Nor, am I easily offended or hard to please. I am not fazed by the reality that pastors are fallible and very human. As a preacher, I know my own shortcomings all too well, so it’s easy for me to cut the preacher some slack. Regardless, real spiritual abuse does occur; good people do bad things, bad people masquerade as good people (Jesus repeatedly warned us this would be common), and mistakes are made. When these things happen, it’s only natural to want to tell anyone and everyone who will listen. I know it’s tempting, but that’s exactly what you should NOT do.
I’m not advocating sticking your head in the sand. Seek godly counsel, deal with the problem, keep a good spirit, put it in the past, and keep it there. As Paul said, “…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” Have you been hurt, disenchanted, disappointed, or even harmed by a spiritual leader? If so, you’re in good company; Jesus was crucified because of the influence of religious leaders. And yet, it was Jesus who admonished us to forgive and move on (Matthew 5:44, Mark 11:25, Matthew 18:21-22). I’d like to address eight reasons why I think we should avoid reliving these experiences in our conversations.
It will produce, maintain, and enhance a dangerous root of bitterness in your heart. Bitterness will destroy you and turn you into the very thing that hurt you in the first place. Hurt people really do hurt people.
It plants unhealthy seeds of distrust in the hearts of the hearers. Quick analogy, I respect police officers very much. I believe that most police officers are honorable people. However, I’ve had an extremely bad encounter with a police officer who was supposed to serve and protect. I don’t dwell on that one experience because I want my children to respect police officers. Will there be a day when I explain to them that there are a few bad apples out there? Yes. But that will never be my primary focus in conversation because, in the grand scheme of things, I want my children to honor and respect those who serve them. When it comes to spiritual leaders, I am even more careful. I do not want my family, unbelievers, or fragile saints to live under the impression that MOST truth preaching pastors are bad because of a FEW bad truth preaching pastors.
It’s not possible to move forward safely when you are constantly looking backward. As a kid, I had a weird habit of running while looking over my shoulder. Yeah, I ran into a lot of stuff and caused myself all kinds of unnecessary pain. When you constantly talk about past church hurt you destabilize your present and endanger your future.
Often, and sometimes without realizing it, we talk about such things with a desire to cause harm to the perpetrator. Understandable as that may be, it goes against everything that Jesus teaches us about forgiveness and loving our enemies and those who spitefully use us. God does not give us the authority to exact our own brand of revenge, revenge is the Lord’s (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).
Constant rehashing of pastoral failings can create a lingering distrust towards good spiritual leaders in your heart. In spite of human flaws, everyone needs a pastor. If you’re not careful, you’ll become so distrustful that you will never allow a godly preacher to have apostolic authority in your life. If that happens, the Devil will have accomplished what he set out to accomplish.
My personal observations of people who dwell on ministerial failings are that it becomes their primary excuse in justifying their own bad decisions. They excuse their bad behavior because of the bad behavior of a finite human being. Remember, our relationship with God should not be destroyed because of a ministers wrongdoing. God does not cease to be good just because a man or woman has hurt us. Wrong does not become right just because someone else goes crazy. David exampled this beautifully in the Bible. King Saul was out to kill him, and when David had the chance to take Saul’s life, he refused to touch God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:10). Notice, David didn’t let Saul kill him, he removed himself from the situation, but he did not exact revenge or sink to Saul’s level of bad behavior.
It keeps the wounds fresh. There’s no hurt like spiritual hurt. It can be devastating and earth-shattering. Talking about it over and over again just keeps that pain from healing. Take it to the Lord in prayer, leave it on the altar, and let Jesus mend your broken heart.
It can invite the judgment of God into your life. I know this one will rub some folks the wrong way. And I’ve wrestled with this concept myself. On the surface, it simply doesn’t seem fair that our improper reaction to someone else’s sin could bring judgment into our own lives. One of the strangest biblical accounts is the story of Noah becoming indecent and intoxicated shortly after surviving the great flood (Genesis 9:18-27). When Ham, his son, saw the situation he cavalierly talked about it with his brothers. The text indicates a demeanor of condescension and disrespect for a man who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man who was in a temporary state of terrible failure. When Noah’s other sons (Shem and Japheth) realized what was happening they took a garment and walked backwards into their father’s tent to cover his nakedness. This was not denial; they weren’t avoiding the problem or living in La-La Land. But they had enough respect for their father’s godly history that they would not approach the situation lightly or contemptuously. Ham and his descendants labored under a God-given curse from that day forward. When dealing with the spiritual failings of a genuine man of God our demeanor matters.
Quick caveat, this article is not referring to false prophets, false teachers, or those who knowingly peddle false doctrine. Scripture clearly admonishes us to expose and rebuke them as needed (Galatians 1:6-9, Deuteronomy 13:1-4, Jeremiah 14:14-16, Titus 3:10-11, 2 Peter 3:15-18). Neither am I minimizing the pain that can come from a spiritual leaders failings. Many people, like David, have been wronged through no fault of their own. I also realize, that there are many people who incorrectly perceive wrongdoing because they are rebellious or unteachable. That’s another issue for another day. For the record, I do not endorse allowing a minister who is in sin to remain active in ministry.
When it comes to leadership of any kind, consistency is a vital component of success. Often, highly creative personalities struggle with consistency, severely limiting what would otherwise be a dynamic leadership style. Of course, that’s a generalization and leaders of all types struggle to be consistent.
People are drawn to consistency but it takes time to demonstrate genuine and effective consistency in leadership. For example, studies of churches, businesses, and corporations indicate that when a new leader arrives it takes roughly five years for the organization to hit its full growth potential. Why? Because quality consistency in leadership, by definition, cannot be modeled overnight.
Here are several key areas where consistency makes the difference between bad, good, and great leadership.
Consistency of Time. Understanding the value of your time and everyone else’s time matters. If you disrespect other people’s time they will eventually disrespect you. Be on time, be timely, be efficient, and as often as possible, be brief. If you don’t habitually waste people’s time, they’ll forgive you when you need to take their time. All great leaders understand the value of managing time.
Consistency of Dependability. If you say it, mean it. If you mean it, do it. If people can’t depend on you, they won’t trust you, and if they don’t trust you great leadership is not possible. Inevitably, you will inadvertently let someone down. Don’t be too proud to apologize.
Consistency of Emotions & Temperament. Okay, so we all have mood swings. Most great leaders feel things strongly, and that’s a good thing. It channels energy and propels creativity. But drastic emotional fluctuations, left unchecked, hurt people. People shouldn’t have to wonder if you’re going to randomly lose your temper, cry without provocation, or become morose. People will excuse a temperamental leader for a while (especially if they’re mega talented, a super genius, or ultra charismatic), but eventually they’ll abandon ship in search of less drama.
Consistency of Study. Leaders never stop learning and learners never stop studying. Once you think you know all you need to know you are arrogant and irrelevant.
Consistency of Routine. I’m not suggesting that leaders should do the same thing, at the same time, every day. But some level of routine must be realized or a lifestyle of consistency is not possible.
Consistency of Organization. It can vary in style, intensity, and beauty; but you must be organized and know how to organize others.
Consistency of Spiritual Discipline. For ministerial leadership, this goes without saying. But regardless, strong spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, and devotion strengthen every area of a leader’s life.
Consistency of Kindness. Be kind all the time (including to those who can do nothing for you). Some leaders erroneously believe that their other strengths make this unnecessary. Not so. Kindness is not weakness. Harshness is not strength. In fact, it takes more effort to be consistently kind than visa verse. An unkind leader will negate all other skills. And yes, you can be kind and authoritative at the same time.
Consistency of Authenticity. To phrase it another way, always be genuine and real. Be transparent, that doesn’t mean that you have to wear your heart on your sleeve or air all the dirty laundry. But remember, authenticity is the opposite of fakery. Be open, be honest, be humble, be authentic.
Consistency of Integrity. Integrity is one of those words with a broad spectrum of meaning that can be hard to pin down. By default, we usually define integrity as honesty and that is correct but incomplete. In the tech world, they use the term “integrity checking” meaning they are analyzing the data to ensure that it lacks corruption and is maintaining internal integrity. Engineers use the term “structural integrity” in reference to buildings that are structurally sound. Governments use the term “territorial integrity” when describing a nation or region that is undivided and sovereign. With that in mind, a leader with integrity is constantly checking the areas of his life that others can’t see for corrupted data, maintaining structural soundness, and guarding against divisions. The integrity of your organization will be a reflection of your personal integrity.
Consistency of Core Values. Once you have identified, defined, and clearly articulated your core values you must implement those values consistently. A core value is not a core value if it fluctuates. Your personal and corporate core values must be united and inform every action and decision from the top down. You must firmly believe in your core values or you will change them when things get tough. Without core values, you become a slave to flaky emotions and the fickleness of fads. Everything you do flows from your core values.
Consistency of Maturation & Growth. Look at where you are compared to where you were five years ago. Go ahead. Hopefully, you have grown and matured personally. Don’t buy the lie that you’ve peaked or plateaued. You must model personal growth and maturation. Set goals, stretch your limits, dream big, get better, and never settle for personal stagnation. If you do, they will too. Also, you cannot mature if you are not self-aware. Self-awareness is literally one of the most defining aspects of a great leader. If you think you’re great when you’re not, you’ll never work to get better. If you think your weakness is your strength, you’ll never mature. Find ways to evaluate yourself, seek counsel, seek brutally honest mentors, take the blinders off, listen to constructive criticism, expose yourself to leaders who inspire you to stretch, and you will find the motivation to grow.
Consistency of Fairness. Treat yourself and others fairly. It’s really that simple. Leaders who hold one standard for this person and another for that person lose everyone’s respect over time.
Consistency of Creativity. Creativity is hard. Admittedly, it comes more naturally for some. However, even for those who are wired to be creative, it takes hard work. I know it sounds antithetical to the main theme of this article, but when it comes to creativity, predictability is the enemy of growth. Have dreams, use imagination, and be original.
Consistency of Healthy Change & Adjustment. Again, I know it sounds strange to write an article about consistency and tell people to be willing to make changes and adjustments. Paradox? No. You can be consistent in every area mentioned above and yet remain flexible when and where necessary. Great leaders know when to throw out bad ideas and implement better ones. Great leaders know when to make small tweaks and big adjustments when needed. Inflexible leaders crack underneath the pressure of constantly changing demands and environments. Not all change is healthy, but total unwillingness to adjust is always deadly.
Consistency of Humility. Great leaders remain great by remaining humble. Arrogance and pride not only repels people, but it produces sloppiness and strong feelings of entitlement. Entitled leaders are not only toxically obnoxious but their followers emulate their example. Eventually, the entire organization from the top down expects everyone else to do everything else. Chaos and unproductiveness always plagues entitled leadership. Many leaders begin with humility and gradually become arrogant. Carefully guard against the drift towards pride that power and success often sets into motion. Furthermore, a leader doesn’t have to be wildly successful to be prideful; even sub-par leaders often struggle with arrogance.
What would you add to this list?
For the record, I did not write this article from the perspective of a great leader lecturing less great leaders. At any given time, I’m working to be more consistent in at least five of these areas. Often, I’m more consistent at being inconsistent. In keeping with key 9, you should know that I am weakest in areas 5, 6, 9, and 15.