This blog began in 2006 as a place to discuss answers for better church health. The primary focus is leadership and established churches. My goal is to give church leaders practical insights from research and leadership theories in a way that relates to the everyday church most people attend.
Leadership requires initiative. Healthy relationships require initiative. A pastor without initiative will struggle to feed sheep. In John 21, Jesus gives Peter the three-fold command to “Feed my sheep.” The context of this command is the question of love. Pastor, do you love Jesus? Then you will take the initiative to feed his sheep.
You’re the leader. You must take the initiative, especially with relationships in the church. Many pastors rigorously protect their study time in God’s Word. The same intensity applies to personal relationships.
Will you intimately know every person in your congregation? Of course not. Neither will you know every nuance of every passage in Scripture. But you still make the time to study a specific passage for your sermon preparation. The same initiative that applies to the study of Scripture also applies to relationships in the church. Why not also pick a family a week (or a month) to get to know better? Pastors who take the initiative build more relational bridges in the congregation.
Don’t wait for others to invite you to a meal. You should reach out to people. Invite them to Sunday lunches with your family. Have members over for dinner at your home once or twice a month. Meet key leaders for early coffee or breakfast before work. Don’t have an agenda at these meals. Simply get to know people. It will build relational capital. More importantly, it’s biblical.
When you have an awkward moment with someone, call them. Pastors use a lot of words, especially lead pastors. You speak, preach, pray, and guide meetings. The sheer volume of words used by pastors means people will misunderstand you, and you will unknowingly misstate your intentions. When you have an awkward moment with someone, call them. Take the initiative to clarify what was spoken. Don’t assume people will figure it out or forget. Clarity is critical to the health of relationships, and you have to take the lead to obtain it.
When you don’t know someone, introduce yourself. Wallflowers are not leaders. Pastors do not have the luxury of hiding in the corners of crowded rooms. Take every opportunity to make an introduction with someone you do not know.
Be the main greeter before and after worship services. Worship services are the perfect opportunities to build relationships. The majority of the church tends to be on campus for worship. Handshakes, hugs, and smiles are quick but powerful reminders that you care for people.
Text people when you pray for them. This one is simple. When you pray for someone, take the extra ten seconds to tell them! Your initiative could brighten someone’s day at just the moment needed.
Hand-write thank you notes. Write a few notes a week to people in the church who went above and beyond with their service. Five notes a week will yield 260 personal communications a year—many of which your congregation will keep in a desk drawer or box only to be pulled out on occasion and read again. The initiative to write these notes speaks volumes about your passion to care for people.
When someone implies they are struggling, ask them about it. I’ve noticed few people will explicitly state they are struggling. Usually, they speak in a couched tone or with veiled words. When you can tell they are hurting, ask them about it. Rarely will people be offended. In fact, their reserved posture is more of a cry for help than it is a desire to hide something.
To love Jesus is to feed His sheep. This effort takes initiative, especially within the context of relationships in the church.
I’m preaching a series through the first half of the book of Acts called “Launch.” This sermon covers Acts 2:14-41. When uncertainty shakes you, God’s certainty secures you. The time you have left is uncertain, but the place of eternity is certain. Death will hold you captive when you try to control it. Death loses its power when we believe in the resurrection of Jesus. The certainty of grace gives you the power to kill your sin. The certainty of grace is God’s promise for eternity.
Every church has a pace built into the culture of its people. Some churches move more slowly. Some move more quickly. While most established churches likely need to pick up the pace, a slow pace does not necessarily mean the church is complacent.
Complacent churches are self-satisfied and are unwilling to address problems. Unfortunately, far too many churches are complacent. But don’t confuse complacency with a slow pace. Some congregations are willing to move forward; it just takes them a little longer. A few factors may influence the slow pace of a church.
The community may move at a slower pace. The church is simply reflecting the greater culture of the community. For example, rural communities tend to change less quickly. A church that moves too quickly in a slow-moving farming community may actually become less relevant.
A slow pace may point to stability, not entrenchment. It’s hard to move rapidly and also be stable. Slow-moving stability can be better for some church cultures. The downside of this pattern is it can create ruts of entrenchment, but it doesn’t have to be the case. When used strategically, stability can advance discipleship, sacrificial giving, and equipping—none of which point to complacency.
Leaders may guide the church methodically. Not every leader is designed to push forward with intensity. Not every church needs a hard-charging pastor full of ambition and ideas. Some church leaders plod thoughtfully, with intention and strategy. Plodding leaders are not complacent leaders.
The season of a church may necessitate a slower pace. When a church needs to heal, it almost always needs to slow down. A church may go through months, if not years, of a slower pace. This intentional slowdown may be the opposite of complacency. It could be the problem is the fast pace.
Passion is not always fast. Restoring an antique car takes time. It’s a painstaking process. The slowness of the restoration process is a sign of passion, not complacency or apathy. The same principle applies to the church. Pastors who revitalize churches may move slowly, but it’s an indicator of their passion and love for the church, not a mark of complacency.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming all slow-moving churches are complacent. In fact, many established churches require plodding leaders who are willing to take the time to revitalize them. These pastors are passionate, not complacent.
Your body needs regular exercise to stay in shape. Your mind needs to be stretched and challenged to stay sharp. For leaders to grow, regular workouts are necessary. Pastors lead within a dynamic environment—the church. You may not think of your church as “dynamic,” but it is. A church of fifty people means at least fifty opinions exist on any given decision. Even the most entrenched congregations provide ample opportunities for leadership exercises. The church may not want to change, but you can still change and grow as a leader.
Some daily exercises are obvious, and they are often repeated in books and conferences: Read more, stick to a devotional time, get better sleep, organize your day, and keep a structured calendar. These tips work, but they are not specifically focused on leadership. What are some daily leadership activities that will strengthen your abilities?
Ask more questions. Dig deeper. When you are talking with church members, don’t assume you know. Ask them to explain a little more. Show a genuine interest in the perspective of others. Often people don’t reveal what they really think until they trust you. It’s hard to build trust when you’re talking all the time. Stop talking. Listen. And when you’re itching to provide your insight, don’t. Ask another question. It’s a great leadership exercise.
Hit pause before reacting viscerally. Guess what? People in your church will challenge your leadership, your decisions, your vision, your abilities, and even your motives. Leaders are targets because they are front and center. You will make yourself a bigger target when you react viscerally to complaints. The barbs will become more numerous and larger when you pop off every time someone says something less than complimentary. Bite your tongue. Close your mouth, take a deep breath, and think about a funny scene in a movie. It’s just a flesh wound. Visceral reactions rarely produce anything positive. Exercise your pause button. It’s one of the least utilized leadership tools.
Use a different lens of leadership. Leaders tend to rely on one or two lenses of leadership. We view the church through the lens of power—who has it and who doesn’t? Or we might rely on the lens of inspiration—how can I rally people to a common goal? Or maybe it’s structure—what is the best way to organize this ministry? But there are many other lenses as well. For one, symbols are important. There’s a reason people react to the American flag being burned. It’s a powerful symbol. Your church has these symbols: pulpits, crosses, pews, quilts, plaques, gardens, and parlors. Try to use different leadership lenses often. Take the view of power, then inspiration, then structure, and then symbol. The exercise of different perspectives will grow your leadership.
Rely on wisdom, not traits. Whenever you hear about “great pastors,” people often gravitate towards their traits. Keller has an intellectual mind. MacArthur has conviction. Chandler has charisma. Warren has strategic insight. Osteen has charm and a gleaming smile. Furtick has energy and muscles. Proverbs 4 says, “Get wisdom,” not “Get another pastor’s traits.” James 1 says God gives wisdom, not traits. Stop working towards someone else’s traits and instead exercise your own daily wisdom from God’s Word.
Much like working out or reading regularly, one day’s practice with these exercises will not make much of a difference. But do these leadership exercises regularly, and you will grow as a leader.
Our church is committed to Wednesday evening programming. I know the Bible does not mandate midweek programming. I realize the Wednesday timeslot has its origin in the historical “Three to Thrive” movement of the early twentieth century (come to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night). Since we don’t have a Sunday evening service, we are no longer in the three to thrive pattern; we’re satisfied with two will do.
For years, I wrote three separate messages for the churches I served—Sunday morning sermons, Sunday evening sermons, and Wednesday night devotionals. At times I also threw in a fourth, teaching Sunday school. It’s a lot of work, more than most realize. Preparing sermons is a grind, but I will admit to being perplexed by some pastors who act like their 40-sermon, Sunday-morning-only annual preaching schedule is tough. There are vacationless bivocational pastors out there still churning through four lessons a week, fifty-two weeks a year.
I look forward to Wednesday evenings. I lead our prayer meeting and also teach the lesson most weeks, though I am also using the timeslot to train up other teachers and preachers. The prayer group is faithful, fun, and loving. We pray a lot. We laugh a lot.
We may be an anomaly, but Wednesday evenings thrive at West Bradenton. We turn the lackluster hump day into something worthwhile. Numerically, over half of our Sunday morning crowd returns for Wednesday programming. We are multigenerational on Wednesdays, just like on Sundays. A few factors contribute to the success of Wednesday programming.
We embrace a traditional prayer meeting. We sing hymns out of the hymnal. We take prayer requests. A lesson is taught. I realize not every church can support a traditional prayer meeting. Nor would I suggest every church plant attempt one. For many established churches, however, it works. Too many churches canceled prayer meetings and did not replace them with something else. We have a strong core group of people who love this format, so we embrace it.
We include options for other groups and Bible studies. We don’t make prayer meeting the only option for adults. We offer Life Groups for those who serve on Sunday morning. We also have other classes and Bible studies available. Some might think it would take away from prayer meeting, but it only adds. The more options you can provide, the more people you can draw. We want families to attend together. Mom may go to a women’s study. Grandad may go to prayer meeting. Dad may go to choir. And the children go to their programming.
Our worship ministry rehearsals are on Wednesdays. When I arrived at West Bradenton, some worship ministry practices were on different nights, which broke the rhythm of the church. People were choosing between too many timeslots. We moved everything to Wednesdays and told our church we wanted everyone here for two timeslots: Sunday morning and Wednesday evening.
We offer high-quality children’s ministry and student ministry programming. Both our children’s ministry and student ministry work hard to have stellar programming. Our children memorize Scripture in a program we created in house. Our students have two services—one for middle school and another for high school. We cover life stage issues for students on Wednesdays and often have a larger crowd show up than on Sunday mornings. We also have as many adults volunteering in these areas as we do in prayer meeting and other groups.
We utilize the timeslot for special events and ministries. We recently had a dinner for single moms, so we added it to our Wednesday programming. When we do special events, most of the time we calendar them on Sundays and Wednesdays. The benefit of this pattern is we already have a committed group of volunteers from which to pull, and we also have programming for all people. The single moms who attended the dinner were able to bring their children to our regular Wednesday programming.
We are committed to year-round programming. I recently heard about a church that cancels Sunday services around July 4 because many of their people are on vacation. I won’t question the motives of their church leadership, since I don’t know them. But I can’t imagine ever doing that at West Bradenton. Our people would show up anyway! We meet every Sunday, no matter what—small crowd or large crowd. We’ve only canceled one Sunday service in the last ten years, and that was due to a massive hurricane. Admittedly, year-round programming is a struggle for Wednesdays, especially in the summer. This year, we’re attempting something different for the summer. I can’t share it right now because church members read this blog, and I want it to be a surprise . . .
The Sunday-Wednesday rhythm is important to discipleship at our church. The staff stays disciplined about minimizing events and programming outside of these two timeslots. Our goal is to build a culture around this rhythm. Can someone be discipled on Mondays? Of course. But if you constantly change times on people, it creates gaps—and excuses—to bail on discipleship. Clearly, we don’t want to be legalists, guilting people into attending. We simply want our people to know when to be at church, which facilitates a rhythm of discipleship. Sundays and Wednesdays are what works for us.
Every pastor has critics. It’s an inevitable part of leadership.
Some criticism is constructive. Even when it’s not constructive, you can almost always learn something. Other criticism is just a visceral reaction. A personal attack was not intended; someone just said something in the heat of the moment. Some criticism is malicious and sinful. Other times, people are using criticism in a self-serving way.
If you don’t want to expend the energy to filter criticism appropriately, then you shouldn’t lead a church. But the point still stands—criticism hurts.
First, consider if the critic is influential. All barbs sting regardless of the source. However, there is a difference between the random, uninformed critic—especially those from outside the church—and the critic with considerable influence in the church. It’s important to be aware of the number of critics. Having fifty ongoing critics in a church of seventy-five people is a disaster. But it’s often not the number of critics that is paramount. Rather, it’s the influence they hold. In some churches, one person holds the trump card. In others, gaining five influencers means you’ve got all the support you need.
Second, take into account whether or not the critic is ongoing. Even your best supporters will become critics for a season—depending on the type of decision that needs to be made. Just because someone is criticizing you about a specific leadership move does not mean he or she is a critic in general. Use a level of discernment. The only way you’ll always have the support of everyone is to fill your church with robots or clones of yourself. A church full of yes-men robots is creepy. And I’m not even sure my clones would always agree with me.
Winning over your ongoing influential critics is vital to successful church leadership. While it can’t always be done, I believe you can win over the vast majority of them. If you lack the support of key influencers, here are a few items to consider.
Get to know your critic. Have you sat down together over a meal? Be a friend. Minister selflessly. Win them with your sacrifice rather than berating them with your vision. Pastors lead, which means you must take the initiative.
Win over the critic’s friends. If getting to know your critic doesn’t work, then reach out to friends in his or her circles. Try to gain perspective by hearing from them. If you win over the critic’s friends, then they will have influence over the critic. At a minimum, the criticism will be minimized if the critic’s friends are talking positively.
Serve the critic’s family. Your service in the church should not depend on the support someone gives you. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples while knowing of their coming betrayal. You shouldn’t favor big givers. You shouldn’t favor big supporters. If you can’t serve the critic directly, serve the family. This kind of sacrifice is one of the most difficult parts of being a pastor. It’s human nature to gravitate towards those who give you the most accolades. However, it’s just as important to serve those who give you the most trouble.
Obviously, you are not called to be a doormat. Nor should a church condone sin. There are times when critics need to be disciplined. Unfortunately, critics can also be gossips, which is quite dangerous in the church. But not all critics are whispering untruths behind your back. In some cases, they simply love their church and don’t like the direction of your leadership. In these cases, the critic is simply one who doesn’t offer support. You should make it your goal to win them over, not run them over. Your church will be better for it. And you’ll be a better example of Christ.
I’m preaching a six-week series called “Healthy Homes.” There are many different types of homes that make up the church body, and we want all of them to be healthy. This sermon covers the topic of adoption. None of us have a right to grace, but adoption is available to all. Family is God’s idea, and adoption is part of His plan. Adopted children are a reflection of the gospel. Blended homes demonstrate how we’re all grafted into God’s family. Imbalanced homes are opportunities for victories of grace. What can I do to further the culture of adoption? Defend the defenseless. Consider fostering. Give to life. Open the church to everyone.
The church is not a destination point for crowds. The church is a vehicle engineered by God to send people into neighborhoods and to the nations. On Sunday West Bradenton launched a campaign to become a neighborhood church for the nations. Check out the video and see where God is taking us!
West Bradenton's LAUNCH 2018 Campaign Video - YouTube
We want to launch a movement. Far too few churches in our nation focus on the needs of the immediate communities around them. We want to inspire other congregations to become healthy neighborhood churches. We believe we can create a model for a healthy neighborhood church.
We want to create space for our neighbors. Our building should welcome our neighbors into the body of Christ. Our campus should be a focal gathering point for the entire community. The church campus should speak to how we believe there is always room for one more.
We want to be good neighbors. The church is a vehicle for the gospel. The people of the church are the means by which the good news goes into homes. We care about our neighbors because God loves them. We serve our neighbors because we believe in the Servant Jesus. Our church address is not an accident. Your home address is not an accident. God placed us here strategically. We’re right in the heart of Bradenton, and our hearts need to beat for our neighbors.
You can also learn more about what we’re doing here.
It’s you. You’re the reason—hidden in plain sight. I’m writing to you, lead pastor. The hidden reason churches nail worship is because the lead pastor leads out in worship.
Most churches will only worship to the level of the lead pastor. If you’re the stoic stander, then your church will be full of Sunday morning totems. If you raise your hands, then people in the church will follow your lead. When lead pastors immerse themselves in worship, churches do the same.
Stop blaming your worship pastor for the lack of energy. Stop complaining about the musicianship. Stop thinking, If only we could change the music style. Just worship. Dig into it. Sing loudly to the glory of God.
Stand in the front of the worship space and let it out. Lift your arms in surrender. Spontaneously kneel at the altar in passionate prayer. Step into the pulpit short of breath from singing.
You lead with evangelism. You lead with vision. You lead with theology. You lead with shepherding. You lead with prayer. You also lead with worship. Lead pastor, if you’re not worshiping well, if your soul is not poured out weekly, why would you expect the same of your church?
Evangelistic churches have evangelistic lead pastors.
Prayerful churches have prayerful lead pastors.
Passionate churches have passionate lead pastors.
Theologically sound churches have theologically sound lead pastors.
Joyful churches have joyful lead pastors.
Why would worship be any different?
The hidden reason churches nail worship is you.
You’re the visible prompt. People are watching how you worship. They are observing what you do. They are learning from you during the music as much as during the sermon.
Are you in it? Your job isn’t to wait through the other elements of the service for your time to preach. The lead pastor is also the lead worshiper. You must teach by example. Put your notes down and lift your voice. The best preparation for your soul is to join the congregational singing of the saints.
If you’re only preparing sermons and not preparing for worship, then you’re fulfilling just half your responsibility on Sunday mornings—if that.
The hidden reason churches nail worship is right there in plain sight.
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