I have been working in the field of church revitalization and renewal for almost twenty years now and I wanted to share in this edition of the Church Revitalizer blog about some of the nasty things which happen to the leader of a church’s renewal effort. Wise Church Revitalizers, while not liking some of the things which will come their way, should be ready for some of the big ones which often precede the turnaround of a plateaued church. It was John Maxwell, which taught me some thirty years ago a great principle of leadership and it is never more important to remember than as one who is working in the realm of church revitalization and renewal. John told many of us way back then:
“People will let you down, but Jesus Christ will never let you down!”
I have reflected upon this wise statement many times while in the midst of the challenge of the moment. The reality is that there are some nasty things that are thrown at leaders of renewal as they seek to turnaround a church.
For every Church Revitalizer which is part of our monthly Virtual Coaching Network, I spend time discussing the following challenges in revitalization and renewal in an attempt to assist them in a smoother transition when they encounter these trials. This is the second in a series of blogs focused around “The Nasty Punches That Come Your Way in Church Revitalization and Renewal!”
4. Many churches tend to self-destruct!
Most churches are in decline because they are simply no fun! People come and visit these types of churches and never return. People begin to notice that these visitors are not connecting with the congregation and begin to question why. Some will suggest it is the pastor while others will admit that they were not interested in what the church offered. Often the reality is that the church is a bed of conflict and the potential prospects sense the destructive nature of its factions and want to distant themselves from such a place. Jesus was fun or the children would not have hung around him and church ought to be a place of fun.
5. Nature of the work.
I worked my way through college working as the staff carpenter for my institution. One summer a few of us students actually hung about 500 fire rated doors in the various dorms throughout the campus. There were plenty of days that I hit the pillow at night physically spent, my limbs aching. What was done during the day was never taken home. When the workday was done there was nothing more to do until the next day. Church revitalization and renewal is not that way. Pastoring a congregation in the throws of renewal is an intense challenge and there is always more to be done and could be done. There are always visits to be made and more people to check in on. There are always people who expect more of me than I can give. While I was hanging those heavy doors we would often talk about the kind of ministries we would have and how much fun it would be to minister to the saints in God’s churches. But it is a lot more difficult than I assumed it would be. Ministry is sometimes like feeling you are an octopus and each individual leg is being pulled in so many directions you think a leg is going to tear off.
There are encouragements to write, sick to visit, leaders to equip, lessons to plan, staff to mentor, couples to counsel, prayer to offer, weddings and funerals to perform, your own heart to tend, it never ends. If pastors and their spouses will persevere in ministry, they need to accept the nature of the work. If you do not, you will whine, resent your calling, and probably burn out and get out. The sooner you accept the fact that there will always be more to do, the sooner you can develop healthy expectations for yourself as well as boundaries for you and your family. Strive to differentiate between a genuine crisis and a perceived crisis when your flock reaches out to you.
6. Most churches have within them a rising number of strained, stressed, struggling relationships that if left un-confronted will eventually become part of the decline in the church.
One of the first difficult things a revitalization leader will find him doing in church renewal is confronting some longtime members about their unacceptable behavior. Tip toeing around your church’s problems will only give you as the leader sore feet!
When you allow Mr. or Mrs. Cantankerous to thrive within your church, newer members will begin leaving your church. It was these new people who were offering new ideas for new ministries that might have been part of leading the church out of its present decline. But, if you are going to truly be the revitalization leader you must learn the art of positive healthy confrontation. Your willingness to confront negative unhealthy behavior in the church is a sign of leadership! It takes courage mixed with much prayer and a daily exercise of bold faith demonstrated in a deep love for the church, to actually confront people in the church who are damaging the church by their unhealthy hurtful behavior. Keep your confrontations in private meetings, but never conduct these meetings without a lay leader with you. This will keep you from being misunderstood, misquoted, and most importantly misrepresented! Always carry out confrontation with at least one witness who has credibility in the church.
Understand this important point, just as problem people get reputations in the church around their behavior, a church revitalization leader who is willing to confront problems and people also quickly gets a reputation. Once people begin to understand this type of behavior will not be tolerated, such behavior will quickly cease or these problem people will attach themselves on to another church! I feel bad for the other church, but it does happen. Trouble people look for other places they can cause trouble!
Do not miss this point: Plant Some Seeds of Change - Sadly some church revitalization leaders make the mistake of seeing these veterans as the enemy! While some individuals do become negative and troublesome, they are still God’s people who have given sacrificially to often launch, expand, build and grow the church. The goal is not to get rid of them, but to get them so committed to being like Jesus that they are willing to sacrifice what they love to reach those whom God loves. In one of my churches people often remarked how certain members who had been difficult in the past were now aligning and helping the church move forward. Remember even your biggest adversary wants his church to grow and he has an invested interest in you and your ability to lead the church into renewal! I realize that most members do not care for confrontation!
Do you have anyone within your fellowship that uses anger to get their way on things? That can be very dangerous. Have the rank and file stopped coming up with new ideas for ministry? This might be because they are afraid of setting this angry individual off again. Thus the church looses potential for community impact!
7. When money is used to get ones way or to run the minister away.
Often while making the necessary changes for renewal in an organization, those who are unhappy about the changes will systematically develop ways to send a message of their lack of support for your new goals for renewal. Usually, this begins by stakeholders designating their monies, which were formerly meant for a tithe, to a designated fund that the new leadership has no influence over. The goal of these dissidents is to make things bad enough that you will leave and they can return to the things they like and not worry about this need for revitalization and renewal.
Money struggles beset almost every discouraged pastor I know. Satan will use money to rob your joy and distract you from your calling.
Let’s think about that and begin doing something about it! If you would like to have conversations related to this blog post, why not drop me a line so we can begin your journey and conversation.