Identifying Leaders to Help Turnaround Your Church

Guest Post: Danny Davis

A few days ago, I read a Facebook post from a rural pastor who braggadociously reported he had worked 90-hour weeks for more than twenty years of pastoral ministry. His reason for this pace was simple, “There are just no leaders or people in the church I trust to do what I do.” The pastor’s statement is a sad state of affairs and a portrayal of pastoral arrogance. Nevertheless, it does lead to an important question. Is the rural church devoid of quality and trustworthy leaders?

I am a bi-vocational rural pastor leading a once struggling church to turnaround.  Like many of you, my time is stretched between two jobs, family responsibilities, and a host of other obligations. I am not complaining – I love what I do! This time crunch, however, demands I steward the human resources God has given me by identifying and equipping volunteer or lay-leaders. I have come to recognize the valuable role lay-leaders fill in bringing a church from death to life. I have discovered developing effective lay-leaders is a critical indicator in a churches ability to move from stagnation to growth.

Terry Hunt declares the most significant challenge facing churches today is a lack of trained lay-leaders. Gordon Penfold insists that even the most capable pastor cannot produce church growth alone. He or she must have the help of capable and willing laity. Turning around a church is impossible without mobilizing the people in the pew for God’s mission. Pastorally, that means, the role of the lay-leader must be raised to one of co-laborer who takes on significant ministry responsibility and authority.

Bi-vocational pastors must be laser-focused on identifying potential leaders in whom they will invest their limited time. Matthew Costner’s 2017 study entitled, Defining Characteristics of Laity among Turnaround Churches in the Carolinas, discovered four qualities of what he calls “high capacity” lay-leaders. I will draw on Bradley’s work and outline three key traits to look for in those with whom to share ministry?

  1. They Possess a Heart Level Understanding of God’s Mission.

Jesus delineates the mission of God in Matthew 28:19-20. His mission for us is to go, make disciples, baptize, teach, and trust in His abiding presence. All church vision begins with this mission – there is not another mission to accomplish. Churches that drift from the mission of God are now or will soon experience stagnation, decline, and eventual death. If lay-leaders do not possess a heart level understanding of the mission of God, they will substitute the mission with something else – usually, a personal non-Kingdom agenda disguised in religious vernacular

I use the phrase “heart-level” intentionally. Ask almost any church member, “What is the Great Commission,” and they will point to or quote Matthew 28:19-20. That is a “head-level” understanding of God’s mission. That’s not bad, but it is only the beginning. The Great Commission is not a passive statement to be codified, celebrated with plaques and banners, and then largely ignored.

By saying “heart-level” understanding, I mean that the potential lay-leader is participating in the Great Commission in some tangible way. Potential lay-leaders share their faith freely and find ways to disciple believers through teaching and encouragement. How this occurs may take on many different forms. If you want to change the culture of your congregation from insider to outsider focus – then put your attention on those who are actively participating in the Great Commission and let them lead.

  1. They Possess an Understanding of the Nature of Change

Effective lay-leaders understand that growth requires change. I know, nobody likes change, right? Well, I am not sure that age-old philosophy, used to describe and defend every church problem, holds water. There are those in your congregation who are willing to come alongside you and support sensible and incremental change. Unfortunately, pastors get sidetracked by the loudest voices and mistakenly believe they are the majority. They are not! They’re just loud!

In a plateauing or declining church, there is an inclination to circle the wagons and retreat into survival mode. Pastors must look for those uncomfortable with mere survival. They are there, I promise. So, what traits are you looking for?

Look for those individuals that Bradley describes as all in! They have championed changed by showing up and lending a hand. They have supported change by their financial generosity. They have disengaged from those who are apparently trying to push personal agenda’s on the church. They do what it takes to build unity.

  1. They Possess the Heart of a Servant

This trait is the foundation upon which the other two lie. In my doctoral research, I tried to discover a single definition of “servant leadership.” Guess what! I couldn’t find one. Instead, I found a few hundred. I did, however, settle on the definition offered by Woody Rimes (2011: 20):

“[…] servant leadership [is] an understanding and practice of leadership that placed the good of those led over the interest of the leader. Servant leadership promoted the valuing and development of people, the building of community, the practice of authenticity, the providing of leadership for those being led, and the sharing of power and status for the good of everyone.”

Potential lay-leaders who help pastors lead the church from plateau or decline possess an attitude described as “it’s not about me!” They understand serving is not a religious duty but a vehicle for improving the lives of others around them. More importantly, they act upon their understanding. Their actions, for various reasons of dysfunction in the declining church, may not be happening in the walls of the church. Their servant’s heart looks for places to express itself when it cannot do so in the church. Pastor, look for those who are serving outside the walls. Who is taking advantage of opportunities in your community? Equip them to do it better and then point to them as examples for others to follow.

Final Thoughts

OK, I can hear some of the objections going through your minds. I will address one that seems to keep coming across my mind.

The traits outlined above effectively reduce the pool of potential leaders.

I know that in the small rural church leadership requirements often begin with “are they breathing.” I get that – I am guilty of that same mistake. I think we can do better.

To cause our stagnating churches to flourish, we must first pray and then change our leadership culture. The pastor alone cannot bring about cultural change. He or she must identify and develop lay-leaders who can come alongside. More importantly, pastors must be willing to give-away significant ministry and authority to these leaders.

Here it is in a nutshell. I heard someone say, “Whatever is permitted, is promoted.” Every leadership role filled sets the standard and expectations for future leaders. If you and I permit those who have little care for the well-being of others, the kingdom, or the cause of Christ, then we promote that type of leader as the standard for our church.

So, unless you want to continue working 90-hour weeks for the rest of your life – take the necessary time to identify the kinds of leaders described above. Ask the Lord to give you the courage to honestly assess your current leadership culture and make changes that will have lasting Kingdom impact.

BIO

Danny Davis has served the Lord in a variety of ministerial roles over the past two decades. Davis currently serves as Lead Pastor of Life Point Church, a rural church located in Odessa, MO. He also serves as Professor of Applied Theology at SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary.

What to Do When Your Hands are Tied?

Recently, I wrote a post about the need to fire staff and volunteers who may be hurting your church. This seems to be a big issue in many small town churches, but as one pastor reminded me, it’s often out of their control. In many churches, the pastor has very little power to do anything more than teach and preach God’s word. Everything else is handled either by a congregational vote or by a committee who may have a vision for the church that’s very different from the pastor’s.

So, what do you do?

A couple of ideas come to mind.

  1. Find another church to pastor that will allow you to lead.
  2. Plant your own church. Remember, it’s easier to give birth than raise the dead.

But, what if you don’t want to leave? You may really love the church and community you’re serving, you may feel God has called you there for a reason, or you may just need the salary they’re paying you.

What do you do then? Here are some thoughts.

Learn to be patient. A church that has been doing things the same way for years won’t suddenly decide to change just because you showed up. Realize this is going to take some time. Sometimes the best strategy may be to try to outlive those who are currently there.

Build relationships. Even with the people who oppose you. This is difficult, and sometimes not beneficial, but occasionally, you will win someone over if you take the time to care about him or her. Before you try to get a church to change, prove to them that they can trust you and you’re in it long-term.

Change what you can. It’s easy to get caught up in what you don’t have the power to change. Instead, focus on the things you can change. These may be very small things like church décor or even landscaping. It could be what curriculum you use for children’s ministry or Sunday school. Get out the church’s constitution and bylaws and figure out what you can change.

Focus on your family. The most important ministry you have is in your home. Spend time loving your spouse and kids. They should never feel like the church comes before them. Sometimes we think being a pastor means we’re always on the clock. That doesn’t need to be the case. The church can easily replace you. Your family cannot.

Pray. I still believe in the power of prayer. Prayer can sometimes move someone out of a position that doesn’t need to be there, and prayer sometimes moves you out of a church that’s unhealthy for you. Either way, prayer keeps your eyes focused on Jesus.

Having trouble transitioning a church and need someone to talk to? Visit my contact page and send me an email. I’d love to help or just be there as someone you can vent to. I’ve been in that position before, and sometimes it helps just to talk to someone who’s been through it.

4 Reasons Your Goals Never Get Accomplished

Just over a year ago, my wife and I set out on a journey to build a house. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. To make a long story short, my parents had given me a little spot of land, but because of all the rules and regulations our county has in place, we’ve still yet to even get our deed. Without a deed you can’t build a house, and at this point, housing costs have risen so much, we couldn’t afford to build the house we want anyways. Which means, we’re stuck where we are. Not a great place to be, but a place many churches find themselves in as well.

There’s a story Jesus tells about a man who sets off to build a tower, which has come to my mind more than a few times during this whole situation. I’m left to wonder whether I’m this man who forgot to consider the cost.

Some of you pastors may feel the same way. There’s a cost to ministry, and often that cost is failure.

But I believe failure can be avoided, at least in most circumstances. We just need to avoid making some of these simple mistakes.

  1. Lack of preparation. When you’re passionate about seeing your church grow, it’s easy to skip over some of the prep work that needs to take place before you get started. It would be like trying to plant seeds before you till the ground. No matter what kind of goal you have, there’s always prep work that needs to happen first.
  2. Trying to do it by yourself. Every pastor needs a team of people around him or her who are working together to accomplish the same thing. You can’t do it by yourself, and even if you could, you shouldn’t. Ministry is meant to be done together. If you feel like you don’t have anyone on your team, you need to spend more time prepping those relationships.
  3. Trying to go too fast. Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. There are going to be times when you need to push hard, and there are going to be times when you need to rest. Try to change too much too quickly, and you may find yourself looking for a new church to pastor. Remember to pace yourself.
  1. Forgetting to celebrate along the way. It’s easy to be so focused on accomplishing the goals that we forget to celebrate the wins that lead up to that goal. In the church I serve, we haven’t come close to reaching our goal for small groups this year. But we just saw three people give their lives to Christ because of the influence of a small group they were attending. I would be crazy not to celebrate that. Celebrating along the way gives you the momentum to accomplish your ultimate goal.

I’m sure I’ve left some things out. What would you add to this list? What are some of the mistakes you’ve made when it comes to accomplishing goals? Leave a comment and let us know. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.