The Art of Balancing Ideology and Progress

Healthy churches have many points of tension. For example, churches grow by adding new believers. New believers are immature (and typically passionate), which means church programming must balance between immature congregants and mature congregants. Most every pastor has experienced the volley: Yes, deeper! No, too deep! This tension is like a taut tightrope; it tugs in both directions. You don’t want it slack. It’s the same with your church. Good church leaders are expert balancers.

One of the places with the most tension lies between ideology and progress. Ideology is a system of ideals. Every church should have a goal of maintaining ideals in programming, teaching, and preaching. Ideology works because of stability. But every church should also progress. Progress requires change, and change always brings a measure of instability. Ideology is fixed. Progress means movement. Ideology is narrow and limiting. Progress is broad and limitless.

Great churches balance the tension between ideology and progress. Great leaders uphold ideology and at the same time encourage progress. How might this balanced tension look within a church?

Contextualization. We contend for the faith. We contextualize the message. Christians have always had to balance being in the culture but not of the culture, communicating a timeless message in a way the culture understands. This balancing act is one of the most basic in the church. Get this one wrong, and you will fall into either liberalism or fundamentalism. You will be either too hot to culture or too cold to culture. You will either add to Scripture or take away from Scripture. Great churches contextualize (progress) without comprise (ideology).

Discernment. Proper contextualization is a derivative of discernment. Beyond the basic responsibility of contending and contextualizing is the ability to discern. You cannot lead a church without the capacity to discern negotiables from non-negotiables. While contextualization is more of a theological issue, discernment is more a leadership issue. You will end up clinging perilously to the high wire if you cannot answer this question: What’s a non-negotiable in my church? Leaders must be flexible with the negotiables and rigid with the non-negotiables.

Experimentation. The best churches balance failure with success. A church without failures is a church not taking risks. If you’ve never had an event flop, if you’ve never had a program start stale, then you are not leading well. Additionally, it probably means you are not allowing your team to take risks either, which is dangerously selfish. Why stand in the batter’s box if you never swing? People will quickly pick up on your fear of swinging, and they won’t stick around to watch dullness degrade into disobedience. Great churches experiment—they try things without a clear understanding of whether they will work or not. If all your experiments are failures, then you lack discernment. But if you never fail because of a lack of trying, then that’s not leadership—it’s neglect.

Every church should progress. Every church should cling to ideals. And healthy church leadership involves the process of balancing both ideology and progress.

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Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as president of Rainer Research. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. He also serves as senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church Cookeville, TN. Sam is the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is a theological review editor at CrossBooks and regular contributor to Church Executive magazine. He has written dozens of articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina and an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
— Debra
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
— Laurie
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)

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