Something’s driving your church. There are a variety of things that run a church…the challenge for many church leaders is no one is really quite clear on what that is.
What drives your church is critical because it impacts everything you do. Ultimately, it directly impacts both your health and your growth as a congregation.
As I talk to leaders of churches of all sizes, I find different factors at work.
As much as we’d all love to say Jesus runs the church, the reality is that church is a partnership. God seems to delight in human interaction, and while God is in control, we have a role.
How we play that role can can create health or dysfunction.
Here are 4 bad ways to run a church and one good one.
Small churches are almost always run or controlled by a single person. That’s rarely—if ever—healthy and almost always an impediment to growth.
The usual candidate for this kind of church is a matriarch, patriarch or the pastor.
Matriarchs and patriarchs often emerge in a small church as the one person that effectively keeps the doors open and the lights on.
Interestingly enough, the matriarch or patriarch doesn’t even have to be on the board to exercise their control. It’s just that everyone knows nothing gets done without the approval, blessing or consent of X.
The commendable side of a matriarch or patriarch is that the church likely wouldn’t still be in existence without them. They are deeply committed to seeing it exist.
The challenges outweigh the benefits though for a number of reasons. First, the church is programmed to stay small…one person leadership naturally stunts growth.
Second, churches run by a single person are usually in preservation mode—the goal is to keep it going.
Sometimes the single person who runs a church is the pastor. That’s also a bad idea.
It’s the pastor’s responsibility to lead the church, but not to run it.
Again, scripture makes it clear the role of a church leader is to equip people to do the work of ministry, each operating in their area of gifting.
Clergy who insist on doing everything deny people their ability, and the church ends up with a much smaller impact than if the pastor truly led. Leaders who insist on running everything end up with relatively little to run.
Churches were never designed to be run by one person.
Being run by a person and personality are two variations of a similar theme.
Personality driven churches are usually bigger and actually more effective in reaching people than person-run churches.
Usually in a personality-driven church, the personality of the senior leader functions like a magnet, attracting staff, volunteers and new people to the church.
The challenge is that both the growth engine and the loyalty in the church are to the senior leader. And that’s the achilles heel.
The problem with a personality-driven church is that when you remove the central personality, the church falters.
It can also distract people from following who they should be following—Jesus.
No personality should ever compete with the centrality of Christ in the church.
God can use people to lead people (Moses and Paul were pretty imposing figures), but the goal of a leader should always be to point people to Christ.
Personality-driven churches are only as strong as their leader. And that’s an often fatal flaw.
Nobody likes a hidden agenda. Except people who have agendas.
If you’re not careful, an agenda other than the main mission of the church end up running the church.
This happens when an influential leader (staff or otherwise) gets the church to focus on something minor until it becomes a defining characteristic of the church.
The possibilities are endless. They include:
Churches that allow agendas to dominate usually only attract like-minded people who are more passionate about the cause in question than the Gospel itself.
When only a small percentage of churches are actually growing and the church as a whole is lagging behind population growth, it’s no surprise that many churches are battling simply to stay alive.
Unfortunately, that can easily become the mission. When the mission is to merely keep a church alive, death is the most likely outcome.
You effectively end up saying “Come join our church so we can keep our church open.” That begs about 1000 questions.
As soon as you start to maintain what you’ve built, rather than build something new, you know the end is near.
The one good way to run a church is simple: let the mission drive everything you do.
As Rick Warren so helpfully pointed out 20 years ago, purpose or mission-driven churches are always the most effective.
First, the mission is bigger than anyone and anything. The true mission of the church has lasted 2,000 years and will endure until Christ comes back. If that doesn’t motivate you, nothing will.
Second, the mission outlasts every leader. The church is far less affected by personality when the mission is bigger than any one personality.
Finally—and most importantly—the true mission of the church resonates because, well, it’s the true mission of the church. Enough said.
Learn more about how mission can drive your church – talk with an Auxano Navigator today!
Organizations and churches drift away from their identity and mission. Without constant care and godly leadership, drift pulls a church from her core message and mission. A church doesn’t drift into greater health or better focus.
We drift as individuals in the same manner. We don’t drift into physical fitness or spiritual growth. We drift away from those things, not toward them. D.A. Carson wrote, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.”
In terms of strategy and mission, there are two common and related drifts that plague churches.
As a church grows and matures, there is an inevitable pull to add layers of bureaucracy and to fill calendars with lots of events and programs. As a church drifts toward complexity, staff members become program managers instead of equippers. Communication becomes increasingly challenging because there is increasingly more to communicate. New people have a difficult time figuring out what is most important because there are so many things happening. Ministries, within the same church, compete for resources and energy. Complexity presents a plethora of problems.
Ironically, many pastors have told congregations, “If Satan cannot get you to walk away from God, he will tempt you to be busy.” Or, “Just because you are busy doing things for God does not mean you are walkingwith God.” So while lamenting the busyness of people and of the surrounding culture, many churches grow busier.
As a church increasingly drifts toward complexity, she also increasingly drifts off mission. If a church is complicated, she will not have the energy or the resources available to be highly engaged in mission. The church will spend her time existing for herself, setting up systems for herself, and communicating to herself. When you are complex, you tend to be inward. When there is so much to manage at the church building, there is so little time to think strategically about the community and minimal energy to serve those in the community.
Complexity isn’t always the beginning point. A drift off mission will result in complexity. When a mission and strategy are not clear, anything can be added to the church. When mission does not grab the collective soul of the church, something else will.
Mission drift never self-corrects. Leaders must constantly address the pull away from mission and the pull toward complexity. Here’s how:
The core message of a church must be the gospel, the good news that Jesus saves sinners by giving us His righteousness in exchange for our sin. And the core mission of a church must be the mission He gave us: make disciples. Churches may express their mission in contextual terms, but the mission must be in constant view. Leaders must continually point people to the church’s mission and work to embed a passion for the mission into everything the church does.
Strategy is how the mission is accomplished. A simple strategy fights against the inevitable drift toward complexity. When the strategy is simple, the most important environments that flow from the mission of making disciples are emphasized. An overcrowded calendar is abhorred because it would drown the strategy.
Learn more about strategy for your church; connect with an Auxano Navigator today.
I’m often asked, “Is there any single common denominator that you can find in every growing church?” I have studied churches for many years, read about them, and visited them. I’ve discovered that God uses all kinds of churches, in all kinds of different ways, with all different methods and styles. But there is one common denominator that you can find in every growing church regardless of denomination, regardless of nationality, and regardless of size.
That common denominator is leadership that is not afraid to believe God. It’s the faith factor.
Nothing starts happening until somebody starts dreaming. Every accomplishment started off first as an idea in somebody’s mind. It started off as a dream. It started off as a vision, a goal. If you don’t have a goal for your church, your default goal is to remain the same. If you aim at nothing, you’re definitely going to hit it.
A church without a vision is never going to grow, and a church’s vision will never be larger than the vision of its pastor. So you as a leader and as a pastor must have God’s vision for your church. The very first task of leadership is to set the vision for the organization. If you don’t set the vision, you’re not the leader. Whoever is establishing the vision in your church is the leader of that particular church. A church will never outgrow its vision and the vision of a church will never outgrow the vision of the pastor.
If I’m smart I can always compensate for my weaknesses. I can always hire people to do things or delegate to volunteers the things that I can’t do. If I’m not good at counseling, I can find people who are good at counseling. If I’m not good at administration and details, I can find people to handle administration and details. But there is one thing I cannot delegate. I cannot ask other people to believe God for me. I have to set the pace in terms of vision, in terms of dreams, in terms of faith, in terms of what God wants to do in our lives and in our congregation. You cannot delegate faith in God.
The Bible tells us in Proverbs 11:27a, “If your goals are good, you will be respected” (GNT).
So I want to challenge you to dream great dreams for God. One nice thing about dreaming is that it doesn’t cost anything. You can have great dreams and think through and pray through and it doesn’t cost you anything at all. The Bible says, “God . . . is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of — infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes” (Ephesians 3:20 TLB). God comes along and says, “Think up the biggest thing you think I can do in your life, in your ministry, in your church — and I can top that. I can beat it.”
So you need to ask yourself this question, “What would I attempt for God if I knew I couldn’t fail?” Let that expand your horizons. Let it expand your dreams. Expand your vision. It starts with a dream.
There are three parts to getting God’s vision for your ministry.
The first thing God shows you is the What? He shows you what he’s going to do. The big mistake we make once we have a sense of what God wants to do is trying to accomplish it on our own. Inevitably we fall flat on our faces and come crawling back to God saying, “Oh, God. I’m so sorry. What did I do? Did I miss the vision? You told me what you were going to do, and I went out and tried to accomplish it and fell flat on my face. Did I miss the vision?”
And God will say to you, “No, you didn’t. You just didn’t wait for part two. I told you what I was going to do, but you didn’t wait to find out How I was going to do it.” When God shows you how, it always seems to be the opposite way that you thought. And once you see the What and the How you’re still not finished. There’s a third part of the vision.
God shows you When. The longer that I’m alive and the longer I walk with the Lord and the longer I’m in ministry, the more I’m convinced that God’s timing is perfect. He is never a minute early, he is never a minute late, he is always right on time. These are the three parts to getting God’s vision: What, How, and When. And you must wait for all three parts for God to work in your life.
When I started Saddleback Church, I didn’t envision the enormous campus and the big building we now have. In fact, I’m not a very visual thinker. Some people can see it. They’re like artists, and they can visualize the church buildings when they’re all finished, and they can see exactly what it’s going to look like in their mind. I’ve never been that kind of person. I have what I call Polaroid vision. Have you ever taken a Polaroid picture? You take it and the longer you look at it the clearer it gets. That’s true in my life. When I first started Saddleback, I didn’t know what it was going to end up like. All I knew was that God had called me to this spot and I had a bunch of ideas in a bag and I wanted to build it on the five purposes of God. As I have walked with the Lord and worked with the Lord over the years, the vision has gotten clearer and clearer.
You get God’s vision by saying, “What do you want me to do? How do you want me to do it? And when do you want me to do it?” You need to stop praying, “God, bless what I’m doing.” And instead start praying, “God, help me to do what you want to bless.” I get up in the morning and I pray a very similar prayer every day. “God, I know you’re going to do some very exciting things in the world today. Would you give me the privilege of just being in on some of them? I just want to be in on what you’re doing. I want to do what you’re blessing.”
God uses the person who has a dream.
Want to learn more about discovering your God Dream? Connect with an Auxano navigator today.
Vision isn’t a moment on a Sunday – Vision is a movement happening everyday.
Vision isn’t a one-time event – Vision is an ongoing eventuality.
Vision isn’t a statement on a wall – Vision is a state of mind led by a call.
Vision isn’t a leader’s style – Vision is the substance of all leadership.
Vision isn’t a featured project to reveal – Vision is a future projection in which to revel.
Vision isn’t a upcoming program to launch – Vision is an ongoing picture to paint.
Vision isn’t a building for a church’s function – Vision is a framework for God’s future.
Vision isn’t a crystal-ball prognostication – Vision is a bent-knee revelation.
Vision isn’t a good idea for that one-day – Vision is God’s idea for your every-day.
Vision isn’t a realm for envied conference speaking preachers – Vision is the reality for every congregation serving pastor.
Vision isn’t a contemplative mountaintop excursion – Vision is a collaborative group discovery.
Want to learn more about clarifying vision for your church? Connect with an Auxano Navigator and start a conversation with our team.
You know when a church is not healthy as an organization. You will identify things like:
We know that healthy organizations reflect the opposite kind of list.
So far, this is not complicated.
But building a healthy organization is a challenging and complex task, that requires enormous effort and fierce focus.
The key to any healthy organization is based on the foundation of two things held in a cooperative tension.
This is easy to comprehend and very difficult to achieve. There’s an obvious unspoken tension here. I’ll get to that in a minute.
But first, please absorb this same principle again, but this time in reverse. The tension becomes very clear.
And this is why healthy organizations, including churches, are rarer than we would expect.
The tension held in these two principles only works when based on trust, and fails when either one attempts to take more than it gives.
I’ve never seen an organization pull this off without tremendous effort and commitment.
Here’s what it looks like to accomplish healthy organizational results, acknowledging the need to tend to both sides of the equation.
You can see why I call this a “cooperative tension.” The minute cooperation and trust breakdown, this doesn’t work, and organizational health begins to erode.
It’s a lot like a marriage.
It’s easy to repeat the vows, and hard to live them out.
If a husband devotes himself to serve his wife, and his wife devotes herself to serve the husband – guaranteed marital bliss! Piece of cake, right?! Of course not, it’s extremely challenging and takes tons of work and commitment.
If you wake up asking “What’s in it for me?” and “What do I get?”, your marriage will be, at best, a disappointing relationship.
Leadership in your church, especially among the staff and key leaders, is much the same.
So, if you are the senior pastor or on the senior/executive staff, how hard do you work to make sure the team is taken care of, while you lead the organization well?
If you are on the team, how hard do you work to deliver results that help the organization (church) make progress, while you remain honest about your own dreams and desires?
The powerful truth is that you get to decide how healthy your organization becomes.
It’s up to you.
Want to know more about developing a healthy organization? Connect with an Auxano Navigator.
I recently met with all the managers and directors of the Resources Division at LifeWay, the division I am responsible to lead. We have nearly 650 employees in the division, and they all report to the leaders who were in that room. At the beginning of each calendar year, I remind our team of our mission and values, our identity that is foundational for all we do. For five years we have lived with the same mission and values and have seen the impact on the culture of being crystal clear about our identity.
I have given up on the fantasy that a leader can get in front of a group of people and declare a culture into existence. We are not the Lord; we cannot speak something into existence. Creating and cultivating a culture takes time. I asked our team if they really believe our mission and values have worked their way into our culture. They shared stories of how our values impact decision-making, inform execution, create shared energy and enthusiasm, and increase our ability to attract the right people to the team. Here is a copy of our team’s mission and values.
So how, over five years, have we driven these deeply into our team? Here are five practical ways:
We invest time to re-teach our mission and values to the team. Sometimes the whole meeting is about the mission and values (as in early January), but most often we embed teaching into our regular meetings. For example, for the last two years I have taught on one value each meeting at each of our division-wide meetings.
We discuss our mission and values in team meetings, and the language is a filter for how we make decisions. If values are only shared from the microphone, they have little chance of being driven into a culture.
We hire through the lens of our mission and values. We want to make them so clear that if someone has not fully bought into them, they self-select out of the hiring process. If you don’t lead with mission and values, you cannot expect to hire the right people.
We give awards based on our values. The awards are based on great stories that illustrate the commitment to the mission and values we desire to live by. Stories can give people a tangible example of what living a value really looks like.
We regularly evaluate how our execution is rooted or fails to be rooted in what we say we believe. From annual evaluations to evaluating a particular project, evaluation through the lens of mission and values further drives them into the culture.
Learn more about driving your values deeply into your team – connect with an Auxano Navigator.
How does a church discern its call to ministry–creating ministry space that lines up with its mission and vision?
Often believers and churches seem to be waiting for God to strike them with a lightning bolt, to reveal what he wants them to do through some spectacular event. But God isn’t a genie who pops out of a bottle. A church that waits passively finds itself beset with ministry paralysis.
Then there are the churches that show a degree of life and energy and have significant percentages of the local body engaged in ministry, yet what they do is routine and ineffective. Call it “ministry calcification.” Maybe what they are doing was effective five years ago or even last year, but communities can change rapidly. Many churches are ministering to people who have long ago left the community. The missional church constantly assesses what God is doing in a community and what needs are emerging–and adjusts its ministries accordingly.
Do I believe God reveals himself and gives us direction in life? Yes, absolutely. But I also believe he reveals himself more specifically as we obey the commands he has already given us. In other words, God will show us how he wants our church to minister to the community when we act on the directives he has already given us.
Four of the last things Jesus said to his disciples in his final days on earth are a good place for his followers and his churches to seek direction:
As you begin to engage practically in fulfilling the mission and vision that God has already given us, he will begin to reveal where your church fits best in serving and witnessing to your community. Instead of sitting around, waiting to be hit by lightning, here are some practical ways you and your church can begin to discern your ministry call.
Pray together for great boldness. The early believers followed Jesus’ instructions and actively waited and prayed for what the Father promised. Assemble a group of people regularly and pray for your church to be filled and anointed with the Spirit. The believers joining constantly in prayer led to the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost.
Most people remember that prayer preceded Pentecost, but they may not remember that Jesus’ followers kept praying after Pentecost. Acts 4:23-31 records believers gathering and raising their voices in prayer. They stood in prayer against the people who were persecuting them and the forces of evil, right? Wrong! They asked the Lord to enable them to speak his word with great boldness and prayed he would do wonderful things through the name of his holy servant, Jesus.
What does the current prayer environment of our church look like? Are we praying those kinds of prayers? What steps will we take to change the environment?
Explore multiple ministry options in your community. As you pray, take action by serving your community and finding ways to be his witnesses. God will give your people new passion and direction for ministry as they engage their community. Jesus himself “saw the crowds” and “felt compassion for them” (Matt. 9:36). Try some or all of these practical ideas:
Trust God to open specific doors of ministry. As you begin to engage practically in fulfilling the mission and vision God has given you, he will begin to reveal where your church fits best in serving your community. God will show you “persons of peace” who will unlock doors of opportunity you didn’t even know existed. As we act in faith, God will provide unique opportunities to serve and witness–and people will get excited about joining God in what he is opening before them.
I believe that Jesus opens doors of ministry for us to walk through as we pray and engage the needs in our communities. He also shuts other doors. See Revelation 3:7. We really don’t know which doors are open and which ones are shut until we start trying doorknobs. As we seek the Lord with all our hearts–and act in faith–he directs our steps.
So, what is it going to take for your church to discern its ministry call? Pray fervently together for the Spirit’s filling. Engage the people and needs in your community. And trust that God will open ministry doors for your church.
Learn more listening and leading with vision – connect with an Auxano Navigator today.
> More from Ed.
How compelling is the communication of your vision?
If your vision moves the people to take action, you are on the right track.
Having served alongside two incredible visionary leaders, first John Maxwell and now Kevin Myers, I’ve watched close up how they communicate vision so well.
We often think that vision-casting is largely a public endeavor and usually done on the primary stage. But the truth is, most vision-casting is done behind the scenes, over and over again, one to one and in small groups. Communicating vision is the never-ending responsibility of the primary leader.
Before you can cast your vision, you have to create it. It needs to be crystal clear and deep in your heart. That is something between you and God and also affirmed by your church board and/or key leaders. It takes time and prayer, and requires you hearing from God. Let God breathe the vision in you.
It is surprisingly often that senior pastors, and executive staff, tell me they are not clear on their vision. If you are one of those, don’t panic. While you are waiting on clarity from God and confidence in your own mind, stay focused on Matthew 28:19-20. That universal mission for the church is your vision until you have clarity. Vision is “simply” your personal and unique version of the Great Commission. It’s the expression that God gives you for your church that brings fire, flavor and fuel to the mission. Vision keeps the mission fresh.
If you are the leader, settle the level of your conviction first.
Sometimes God doesn’t make the vision clear because the leader isn’t ready personally. Settle the issue in your own heart. It’s not as if you have to pass a test before God or measure up in order to deserve a vision. It’s more about your passion and commitment to be ready to lead the vision.
When casting vision, we as leaders need to start by making the present reality clear. This doesn’t mean to paint an unfairly negative scenario in order to “sell” the vision. But comparison is needed so the congregation understands the why behind the vision.
Sometimes it’s more obvious and therefore easier; such as you are out of room so you cast vision to start a second or third service. Other times, it may seem more subjective like changing the name of your church. You have to make it clear why the current name is no longer meeting the need.
A great vision always describes a better future. Keeping the core mission in mind (changed lives), the vision must always include at the core, reaching people and changing lives. Again, the vision is your unique expression of that mission.
So, how will your church be better? How will your church improve (or change) in a way so that it serves people better and others want to attend? How will the Kingdom of God be advanced?
If the vision comes from your heart, it will reach the hearts of the people you share it with. Some vision statements are mechanical efforts that come as a result of an academic endeavor and end up on your website. They rarely move anyone because they don’t move you. Vision statements that sound great, perhaps even alliterate, are good as long as they are real, true and personal to you.
When you share vision, tell stories. Make it personal. Remain brief. Make it memorable. Tell it often, and again tell stories. Remind people why it’s so important, and why it matters.
This is where the rubber meets the road, and where some leaders lose traction with their vision. They hear from God, the vision is clear, and the people have bought in, but there is no realistic road map of how to get there.
You don’t have to provide all the answers, but a clear and simple plan that provides direction is necessary. You will need to make course corrections, solve problems and deal with the unexpected, but as long as the people know the next step you are good!
When you get your congregation all fired up but don’t give them an outlet to take action, it’s a mistake. Think through the options, such as prayer, serving, inviting, giving, etc. Whatever it may be, let them know how they can be part. When an individual takes action on the vision, the vision becomes part of them and they share it with others.
Communicating vision is not a “once and done” proposition. In fact, it’s the opposite, the communication must continue. You can’t over communicate vision. You can make it too long, or boring because it’s always said the same way, or unprepared so it lacks connection. But when it’s brief, sincere, creative and well prepared, it’s difficult to do it too often. One of the best ways is to include a thirty to sixty second vision moment in a sermon, tell a story and keep going. And in one to one meetings, make it part of regular conversations.
Finally, celebrate the victories! The people are working hard, praying and full of hope. Celebrate the success God gives you along the way!
Want to learn more about compelling vision communication? Connect with an Auxano Navigator.
Communicating in a way that captures attention and inspires action is an art. And there’s one communication principle that effective communicators understand when it comes to conveying their thoughts effectively.
Because communication can be messy. It can be complicated. And in many ways, it can’t be controlled as no one can completely anticipate how another person will hear, interpret, and respond to what you say.
Perception is reality, after all.
And communication becomes even more complex within organizations like churches. Pastors or senior leadership may be inclined to jump straight to the ‘what’ after defining the ‘why’ when casting their vision without really taking the time to strategically think through the ‘how.’
The ‘how’ is just as important – if not more – than the ‘what.’ And the effectiveness of your communication as a leader is directly related to your effectiveness in communicating your vision’s ‘how.’
Learning to communicate your vision’s ‘how’ can be difficult because people listen and learn differently, and this is where a lot of leaders struggle. They’ll communicate the same way with their staff as they do their congregation or even their family – but the way you communicate with some audiences doesn’t work with others.
There are two ways to ensure that your ‘how’ connects with each of your audiences:
By diversifying the way you communicate and keeping your message simple, you’ll be able to focus on your ‘how’ – and then the vision you communicate will start to make a difference in those who hear it.