I am the son of a pastor. I grew up in the church and while I don't believe in the same way as I did as a kid in Sunday School, I still have a connection for many of those in faith communities trying to make a difference. Despite the growing polarization of secular and religious circles, I do feel it is still very much important to include faith based organizations in the discussion and execution of plans and strategies to make positive impact in the communities we live in. I would go so far as to say that unless we include them, we WON'T realize the impact we are looking to have as a country.
I believe this so much that I started a consulting firm last year (www.panvisio.org) which helps churches along with servicing traditional nonprofit and educational institutions in maximizing strategy through software. As you can imagine, however, helping churches at a strategic level can pose some challenges that other organizations might not have to be bothered with. What is it exactly? One word. Theology.
Without a doubt, what you believe at a theological level, will have a direct impact in how you engage with church management at a practical level. Just as there are different "flavors" of Christianity as described in this incredible documentary called "American Jesus"
there are different "philosophies of ministry". Essentially, what is the basis, or the "why", behind how church leaders go about fulfilling spiritual needs as well as operational needs of the church?
Often times what I find is that pastors and their respective leadership teams don’t have a clear and concrete understanding of the operational/management side of things. Sure, they are well versed in the spiritual disciplines department (praise and worship, preaching, bible study, prayer groups, church retreats/conferences, etc.) but not so much in the area of church management and operations (book keeping, membership management/tracking, IT, time management, project management, fundraising campaigns, and yes, even email). So based on my experience in being a pastor's son, being a part of 2 church splits, 2 church start-ups, and 7 missions trips, helping my dad with sharing a sermon, and leading various youth and discipleship groups myself back in the day, I found some patterns of thinking that need to change in order for struggling churches to shift from just surviving to alive and thriving. This list is by no means exhaustive. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Realize that spiritual disciplines cannot make up for organizational development for your church. Period.
In other words, you cannot "pray" your way into church growth and financial sustainability. You need to adopt the principals and best practices for running a nonprofit and small business. There is nothing that can replace this . In fact, this is where many of the mega-churches shine. Like them or not, they get this down to a science (find out the possible reason why here). The truth is mega-churches don't just plop out of the sky as if God is setting up headquarters at various parts of our country. They grow over time. Some do so ethically, others not so much. It is important to note that many mega churches get a bad rap, and thus, by association methods they use get a bad rap too. Don't fall for this trap. Just like you can use a hammer as a tool to put a nail in the wall for a picture frame, you can also use a hammer and put a hole in the wall because of bad aim. It all comes down to HOW you use the tools and with what intention.
A moment of honesty here, many mega churches will have you believe it is the "favor" found from being faithful that has led to their "mega" status (and money). This is very much so misleading. I spoke to a pastor of a large church in southern New Jersey and he shared the importance of organizational structure and efficiency. He sends his Executive Pastors (aka VP of Operations who may SOMETIMES preach or lead a ministry from time to time) to conferences that address aspects of MANAGING a church at an operational level (see #3). This ensures he gets to focus on quality preaching and leading his core team as suppose to doing it all and running himself thin.
2. Stop incorrectly assuming counter-intuitive decisions are hallmarks of faith.
Yes, many astounding acts of faith do seem odd at first glance (Abraham was seriously going to kill his own son? Seriously?) but many of these accounts are not meant to be taken literally nor a license to apply bad decision making. These were snap shots of their lives. Don’t turn every decision into a major faith and obedience crossroad. Be smart and take measured steps in growing your church. Don't let that inner dialogue based on vague emotional impressions be confused with "radical obedience". For example, if you are struggling to pay the light bill for the church building and the thought crossed your mind for a second to donate ALL the offering to a guest speaker because you interpreted it as a message from God-STOP. If you are to be "fishers' of men" don't blow your funds to the point where you can't even afford bait. Think it through and don't turn that into "test to trust God with the light bill" lesson. That's being a poor steward with the little that you have. Speaking of being a good steward.
3. Being strategic with time and resources (aka being a faithful steward) isn't "acting in the flesh" and a sign that you are not trusting God.
Some associate planning with "legalism" or being too systematic. I say it is maximizing your talents and resources. If you take the account in Noah literally, then I am pretty sure he had to adamant about the measurements used to build the ark. Trust me, he wasn't trying to cut corners or dilly-dally on deadlines. You have to understand you are building something too. When the flood of noise and distractions come against you and your members, you will be glad you had some form of compass (strategic plan) to help you navigate the waters.
Still, others don't like getting "strategic" when it comes an organization that is directly tied to a form of spirituality. I think those who who have a problem with this have concerns that are misplaced. If anything having a thorough strategic plan can be considered one of the highest acts of spirituality and gratitude that you can do as a pastor. Think about it. To care enough to think through the small and big details says that you understand that none of what you are doing belongs to you. People often associate stewardship with money. That is just one aspect. Being strategic is being a steward of time, resources, and the people you lead. Of course there will always be bumps in the road that may have you change gears, but all in all you will be better prepared for them as the result of having a plan to begin with.
4. Stop spending hours of wasted time debating (at the price of relationships even) theological issues that have absolutely NO bearing in the real world.
People are hungry and hurting probably within a half mile radius of your church. I am pretty sure they don't care about how much of the Left Behind series is based on sound doctrine. Debate about how to best meet needs there and save it for seminary classes or bible study. Keep the pulpit open for #5.
5. Contextualize biblical teachings/concepts for the culture/environment you are in.
Getting to know the history of biblical times and the meanings of the Hebrew/Greek texts are cool and all, but unless you make it relevant to the general congregation, you risk missing the opportunity to compel visitors and nominal members to invite others to your service. I'm not saying stop altogether. I'm saying have balance.
6. Create space for a diversity of views and opinions through dialogue instead of a monologue from the pulpit.
There is always this risk of sharing "the stage" to radicals but trust me, you will win more hearts over than you will push away by showing you are not afraid of diving into topics that may be controversial or otherwise cause a divide. It shows it is okay to be vulnerable and not have all the right answers. Plus, by taking the lead on such topics you get a jump on framing the conversation. It also allows you to be more relevant and appeal more to a younger crowd who are hungry for this cross section of social issues and how a church can respond. An extension of this is #7.
7. Get involved in active, organized, and systematic social justice. Like, right now.
No, you cannot pray away, preach away, praise away, interpretative dance away things like poverty or the prison industrial complex. They are great ways to bring awareness, but I think it is safe to say that while media is just starting to give issues like institutionalized racism a little more time on the airwaves, we've known about them in our communities for many decades. It's time to act in an organized way. Here is a great podcast about ways churches can get involved in social justice as a church. Skip ahead a bit to jump to it. I know many who are reading this may not take this one into consideration, but if you are a church that has a majority membership base that is older than 50, this is probably one of the quickest ways to infuse attendance with a younger generation. Now more than ever, young people are looking to find spirituality that is mindful and meaningful. www.Sojo.net is a good place to start.
8. Stop equating how much time you invest in church activities with being emotionally healthy human being.
No family is perfect, but sometimes a false sense of confidence is derived from families (especially those with special titles within the church) who use how much they know about the Bible as a cloak to cover the damaged and broken relationships they have with one another. It is not a one for one trade off. Eventually these things come to the light and members quickly lose respect for those in leadership (that is if they even have respect currently). You need a team that is talented AND emotionally healthy enough to tackle problems head on. There is a great book and church program that I think EVERY church can use titled, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that deals with this).
9. EVERYTHING regarding church management doesn't have to be considered through an "uber-Jesus evangelical" worldview.
For example, if you need to build a website for your church, you don't have to get books by authors who put a biblical slant on website building (e.g What Would Jesus Build? 10 Commandments For Building a Church Website) Not everything has to be Christianized. If you do, I have to ask is your car Christian? Is your primary healthcare doctor Christian? Are the mints that you buy Christian? Wait, don't answer that last one.
I don't want to go on a rant here (okay, I kinda do) but hiding behind a Christian bubble and replacing every segment of your life with Christian alternatives (and encouraging your members to do so) is like having a kid and wanting them to be placed in a bubble for fear they might get sick from all the germs out there. Nice intention, just a little extreme. What you end up really doing is stunting their immune system and overall health. Doing the same thing and qualifying your search to only Christian sources when looking for resources and help for your church will stunt your efforts in finding growth. Trust me when I say this: many churches are dying a slow and painful death just because of this very reason. Don't be afraid to go a public speaking class or a toastmasters meetup http://www.toastmasters.org/ to work on your preaching skills. Send some of your leadership team to a conference or workshop on project management. No, it is not a sin to get better at your gift intentionally and no, "God isn't allergic to excellence" as one friend has shared with me once. Last but not least…
10. Not accounting for human behavior and the craziness of life when it comes to helping others follow through.
When working with others, we must "busy proof" instructions and bake in systems that enable individuals to follow through more effectively. We cannot assign a project and expect them to magically know exactly what we mean about the details. You have to literally lay out the steps, talk about expectations on quality, establish check ins, and be proactive about outcomes to see things through. This takes time and energy but it is essential in not giving those you serve leftovers. Think about it this way: If you knew, literally, Jesus in the flesh was coming to your summer vacation bible school, I am pretty sure you would be a little more active in starting sooner and ensuring everything was in order. One more quick point about this, your leadership has to be trained so that when you delegate something, you don't have to have the same level of hand holding as you would a general member.
Below is a list of recommended books and readings. I would caution that some tend to "Christianize" some secular, or should I say, agnostic, business practices (or otherwise common sense). Regardless, they are great books to help pastors and leadership teams find blind spots and overcome limiting patterns of thinking.
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