Raising Up Others & Reaching Our Redemptive Potential
Our little church was rolling along rather well in its fifth year. We had purchased twenty-five acres of land, men in the church were clearing the property, we had added three part-time staff (which felt really good to me), morale was high, attendance was on the rise, membership was climbing, and we were very excited about the prospects of the future.
But the organizational needs of our church, its mission, and matters of congregational care continued to increase exponentially demanding more of my time and attention. Up until this point, nearly everyone in the church had been connected to me personally, and I could no longer address all the details myself. It was then that I realized changes needed to be made in regards to my role and assigning additional leaders who would serve as ‘go-to’ persons for the various needs in the church.
What comforted me most as I was prayerfully thinking my way through this process was what God promises to do for the church. As I studied the scriptures I learned that Jesus promises to build the church, select and call pastor-elders, raise up other leaders, save people, bless the teaching of His Word, endow people with gifts and talents that will build up the Body, empower His people to live victoriously, and providentially make up for human mistakes if people are truly repentant of their sins (and only God knows the number of mistakes I have made myself). By the time I finished this study I was confident that our future would be successful because all the heavy lifting and hard work would be done by Jesus Himself, and that we just needed to trust Him and keep going forward.
One glaring reality that I accepted was that I could not lead our church to its next level by myself. I needed other leaders; especially those who were opportunity seekers, goal setters, and risk-takers – the kinds of people who were willing to put safety on the sidelines.
I also started studying the major differences between smaller churches and growing churches. As I studied, I noticed certain principles that are consistent in growing churches which struck me as being very important. I began writing and speaking to people how I envisioned our church would be in the future. Some people were receptive to this vision, others were not. I could sense that a few key leaders and even staff members were not as enthusiastic as I was. This was disappointing to me. I can accept the fact that a certain percentage of our congregation will always be “ho hum” about church work and advancing God’s kingdom, but to get that kind of response from key leaders is unsettling to me, to say the least.
In any growing organization there are three kinds of people; and only two of them have a long-term future in that organization. First, there are those people who demonstrate the uncanny ability to grow as leaders and keep up no matter what. Second, there are people who attach themselves to those who are on the rise as valuable assistants, and end up rising themselves by being attached to growing leaders. Third, there are people who neither rise nor attach themselves to anyone who is on the rise, and cannot keep up with the growing demands of the organization.
This third group of people cannot be allowed to slow down the whole team. They cannot be the ceiling to which the church is allowed to rise. Sometimes they even have to be let go from serving because of their inability to keep up. This is difficult to do because they are often good people who have been partly responsible for the success of the church. But the ability of the church to reach its redemptive potential must be based upon what God wants to accomplish, and not upon the limits of certain individuals.
In the end I decided that it was in the best interest of PCC, our community, and the purpose of the gospel to forge ahead anyway. God was compelling me to state the vision of a large and growing church to our small church, but I knew it could result in people leaving. The ironic thing about church growth is this: the people who are attracted to a small church are drawn there because they prefer smallness and church leaders need them help get a new church going; yet those very same people are resistant to the church growing any larger than themselves. Thus, if a church continues to grow, many of those original people will leave as new people come in. It’s a catch-22 and church leaders must decide what they will do in critical times like these.
Somewhere in this time period I had to let our first children’s ministry director go. She was a young woman and wonderfully gifted to lead a small children’s ministry and had contributed significantly to our church at that level. But she did not have the ministry skills to keep pace with our church as we grew. Letting her go based on poor performance was very painful to me and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s much easier to let someone go if they are disloyal, get caught stealing, or for unrepentant sin. But to tell someone that they are not “good enough” is very, very difficult. After giving her every possible chance to grow and develop as a leader and finally realizing that she could not, it was time to make a change. We met at a local restaurant one evening and I broke the news to her. She cried and pleaded with me to give her another chance, and I almost did. Her tears were almost too much for me to stand up to and my compassion for her began to get the better of me. But as I sat there listening to her plead, I recalled the months and months of continual failures and knew I had to see this painful conversation through. I did. In the end it was liberating for both of us. She ended up finding a better paying job that was more suitable for her abilities and I found a more gifted staff member, Cathy Denny, to replace her which benefited our church significantly. Cathy was able to keep pace with our growing church and her efforts contributed a great deal to the current success of PCC.
Another important factor is the role of the senior pastor. If a church is going to reach its redemptive potential, then major shifts also have to be made in his duties. Here is some of what I have learned about growing churches through study and experience:
1. As the senior pastor I need to change from being everyone’s chaplain to ensuring that most congregational care is provided by other elders and deacons in the church.
2. I must develop and grow as a leader myself to keep up. Ministry skills will take a church up to 300, but leadership skills will take a church beyond that number.
3. I need to work less “in” the church and work more “on” the church through teaching, vision-casting, inspiring and empowering others. This means things like launching new initiatives but leaving the logistics and details to other qualified leaders. It also means that all clerical, maintenance, and most management issues are being decided by others.
4. We need to teach our people to accept the fact that we are destined to be a large church.
5. We need to ensure that the tension between caring for Christians and reaching non-Christians remains properly balanced; as well as our highest priority.
6. We need to accept the fact that our church is not for everyone, and some people will never feel connected to us or to me and will eventually leave PCC.
7. All staff should be equippers rather than doers of the ministry.
8. I must always maintain a birds eye view of the big picture and not get lost in the details.
9. We must deliberately and intentionally become a multi-celled church of small groups, ministry teams, and friendship networks.
10. My wife and I need to reserve the right to select our own friends without feeling personally obligated to everyone in the church.
To be a part of an ever-changing, growing church requires growing members and leaders who expand their vision and their capabilities as the church expands. The reason PCC is where it is today is because of these very kinds of people. Yet, we still have far to go.
I am confident that Jesus will continue to do the heavy lifting, build this church, and raise up other leaders just as He has promised in His Word. I’m most comforted by the knowledge that His grace will make up for our human mistakes, and all we have to do is trust Him and forge ahead so that we can reach our redemptive potential.