Thursday, December 8, 2011

Campfire Talk

In church work you never go from one level of leadership to another without paying a price.  As churches grow, pastors and other leaders must recognize when there needs to be a change in leadership style and how to make it a reality.

Let me use a campfire as an analogy.  I heard this illustration years ago and have since incorporated it as a talking point at PCC.

When our church family was smaller in numbers everyone was able to sit around my campfire.  I was a solo pastor and had direct contact with everyone.  However, this became impossible as our church family grew larger.  There were simply too many newcomers and too many old timers to all sit around one fire, and there wasn’t enough of me to go around.  I had a dilemma on my hands.  When I started paying attention to the newcomers, many of the old timers felt neglected and became unhappy.  And of course, the newcomers could not be ignored either.  After all, God wanted them to be part of this church family as much as anyone else.

In order to fix the situation I had to communicate to the old timers – that if they wanted to continue sitting around my fire – then they had to go out and build fires of their own so they could invite and minister to others just as I had been doing for them.

The response to this kind of change is usually met with resistance because people want to be around the leader’s campfire, only receiving care rather than growing up and giving it to others themselves.

Yet I also knew that if we didn’t make this transition I would become the bottleneck that restricted growth.  As a solo pastor I knew everybody, did all the praying, all the baptizing, all the teaching, all the visitation, knew every kid, dog-and-cat by name, and provided care for everyone.  But there’s a limit to how many people one man can take care of, so I knew that if I continued in this role our church would be limited by my capabilities.

I couldn’t let that happen, so I did the campfire talk…. hundreds of times.

Has it worked?  Yes.  Our church now has multiple leaders who are the primary caregivers for a broad section of our church family.  Through our staff, small group leaders, lay leaders, other ministry leaders, and people who simply have ministry gifts (of hospitality, helps, mercy, and shepherding, etc) more kingdom work gets done than I could ever do by myself.  In essence, these people are the consistent point-of-contact for many of our members as well as the first responders in time of need.

This model follows the principle of Jethro spoken to Moses (in Exodus 18) to appoint others to help.  Moses would have never succeeded in leading the Hebrews to Canaan if not for this counsel.

Did we pay a price?   Yes.  I had to be willing to let other people be pastors & shepherds too, I don't know everyone by first name,  and our church family had to be willing to accept the gifts of others. 

There is no growth without change, and there is no change without loss, and there is no loss without pain.  But the upside is too great and the downside too scary to not pursue this kind of personal growth.  Our church is far greater because of this transition than it would have ever been if I had chosen to fly solo.

I need to have another campfire talk pretty soon.  We're about to bust some new territory.

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