As I travel, I get to meet many great leaders fulfilling both sacred and secular roles and I like to ask interesting questions. One recent interaction with just such an individual clearly identified multiple challenges. The opportunity to meet this high capacity leader was random and unplanned. When he found out my Kingdom role, he told me that he is currently considering leaving his church after many years. So, we talked further, and I asked several questions to discover more. He is in his mid-50’s and every day heads a large regional organization with 54 offices and over 6,000 employees. In his church, he previously served on the board, key committees, and within various departments, and today fills a role they call elder. When I asked him what had changed, his responses were a combination of all the typical reasons; In summary, they are no anticipation, no inspiration, no relation, and no participation.
Anticipation – When he and his family began attending over a decade earlier, none of them wanted to miss a weekly service…kids nor adults. Weekly they sensed the presence and work of the Holy Spirit and no one wanted to miss that by being absent. His sadness was most obvious as he admitted this fact about the present state of the church he loved. “I know I carry the presence of the Holy Spirit with me, but it’s like no one else has brought Him or anticipates Him, because there is no longer that collective sense or experience.”
Inspiration – When he began attending the church, each week the pastor had something significant to say. The messages were alive, relevant, personally equipping and meaningful to his personal relationship with Christ. But for the past few years, he feels like he hears the same things repeatedly. Today, he is most inspired when there is a guest speaker.
Relation – When he first came, the church was experiencing growth each month but today, it has not grown in attendance for several years. During that time many of the relationships that were important to him began attending other places. Due to the transient nature of attendance in the current US church culture and the typical attendance churn of people in and out, he no longer knows the people worshipping around him.
Participation – His current participation is almost non-existent. In spite of his previous involvement, he said he “currently has no meaningful role.” In his one current role (as an elder), he meets periodically but only to receive information and asked to be in prayer. His gifts, talents, and experience are no longer utilized.
The problem with this situation is that within the next year, his wife’s loyalty to “their church” will no longer be sufficient to keep them there.
Pastors, we must ask ourselves some VERY challenging questions:
- Is there a permeating presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our weekly gatherings? Not a presence that we have to announce, but one that is obvious to everyone; member and first-time guest alike. If not, that begins with you and I on our face until it begins to happen.
- Have you become repetitive? This is not an answer you can give. Ask your wife. Ask your leaders. Make them tell you the truth. Ask the congregants known for being “honest” (blunt). Do they already know your “pet phrases”…the punch lines to your jokes…the examples you’re using AGAIN? Inspiration isn’t just a work of the Spirit. It is also a work of preparation on your part. Each of us must make sure we are doing the hard work of preparation and not just “relying on the Spirit” for what to say.
Matthew 10:19, Mark 13:11, and Luke 12:11 aren’t talking about relying on the Spirit for our sermons. They are talking about when we face persecution. It is true that pastors have many sermons but only a few messages. Without big picture preparation, we will simply begin repeating our life messages.
- Is your congregation relational? This is another question you are not qualified to answer. Your guests and congregants will answer this with their feet. There was an axiom in the 1990’s; “If people don’t make 7 friends in 6 months they will leave your church.” They vote with their feet and leave. I will go further and say if they lose those friendships over time and don’t replace them, they will leave your church. Interestingly, the need for 7 friends clearly proves it’s not about having a personal relationship with the senior leader. We must foster authentic relational connections.
- Are your greatest assets stagnating? Are your elders really engaged? Is your Church Council active…by meeting monthly and by doing the work between meetings? What leaders in their prime are sitting on your sidelines? What leaders past that season could mentor others who are more active? It is easy to mistakenly look at such leaders and believe they are “already too busy” to participate and therefore not ask. Let me say, ASK. High caliber leaders know how to say “no” when needed. Maybe they can’t meet often but could still meet regularly with you or a key leader to discuss issues, evaluate progress, and share insights from experience. This values everyone.
These are the questions facing all of us and that pastors all around the SED are working to solve. It would be my privilege to help you discover other specific solutions in your setting to any of these challenges.
For additional info contact Paul Glenn directly firstname.lastname@example.org or his cell 704.239.0569.