Five Things I Know About The Church

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When I was an 18-year-old college freshman at Florida State University, Lakeview Baptist Church hired me to be their youth pastor.  I got paid $100 a week to lead a youth group with four teenagers.  I would spend the next ten years of my life serving as a student pastor in the local church.

In 2005, my family and I moved to a small town just outside of Atlanta to start a brand new church.  We didn’t know anybody, but we believed God wanted us to do it.  We were there for six years, and the experience was life-changing in many ways.

Three years ago, I started working for a friend named Casey Graham and his brand new company.  We created resources to help the local church and had a blast doing it.  During that time, we attended NorthPoint Community Church and loved every minute of it.  I wrote about what NorthPoint meant to me and my family in this post and I wrote about my time with The Rocket Company in this post.

We recently moved back to our hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.  In a sense, we’re starting over.  I’m starting a new company to provide practical resources and training for pastors and church leaders.  This type of work is in my DNA – it’s what I know and it’s who I am.  The church has always been a part of my life, whether I am attending or leading or resourcing.

Here are five things I know about pastors and churches, and five reasons I love the local church.

  1.  A local church helped set the trajectory of my life.  When I was 15, I decided to follow Jesus with my life at a local church service.  When I was 17, I decided to become a pastor at that same church.  My junior high and high school youth pastor invested in me during my years at that church.  This one local church influenced my view of God, career, mission, purpose, family and so much more.
  1.  The pastors I know are selfless servants who want to make a difference.    It’s funny to me when I hear people talk about pastors being in it for the money.  99% of the pastors I know are dramatically underpaid and could make WAY more money in some other line of work.  Most are amazing, humble, selfless leaders who love Jesus and love their communities.  Pastors are heroes.
  1.  Local churches come in all shapes and sizes. There are rural churches and urban churches.  There are progressive churches and traditional churches.  There are small churches and mega churches.  Traditional and modern.  Churches who love singing and churches who love preaching.  All of them are important and all of them matter.
  1.  It’s a physical representation of Jesus.  Jesus is invisible, and I’ve never been to heaven.  But the church is the body of Christ, and I can see that.  When local churches love and serve their community, worship wholeheartedly, and give generously, it’s a very real picture of Jesus.  It’s tangible, not theoretical.  It’s physical, not just spiritual.
  1.  Jesus said he would build His church.  Jesus told Peter He would build His CHURCH.  Not a 501(c)3 non profit organization. Or a publishing company.  Or the Boy Scouts.  He said He would build His Church.   There are a lot of important things in the world, but there was a guy who was dead and came back to life.  I’m going to hitch up to his construction crew and help build what He’s building.

These are just five of the reasons I love the local church and love pastors.  And these are just five of the reasons I’m committed to helping, serving and resourcing the church through this new company.

Pastors, I’m in your corner.

The Basic Stuff is the Critical Stuff

When I was about ten years old, my parents signed me up for piano lessons.  I was excited to learn how to play some songs.  But my teacher just wanted to teach me scales.  I agreed to this because I wanted to play songs, not scales, so I quit.

I was too small to play football, but I love watching the sport.  And for all the trick plays, coaching schemes, and speed, you can’t win without mastering the basics of blocking and tackling.  For every scoring play, there are a dozen that don’t make the highlight reel.

Scales.

Tackling.

These very boring things are the building blocks of success.

They are boring, but they are critical.

You’ll see it over and over again in every area of life.  In cooking, it’s quality ingredients.  It math, it’s simple addition.  In business, it’s basic customer service.

And it’s true in the local church too.

We need to masters the simple.  We need to push for ordinary quality.

It’s great to put on a special event that attracts thousands, but no event will make up for a passionless worship service.  It’s awesome you can raise several thousand dollars through a golf tournament to send students to camp, but the weekly offering and the annual budget have a far greater potential for impact.

Don’t let the shiny things take you away from the regular ministry.

What are some of the practical implications of this?

  • Most of our evaluation time should be spent on the things that happen consistently.
  • Most of our resources should be spent on the things that happen consistently.
  • Most of our people should serve in ministries that happen consistently.

It’s tempting to divert resources to things that make the news but the things that will make a difference happen over and over again in your church.

Learn to play the scales.  Focus on blocking tackling.

And win.

The Myths of Church Growth

Seth Godin says profit covers many sins.

In the business world, a lot is accepted in the name of profit.

  • Questionable tactics are tolerated as long as the team hits the revenue numbers.
  • The mission of the company gets in line behind the marketing of the product.
  • Core values are violated in the name of pragmatism

Churches don’t have this problem because they are non-profits.  Or do they?

In the church world, it’s not profit that covers a multitude of sins.  It’s growth.

  • Increased attendance often means looking the other way in addressing leadership concerns.
  • Reaching guests becomes the goal so you compromise on the Truth.
  • You divert all kinds of resources to get people in the front door and leave the hard work of discipleship to someone else.

The Myths of Growth

The growing churches get the press and the big churches get the buzz.  They must be doing something good, we think.  How else would they get so big?

But growth is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Here are three myths of growth that not enough people are talking about.

Myth #1:  Growth leads to happiness.  

I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few different megachurhces and I’ve seen behind the scenes of a few others.  They struggle with so many of the same problems.  They are just covered up by quality production and fancy websites.  But behind the scenes, leaders of these churches are wrestling with very real issues.  If you were to sit in the meetings, you’d say, “I can’t believe they are still struggling with this.”

A big church isn’t big because they have figured out all of the problems.  In may way, the problems are just bigger.

Some of the most miserable leaders I know work in growing organizations.  There are lots of people and lots of activity.  It’s a merry-go-round that never stops.  You think you’d be happier if the church was bigger, but just the opposite might be true.

Heck, I believed this myth for a long time.

I started a church that grew from  zero people to almost 1,000 people in a couple of years.  In a town of just 17,000 people.  You would think this would have made me happy.  But instead, I focused on breaking the next barrier and going to the next level.  I was successful on the outside but miserable on the inside.

If you’re not content leading a church of 200, you won’t be content leading a church of 400.  Because happiness is not found in growth.  Contentment doesn’t come from the outside – it’s a position of the heart.

Growth won’t make you happy and growth doesn’t lead to happiness.

Myth #2:  We need a little more.

Maybe you’ve heard the quote from John D. Rockefeller.  He was asked, “How much money is enough?” He answered, “Just a little bit more.”

His honest answer is telling, isn’t it.  We’re on a quest for more.

But the problem is “enough” is a moving target.  Once you get to the next level, you find another one waiting for you.  Once you climb the next hill, you find a bigger one.

If you’re on a growth quest, there’s no destination.  You’re not going to reach a point where you say, “we’ve grown enough…let’s just settle here for a while.”

You will never have enough money.  (Besides, if your vision is fully-funded, you probably need a bigger vision.)

You will never have enough people. (I’ve never met a church leader who says “you know…we’ve got enough volunteers and leaders…we don’t need any more.)

And there will always be more you want to do.

There’s a massive tension here.  There are people to reach and a mission to advance.  But the Gospel teaches us that we’re not in control and we can’t do it on our own.  We’re responsible to be good stewards with what God has given, but we must rest in Him and be at peace.

The myth of more can lead you down the Rockefeller path.

Myth #3:  Growth and health can’t co-exist.  

Not long ago, I tweeted about the network I’m starting to help 12 pastors better lead a growing church.  Someone responded, “So just because you were big that means you were faithful. #shakingmyhead”

There’s a belief among some leaders that you can’t be faithful and big.  Big churches compromised on something – that’s how they got big.  Small churches are more faithful to the Word – that’s why they are smaller.

But this is a lie.

Justin Breyans writes, “You can be large and unhealthy and you can be small and unhealthy.  Growth or size does not prove health.”

Growth and health are not opposite, and it’s wrong to pursue one without the other.

As a father, I want my children to grow and be healthy at the same time.  Both are very important, and focusing on just one would be a big mistake.

That’s why we focus on growth and health in my coaching networks.  I want your church to experience both.