My family and I moved to Atlanta several years ago to start a new church.
We launched in a living room, moved to a movie theater and eventually purchased and renovated an old nightclub.
So many good things happened, but I also made a lot of mistakes. Today, I want to talk honestly about some of those leadership mistakes.
Because truth be told, I kept our church from health and growth in at least five ways.
#1 – I made it all about the vision.
I believe a clear and compelling vision is critical to growth. In fact, it’s the first thing we unpack in our Breaking 200 course.
But it’s actually possible to lean on vision TOO MUCH.
First, I let vision become an idol. A vision to reach people turned into an unhealthy obsession. And we ended up with more than a few people that were committed to the vision, not to a life of faith and following Jesus.
Second, over-trusting the vision meant labeling too many people divisive. I shrugged aside a few too many people with legitimate questions and concerns all in the name of vision. Sure, there are people who want to control and take over, but not everyone with a question is a threat.
Third, I tried to solve all of our problems with more vision. Because I’m a visionary leader and speaker, I tried to solve every single problem in our church by throwing more vision. My friend Les calls this being a “visionary arsonist.” The reality is there are lots of problems in the church that can’t be solved with vision casting or better preaching.
Pastors should work hard to clarify and communicate a compelling vision. It’s a critical component of breaking any growth barrier.
But recognize that your vision isn’t divinely inspired and it’s limited or hindered by your personal style, experiences, cultures and beliefs. Vision isn’t everything and you’re not Moses.
#2 – I didn’t develop leaders.
For too many seasons of ministry, I tried to get it done the fastest way…or my way….or with a handful of super-committed people. But this was a huge mistake and it kept our church from growing in a healthy way.
When you do it all yourself, you hinder growth. That’s the issue Moses faced in in Exodus 18.
Moses spent the large portion of his day hearing cases from the people. Instead of leading the nation, he was micro-managing. His father-in-law came for a visit and pointed out the problem:
“When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
Jethro didn’t just observe the problem. He recommended a solution: Appoint other people to leadership positions and let go of the reigns.
For Moses to be more effective, he had to be less busy. And for your church to grow in a healthy way, you’re going to have to get out of the way.
I didn’t need to make every decision.
I didn’t need to lead every meeting.
I didn’t need to visit everyone in need.
I had a superhero complex and it wasn’t good for me.
It also made ME the bottleneck in our church.
When Moses set up a proper leadership system, he was a better leader. And lots of other leaders were empowered to use their gifts.
That’s a double win.
If you’re the solution to every problem, you’re not helping your church. You’re keeping it from growing.
As you look toward leading your church to healthy growth, we can help you create a leadership system that doesn’t require you to DO EVERYTHING.
#3 – I bought into short-term thinking.
We had a lot of problems in our young and growing church. People, volunteers, money, and the list goes on and on.
And looking back on it all, I tried to solve too many of those problems in the short term but never addressed some of the root problems. Give a ministry to a leader who isn’t ready and you’ll solve an immediate need but create a long-term problem.
Throw together a special offering to solve a summer giving slump and you’ll survive July but hinder momentum for the fall.
That’s short term thinking.
I know there’s a lot on your plate right now, but don’t just solve problems in the short-term and sacrifice future growth and health.
One of the things we want to help you do is to create a long-term, sustainable and scalable plan for healthy growth. Sure, I know there are some problems that need to just get solved NOW. But we are also going to help you solve them for the long term.
#4 – Saying yes to everything.
Another way I hindered our church was by saying yes to too many things.
Deep down, I’m a people pleaser so it’s tough for me to say no.
That’s why I tell my kids “Maybe” so many times. But they are on to me. The other day my 11-year-old said, “Dad, you’re just saying ‘maybe' so you don’t have to say no.”
So I tried to launch too much. Do too much. Start too many ministries.
For example, we started a student ministry before we were ready. It started with a crowd, but fizzled because there weren’t leaders.
That was the result of me saying yes when I should have said no.
When you say yes to too many things, the result is a busy church. And busyness doesn’t lead to effectiveness.
When your church is over-programmed, you’ll suffer the following consequences:
- Volunteers will be spread too thin.
- You will settle for mediocrity.
- Your communication will be confusing.
- You will mildly disappoint everyone.
- You will drive yourself to burnout.
Let’s face it.
There are some ministries and programs in your church that deserve an unfair amount of your focus and budget.
Maybe it’s your family ministry. Or your church service. Or your local outreach programs.
The worst thing you can do is try and divide the budget in a way that’s fair or deploy your people evenly across the board. To say yes to everything.
Pastor, you don’t have to be fair.
Great pastors and leaders discover where their church can make the most difference and deploy resources there.
#5 – Not growing personally.
This was my biggest mistake in church leadership.
I had a church growth plan, but I didn’t have a personal growth plan. I didn’t have a spiritual health plan. A parenting plan. A marriage plan.
All of my leadership went into the church and I didn’t watch out for my own soul.
It’s trendy to start campuses and fun to talk about service times, but the number one barrier to growth in most churches is leadership.
It’s not service times.
It’s not starting campuses.
It’s not facilities or ministries or programs.
Brian Jones says churches never grow past the leadership level of the senior pastor. Ever.
And based on our experience working with hundreds of pastors, we’d have to agree. When pastors recognize that for the church to grow, they need to grow, things begin to happen.
That’s why investing in your personal growth and health is never a waste of resources.
Nobody is going to force you to put you on the calendar. There are no elders, deacons or church members texting you about the need for personal development.
No, you’re going to have to own this one. I wish I did.
So What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not?
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. Are we being good stewards of what He's given us? Are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?
We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. So we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.
Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers today.