“The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Prov 28:1).
“Same place. Same thing. Same results”
Business as usual just won’t cut it anymore. The church has been a bedrock foundation of Western society for hundreds of years, but today the church is standing on the edge of irrelevance. We need a fresh, bold, articulate vision. Incremental change and small refinements in current ministry practices are of only limited value in making the church a dynamic force for good. Thankfully, we are seeing a number of churches that are breaking through barriers of inertia to move their ministries forward to reach more people for Christ. Many growing ministries are using strategies that are bold and far reaching.
Seeing the success of other’s bold strategies, we are left with the questions: Are we content to remain comfortable doing ministry the way we have always done it, with some positive but limited results, knowing in our hearts that we aren’t making much of a dent in our culture? Or will we take the risk of boldly trusting God for a fresh vision, powerful strategies, and incredible results? I’ve been working for the last several years to develop my own sense of God’s calling and vision for ministry.
As I have shared my vision for change with a number of pastors, some have called this “an entrepreneurial strategy for churches.” It combines the aggressive goals of business with God¹s heart for people. I later merged these ideas and coined the term pastorpreneur. A pastorpreneur is a pastoral innovator, a creative dreamer who is willing to take great risks in church ministry with the hope of great gain for Christ and his kingdom. Like any good entrepreneur, this kind of leader isn¹t wild-eyed and foolish. He assesses goals, opportunities, and risks very carefully, but he is willing to attempt great things for God. His path is checkered with successes and defeats, but his successes touch many more people than if he had chosen to play it safe, and he learns from his failures so even they are stepping-stones to future gains.
Elisabeth Elliott has written eloquently of her husband’s preparation for the mission field. Jim was a young lion who compared his commitment to Christ and the Great Commission to miners who went to the frozen Yukon a century ago. Both expected great risks and hardships, although the difficulties of the journey paled in comparison to the promise of rich rewards. The miners had been after tangible but temporal gold, while Elliott sought “spiritual” gold, silver, and precious stones that will never pass away (1 Corinthians 3:12). In those days of steeling himself to face the risks that lay ahead (dangers that proved to be very real indeed), Jim copied part of “The Law of the Yukon,” a poem by Robert W. Service, in his journal. Elisabeth Elliott included the passage in her book, The Path of Loneliness ** (Servant Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, pp. 105-106). It reads:
“Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane,
Strong for the red-rage of battle, sane for I harry them sore.
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core. . . .
And I wait for the men who will win me—and I will not be won in a day,
And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle and suave and mild,
But by men with the hearts of Vikings and the simple faith of a child,
Desperate, strong, and resistless, unthrottled by fear or defeat,
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat.”
We who lead the church of Jesus Christ surely are willing to expend more energy and have greater expectations than the promise of mere gold. However, these things are not always clear for most of us. It is easy for us to be comfortable and reasonably successful doing what we’ve always done before. Many church leaders are satisfied with small changes, tweaking systems, and a little growth. Some of us, however, know there’s more. We’re convinced that now is the time for a new direction. Now is the time for boldness.
God’s promise to us is even more compelling than the promise of Yukon gold: It is the promise of being used by the God of the universe in his holy cause to rescue men and women from darkness so they can be transferred into his kingdom of light. And the promise to each of us is that if we follow God’s heart and path, in the end we will hear those wonderful words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” That reward will be worth far more than gold!
The vision of what God can do through us is not one we concoct on our own. It is given to us each believer by God, it is accomplished by his power, and we do it for his glory. This vision is for every believer, indeed, it is our calling from God himself. Author Os Guinness says that the calling of God is not just for pastors. As each of us is gripped with the love and power of our Lord, we gladly give up everything to follow him and accomplish his purposes. “Calling,” wrote Guinness, “is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”** (Os Guinness, The Call, Nashville: Word Publishing, Nashville, 1998, p. 4)
By the time I was 35, it could be said that God had called me, gifted me, and used me in some significant ways. But I lived with a secret: My life was too safe. In my heart, I knew that I had never been willing to lay it all on the line for Jesus Christ, to take a risk that demanded that God must work or I’d fail, to trust God enough to risk personal failure. I’d been successful at many things, but I’d never been willing to focus on one thing, one dream, “this one thing I do,” as Paul defined his ministry. I’d been happy to use my God-given abilities at the level of an 8 or a 9 on a 10-point scale. That was very comfortable, but striving for a 10 demanded far more risk than I had ever experienced.
For some time, I wrestled with this tension between safety, comfort and risk. In March of 1996, I went outside at a Wisconsin retreat center and walked in the snow. I felt like God had put a burning ember in my stomach. At that moment, God seemed to be saying to me, “Would you dare to dream big dreams for me?” That question presented a fork in the road for me. I instantly responded, “No!” I had a nice salary, a big office, and all the perks that come with being a denominational exec. I was not exactly happy in my denominational ministry role, but I assumed that eventually God would let me go me back to a local church where I’d I would be happier and more fulfilled.
God’s question was more than I bargained for. He was asking me to put my safety, my reputation, and my finances on the line and to take a huge risk to and trust him. Was I willing to put aside my salary, my office and perks, and my influence on 50,000 people in our denomination? Was I willing to leave safety behind and walk into the unknown? In the hours after that question penetrated my heart that day in the snow, God began to clarify his direction for me. He was calling me to work with people who had given up on the traditional church but who hadn’t given up on God. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was unmistakably God’s clear calling.
During the next few months, my wife got excited about this dream. My brother and, his wife, and two other couples were also very supportive and also bought into the dream. When we I resigned my position at the denomination, we had very little money in savings and no money committed to set aside for church planting, but God immediately began to confirm His vision right away that we had done the right thing. We were given five months in our current position to continue ministry and fundraising. Some people on our Christmas card list committed $50,000, and two organizations gave another $200,000 to help us. This was an amazing confirmation of God working in our hearts. We moved to Carson Valley, Nevada in April of 1997 to start a church.
Even though God was working to confirm his calling, I was still afraid that we’d we would fail. My thoughts were haunted by images of a handful of people in a boring service five years after we started the church. But God reminded me that his calling is not about achievement; it’s about faithfulness. My job is to respond to God. His job is to produce fruit in his way, in his timing, and for his glory. We have had amazing fruitfulness in just five short years. We launched the church in February of 1998 in an area where fewer than 100,000 people live within 30 miles of us and only 5% attend church each weekend. Today, over 1500 people attend Carson Valley Christian Center each weekend! The fruitfulness of our ministry however was not the main thing. The main thing was to be clear of God’s calling and be willing to risk it all for His glory and honor. And, while we believe we have discovered some specific strategies for penetrating a local community, we know that understanding and responding to God’s clear calling is the essential foundation.
Before we dive into the bold strategies that can transform a life, a church, and a community for Christ, we need to be gripped with a strong, clear calling. The source of this calling is not the needs of people around us, and it is definitely not the desire to play an important role and win the applause of others. God’s call is a summons to respond to his greatness and grace, to first devote ourselves completely to him and then to his purposes.
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).
Even some people in positions of Christian leadership feel deep emptiness and simply go through the motions of ministry. They are bored, without drive, without dreams, and without hope. And others are still trying hoping to find meaning by trying a little of this and a little of that to see if anything stimulates them. Genuine calling is a powerful antidote to the drive to prove ourselves, the emptiness of boredom or discouragement, and the meaninglessness of superficial, scattered activities. Calling is not about the size of a church or the scope of a ministry—it is about the heart of God. Many people miss this crucial point. We can get so hung up on building a large ministry that we focus on comparing ourselves with others instead of loving and serving Jesus Christ.
Risk itself is not a goal of leadership. It is simply a reality for those who have a large vision. In II Timothy 2, Paul uses three metaphors to describe church leaders: soldier, athlete, and farmer. People in each of these three roles work toward a specific purpose: to please the commanding officer and win the battle, to win the race, or to enjoy the proceeds of the harvest. But all three roles also have inherent risks. The soldier endures hardship and risks injury or death, the athlete risks public failure, and the farmer risks floods, drought, insect and bird damage, and other perpetual problems. (Many leaders can relate to the courage and perseverance of the farmer, whose last crop may have been eaten by locusts, but who takes the risk to borrow money and start yet another crop.)
In his popular book, Wild at Heart, John Eldridge says that God created us for adventure. In fact, we only find true fulfillment when we are willing to take risks to see great things happen. “Small dreams,” one man said, “do not enflame the hearts of men.” A vision begins with the conviction that what currently exists isn’t enough. We long for more. We want to see change. We yearn for something far better. The process of forming a clear vision begins with hearing from God. We need to be touched by his love, discover his perspective on the needs around us, and acknowledge his willingness to accomplish his purposes through us.
God’s call in our lives is shaped by three crucial elements which together form our vision of how he will use us. They are: our grasp of the heart of God (which determines our motivation), our grip on the needs of people around us (which shapes the direction of our service), and the gifts God has given us (which determine the effectiveness of our service).
5 Strategies to Move Your Church beyond Business as Usual
Strategy #1 Grab the Community’s Attention
The church seems irrelevant to many people in our communities today. Most of them simply will not come to us, so we have to go to them. When we step into their world, we want to be attractive, relevant, and positive—which will elicit the same responses of curiosity and faith as those who listened when Jesus went to them.
Many churches plan virtually all of their activities and spend all of their resources on the “insiders.” Others have discovered that by providing selfless services for their communities, many “outsiders” will quickly respond. One church is known for building and renovating homes for the poor, another has incredible musical programs, and another is known for its program to help the unemployed find jobs. The list of services and entertainment a church can provide in the name of Christ is almost endless. These are an open door for your people to reach out in attractive, powerful ways to those in their neighborhoods.
As it is in most towns and cities, the Fourth of July is a big deal in Carson Valley. When we arrived, the only public place to celebrate that day was at a park that cost about $35 for a family to attend. The leaders of our church saw this as an opportunity to have our own celebration, meet people, and develop a positive impression on hundreds who don’t go to church. For the next Fourth, we put an ad in the local newspaper, grilled hot dogs, printed t-shirts, and had all kinds of activities for every age. In response, we had about 2000 people on our grounds! That’s two percent of the population of our area, so we were thrilled. The heart-felt appreciation of those who attended was even more significant than the number who came. A number of people tried to give us money to defray the cost, but we refused to take any. Several moms had tears in their eyes as they thanked us for providing such a positive place for their children that day. Our event certainly grabbed the community’s attention—and became an annual affair.
Strategy #2 Build Strategic Partnerships
Our Fourth of July event is a perfect example of building strategic partnerships that benefit all involved. Before our second event, I talked to a man in our church who runs a grocery store. I told him, “We want to grill hot dogs for people, and we don’t want to charge them anything because it’s an outreach. The problem is that we need to keep the costs down. Could you help us with the food costs? We’ll put a sign up that says the food was donated by your store.” He agreed (but he would not let us put up a sign), and even donated all the food for the entire event. His generosity was a great help to us, and the opportunity to give proved to be a wonderful blessing for him.
Other opportunities exist in virtually every community: newspaper, radio, hospital, community service organizations (Kiwanis, etc.). As I have shared the concept of partnerships with a number of pastors, some have called this “an entrepreneurial strategy for churches.” It combines the aggressive goals of business with God’s heart for people. I later merged these ideas and coined the term pastorpreneur. A pastorpreneur is an innovator, a dreamer who is willing to take great risks with the hope of great gain for Christ and his kingdom. Like any good entrepreneur, this kind of leader isn’t wild-eyed and foolish. He assesses goals, opportunities, and risks very carefully, but he is willing to attempt great things for God. His path is checkered with successes and defeats, but his successes touch many more people than if he had chosen to play it safe, and he learns from his failures so even they are stepping-stones to future gains.
Strategy #3 Conduct Faith-Building Events
We try to plan every event so that it challenges, encourages, and stimulates the faith of those who attend as well as those who plan and host it. We don’t just have events and hope these purposes are fulfilled. It is the goal and intent of everything we do. Our commitment to excellence is visible in all of our special events. In fact, the credibility of our church has risen with every event because we have a rigorous commitment to deliver what we promise. Some of our events are held off-site, such as a yearly baptism at Lake Tahoe about 12 miles from our church, and some are outreach events like the Fourth of July. We also include events that are perceived as our regular events but are given special significance, such as our “40 Days of Purpose” when our worship services focus on particular passages from the Scriptures about living according to God’s divine purposes.
Not long ago, we gave $10 to people who attended our worship service and we told them, “In the next thirty days, multiply this money and use it to the glory of God. You can use it any way you wish, as long as it is honoring to the Lord.” (I was afraid some people might go to the casino and put the money on red at the roulette table, but to my knowledge, nobody did that!) Some people gave it away to a needy person that same afternoon, and others invested the money so they would have more to give away at the end of the month. One lady used the money to buy supplies for a craft project. She sold the finished product, and used the proceeds to buy more supplies to make even more crafts. By the end of that month, she had made a considerable amount of money to give toward the needs of others. She was thrilled and so were we!
Strategy #4 Every Person is a 10—Get ’Em Moving!
Every person has a role or a place where he serves most gladly and most effectively. It is the task of leadership to help people find that place. In a volunteer organization like the church, the payoff isn’t money. It’s the feeling that, “I made a difference in someone’s life.” And that’s worth everything.
Our church’s training program for believers helps people understand the compelling motivation of the love of God, and then encourages them to find a role in which they feel excited and fulfilled. We never try to fill slots by using guilt to get someone to serve. Any short-term gains would be offset by long-term devastating losses—for the person, for the church, and for the leader who tried that heavy-handed, manipulative tactic. I love to see the joy in people’s eyes when they see God use them in others’ lives
At our church, leadership is not about titles or positions. Leaders have a servant’s heart, and they meet others’ needs in Jesus’ name. Some churches depend on the pastor to be the source of every vision, every activity, and every decision. That’s not the way we work, and it’s not the model I see in the New Testament. My role as the pastor is to provide overall direction and vision. In addition, it is also my responsibility to stimulate each person to pursue God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength so each one has his or her own God-given vision. We want to build a broad base of leaders with that kind of vision, so that far more people are looking to the Lord for direction and far more people are serving with passion and joy.
“Everyone is a 10” is a full-employment policy in the kingdom of God. We don’t want to leave anybody out. As each part does its work, the whole body grows.
Strategy #5 Multiply Your Impact
Every person is an apprentice of someone else, and eventually, everyone can be a mentor to another person. It’s not enough just to be a good teacher, greeter, evangelist, leader, giver, or servant. God’s blueprint for personal and organizational growth is that we multiply our character and our skills in the lives of others. Paul wrote to Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (II Tim 2:2).
God hasn’t called us to be Lone Rangers. Instead, he wants us to use our skills in mentoring relationships so others are touched and want to emulate our skills. Individuals multiply their impact by mentoring others. Churches multiply their impact by planting new churches, resurrecting dying ones, and sending out missionaries.
Identifying and developing those essential elements is not always clear, clean, and simple. Sometimes we learn more through failure than we learn through success. There are many high performance people who hydroplane through life, moving quickly but only skimming the surface, but hydroplaning is not the abundant life Christ offers. In fact, the drive to accomplish great goals may be a hindrance to God’s work in our lives. He works most powerfully when we are honest enough to admit our needs.
Each person needs to replicate himself or herself as many times as possible so that a multitude of “reliable” people are passionate about Christ, gripped with the needs of people, and skilled in expanding the kingdom of God.
The strategy of “leadership development by committee meetings” doesn’t work. Some churches enjoy dabbling in the latest business-world leadership techniques and fads that promise growth. The pattern we see in the Scriptures, however, is that growth is a direct result of rich relationships in which we impart love, hope, insight, and skills to a few, who then will be able to pass along those traits to still more people. We need to get out of the business-as-usual mindset of managing our churches. We need to make a sure and strong commitment to multiply our impact by following the same pattern of Paul and Jesus through prayer, discernment, careful selection, imparting skills, and releasing well-trained people for ministry.
Where do I Turn for Help?
Don’t overlook the wealth of resources in your church. A fresh, dynamic vision isn’t accomplished by trying to stretch your existing budget a little farther. Instead, look for new resources—both people and funds. Trust God to stir new hearts with the vision so more people volunteer to be involved. And look for new ways to fund projects.
A vision that is contained dies. A vision that is shared grows stronger and sharper. Each of us has been entrusted with a vision, a calling to be a part of God’s divine will. If we aren’t thrilled that we have been chosen and adopted by the King of the universe and given a role as his ambassador to a lost and dying world, we need to have an EKG!