The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 2 (Communications, Courage)

Book—Borden,-Direct-HitWe’re studying through Paul D. Borden’s Direct Hit: Aiming Real Leaders at the Mission Field.

Communications

Borden recognizes how very important communications are to church change and growth. He sounds a little extreme, but I think he’s exactly right.

Every spoken word, every phone call, every e-mail, every verbal interaction (formal or informal) with people in the congregation reflects an overall communication strategy for change. If we lead change only through formal presentations or meetings, then we have unclear thinking about the nature of the task. Every venue, every day—no matter how seemingly insignificant—ought to be a specific tactic in our overall communication strategy. Leaders cannot afford to have throw away conversations. The skill is not found only in the words. The quality is found in the intonation, the body language, the eye contact, and more, when helping people see we are excited about a new vision.

(Kindle Locations 319-323).

I met with a preacher of a rapidly growing church and asked him how it happened. Among other things, he credits lunch. He considers lunch a key part of his job — and the job of every other minister on staff with him. Every single lunch needs to be with a members or a prospect or a guest — and needs to be a lunch with an an agenda to train, to plan, to convert, or to teach. And that’s 250 lunches a year. Imagine the good you could get done with 250 lunches a year with members and non-members, all aimed at growing the Kingdom!

Passion

Passion comes as we, in our own ways, take God seriously. It means seeing God as Isaiah did, knowing God as Moses did, and seeing the world as Habakkuk did. …

A leader’s first task is to be clear about the mission. A leader must then ask if this mission is one that God wants him or her to lead and if it is worth dying for (in American Christianity, “dying for” means being willing to lose one’s job). If the mission honors a righteous God and meets needs that human beings face, then a leader has something about which to be passionate.

(Kindle Locations 454-455; 463-466).

Passion isn’t just a great sermon series, but a willingness to risk one’s job for the necessary change — and to fire staff members who refuse to support the leadership’s vision (which is often harder than to be fired).

Courage

Frequently, pastors who lead change must be willing to put their jobs, families, reputations, and pensions on the line. People who have lived a simple lifestyle, sacrificing time and money in order to earn a seminary degree, must then decide whether further sacrifice (both status and income) will be required if the congregation, which they are trying to lead through systemic change, turns on them. This is not an easy choice to make at any time; however, the costs are exaggerated if the pastor has a family or if the pastor, spouse, or children are living with disabilities that demand protection associated with various insurance plans or pensions.

When a congregation sees necessary changes as unnecessary, lay leaders who support the changes risk losing friends and in some cases family members. Furthermore, these leaders may be marginalized or even ignored by a community of people who at one time valued them and their abilities. For such lay leaders, great courage is required. …

Congregations going through major changes find that there are often more people leaving than new people coming. As people leave, the budget gets tighter, and there is a sense of loss because many familiar faces have disappeared from worship services. Therefore, the congregation as a system or culture must be courageous if it is going to continue to implement the changes it believes are for the best.

(Kindle Locations 477-492).

Borden is, of course, exactly right. All change is hard. Change that risks losing members, contributors, volunteers, and most importantly, lifelong friends is much more than hard.

This is a common source of friction between elders and ministers. The ministers may only have a few years invested in their current church home. The elders will have decades of friendships — and they’ll find it much harder to risk the loss of dear friends of such longstanding.

It’s one of those church irony things. Ministers desperately want elders who are pastoral, who care for the emotional needs of the members and who pray and cry with them at the hospital and funeral home. But they also want elders who’ll make quick decisions that could lead to separation from the very people with whom they’ve prayed and cried. And such men do not exist.

Flexibility

As effective ministry becomes more and more a bottom-up endeavor that reflects the calling and gifts of more and more believers, ministries will take on the personality of individuals in the body more than the pathology of the leader. …

We have not directed any of our congregations to adopt any particular philosophy of ministry or suggested that they follow a certain recipe for change. Instead, we have challenged them to be missional and outward-focused, determining how they can best have impact on their local communities. The change process is therefore handled with great variety through a myriad of tactics, and it occurs in seemingly unique time schedules.

(Kindle Locations 522-525).

There is no template, no pattern, no routine. Rather, growth requires constant revisions of tactics and plans in each church.

Missional

The most effective pastors today are missionaries at heart. These pastors see themselves as mobilizing disciples for the most exciting mission that anyone has ever been called to fulfill. They look at their congregation as sheep who need food, protection, and encouragement to go out collectively and individually to engage and overcome evil, which the Bible describes as a roaring lion.

(Kindle Locations 544-547).

Some preachers go into ministry to be counselors. Some to be teachers. A few to be managers. Not many go into domestic congregation pulpit work to be a missionary. In fact, we don’t know how to do that.

In the mission field, we often send missionaries who build a congregation of 50 to 100, and then the missionary becomes the preacher and the church stops growing. We don’t even know how to put a missionary in a pulpit and still grow.

And if someone trained in missions, who has had success in missions, can’t do it, imagine how hard it is for other preachers. We obviously have something very dysfunctional about the way we do “located” ministry.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 2 (Communications, Courage)

  1. Mark says:

    I have always heard that Christianity did better on the mission field than inside buildings. I read about a Baptist pastor in a big city who took the ashes outside on Ash Wednesday. Her philosophy was that the only people who would come in for them were regular members, but that they should be taken outside to the people, just like the faith.

    I totally agree with the need for communication. First, sometimes people regardless of age need someone to hear them. They could be dealing with any issue from terminal illness to a family member with an addiction. If you don’t listen to the person, you will never know what is going on. The problem comes when elders don’t pastor, ministers sometimes say their job is to preach and evangelize not pastor, and no one winds up being a pastor. Second, to find out what is really going on in an organization, you have to be willing to listen to what people tell you. I know older generations were taught to answer questions and surveys “correctly.” However, with the young, asking a question typically means you get an honest answer and if you don’t like it, well, you asked it.

  2. Coming from the mission field into “located ministry” at home was a shock to my system. I actually suffered more “culture shock” returning to the States than I did in leaving for another “Western Culture,” English-speaking nation (New Zealand). And, much of that shock was in the church culture. You are right on target in saying we do not know how to lead congregations through seasons of change – but change we must, if we are to survive.

  3. Joe B says:

    The greatest hurdle is institutionalism. Any change no matter how pure the motive that causes tithing members to leave is hard. So it rarely gets done. I reminded about what Jesus said that true discipleship may cost you friends and family. I think that is applicable here.

  4. Mark says:

    Joe B,
    I totally understand and know that you never upset a donor, especially a large one, even at the cost of running off the young. I have often wondered why there does not ever appear to be meetings with the large donors to explain to them that they will not be forgotten but that neglecting and ultimately running off the young is not a recipe for the growth of Christianity. I know the older people want nothing to change but when they run their own children and grandchildren out of the church, that is not good.

  5. John says:

    Just a little advice to those who desire to work in the Northeast. Do not use the word “missionary” to describe yourself. The only response you’ll get is a chuckle.

  6. Starling Jerry says:

    John, that is true all over the world, and has been for generations. ‘Missionary’ is a thorough discredited word. I remember hearing George Benson while I was a student at Harding U (class of 1960) talk about his pre-WWII experience as a ‘missionary’ in China. He said his most productive time was when he was teaching in a university there. His friends would introduce him as ‘the American teacher at the university ‘ not as the ‘American missionary’ as they’d done previously. If I had my time in New Zealand over, I would’ve enrolled in a local university, which would’ve opened the door to many contacts and have given more credibility with everyone.

  7. alegler says:

    Mark,
    You would think the older people would care about their kids and grandkids. But it seems they draw a line and and make it us versus them and are too threatened to have an open dialogue with the younger generations. That has been my experience anyway. In more than one church.

  8. We talk a great deal about evangelism and mission. I wonder why no one ever asks the preacher or the elders, “Who is the last unbeliever you personally brought to faith in Jesus? Not someone who was already a church attender, but someone else.” I suspect nobody wants to hear the answer to that question. We keep expecting leaders to lead people somewhere they never go themselves. Good luck with that. What happens more often is that individuals bring others to Jesus and since they come to “our church”, the leaders of our church take the credit and call it “church growth”.

  9. Mark says:

    Alegler,
    No one like to be reminded of his/her mortality but the wise person does estate and incapacitation planning.

  10. alegler says:

    Mark,
    Very true:)

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