The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 5 (Developing Resources; Bringing in a Consultant)

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

Developing Resources

The pastor must develop three teams to help him as change agent —

1. A prayer team to bathe the process in continuous prayer.

The pastor communicates regularly what Team One is learning about urgency and vision in order to provide information for prayers. At times the pastors may want to take the team on prayer walks or drives through the community to help them gain vision and see urgency for their prayers. The pastor constantly communicates to this team “big picture” ideas that relate to urgency, vision, mission, change, the community, and the purpose of the congregation (making more disciples for Jesus Christ).

(Kindle Locations 1065-1069).

2. The second team is the Dream Team.

The purpose of this team is to help the pastor develop arguments for urgency and create vision in order to address the urgency. As the team meets and eventually begins to crystallize its ideas, it may help the pastor develop large strategic initiatives to articulate the urgency and implement the vision.

(Kindle Locations 1088-1090).

Avoid the temptation to win over opponents by giving them a representative on the team. It’s fine and perhaps wise to appoint some members who are cautious and deliberate, but not people who oppose the new direction of the church altogether.

3. Team 3 is filled with members being trained to take on leadership roles.

Team Three must be constantly growing. As new people come into the congregation, the pastor must select those God has gifted for leadership to be a part of this team. This team will be the allies when the pastor is leading the battle for systemic change. Therefore, the more these leaders can learn about developing influence with people in the congregation, the better. There will come a day when they will need to use that influence with great skill and wisdom. Additionally, the more leaders a pastor can get to take part in the formal leadership of the congregation (no matter how unmotivating that might be to her or him), the better. This way, the new officers have both a formal and an informal influence when the battle is joined.

(Kindle Locations 1174-1179).

Consultants and Interventionists

Borden points out that most congregations cannot make the necessary changes without the involvement of a consultant (for healthy churches wanting to improve) or an interventionist (for unhealthy churches needing dramatic change). This is so even though the pastor is highly motivated and well trained. Churches need to hear the bad news from an outside expert.

The model has two aspects. The first aspect is the “line in the sand” weekend. The second is a yearlong relationship with an outsider (the consultant or the consultant’s designee) who meets monthly with the leaders of the congregation. …

In many cases, the result at the end of the weekend is to present to the congregation its five greatest strengths, its five greatest concerns, and five prescriptions that require implementation within the next six months. The prescriptions address major systemic changes that if implemented will change the very nature of the congregation. These changes usually involve mission and vision, structure (because such changes will reveal the true values of the congregation), and distribution of leadership (empowering the pastor to lead, though with great accountability).

(Kindle Locations 1535-1545).

In a consultation, the consultant speaks first with the pastor and then the governing board (pulpit minister and elders, in the Church of Christ tribe). He asks hard questions to learn whether the leadership is more concerned with position than results.

In talking with the pastor, if we determine that he or she is the primary reason that the congregation is not growing, I ask whether the pastor is willing to resign. I need to know the pastor’s commitment to this process and how many risks he or she is willing to take. If the pastor is not willing to risk, then the congregation cannot be asked to risk.

(Kindle Locations 1567-1570).

When meeting with the church board, I tell them that if they go through this process, many of them will probably need to vacate their positions because it has generally been under their watch that the congregation has declined. At the same time, I offer them hope that if they follow the methods and systems we suggest and use the tools we provide, they can again be a healthy, growing, effective congregation.

(Kindle Locations 1572-1575).

He then meets with the ministerial staff and a focus group of 20 to 30 members of the congregation, with no leaders included. He asks what they perceive the problems to be and where they’d like to see the church head.

By the end of the weekend, he has a report prepared for the church. He preaches an encouraging message and then meets with the entire congregation with each member receiving a copy of the report.

The report includes the key five strengths of the congregation, the five biggest concerns, and five prescriptions that are sure to address the concerns while building on the strengths.

(Kindle Locations 1597-1599).

Interestingly, in the American Baptist denomination,

We also set goals for the pastor. Pastors in our region are expected to be in pastoral clusters. We often get them a coach as well. And we have them set goals for how they will specifically accomplish certain things by the end of one year.

(Kindle Locations 1608-1609).

The consultant participates with the church for a year or so, attending some board meetings as well as pastoral cluster meetings.

This is exactly how we now do church plants and missions in the Churches of Christ where professional organizations are involved. Studies show that the church planter or missionary needs the support of an experienced coach and the accountability and support of a group.

But we don’t do this for established congregations — not for fear of losing autonomy, but because we just don’t believe in being accountable. And elders aren’t keen on sharing oversight of the preacher with some outside group. Of course, this would work even better in our world if the elders had a coach and a support group. If the elders of three or four nearby churches with similar problems and issues met together under the supervision of an experienced coach, things would go better, wouldn’t they?

Someone might write a hateful letter about bishops and heresy and such, but the church would be far better off if elders could share experiences and learn from each other.

Another benefit of Borden’s approach — mutual accountability between the pastor and the congregation — is that pastors who are abusive or caught up in serious sin will be found out and given an opportunity to obtain counseling and, when necessary, exit gracefully.

Summary

Although Borden’s American Baptist denomination is very different from the Churches of Christ, his methods would seem to be easily adaptable to our situation. The biggest problem is that the Baptists have people on their regional and national staffs to help make all this happen, Rolodexes filled with the names of proven consultants, and institutional memory — that is, they are aware of what happened at other churches and what worked and what didn’t.

In the Churches of Christ model that we call “autonomy” but is really isolation, no one keeps up with churches that try to change and whether they succeed or fail. It’s not even obvious who to call to get the name of a consultant or interventionist who might help.

The Church-affiliated colleges and universities are the closest we have to a denominational structure, and they nearly all have experts on conflict resolution and many are very knowledgeable on church plants. I know of no one who is expert on church revitalization. We may have to find someone from outside our tribe — which is not necessarily awful but no one knows us like we know us — and we are not like anybody else.

So if I were tasked with revitalizing a church, I’d be on the phone the Church universities. I’d call the head of the Bible department or the guy in charge of church relations. And then I’d check track records.

John W. Ellas used to publish a magazine and do church growth consulting among the Churches of Christ through the Center for Church Growth. That organization seems to be defunct. It’s not a good sign when a denomination’s premier church growth organization can’t stay in business.

He actually did a church growth study for my home congregation 20 or more years ago, and I’ve seen the advantages of an outside consultant. He served us very well.

Other resources

Paul Borden has published other books on church growth. I’ve not yet read these, but they are well reviewed on Amazon. Two of these books focus the role of the denomination in transforming congregations. However, Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days: A Daily Guide to Leading Effective Change focuses on the role of the pastor or pulpit minister and offers advice on not just the issues addressed in Direct Hit, but also pastoral time management, preaching, and the like.

In fact, I’d love for some of the readers who preach — or who used to preach — to take a look at Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days: A Daily Guide to Leading Effective Change and share with the readers their take on the book.

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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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4 Responses to The Future of the Churches of Christ: Direct Hit, Part 5 (Developing Resources; Bringing in a Consultant)

  1. I find it interesting that we have to work so hard to encourage our local religion clubs to share the gospel, or to even allow their members to do so. As a former business consultant, I found operations that did not know how to consistently make money, but I never found one who had to be convinced that showing a profit was their actual purpose. Not one owner wanted to stay open for the sake of staying open. But among the religion clubs, the challenge is not so much to show them how to share the gospel, but to awaken them to the reality that their current raison d’etre is about keeping the doors open, and that this is actually getting in the way of doing what God has called us to do.

  2. John says:

    What I believe I see happening within the main stream Church of Christ is, in the realization that its message of nondenominational Christianity did not take the country by storm as once believed a few decades ago, it has settled into being the best Biblical, Southern culture church it can possibly be. That does not mean it has given up on being “scriptural”, but that, in all the societal changes that have take place over the last thirty to forty years, and being located for the most part in the area of the country that sees itself as the nation’s “moral voice”, it has pretty much taken on itself that roll…and it is backfiring.

    Rather than the Jesus of the gospels being the center and focus of its message, Jesus has been reworked and adapted to protect a way of life. Not until the revolutionary Jesus is its banner will the CoC, and the Baptists and few others for that matter, become the city on the hill. When Jesus is used to protect, he is made to look too pretty, too perfect. Those not of the church seem to understand better than us that we all bleed and and are left wounded and scarred, and the city they are looking for is the one full of wounded and healing great physicians.

  3. John says:

    I meant to conclude my first comment, but got too happy on the post comment, using men and women who are very well rounded in education and experience will show great rewards. Well read individuals are not dangerous; especially if they have experienced and tasted reality beyond their own culture and tribe.

  4. Mark says:

    Someone has to believe that there is a problem or else consultants will never get hired. When no one is allowed to say that the congregation has a problem then nothing will ever change. Most of us have seen the television show where Gordon Ramsay goes to the restaurant and attempts to re-imagine it and save it and its owners from bankruptcy. The language may get a bit rough and there may be a lot of blame passed but there is always someone (usually the wife, mother, or one business partner) who realises the restaurant is in trouble. The ending is not always perfect and some restaurants fall back into their old ways within 6 months. That said, there is a time that one church needs to learn from another even if they don’t agree with everything the other church might do.

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