The problem is it is a whole lot easier for we Senior Pastors to believe that our churches will make it through the desert to see the Promised Land than it is to believe that we’ll be the ones to get them there.
For instance, it snowed again this past Sunday, which capped off our church’s lowest January-February attendance streak in years.
On the way home from church I had a conversation with myself that went something like this…
- I don’t have the extroverted personality needed to lead this church to grow.
- I don’t have the relational skills to lead this church to grow.
- I don’t have the leadership know-how to lead this church to grow.
- I don’t have the confidence to lead this church to grow.
- I don’t have the creativity to lead this church to grow.
- I don’t have the intuition needed to lead this church to grow.
- There are so many other pastors out there who are 100x’s better than me, and if they were in my shoes right now our church wouldn’t be in a slump, the giving wouldn’t be so tight, and people would be more excited about reaching the lost.
How’s that for a tiny little glimpse into the super-awesome conversations most Senior Pastors have with themselves when their churches have plateaued?
Confidence: An Essential For Growth
You want to know what’s funny? Or maybe it’s just sad? I’ve been having that conversation with myself for years.
I had it when I was trying to break the 100 barrier. Then at 200. Then at 400, 600, 800, 1200, 1400, 1600, and now 2,000.
The. Exact. Same. Conversation.
It never goes away.
In the last post I talked about how if you’re going to lead your church to grow that you must believe that it can actually grow. That’s hard to do, for so many reasons. But it can be done.
The harder thing to believe is this: Do I have what it takes to lead my church to grow? It’s one thing to believe our churches can get off dead center. It’s quite another to believe we’re the ones to lead the charge.
Do you believe you have what it takes to take that next hill?
If we’re being honest, many times we don’t.
A Revealing Conversation
As I mentioned in the previous post, years ago I planted a church that zoomed from 150 to 150 in four years.
Once the church plateaued (which happened rather quickly), I became convinced that the fault was mine, so I started studying, well, myself.
I took every personality and behavior test on the market, and soon became convinced that the reason we weren’t growing was because I was an INTJ personality type on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I came to believe that I had the perfect personality type to take over a small Central American country somewhere, but didn’t have the skills needed to pastor a church.
Convinced it was only a matter of time until God saw fit to cast me aside, I called a ministry friend and mentor of mine, Dick Alexander, who, not coincidentally, was an INTJ as well. He had led a fruitful, growing, outreach-focused church for years. I knew he could help me, or at least understand my quandary.
“So here’s the thing Dick,” I told him over lunch. “I suck as a pastor. Literally. I’m just not wired up to do it. People want everything that I’m not. I’m an INTJ trying to fit into an ENFJ “extroverted—warm and fuzzy—get everybody together and hug” pastoral role. People want everything that I’m not.”
I paused, waiting for him to join me in my pity party. It never came.
“Well INTJ’s don’t make very good husbands and fathers either,” Dick shot back in his deep guttural voice. “Are you going to quit your family and the ministry?”
“Well, um, of course not.”
Then he leaned over and said something I’ll never forget,
Every pastor has something about them that they think makes them unfit to be truly effective in ministry. Every single one. God does that so that we’ll learn to rely on him.
That one piece of advice kept me from sending out law school applications.
Believe You Have What It Takes
Let me share five things I’ve learned that have helped me quiet the self-defeating dialogue in my head:
1. You don’t need to get out of ministry. You just need to transition your congregation to become a different kind of church. I tell Senior Pastors I coach that they don’t focus on changing themselves. They need to focus on changing the church culture so they can lead within your sweet spot.
2. Every church plateaus. No church can maintain continuous growth. Plateaus are God’s way of allowing us time to regroup, rethink our strategy, rally the troops, marshal the resources, then take the next hill.
3. Throw away your pastoral theology books. They will only try to make you fit into a preconceived pastoral mold. Your church will grow if you focus on the five things that never leave a Senior Pastor’s plate: leadership development, preaching, evangelism, generosity, and personal growth. But you must tackle those core priorities through your own unique style and perspective. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
4. Buffer your mind and heart from the soul-numbing affects of cyclical attendance patterns. The best way to do that is to develop interests outside of the church. That way when the church isn’t doing so well, you can still get excited about one of your other interests. One byproduct of outside interests is that over time you’ll develop strong enough ego boundaries so that when slumps hit, and they will, you’ll focus on fixing the church and not constantly second-guessing yourself.
5. Ask the right question. The question we need to ask ourselves is not, “Can I lead my church to grow?” but, “Can God use me to help his church grow?” Big difference. Jesus wants your church to grow more than you do, so put your focus on God instead of your own personal limitations. One leads to sleeping well at night. The other leads to Xanax prescriptions.
The simple fact is you have what it takes.
God has brought you to that church for a reason. Take your hands off the escape hatch lever, put them back on the steering wheel, pick up your cross, and get the job done. You may need coaching, but you don’t need to find a new church or leave the ministry.
God believes in you, and so do I.
The bad news is that after 25 years of ministry I still occasionally experience self-defeating conversations on the way home from a bad Sunday. The good news is that instead of those conversations lasting days, they now only last a few minutes.
The pity party is over. Snow or no snow, let’s roll up our sleeves. We’ve got eternal work to do.
Do you believe you can lead your church to grow?