Seven sure-fire ways to blow up a church

Communications Staff — April 16, 2010

By Chuck Lawless, Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary

I served as a church pastor for 14 years, have now served for 12 years as a church consultant and have watched hundreds of students begin their local church ministries during my 14 years as a seminary professor. Based on my observations from these various vantage points, here’s what I would do if I wanted to “blow up” a church.

1. Begin my ministry as a teacher and refuse to be a learner. Seminary does this to us sometimes: we spend three or more years learning, and we are ready to use all of that knowledge in the first few weeks of a new ministry. What we fail to do is listen to the people, get to know them and understand their culture. Consequently, we are viewed more as an outsider than a pastor, and the fault most often lies with us.

2. Assume that the “honeymoon period” as a church leader is the time to make as many changes as possible. Some churches may, in fact, offer no such honeymoon period. Others do need immediate attention, but even those churches do not want to be trampled under significant change. Still others fired the previous pastor for making changes too quickly; in that case, how wise is it to follow the same pattern?

3. Expect to fix everything overnight. We who have grown up in a microwave world assume that everything can be changed quickly — but that is not the case. Most of the church problems that we inherit are long-term issues with roots that run deep in the church. Emotions surround these issues, and we should not expect that such problems will be rooted out and changed quickly.

4. Teach a theological system more than the Bible. Particularly if our theological system is new and fresh for us, we often cannot wait to bring others into our camp. We become more concerned about leading church members to become “____________ists” (you fill in the blank) than we are about leading them to follow Jesus.

5. Study always and seldom “hang out” with people. Study matters, and we cannot neglect our time to focus on God and His Word. At the same time, though, our church members deserve our time and attention. If we only study and set aside no time to develop relationships with members, we will be viewed as distant and uncaring.

6. Blame undiscipled members for acting like believers who have never been discipled. This story is repeated in church after church: its members (including its leaders) have never truly been discipled. They have not been taught how to read the Word, pray without ceasing, reject temptation and tell others about Jesus. They have not learned even basic doctrines simply because no one ever addressed that need. We can either blame them, or we can invest in them and help ground them in the faith.

7. Pray reactively rather than proactively. Most pastors do their best, pray briefly out of habit and more earnestly pray only when they face a situation they cannot solve. Such reactive prayer often shows that we are operating in our own power most of the time. This reality may not necessarily “blow up” the church, but it may leave the church in mediocrity — which may be even worse.

Obviously, our goal is not to blow up the church. Here’s one suggestion to avoid doing so: love the church before you try to change the church. Gain people’s love and respect first by ministering to them, guiding them, praying for them and consistently preaching the Word to them. When they know that you have their best spiritual interests at heart, the church will be much more willing to follow you.

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