Leadership. In virtually every area of life, people want to grow in their leadership. In fact, today there are more books, blogs, podcasts, conferences, and other resources focused on leadership than any other time in history. Typically, these resources focus on such areas as how to communicate a clear and compelling vision, how to put together and develop a well-thought-out strategy, and how to identify and develop those who will follow the vision and strategy we create.
There are helpful nuggets here, no doubt. But when it comes to leadership in the church, rarely do these various resources offer much pertaining to the unique challenges faced by pastors called to lead change in the context of a plateaued or declining church — a church often filled with folks who have no real desire to make the changes necessary to turn their church around.
What is a pastor to do? How do we lead change in an effective, yet healthy and God-honoring manner in these congregations?
First Things First: Who Has the Power?
As with any struggling organization, in order to lead change effectively, we must first determine who or what holds the power, authority and greatest influence in a congregation. Remember this: whoever or whatever has the most authority and greatest influence in a church is the “force” that actually makes change a reality. We can have the greatest vision, the clearest strategy, the finest programs and the best communication and still not be effective in leading change in a healthy way, if power and authority lie in the wrong place or in the wrong hands.
Here are a few examples of where power and authority is often found in dying churches:
- In a difficult group of disgruntled church members
- In a broken committee that is no longer effective but still has power and authority
- In a tradition of some kind (whatever that tradition is)
- In the programs the church was committed to during their “glory days” as a congregation
- In a former beloved pastor and “the way he did things”
- In outdated by-laws
I could go on and on. The point is this: If the ultimate power and authority in a church lies in any of these, change will be very difficult to lead. Difficult enough that long-haul, sustainable healthy change will most likely not happen. The truth is, the large majority of declining churches fall into this category. The power and authority is in the wrong place, which is one of the contributing factors for why they find themselves in the spot they are in.
Is there any hope to turn this around?
Let me just say, I do believe there is hope. However, something significant must happen. While it may sound obvious on the surface, I believe the only way to lead long-haul, sustainable, healthy change in a context like this is to establish or re-establish the Bible as the sole and final authority in every area of a church’s life, ministry and mission. Someone might ask, “But don’t these churches already believe in the power and authority of the Bible?” Yes and no. While many dying churches say they believe in the power and authority of the Bible, functionally the Scripture has very little influence in the life and decision making of the congregation.
A dying congregation that no longer holds to the Bible as the inspired Word of God, sufficient and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice, will be very difficult, if not impossible, to revitalize. Why? Because the Lord speaks through His Word. His Word has power, not only to transform the lives of individuals, but to transform congregations. Whether it be through preaching the Word each and every week, or seeking to align the ministry strategies and church leadership structures with biblical truth, if the congregation is not committed to the Bible as the authority, you have a big problem.
In the next post, we will dive deeper into how to establish the Bible as the true authority in your church.
This post originally appeared on Mark’s blog, Preach Lead Love.
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Published March 9, 2021