Who is leading your church?

By Bob Bickford

Something or someone is leading your church. Knowing what, who and if it is ultimately in line with the Scripture is vital and will impact the church’s faithfulness to the mission of Jesus.

A church rarely experiences a complete and total leadership vacuum. Frequent pastoral transitions, changes within the membership, and departures of key leaders can impact a church’s leadership culture, but every time a change occurs, someone or something fills the void and leads.

In most every case I’ve encountered where a church is in decline, members say and believe that God is leading the church but there are other faces and factors that may be exerting leadership.

A declining church may be led by:

Tradition/History: this typically shows up in a planning committee like the Church Council. Signs include holding the same yearly events, asking; “What did we do last year?” rather than praying about or planning something new. Another sign that tradition is driving the church is a lack of or ineffectively evaluation of ministry or when a church merely repeats what has been done again and again. Tradition and history are good, helpful and even to be celebrated but they do not lead a church into a fresh experience with God.

Avoidance of Conflict: as Christians we are called to live at peace and bear with one another, this is good, honoring to God and a blessing to the body. It may seem odd to say that a peaceful church is led by conflict, but often the fear of the potential of conflict means that a church may choose peace at all costs rather than obedience and faithfulness.

Big Personalities: founding families, strong lay leaders, a church Treasurer, a long tenured Secretary, a board of deacons or the largest financial contributor may well be among the most influential persons in the church. Pastoral authority is often diminished in a declining church—a new Replanter may arrive and realize that while he may have been called as the Pastor—there are other more “influential” pastors.

Dysfunction: in certain rare circumstances a church may have such a historic and epic baggage that getting traction to move in the right direction seems nearly impossible. Persistent gossip, threats in business meetings, and hidden sin each serve to create spiritual landmines that go off when stepped on. Like real landmines these hazards injure and frighten those who are part of the church and they paralyze leaders.

Fear: churches who have experienced decline find themselves at a critical crossroads—something must be done–butif something is done—some may leave. The choice to play it safe in order to keep people may seem wise in the short term but in the end it becomes a crippling vice that guarantees continued decline.

Pragmatism: declining churches might be quick to adopt programmatic solutions that make claims of doubled attendance and offerings in a few easy steps—there is nothing wrong with campaigns or programs but placing faith in what worked or at least was reported to work somewhere else can become like a dog chasing its tail and lead to great discouragement if it fails to work in your church.

Finances: ministry requires money. When in short supply a church can begin making decisions from a scarcity mentality. Replants have many things on which they must spend resources—facilities, décor, physical plant needs all require immediate attention and cannot be overlooked. Spend wisely, but spend trusting God to supply what is invested in kingdom work.

Who and what is leading your church? 

Published January 4, 2017

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick