Nearly seven years ago I stepped out of serving one local church and into a role designed to serve the broader Church, as one of the vice-presidents at LifeWay Christian Resources. Each year we serve 60,000 plus churches with some type of resource. It has been a deep honor to be in this role and it has given me a bird’s-eye view of how the Lord uses lots of churches to mature and shepherd His people. Here are five lessons I have learned or re-learned over the last seven years.
1. The basics are disproportionately powerful.
For all the innovations and all the new strategies that churches can employ, the basics are disproportionally powerful. For example, every research study I have been a part of that describes how one grows spiritually shows that Bible engagement is the biggest predictor of spiritual maturation. Another example, those who participate in biblical community in a class or group display attributes of discipleship to a much higher degree than those not in a group.
2. Local church ministry is really, really hard.
Weekly I interact with ministry leaders who are carrying the heavy weight of being a pastor. Though the joys are great, so are the burdens. In my role, I am responsible for a lot of employees (incredible folks) and a large budget ($500 million). Yet the weight I felt leading a church was much greater, though the budget and scope were much smaller. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said a pastor is one who is in charge of souls. Being responsible for the souls of others is an incalculable weight on the soul of the pastor.
3. Most church leaders believe their church is more “different” than it is.
If I had a dollar for every time a church leader said, “our culture is just different” or “our challenges are unique because…” I don’t know how many dollars I would have, but it seems like it would be a lot because I hear this all the time. Yes, each church has a unique culture, but the challenges are not that different from church to church. The church leaders that think they are sooo different from everyone else are often wrestling with the same struggles as everyone else: How do we move people from rows to circles? How do we mobilize people for ministry? How do we teach for transformation and not simply behavioral modification?
4. Most churches believe they are friendlier than they are.
I have not yet met a church that thinks they are not friendly, but we know not every church is friendly to guests who visit. What is the disconnect? Church members tend to evaluate friendliness based on their relationships and not on how the church welcomes and expresses hospitality to newcomers.
5. Many churches say they want to serve people who are “younger,” but not really.
It is one thing for a church to say they want to serve the next generation with words, and quite another to back up those words with actions. For example: actions that speak really loudly— handing significant responsibilities to younger leaders and allocating more resources to serving kids and their families.