God wants every church to prevail. He wants there to be a vitality and a movement from strength to strength. All of heaven is cheering for it to happen in our churches. So, the question I posed above - if God's glory is at stake and He wants every one of His churches to prevail - then what do we as church leaders need to get better at to help our churches do what God wants them to do?
Based on my three decades in ministry and many of my travels to churches around the world, I offer the following observations. I can honestly say that in every church I have seen eventually prevail, I have witnessed leaders who have gotten good at these kinds of things.
How does a church that is existing at one level of reality ever get to a higher level? Somebody has to stand up in front of that group of people and say, "Hey gang, there is a better future out there. We're here. The future God has for us is out there, and I believe that in His power and by His strength, we can move there!" That's what vision casting is. It is absolutely critical toward helping a church reach its redemptive potential, and every leader has to learn how to do it. You have to be able to say, "Imagine the day when ..." and then paint a picture of the future that creates passion in people. If you do that well, peoples' hearts get set toward the achievement of that vision.
BUILD GREAT TEAMS
When someone casts a compelling vision and gets people excited about it, they're going to have to build great teams to support that vision. You simply can't build a prevailing church unless you build great teams. Once you decide what type of team you're going to build, you look for people's experience and passion. You look for people who want to get involved and you challenge them. You try to align people by their own gifts so they are doing a part of the vision that excites them and breathes energy into them. I have never seen a church reach its full redemptive potential unless there were fired-up people doing the work of God in teams. All Willow Creek really is a big church made up of thousands of little teams, with leaders, with a focus, with a purpose, and people who are fired up to work together.
PUT ON GREAT SERVICES
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be shocked how many churches are struggling to get this one right. I've never seen a church go from strength to strength and reach its full redemptive potential unless some team inside that church decided that their part of the vision from God was to put on really, really good services - the best they are capable of putting on.
During my summer breaks, I attend a little church that puts on really bad services. Not long ago, this church of about 30 - down from about 75 at its zenith - had a guest speaker come in. He got all pumped up and said, "This church is going to be under the new blessing of God. Not only are we going to take our neighborhood; not only are we going to take our city; not only are we going to take our state; not only are we going to take our country, we are going to take our world!" I was sitting in the back row looking at people half asleep thinking, "We can't even put on a decent service. We're no threat to the world! We can't choose four songs and get them right. We can't do a Scripture reading creatively. We can't put a single video together. We are not taking the world. Are we kidding ourselves?"
It is worth your church's effort to build a team of people that meets minimally 90 minutes a week to simply pray, brainstorm, go through flip charts, and ask, "How can we make next Sunday's service fantastic? Can we read the Scripture a different way? Can we sing songs a little bit differently? How can we raise the engagement level? What prop can the pastor use to make something a little more interesting? How can we make it more memorable?" Lest we forget, services matter! Music matters, drama matters, creativity matters, preaching matters, and making the preaching relevant and creative really matters.
Your church will never reach its full Kingdom potential until you get good at raising resources. When I was just starting ministry, the great theologian, R.C. Sproul asked me, "Bill, how much ministry can you do with a hundred dollars?" When I said I didn't know, he replied, "About a hundred dollars' worth." He proceeded to tell me that it takes money to generate ministry and if you want to generate just a little bit of ministry then just raise a little bit of money. But if you would like to generate even more ministry you are going to have to generate more resources, and you'd better stop being apologetic about it and realize that it takes money to launch visions. It takes money to feed the hungry and to resource the poor. It takes money to build a children's ministry. It takes money to have a thriving student ministry in your church. It takes money to do these great things that we would all like to see our churches do. Pastors and church leaders have to get over their hang-up about this and teach about what the Bible says about raising resources and cast vision that makes people want to give.
I've talked a lot about this in the past few years, and I continue to believe very strongly that if you are going to build a prevailing church that is going to go from strength to strength over the long haul and give God glory, you're going to have to take the long haul approach. That means your leaders have to take care of themselves and each other. This is the only way to ensure you will sustain the ministry joyfully over a long period of time.
Self leadership is the leader's ability to navigate the highs and lows of ministry. It's the ability to overcome personal discouragement, to maintain sober-mindedness in crisis, to keep ego at bay at all times, and to stay focused on the life mission. It's the discipline to continually ask the questions: Is my calling sure? Is my vision clear? Is my passion burning hot? Don't allow yourself to go into peril because you didn't take the time to regroup, recalibrate, take appropriate time off, retreat spiritually, and refresh your soul.
My prayer is that we'll all take some of the ideas above seriously and that we'd continue to challenge ourselves to pour all we've got into the Bride of Christ. Let's learn to cast compelling visions, to build great teams, to put on great services, to raise resources, to do self leadership that can drive us to the kind of vision that has heaven cheering us on from one end to the other.