I started to recall all the experiences I've had with literally hundreds of churches throughout the world. I recalled the faces of the battle-weary pastors who wondered aloud whether or not it was all worth it, and I sympathised deeply with the numerous challenges that were unique to their particular community or part of the world.
And then I recalled some of the things I learned having been around Washington DC. I became very aware of what our government leaders can and cannot do. They can write some laws and change some broad legislative actions but they can't change the nature of the human heart.
They cannot take a fundamentally hateful person and turn him or her into a fundamentally loving person. They cannot take someone who is unconcerned about the poor and make them concerned about the poor.
That transforming work is distinctly the work of Christ as a result of the gospel message being proclaimed through local churches. If that's true, I thought, then there's a whole lot more riding on this thing we call church leadership than meets the eye.
In a moment of personal clarity, I began to understand the "Kingdom math" in a way I hadn't before. The new "equation" - if you will - raised the stakes for me and helped fuel my already white-hot passion for helping church leaders in the world's most important mission.
It goes something like this: If you change a church leader, you change a church. If you change a church, you can change a community. If you change enough churches in that community, you can change a region, a nation, and eventually the world.
Change a Leader, Change a Church
If you're ever going to change a church, a church leader will have to change from having a fuzzy vision (or no vision) to a clear and hot vision. They'll have to change from a protecting ground mentality to a taking new ground mentality. They'll have to change from merely presiding over a church to energising,empowering, and unleashing a church. A huge change has to occur in the heart, mind and skills of a leader in order for the rest of the equation to make sense.
A leader who has experienced that kind of change can then effect change in their church by changing it from a vision-free church to a vision-focused church and from a passive, spectator-orientated environment to an engaged, activistic environment.
A church whose top value used to be comfort and convenience will turn into one that thrives on commitment and mission achievement, and a church mired in lethargy will transform into one that pulsates with passion.
Change a Community
Every church is called in Scripture to effect its community. That is the "salt and light" concept referred to in Matthew 5. It is the feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide resources for the poor, love thy neighbour, relieve oppression, change inequitable structures, and be a conscience to the community concept.
But that doesn't happen automatically. Once a church is energised in all the right ways by the power of the gospel and the unquenched Spirit working in the congregation's life, then that energy has to be focused. So many churches consider "success" the aggregating of ever-increasing numbers of people. But that is only one measurement, and, in some cases, not even a good measurement of effectiveness. A much better measurement of effectiveness is how many people in the church are envisioned and equipped to bring Christ to their arena of influence. How many bring the power of the gospel into where they work, live, and play golf, and into the neediest areas of the community?
If you are going to change the world, the world changes one block at a time, one neighbourhood at a time, one community at a time. Until you are effecting your community you are never going to change the world.
Change a Region, Change a Nation
What I have observed is that if there is one lead church or one pace-setting church in a community it tends to inspire the behaviour of other churches. Then, the collective membership of those on-fire churches really do effect a community enough for it to begin to effect its region, its county, and then its state, country, and world.
I was in a community recently where there is quantifiable evidence that the crime rate has gone down in an area where a whole bunch of churches have gathered together. I also think of the efforts of Jim Tomberlin, one of our pastors here at Willow. When he used to lead a church in Colorado Springs, he initiated a network of like-minded Colorado Springs churches that decided they were going to do their best to eradicate homelessness from the metropolitan Colorado Springs area, and they made substantial progress on that front.
Then there's Matthew Barnett, pastor of The Dream Center in downtown Los Angeles. Through the collected efforts of many church leaders in that area, they established neighbourhood ministries in a concentrated urban area that have dramatically affected homelessness, unemployment, and hunger. That has effected their neighbourhoods and continues to spread through their region.
Change the World?
During a recent interview, a reporter asked if it's reasonable to believe that something as deep and pervasive as worldwide transformation can actually be traced back to a church leader. My answer then, and now, is yes. To seriously consider the alternative - pessimism and a "why-try?" attitude - is unconscionable for a serious-minded Christian.
I have to be able to wake up every day and say, "It is possible for a church to change, and it is possible that a community can change, and the world can change."
I believe it is possible by faith. I believe it is going to take far more than just me and far more than just my lifetime. Mostly what I am trying to do is to set the strategy for something that may take us another 50 years to achieve. But it is possible, and necessary. We are mandated to do it and the alternative - giving up -is unthinkable.
I want to focus my expendable, disposable income, an inordinate amount of my time and my energy toward the first domino in the world-change equation: Pastors. Because we are never going to see the end result unless we trip that first domino.
Leaders ask me all the time, "Now that I know who I am and what I was born to do, now what?" And my answer is consistently the same: Take responsibility for your own leadership development. Be the best leader you can possibly be. Read everything on leadership you can possibly read, go to leadership workshops and conferences, find a leader who is ahead of you and get mentored, and continue to lead at the highest level you can lead.
Do all these things not because you'll add numerical growth to your church, earn a higher degree of respect from your peers, or because it might add a few more abbreviations to your title. Do them because the One who redeemed you didn't make a mistake when He entrusted you with the gift of leadership. Do them because the alternative is unthinkable. Do them because it's the single greatest contribution a leader can make toward the equation that can eventually change the world.
Reprinted with permission from WILLOW magazine