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Category: Growing Church

Christian Leadership Matters: When What We Do Doesn’t Work (Part 2)

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Growing Church, Purpose, and Team Building

(Part 2 of 2)

After spending months preparing a comprehensive strategic plan for my congregation. . .  after a LOT of research, prayer, and entertaining deep thoughts, I presented my grand plan to the congregation. I was having a great time at this congregation. The people were (and presumably still are) a delightful bunch. We all enjoyed many hours of mutual joy and substantive Christian fellowship. So, it was with great expectation that I made my presentation. They LOVED it — (“of course,” I thought to myself). They really did love it. The problem? Their response was: “That’s a GREAT plan, Pastor, go ahead and do that!


This speaks to the question I posited last week,  What is a 21st Century North American Christian To Do? I can’t, in all honesty, blame them. There was something lacking in my leadership. Perhaps there were many “somethings” wrong! After months of self blame and self loathing, ultimately I embraced for myself what I suggested to you last week, to  Remember and Re-evaluate:

Remember: The ministry is not yours but God’s.

Remember: You are also a child of God.

Remember: Your limitations.

Reevaluate Your Course.

Reevaluate Your Priorities.

Once one remembers and reevaluates, what activities should almost every Christian congregation be doing that will help us fulfill the Great Commission? What are those activities my congregation is able to successfully engage in, something even “I” can effectively manage? Here is what I have discovered:

Sacrifice. Our culture has, for the most part, tamed the Biblical concept of sacrifice. North Americans live in the wealthiest society in history where sacrifice seems mysterious and extreme. In ancient times people were very familiar with sacrifice. In Biblical times, God’s people were regularly called on to offer their prize-winning breeding animal or their best seed-crop.  Instead of easing up, Jesus intensifies this call of God; we are to be a “living sacrifice” which makes sacrifice exceedingly personal. And there’s nothing more personal than the sacrifice of God; who gave us His own Son and while we were yet sinners, sent Jesus to die for us! There is a strong connection between sacrifice and Kingdom growth.

Sacrifice is an act of faith. If our ministry is to grow in a God-pleasing manner, we will need to become familiar with sacrifice. Growing Christian ministry is not centered on convenience and left-overs. Questions we need to ask include: What do we value above anything? What should we do LESS of? What changes in attitudes or behaviors will honor God? Am I (are we) willing to give as Christ has given to us?

Five Specific Ministry Concepts Growing Ministries Fully Embrace.

Have you noticed that mission congregations attract people who, on average, give more time and money than do people in more established congregations? When I was in a mission congregation, the average giving-per-person was almost double the average giving in more established congregations. Additionally, the average person gave a LOT more time-per-week than the typical member found in older congregations. There are a number of reasons for this, but nothing keeps established congregations from becoming more “mission-like” in their ministry approach. In fact, it is my opinion that every congregation must be very mission-minded, and here are a few concepts that will help:

  1. Manage Change. It’s possible to change and NOT grow, but it’s not possible to grow and NOT change! Change happens with or without our consent, so, we may as well embrace it. Better yet, manage change. How can we manage change?
  2. Expect change. I had a guy come to the church door one day that said he hadn’t been in church in 30 years but he was thinking about coming back; but, he wanted to make sure nothing had changed in 30 years he was gone. I know of no organization that survives remaining unchanged for 30 years. God’s Word is the same, but our culture sure isn’t. . .  expectations change. . . needs change. . . expressions of faith even change in some ways (I remember my Pastor in the 1960’s refused to allow a piano in the sanctuary!).
  3. Be Proactive. Being proactive doesn’t mean you need to be on the “bleeding edge” of trends, but Christian Leaders need to listen, become a student of culture, find ways for people to express their love for God and one another in fresh ways (that still please God). Regardless of what you might think about non-denominational churches, they have certainly found a place in our culture. What is it about the new mega-churches that touch people’s hearts? Listen, pray, plan, be open to changes that honor God and bless His people.
  4. Bless Change. Establish a congregational culture where change is encouraged, but as a Christian Leader, be PART of the discussion. Not every change is good, so be discerning, but find ways to bless any attempt to honor God and edify His people.
  5. Evaluate Change. Give change a chance but seek agreement to evaluate results. Every decision has consequences and there are often unintended consequences. After a trial, evaluate whether the change is ultimately a good one or whether it ought to be modified further.


  1. Offer Multiple Ways to Connect. Church has always been and always will be about relationships; our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. People NEED to belong, that’s how God created us. A congregation that makes connecting difficult will be in decline. Start new groups on a regular basis. It is socially VERY difficult for a new person to enter a room full of people that already know one another well. New people must be invited and quickly and easily made part of the family.

Find ways for non-members and non-Christians to participate. For many this might sound odd or even wrong, but I believe it is not only effective, but Godly. We’re not talking about changing the criteria for becoming a member, but we must establish sanctified places and events where members develop relationships with non-members and non-Christians. Ask yourselves, how do people typically come to know Jesus? Well, I know the proper theological answer is that the Holy Spirit, connected with God’s Holy Word convicts hearts and brings people to the cross. Absolutely true; but usually God uses a weak and flawed vessel to carry His Word and Spirit, people such as you and me.

Similarly, substantively and intentionally minister to people in your community. Listen a LOT to people in your portion of the mission field. I know of missionaries that go into a culture without knowing the language at all, yet, over time, they learn the language and many people come to know Jesus. Your mission field — even in the suburbs — is no different. Listen, get to know people, find out how to pray for them, serve them as God directs. Learn their language (could be an actual language such as Spanish or Korean, but learn also their culture, what they value, fear, worship, despise, etc.). Develop substantive relationships with people without regard to what they might do for you, but consider what Christ will do for them.

New group ideas are plentiful: new members, seekers, parenting, newly single, youth, ESL, various music groups, all kinds of Bible Study groups, confirmation, finance and budgeting, preparing for retirement, marriage preparation, reading the classics, and (if you are courageous) political discussion groups — just to name a few. The potential is infinite; when you get to know your mission field, you’ll know what to offer. The point is, OFFER SOMETHING to get people involved in dialog.

Growing congregations are always starting new groups.

  1. A Culture of Invitation.  While serving a mission congregation “Sara” and her kids came to Church one Sunday morning. Even though Sara didn’t know ANYONE in the congregation, she went around introducing herself and her kids to EVERYONE. Sara was the last person to leave the Church campus that day, and on her way out she said: “Wow, this is the friendliest congregation I’ve ever been to!” When Sara and her family joined this small but growing congregation, EVERYTHING got a LOT better. Although we weren’t the friendliest congregation before Sara, we certainly were after she arrived.

Growing congregations cultivate people like Sara and they create an atmosphere of invitation. The “Sara’s” of the world make life worth living, they bring joy and encouragement wherever they go.

Invite people to get involved, don’t assume people “just know,” about a Bible Study or where the donuts are, invite them. Make it personal by inviting people to go WITH you and encourage other members to invite in the same way. Invite people to a deeper commitment as well. My racquetball partner just recounted the story of how he became and Elder (some 40 years ago); someone invited him to a deeper commitment to Christ and service. Although he was hesitant at first, he began to realize God’s calling through those invitations and said “yes!”. Although it might seem inefficient, God often uses people to do the inviting and encouraging!

  1. Disciple People.  The Great Commission of Jesus is to “make disciples,” not “make members” of all people groups. Growing congregations raise disciples; people growing into Christian leaders, people who place Jesus first in all things, people intently engaged in spiritual growth and ministry deployment.

Yet, most congregations focus on membership rather than discipleship. Why? There are, no doubt, many reasons, but here are a few reasons I’ve thought of:

Discipleship is difficult. There are no two people the same, so we can’t easily use an “off the shelf” discipleship program that works for everybody. (There are many materials that are useful, of course; it’s just that we live in a custom world and often have only off-the-shelf resources.) This means that in order to disciple people, we must be in close relationship with them as individuals. It’s a LOT easier to teach a group than disciple a few.

Most were not trained to Disciple. We ARE trained to teach, preach, lead groups large and small. But few schools and systems teach Biblical discipleship. The easy answer, of course, is to just do what St. Paul did. The difficulty with that simple answer:  to learn to disciple someone we need to be discipled ourselves. Few of us were ever discipled.

Discipleship requires vulnerability. Part cultural and part fear: I have usually preferred a “professional distance” between me and those in the congregation. When we add the word “professional,” emotional distance seems almost noble, but it is not! Christian Leaders are called to be open, allow others to see our good, bad, and even the ugly — to “live out loud” where people will hear our genuine confession and our ache for absolution. Christianity is a life of vulnerability, and that can be unsettling to say the least.

Growing Churches disciple the few, as did Jesus. Those few, in turn, disciple others who later disciple still others. How did the first-century Church grow? To a large part by people becoming both a disciple of Jesus and one who disciples others.

  1. Action Orientation. It is easy to become complacent in a congregation based on “knowing” stuff and not “doing” stuff. Christian Leadership is a call to rally the Church Militant; we are to call people to action. That action might be confession and to hear God’s Word, but it is also a call to much more. By definition, a call to action cannot be a call to “maintain.” [Being an “old time Pastor” I am sensitive to those who’s health or circumstances prevent marching with the Church Militant; at the same time we cannot build a growing congregation solely on those with special needs or those who resist commitment.] Most people in your congregation already know enough to share Jesus with someone else. Most people have enough data (after 20 or 30 years) to TEACH a Bible class. Your Confirmands already have more knowledge about the Bible and about the Christian faith than most college students. After a certain point, learning should be related to the need to address new ministry situations, not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Where possible, establish a call to action; then anticipate a response from those you lead.

It would be cool if someone could just write an article called something like: “Ten Things to Do To Guarantee Ministry Success” and have it work!  Alas, that’s not how things work. I do stand by what I’ve written, but also know the severe limitations of my puny words. God, however, will lead His people. So, what’s more important than anything I have written is the fact that first and foremost, we must strive to know God as we are known by Him. That, of course, takes an eternity, but through His Word, we can know and practice NOW everything we need to know. I will end this article with words from St. Paul: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:11-13)”


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at:


Christian Leadership Matters: When What We Do Doesn’t Work (Part 1)

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Growing Church, Professional Church Worker Experiences, and Purpose

(Part 1 of 2)

Being a Professional Church Worker in the 21st century can be stressful. There are more people than ever in North America that, when asked about their religious preference, respond with “none.” Many congregations are trying to “do more with less,” and consider themselves lean and mean (in a nice way, of course). Where ministry staff was once 15, five remain. Sunday School volunteer numbers have shrunk with the kids. And for many congregations that once depended on quality (or at least competent) pipe-organ-led worship now download hymns and liturgy from the cloud and lead worship by iPad.

But, before we get too mired in self-absorbed sorrow: even facing negative 21st century mega-trends, we most certainly have it a LOT better than most Christian that have ever lived. We haven’t (yet) been stoned for sharing the Gospel in public places; I know of no one in North America that has been arrested for being a Christian; I have no personal stories of persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, nor have I engaged in sword-fights on account of practicing my Christian faith.

In other countries, yes! Even as I write this there are Christians being put to the sword, lose everything for the sake of the Gospel, whose children are kidnapped, houses burned, Christians who’s very lives are taken in the most gruesome way imaginable. Sisters and brothers in Christ, a vast majority of us do not have it so bad.

But even if we did have it bad, consider God’s word through St. Paul in Romans 8:31ff “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . .Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . .No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” [ESV]

I’m not trying to minimize the stress we do have; I feel it, everyone who is passionate about reaching people in the name of Jesus feels it. I’ve been at meetings where everyone’s hair is in fire because things aren’t going well for their particular ministry. Everyone who cares about people and the Great Commission can’t help but feel concern when reviewing reports of declining numbers in the ministries we serve. So, my next question is:

What is a 21st Century North American Christian To Do?

I write about Christian Leadership (hence the overall title: Christian Leadership Matters). There are steps leaders can take to address the needs and challenges our ministries face. Those steps will be divided into two articles. This week I will focus on two ideas: Remember and Re-evaluate. Next week’s article will focus on five specific ministry concepts growing congregations fully embrace. First: Remember and Re-evaluate:

Remember: The ministry is not yours but God’s. As smart and as charismatic as you may be, you have never converted anyone! Your winsome personality and hard work has never redeemed anyone; your ability to persuade and create inspiring worship has never turned a lost soul from the road to perdition. That’s all God’s job; something God has declared as His to accomplish; central to God’s creative, redeeming, ongoing miracle.

Remembering who owns The Ministry has been very helpful to me many times over the years. One wise Pastor informed my thinking by saying: “If you are going to take the blame for declining numbers of people in your ministry, you must, to be consistent, take the credit for those being saved as well.Jesus brings people to the cross, I’m called to point people to Jesus.

At the same time, we’re not irrelevant to God’s redemptive plan. God has always called men and women to share in His redemptive process and faithfully connect His Word to hurting hearts. Our weak, inwardly-bent self is redeemed and made strong. Our eyes are re-focused on other people for whom Christ died. And God invites and empowers us to share everything with His Son, to even share in His redemptive invitation. Our words and our actions and our attitudes can be so enamored with Christ that other people cannot help but be drawn to the Jesus they see in us.

Remember: You are also a child of God. Although we are just as flawed as anyone, we are also included in the lavish love of our God. When we share Christ with someone, it is not possible to NOT be filled with hope in Christ. Jesus came for “them,” but (thank God), “them” is also “me.”

Remember: Your limitations. God created His people with many limitations. One of those limitations is that we need rest, sleep, laughter, family time, encouragement, some time to do those things that give us joy. Even God took a day off after working six.  (The Sabbath is God’s gift, not an additional obligation.) Your ministry will not be “successful” by your own efforts anyway, but by the might strength of God and His Word-made-flesh.

Reevaluate Your Course. An important principle of life is this: if you fail to manage your own life well, you will be at the mercy of random events and aggressive or needy people will toss you about and chew you up. You will not like that life.

Life can be complicated. All the more for those called to leadership positions, unless we immerse ourselves in the person and purpose of our Lord Jesus. Although being a Christian will likely only complicate your life on the one hand, there is ultimately only good news: You also have the infinite resources of an eternal God. Infinite always wins over chaos.

As we re-evaluate our lives and and our Call, we must know our “WHY.” Why are you a Professional Church Worker? Why did you take on Christian leadership? What is the “why” that motivates you to dedicate your life to Jesus? If you know your “Why,” you can endure almost any “What” that comes your way. To make this article a little more succinct (and readable), to read more about the “Why,” I will refer you to an earlier article called: “No Matter What, Know Your Why.”

Reevaluate Your Priorities. Just as with individuals, organizations (non-profit, businesses, schools, congregations) need to ask WHY questions as well. So, on this point, I’m making a shift from the leader to the ministry you lead. (Next week’s article will focus on five practical principles that that will help your ministry grow.) Evaluate your existing priorities and re-evaluate where needed. Ask: Why does your school exist? What does your ministry bring to the world that a million other (better funded) ministries don’t already offer? To what has God called your ministry specifically?

I think I could accurately predict your personal values by an audit of how you spend your time and how you spend your money. (I could get an even better picture if I also reviewed the books you read and the TV/Movies you watch.) The same principle holds regarding your ministry or business: To determine what your ministry values, evaluate how you budget and how the people in the organization spend their time. What gets “rewarded” and what gets “punished?” (Or, what gets celebrated and what gets ignored.)

There are no hard and fast rules regarding how much you spend on what. For example,  buildings usually cost a LOT more than developing relationships with the people of your community yet relationships are much more important to God than buildings. But it’s not wrong to invest in buildings and as expensive as they are, buildings are quite valuable to the ministry. That’s where wisdom comes in. But ask: What does your school or church truly value? What ministry, program, building, or practice would cause division if someone tampered with it? If a first-time visitor listens to the announcements, would they be inspired and invited to get involved or would they feel unneeded and unwanted? Is your ministry inward-focused or outward focused?

Part 1 Summary

To Remember means to re-immerse yourself in God’s call to be His daughter or son, to be a child of God FIRST and experience the reality of that relationship before trying to be a leader. To Re-evaluate means to lead from a “fellow-redeemed” perspective, to prioritize everything in your life and in your ministry from Top Down (where God is the One on Top). Sounds easy (and it is on paper) but sin corrupts and kneeling at the cross revives. As always, if you would like to discuss this, email me and we can set up a time to talk.

Next week, part 2, Five Specific Ministry Concepts Growing Ministries Fully Embrace. Between part 1 and part 2 I will have outlined some very specific concepts on what to do When What We Do Doesn’t Work. Until next week. . . .


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at: