Deal with Problems in Your Church by Speaking of Current Reality and Future Possibility

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post called“Assessing the State of Your Church and How it Got There.” I looked at a few business and leadership books and then considered some ways their advice might apply to a local church. I concluded with this word of warning:

Don’t miss the importance of learning “what time it is” for a church and how it has progressed to this point.

If the church culture has stifled honest conversations about the current realities and challenges, people will begin to shield the leader from “grim facts” for fear of being criticized or penalized for telling the truth. Then, once the “brutal facts” are ignored, the organization suffers and, sometimes, dies.

Of course, the next question is: Okay, now what? If I’ve prayerfully and honestly assessed the state of my church and how it got here, how do I move forward with my congregation?

I would sum up the next steps in two phrases: tell the truth and face the future.

Tell the Truth

Helping others see the urgency of the situation is important in communicating what must change.

In the business world, John Kotter says the biggest mistake leaders make as they seek to implement changes in an organization is to move forward without establishing a sense of urgency. In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins warns that simply communicating facts is not enough to stimulate change. In declining organizations, he writes,

“there is a tendency to discount or explain away negative data rather than presume something is wrong with the company; leaders highlight and amplify external praise and publicity.”

A Burning Platform

How should communication of the state of the organization take place?

Kotter recommends a “burning platform.” This refers to the ability of a leader to communicate the truth that complacency in the organization is the real danger, not change. People in the organization will not sense this to be true until they realize they are on a “burning platform” in which fire starts on the floor beneath their feet, spreads around them, and eventually forces them away from the status quo.

In other words, the leader must communicate the true state of the organization and help others view the reality of the present situation and the dangers on the horizon if the organization fails to make the proper changes. The pastor has more of a “burning platform” than any mere business or secular organization. We believe in the reality of hell, the urgency of evangelism, and the success of God’s mission through His Spirit.

Some business books go so far as to recommend a new leader “create” a crisis, if necessary, in order to implement changes quickly. For example, Kotter believes since crises are always rising, a real leader should “create artificial crises” and make use of them rather than waiting for a true crisis to come along. Such a strategy is unacceptable for the Christian leader. The Christian who understands the reality of the current situation must communicate the truth; manufacturing crises for the sake of implementing change is unethical and manipulative.

Face the Future

A leader who knows “what time it is” organizationally will not only diagnose the current situation and communicate the “brutal facts,” but the leader will also envision the future of the organization and take measures to pursue the path forward.

A Plan of Action

Prescription is vital, which is why a plan of action must be set forth. If the leader focuses only on the urgency of the situation, people are likely to fall into despair rather than move forward with an optimistic outlook. Description of the bad and prescription of the solution are both necessary.

The timing of implementing changes is important. Reggie McNeal warns: “The right issue tackled at the wrong time faces certain defeat.” However, most of the time, the right issue is determined by the trail the leader is blazing toward the future.

Be Clear

The vision of the future must be clear, which is why leaders who know “what time it is” organizationally will be relentless in the pursuit of clarity, both for themselves and the people they lead. Without clarity regarding changes, people will disagree on the direction, perhaps due to confusion or questions about the necessity of the decisions.

Church consultant Will Mancini synthesizes several definitions of clarity:

It means being free from anything that obscures, blocks, pollutes, or darkens. Being clear as a leader means being simple, understandable, and exact. The leader helps others see and understand reality better. Leaders constantly bring the most important things to light: current reality and future possibility, what God says about it and what we need to do about it.

Clarity must include not only the win, but also the path to the envisioned future. The Christian leader must know “what time it is” organizationally and be able to communicate the present reality and the path toward to the desired future.

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Trevin Wax

Trevin Wax

My name is Trevin Wax. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. My wife is Corina, and we have two children: Timothy (7) and Julia (3). Currently, I serve the church by working at LifeWay Christian Resources as managing editor of The Gospel Project, a gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages that focuses on the grand narrative of Scripture. I have been blogging regularly at Kingdom People since October 2006. I frequently contribute articles to other publications, such as Christianity Today. I also enjoy traveling and speaking at different churches and conferences. My first book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, was published by Crossway Books in January 2010. (Click here for excerpts and more information.) My second book, Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope(Moody Publishers) was released in April 2011.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

Clarity Process

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