How to Repair a Church in Mid-Flight

How to Repair a Church in Mid-Flight

(Apology:  For the places where I have occasionally mixed my metaphors in this piece, readers may want to know that this is my spiritual gift . Thank you very much.)

Smiley Anders, humor columnist for the New Orleans Advocate, ran this story this week.

An automobile mechanic was removing the cylinder head from an engine when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in the customer area.  “Hey, doc,” he called. “Want to take a look at this?”

The eminent physician walked over. The mechanic said, “Look at this engine, Doc.  I opened its heart, removed the valves, repaired or replaced anything damaged, then put everything back in place. And when I finished, it worked like new.”

“So, how is it I make $64,000 a year and you make a million when we’re both doing the same work?”

The cardiologist said, “Try doing it with the engine running.”

Repairing a damaged church “with the engine running”–that is, in the midst of continuing operations–is much harder than starting afresh with a church plant and building it right and healthy from the ground up.  You’re making repairs “in flight,” so to speak.

By “repairing a damaged church,” we refer to any number of situations. Some we have encountered include these:

–The leadership is rotten to the core and needs to be replaced.  A small group of leaders have kept one another in office for decades, squelching all attempts at accountability, innovative ministry and outreach.  Major surgery needed.

–The church has no written guidelines (i.e., constitution and by-laws), leaving a vacuum which is filled by strong personalities determined to get their way.  A healthy written plan which sets up orderly procedures for selecting and replacing leaders can work wonders.

–The elected leaders are kind, well-intentioned people but without the courage to make tough decisions or the willingness to take a bold stand.  They need to be replaced as soon as the Lord raises up a stronger team.

–The Sunday School in that church is dead and needs to be replaced by an entirely new structure for teaching the Word and reaching people.

Fixing such churches would be easier if everything could grind to a halt and the church be “put on the rack.”  All the church members could retire to the waiting room and get a soft drink and read the paper. Meanwhile, in the service bay the ministers and other key leaders could open the engine, remove the defective components and replace them with parts straight from the factory with a full guarantee standing behind them.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Leaders will have to do surgery on this patient while the motor is still running and the car is tooling down the interstate.

It’s a great metaphor, and an apt one.

So, staying with the metaphor, the  Lord’s mechanic who would do heart surgery on a church “barreling down the interstate” will need skills in at least ten areas….

1) Leadership needs a clear vision on what needs to be done.

Unlike surgeons in the operating room, pastors cannot do exploratory surgery on their patient, the Lord’s congregation.  If a leader has no idea what’s wrong, he should bide his time and do his work and pay attention.  Do no surgery–i.e., make no large-scale changes–until the diagnosis is complete and He is certain of God’s leadership in this.

2) Likewise, the leader needs an equally clear appreciation for what not to tamper with, the areas which are keeping this engine running.

In a building, some walls are said to be load-bearing and some cosmetic.  Tear down a load-bearing wall and the entire structure is endangered. Likewise, with the church, some things should not be changed lest everything come loose.  Wait on the Lord, pastor.

Some entrenched leaders have been kept in place for decades because they are faithful and irreplacable. Remove no one just because they’ve held a position for ages. Young pastors in particular should respect the veteran workers who have kept the body of Christ functioning well through the years, and not be threatened by them.

3) Leaders will need good people skills.

In the medical field, they call this the “bedside manner.”  Any pastor intending to do major surgery on a church had better build a consensus among the people and earn the trust of his leadership.  The only way to do that is by faithfully serving them.  Given time, most will see whether the Lord’s servant is trustworthy.

4) The leader will need a support team.  No heart surgeon works alone.

This would involve professional staff as well as laypeople. A pastor needs to be constantly building his team, men and women who share his vision and the same commitment to Christ and this church which he possesses.

5) Leaders need courage. This is risky business and some patients die on the operating table.

Doctors often tell patients the risks of surgery as well as possible side effects so an informed decision can be made.  The risks may be expressed as, “If we do surgery, you have a (blank) percent chance of being well. If we don’t, you have a one-hundred percent chance of dying.”  In the same way, congregations need to know what they’re getting into when they vote to do the changes leaders suggest.

Both the patient (the church) and the surgeons (the ministers and other key leaders) should be equipped with Holy Spirit courage in attempting to revamp a church on life support.

6) Leaders need tenderness.

Sometimes leaders have to be very tender and gentle, and sometimes strong and plain-spoken.  If the leader is operating in the flesh (“Well, this is just the way I am; you knew that when you called me!”), many will be unnecessarily hurt and left wounded in the road as the others try to go forward.

7) Leaders need to give attention to detail.

Surgeons must be meticulous and have staffs just as devoted to getting the details right. In the operating room, a thousand small procedures protect the patient from infection and the team from error.

Among the church leadership team, someone should be checking to make sure proper procedures are being followed, that everyone has been informed, that resources are on hand, and eventualities planned for.

8) Leaders need patience.  Often the surgical team puts in long hours, and then stays close-by during the recovery.

Pastors trying to turn a diseased church into a healthy one need to remind themselves that this is often labor intensive and time-consuming.  They should not expect the changes to happen easily or overnight.  This is why the best and strongest churches tend to keep their pastors and staffs for decades. Churches with quick turnover in leadership almost never thrive.

9) Leaders require the full support of the patient.  

No cardiologist would attempt heart surgery without the agreement and participation of the patient.  Likewise, pastors cannot “fix” a church if the congregation is unwilling.

In counseling a young pastor who had taken a church of older members who assured him they want to change in order to become viable, I urged him to stay close to the membership and not assume that one show of hands a few years ago suffices for all time. Let them constantly be involved in decisions and periodically vote to go forward. Allowing them “ownership” will head off many problems.

10) Once leaders have learned to repair the vehicle “while the engine is running,” they should not assume this is a once-and-for-all operation.  As cars need constant tune-ups, churches are always needing maintenance and adjustments.

The exhausted leader will want to tie a ribbon on the patient as he/she/it is discharged from the hospital and take a vacation.  Bad idea.  Just as no patient can be pronounced as healthy forever, no congregation should be abandoned by its leaders who have written their constitution and bylaws, removed defective parts of the engine, and put good workers in their place.  Stay with this now.

We are not saying this is a one-man show and the pastor should do everything himself (and infrequently, herself).  Quite the opposite. And, just as firmly, we recommend that the pastor have close at hand staffers and other leaders who are constantly monitoring the congregation and can tell by the sound of that knock in the engine where the problem is.

Some are always knocking.  Pray for helpers with trained ears, pastor.

2 comments

  • Rick

    This is so dynamic. Every pastor and members of ministry team should be reading this and then have a round table discussion about it. I will definitely add this to my personal goals when I become a pastor.
    Thanks for being open and honest about these issues.

  • Indu Rai

    It is really praiseworthy which the pastors and leader need to learn from it and bring into their practice.Thanks for such precious ideas and counselling.
    We all need to follow it.
    Thank you
    Indu

SEVEN RELATIONAL SKILLS OF GREAT CHURCH LEADERS

SEVEN RELATIONAL SKILLS OF GREAT CHURCH LEADERS

SEVEN RELATIONAL SKILLS OF GREAT CHURCH LEADERS

They are the two most common causes of forced termination of pastors.

  1. Weak leadership skills.
  2. Poor relational skills.

Much has been written in the past decade on leadership skills. The body of literature on the topic is massive and growing. I certainly have little to add in a brief blog post.

It is for that reason I focus specifically on the relational skills of great church leaders. Admittedly, my approach is both anecdotal and subjective. But I have been in the ministry of working with church leaders for thirty years. I think my cursory overview would be supported by more thorough research.

Most pastors and church leaders have never received formal training in relational skills. Perhaps these seven observations of outstanding leaders will prove helpful to many of you.

  1. They have a vibrant prayer life. The more we are in conversation with God, the more we realize His mercy and grace. That realization leads to a greater humility, which is a key attribute of those with great relational skills.
  2. They ask about others. Listen to people with whom you have regular conversations. How many of them focus the conversation on you and others? A key sign of relational health is a desire to direct the conversation to concern and questions about others.
  3. They rarely speak about themselves. This trait is the corollary to the previous characteristic. Have you ever known someone who seems always to talk about himself or herself? They are usually boring or irritating. They are definitely self-absorbed.
  4. They are intentional about relationships. They don’t wait for others to take the initiative. They are so focused on others that they naturally seek to develop relationships.
  5. They have a healthy sense of humor. This trait is natural because the leaders are not thinking obsessively about themselves. Indeed, they are prone to laugh at themselves and their own perceived inadequacies.
  6. They are not usually defensive. Pastors and other church leaders deal with critics regularly. Sometimes a defense is right and necessary. Most of the time, the leaders with great relational skills will not take the criticism too personally.
  7. They constantly seek input. Their egos are not so tender that they are unwilling to receive constructive criticism. To the contrary, many of these leaders seek such input on a regular basis.

I speculate that over one-half of forced terminations have at their foundation poor leadership and/or relational skills of the leader. I hope this brief checklist will help you look in the mirror with greater clarity.

Let me hear from you about the issue of relational skills of church leaders.

 

ThomRainer

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 16, 2016. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

3 comments

  • Dennis Hounshell

    I think you have a very clear perspective on this topic. Toxic leaders tend to resist and react to criticism rather than listen. Proverbs 29.1 reminds us that these leaders will not last. Relational abilities are key to longevity in ministry. People won’t remember what you accomplish nearly as much as how you treat them. That’s not in the Bible but nothing could be more true in leadership. I’d rather work for our with a leader who cared deeply for others than one who is highly intelligent or gifted to speak or anything else. Nothing compares to how they care about others.

  • Tom, many of those traits can be hard to differentiate when determining if you are dealing with extroverts or introverts – they do have different styles of relating. Many Senior Pastors I have found are wonderful speakers from the pulpit (giving their members the idea that communications come readily and easily for them) but are in need of their “space” to recharge their batteries – alone. Ideally, any pastor should surround themselves with wise counselors that can speak truth into their lives and help them identify EARLY any relational short-comings or blind spots. Please let me know your thoughts.

  • Andrew Ichwara

    I concur with Rich as concerns the Introvert & Extrovert leaders. Surrounding yourself with focused, ambitious, determined, optimistic, and well versed leaders will trigger you to achieve your dream and vision. True Church leaders are always listeners than tutors if i may put it that way. They are people focused than self focused. Their vision catapults the entire congregation forward. Members are always seeking his/her advice

Pastor Pete’s Tips #1

3 comments

  • Jody Reiniche

    Bro. Barry,
    I have a Pastor’s Tip for you. I was recently attending a funeral service when during the meditation the pastor’s cell phone went off! The more embarrassing thing for this long time minister was the ring tone was “When the Saints go marching in”!
    Needles to say Check your cell phone. Thank you for the service you give to us.

  • Robert

    Turn off the lapel mic everytime. A Pastor was caught having an affair and illict sex in the pastoral office with a female member of his church in which he pastored.

Joe’s 10 Iron-clad Rules for Success in Ministry

Joe’s 10 Iron-clad Rules for Success in Ministry

number-tenBy Joe McKeever

So, you’re new in the ministry?  And you want to get this right, of course. You have definitely come to the right place, friend.  Pull up a chair and get ready to take notes.

Some alternative titles for these ten little gold nuggets (aka, iron pyrite) might be “How not to rock the boat.” “How to last 50 years in the ministry without creating a ripple.”  “How to please everyone and secure a good retirement.”

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, seat-belt fastened, sense of whimsy intact…..

1) You’re going to need sincerity to make it in the ministry. If you can fake that, anything is possible.

2) The crowd will be bigger if you don’t count them.  We learned this truth from fishing. Any fisherman knows, The fish not weighed is heavier than the ones that are.

3) To feel better about your sermon, do not ask your wife on the way home, “Well, what did you think?”  She will tell you, and then where will you be?

4) The typical congregation will love you more if you preach generalities about sin, lower the boom on atheists and cultists, and speak favorably about the local high school football team.

5) Make changes and the whiners will leave your church.  Make no changes and the winners will leave. So, decide who you want to keep.

6) Expecting the congregation to remember your anniversary and to give Christmas bonuses is the surest path to disappointment.

7) The person hanging around your office wanting to be your best friend is your worst enemy.  Watch him/her like a hawk.

8) Using certain phrases will impress upon the audience that they are being treated to inside information.  “Now, most people do not know this, but….”  “The denomination does not want you to know this, but….”  “We Greek scholars know this word actually means….”  “I have this on good authority….”  “A friend who has been to Israel informs me….”  Try to do this with a straight face.

9) Telling a critic “It’s my way or the highway” is not good. It smacks of tyranny and makes you appear a bully.  So, figure out a nice way to inform them if they continue to oppose you, they are in danger of hell fire.

10) Speak well of your predecessor. And, as you have the opportunity, visit him in the state penitentiary occasionally. Report back to the congregation how well he is doing and that he sends his love.

There!  Do these things and it will all work out. Probably.

joeeaster2012-228x300

 

Used with permission by Joe McKeever. Joe is a Pastor, Preacher, Author, Professor, Cartoonist, Jesus Lover, Friend.

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