This is it.
You've reached decision time.
You've got to decide whether 2015 will rehash everything that's gone before. Or will it be different? Is it the year your church breaks out?
It can, but only if you promise to start doing things different.
Here are 10 promises you can make, Pastor, that will change your church in 2015.
1. Promise to preach 10 sermons on vision
Does that seem like too many? 10 sermons of 52 is a piddling 19.23%. Dare you not dedicate at least 20% of your sermons to the church's vision?
Your church might be one of the happy exceptions where everyone owns the vision. You can skip promise #1 if:
- Every voting member knows the vision inside and out.
- All your ministries, your budget and your staffing are tightly integrated into the vision.
- A first time guest can ask five members at random about the vision and get the same answer from all five.
- Everyone knows how they, their ministry and their giving advance the church's vision.
- Elected officers, ministry leaders and junior staff all champion the vision, regularly.
Remember, just because you "get it" doesn't mean they do. Just because you're tired of talking about it doesn't mean they heard. Just because you're all in doesn't mean they're on board.
So preach it.
Resource: Examples of Sermons About Vision.
2. Promise effective ministry to the unchurched
Now, perhaps more than at any time in the last 70 years, we have a unique window of opportunity. As the trappings of cultural Christianity continue to (thankfully) fall away, the gospel's glowing brilliance can be seen more clearly. We're not there yet in every venue, but the "church as museum for life in Mayberry" is passing from the scene. Pastor, this is your chance to replace it with the "church as a triage unit to dispense the elixir of life to those who languish."
Promise to minister effectively to the unchurched in 2015.
- Remove the elements from your Sunday services that feel weird to the unchurched. (Get rid of the pointless "meet and greet" that interrupts the flow of worship)
- Quit the "Jesus is your best self-help guru" preaching. Instead give the water of life to the thirsty, the light of the world to those in darkness, and hope to the downtrodden.
- Rearrange staff and volunteer assignments to put the most effective people on the front lines.
- Take salt and light to them instead of asking them to find your pantry.
- Celebrate stories of church members who are out there on the front lines.
3. Promise to ask people to talk about God every week
Don't exhort them to "share the faith" as your "first ask." That's like asking them to go from 0 to 60 in under three seconds. Most can't so they won't even try.
Start 2015 by giving them something specific to say to someone during the week. Each week give them conversation starters from the news or from common interests. Then ask them to say it.
- "I'm sure I'd be crying out to God if I was on that airliner that went down. How about you?"
- "I bet God was heartbroken when terrorists murdered those children in Syria. What do you think?"
- "I'm tired of politicians bickering and jockeying for power. I just wish Jesus would return to install his promised government of peace, justice and equity."
- "Our church likes to pray for people's needs. How can we pray to God for you?"
Do this every week.
Then, be sure to check every Sunday. Ask for a show of hands, "How many of you spoke to someone, anyone, about God this week?"
As they become comfortable saying a few, small things about God, it will become easier. Their confidence will grow. Then midway through 2015 make your "asks" bigger. In June start hyping your Thanksgiving or Christmas services; let them know these will be big evangelistic events and that they'll be helping pull it off.
But you'll have to move them ahead, step by step, before you roll out the "big ask" for 2015's big year-end events. Along about April, after Easter is behind you:
- Ask them to take part in an evangelism training seminar.
- Ask them to pray for witnessing opportunities.
- Ask them to attend prayer meetings devoted intercession for the salvation of unbelieving friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family members. (Or ask them to make this a weekly feature of their small group meetings!)
- Ask them to hand out tracts or gospel booklets.
- Ask them to invite at least one person per month to visit church with them.
Jesus said something about fields being ripe and workers being few. His advice: pray for laborers. Sounds like good advice, so get them praying for themselves!
4. Promise to lead evangelism by example
Does it need saying, Pastor?
5. Promise to lead the church to pray for souls
"You have not because you ask not."
Your church has not a fruitful, consistent witness in the community because it asks not. Your church has not a well-used baptistry because it asks not. Your church has not the thrill of new believers entering the newness life because it asks not.
How long will you let this continue, Pastor? When was the last time you wept over the obdurate heart of that businessman you've been witnessing to? When was the last time you groaned over a fruitless ministry? When did you last beseech God, "Lord, so many are perishing and this church is so weak. Raise us up! Fill us with the passion you feel for the lost! Afflict us that we be no longer touched by our pleasant worship, our warm fellowship and the fine silk ribbons in Bibles never opened during the week!"
Enough with perfunctory prayer during "prayer meetings." Away with the few, brief utterances directed heavenward before the business meeting gets down to business. No longer settle for the vague hope that meaningful intercession for the lost occurs in small group meetings.
Call your people to urgent prayer in behalf of the lost. Implore them to remember the names of unbelievers within their circles of influence. Urge them to see these prayers as a high priestly privilege. Convene solemn assemblies every quarter that are wholly devoted to praying for the lost. Track the names of people prayed over. Sustained prayer for them.
Indeed, we have not because we ask not.
Promise that 2015 is the year you turn this around.
P.S. I went off on a bit of a rant on this one because it is without doubt my biggest failure in pastoral leadership!
Resource: How to Pray for Your Neighbor's Salvation.
6. Promise to improve your skills
If you want to change your church, you've got to improve your ministry skills. The text you preach does not change but your preaching should. The qualities Jesus looks for in his disciples has not changed but the "raw material" (the unchurched that come through the front door) has. The illuminating power of the gospel is not dimmed but the culture we serve is darker.
So you need to improve your skills in 2015. If you don't, you're losing ground!
- Promise to become a more effective preacher.
- Promise to enrich your relationship with God.
- Promise to become a more effective bridge builder into the community.
- Promise to deepen your understanding of biblical and theological disciplines.
- Promise to skillfully lead your church through change.
- Promise to proactively resolve church conflict.
7. Promise to train leaders to lead
You might, just barely might, have gotten this far on your own. You've put in a lot of long, hard hours over the years. You've sacrificed personal interests, finances and, Lord forbid, maybe your family's well-being.
But you're not going to go much further, let alone launch out into ministry orbit, on your own.
You need leaders who can lead. Not write reports, sit patiently in long meetings and vote yea or nay on the issue de jure. Not people who fill a slot on an org chart or ministry roster, showing up when its their turn.
You need leaders who will join you in championing the vision. Leaders who will stand at the helm and navigate the storm while your church traverses important change. Leaders who will take responsibility for conflict resolution, financial prudence and ministry effectiveness. Leaders who will serve together as a community and not merely function as a committee.
Promise yourself that 2015 is the year you'll take Ephesians 4:11â€“16 seriously. Promise that this is the year you'll stop settling for non-performance by the church's elected officials. Promise that this is the year you stop hoarding the ministry and start giving it away to others.
Resource: Building A Team (fee paid to unaffiliated site).
8. Promise to design effective discipleship paths
I want to challenge you to conduct an experiment. Ask ten church members, chosen at random, to describe the essential characteristics of Jesus' disciples. But ask them to do so without using church language - no "someone who walks with Jesus" or "a fully devoted follower." You want to what they think it means in thought, word, deed and attitude.
My guess is you're going to get some combination of blank stares, false starts and ten different answers. If so, that's probably your fault, Pastor, at least in some degree. Remember your homiletics prof: "fog in the pulpit, mist in the pews."
Promise that 2015 is the year you'll design and carry out effective discipleship paths in your church's ministry. To that end, let me suggest a few things to think about.
- Character formation, not information acquisition, is the goal. Matthew 28:19 doesn't read "teaching them." It reads "teaching them to obey."
- Character formation begins with mission, not instruction. Mark 1:17 reads, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." The sequence here is crucial; start new believers on the paths of service and Jesus will transform their character.
- Define your discipleship ministry's success in terms of outcomes, not attendance. Ask yourself, "How will people be different in behavior, attitude and value system as a result?" (For example, you might call it a win if, as a result of your process, people serve in the community, pray and read their Bibles every day, and give generously)
- Then reverse engineer the process. Once you've defined success, ask and answer this question: "What experiences, relationships, environments and information do we need to give so people acquire these characteristics?"
- Finally, remember that disciples are self-selecting. If you design discipleship around what time you think everyone will agree to, then you haven't defined a real discipleship plan. Instead of setting the bar low, raise it high, just as Jesus did. Continue to invite everyone, but focus on those who rise to the occasion.
Promise that 2015 is the year you'll remake discipleship around character transformation rather than information acquisition. Promise that you'll follow Jesus' example by setting the bar high, inviting everyone but investing most heavily in those who self-select.
9. Promise to renew or reinvent barren ministries
Promise to put an end to business as usual in 2015 by renewing or reinventing once productive ministries that, for whatever reason, are yielding rapidly diminishing returns.
Stewardship is the issue. It's not about whether this ministry is bad, that one questionable and this one is good. Rather, it's about how our "investment theology" guides the allocation of resources (time, money, space, people) for maximum kingdom yield.
At the risk of goring someone's sacred cow, let me use VBS as an example. This venerable and once productive ministry needs careful scrutiny. In my experience the ROI (children believing in Jesus and attracting unchurched families) has diminished over the last four decades. The children VBS intends to reach are now in Daycare while Mom and Dad work. Now children from other churches fill most VBS programs. Parents deftly shuffle them from one VBS to the next to free up a few hours in the morning for whatever.
If that's what you're finding in your VBS program, it's time to renew it or reinvent it.
Take a look at all of the ministries of your church. Are they producing mature disciples? Are they putting church members into mission? Are they as effective as they could be?
Promise that 2015 is the year you'll no longer settle for the status quo. Make this the year that you either renew languishing programs or cut them so the resources can yield a better ROI.
10. Promise to spend time staring out the window
Taking time to meditate, ruminate, cogitate.
Making it a point to think freely, widely and creatively.
These are hallmark behaviors of Turnaround Pastors; these are best practices that distinguish them from Status Quo Pastors.
Promise that you'll schedule time every week to spend a few hours just staring out the window, dreaming God's plans for the future. Or promise that you'll schedule at least a half day per month away from the office, away from the phone and away from the computer. Time to stare off into space while your mind wanders over the terrain ahead of you.
If you're so busy that you can't take time to stare into space, you're not a leader. You're a manager. You're busy, busy, busy doing things right (following policy and procedure to the "T"), but how do you know if you're doing the right things if you can't see the future?
Pull out your 2015 calendar right now. Do it; I'll wait.
Okay, great. Now block out a day in January when you're going to disappear. Dittoes for February and every month up to and including December. These are days when you'll be away, staring blankly with no agenda other than to dream God's dreams for your future.
Then, promise me that you'll show this schedule to someone in your life who will hold you accountable for it.
Will you do that for me?
What are you going to do different in 2015? What can you comfortably promise yourself, your church and the Lord whom you serve? Click here to leave your comments below.
- In my work as an intentional interim pastor, I make it a point to ask that question during the departing pastor's exit interview. I've learned that among pastors, definitions of discipleship are like Greek grammars are among Greek professors: a = (n+1). For every 10 pastors you'll have 11 answers! â†©