Anyone who has had to start a pushmower, chainsaw, or anything with a cord knows how frustrating it can be at times to get things started, especially when the machine is older and colder. You can pump, pull, and prime, and kick, but sometimes it's really hard to get things started. Obviously, if you prime the engine, a better chance exists that the engine will fire up and start running. In the early summer when the family pushmower needs to get started for the first time, and that mower is colder and older, it needs to be primed a lot more than normal.
In some ways, churches can be the same way, especially ones that are plateaued and declining. If they are going to turn around, they often need to be primed. And, it can be done. When kick-starting a plateaued or declining church, several things will help to prime the pump and begin the process of revitalization. Since that's on my mind, I want to begin a seven-week series entitled "Kick-Starting the Plateaued and Declining Church." This series will be adapted from an article that I co-wrote with Mike Dodson (who was also my co-author for Comeback Churches) for the Spring 2010 Journal of Evangelism and Missions.
Before talking more specifically about how leaders get things going, let's touch on an important foundational aspect of leadership. In Christian leadership circles, we talk a lot about being called. Are you called by God? Does that person have the call of God on his life? How does a person know when they're called? These, and other questions like them, are good questions; they are vital questions. A person must have a clear sense of being called by God, serving at His pleasure wherever that may lead.
In addition, the leader who is going to get things going has to understand that the call of God is to minister to people--often broken, hurting, demoralized people. Ministry is not about creating or building some fantasy land of happy people who enjoy gathering in a church building. Ministry is about loving people the way Jesus did, even when they don't get things the leader thinks they should get. Ministry is about sticking with it, because things didn't get the way they are overnight and probably won't change overnight.
Think about the call that God placed on Moses' life. It was an exciting opportunity. He was going to be the lead guy for the whole nation. As soon as Moses stepped up and showed up to rescue everybody, one would think the people would just fall in love with Moses--parades and parties. Of course, that's not what happened.
Moses didn't want the job, and the people didn't want to be rescued. Not to mention the opposition from the Pharaoh. Beyond that, even after God performed miracles, many of the people still acted like idiots. And what did Moses do? He continued to love them and intercede for them, even when they didn't deserve it (Exodus 32:7-14, 32:30-32; Numbers 21:6-7).
Of course that is exactly what Jesus does on our behalf over and over again. He was constantly trying to help the disciples understand the nature of their calling and what kind of attitude leaders were to have serving in His kingdom. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had to instruct them about this after spending many days and hours pouring into their lives, and they still didn't get it. In fact, this was after they had just shared the first Lord's Supper together and discussed his sacrificial death, as well as the certainty that Jesus was going to be betrayed:
Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest. But He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles dominate them, and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. For who is greater, the one at the table, or the one serving? Isn't it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves" (Luke 22:24-27, HCSB).
Having discussed the foundation of God-called, servant-hearted leadership, I want to talk in the coming weeks more specifically about some principles and practices of kick-starting leadership. What will it take to prime the engine of church revitalization so that things can be kick-started?
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.