This is a guest post by my friend Daniel Im. Daniel is the author of No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry (B&H Publishing) from which this article was adapted.
Think about your church. What do you long to see for them? What do you regularly pray over them? If God were to answer your deepest prayers for your church, what would happen? What would change?
Would your church be filled with a movement of disciple-making disciples that infiltrated all areas of your region (Matt. 28:18–20)? Or maybe your worship service would be filled with “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language” worshipping beside one another (Rev. 7:9)? Perhaps your church would be living life together, meeting one another’s needs, praising God, receiving favor from all people, and being used by God to save people on a daily basis (Acts 2:42–47)?
Whatever dream God has given you for your church, I want to be the first one to tell you that it’s possible! And you don’t need to blow everything up and start over again to make it happen. All it requires is a series of micro-shifts, coupled together with the power of the Holy Spirit, to see change and transformation happening in us and in our churches. After all, let’s be honest with ourselves—there’s no silver bullet in life, so why would we assume that there’s one in ministry?
I love the following quote—often attributed to Harriet Tubman—about dreams: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” And this one by Walt Disney: “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
The problem though, is that a dream is precisely that—a dream. Dreams are not reality. They are the hidden potential for the future that lies dormant within each and every one of us. Dreams are like the statue that’s imprisoned in the walls of marble, awaiting the sculptor to set it free—as the iconic Italian artist Michelangelo once said. So while I like inspirational quotes as much as the next person, inspiration can only get us so far.
Dreams require courage and strength. They cannot be achieved on a whim, since they require a strategy and a plan. I mean, do you really think the Underground Railroad was built without a strategy or a plan? And what about the Disney Empire?
The Three Influences on Your Church
If you’re like me, one of your dreams is maturity—to see the people in your church grow in their walk with Christ and become disciple-makers. While I also want my church to grow numerically, I actually care more about spiritual growth than numerical growth.
After all, just imagine what a hundred sold-out followers of Christ can do compared to five hundred seat warmers? Or as Alan Hirsch once said to me, “You can create a stronger movement with twelve disciples than with 1,200 consumers.”
In order to help individuals become disciple-makers, you first need to understand the orientation or posture that your church has toward growth. There are several factors that affect this, most significantly the church’s leadership, culture, and history. So take a moment and work through the following questions to discover your church’s posture to growth.
Self-Assessment: The Leader’s Influence
1. Who do you look up to as a pastor and church leader? Who has shaped your view of church practice and practical theology?
2. How have others shaped you? How have the individuals above shaped the way you approach church practice and practical theology? Is it the way you preach? Or the way you approach discipleship?
3. What type of leader are you? If you don’t do the hard work of discovering how God has uniquely wired you, it’ll be difficult to lead at your maximum God-given potential. Write out your strengths and weaknesses.
4. How do you view accountability? Is it your direct responsibility to grow those in your church as disciples? Or rather, is it your responsibility to create an environment in which they can grow?
Church Assessment: The Historical and Cultural Influences
1. Who are the celebrated pastors/leaders in your church and in your region? While your church may never hand you a pastor-of-the-year award, many in your church are trying to shape you into their image. Okay, maybe not into their image, but they are definitely trying to shape you into an image of some pastor they knew from yesteryear. This is why it’s important to know who those leaders are for your church because they are subtly influencing your church’s posture to growth.
2. What kind of leaders do you have in your church? Assess the way that your staff, key ministry leaders, and volunteers lead.
3. What happens when the church is challenged or asked to do something? In a typical church, you’ll have a portion that will respond with a resounding, “Yes!”, others who will require a bit of convincing, some who will wait to see how the majority responds, and a few who will resist with their arms folded. When you look at your church, do you have more on the yes side or no side?
4. What gets celebrated in your church? While this may seem similar to the first question in this assessment, this question actually focuses more on the types of activities, accomplishments, and stories that get celebrated than the individuals who are celebrated.
What did these assessments reveal about you and your church? What are your next steps and how can you move towards implementation?
As a church leader, your goal is not to create disciples who have to rely on you to feed them, develop them, and lead them. Instead, your task and your God-given privilege is to train and empower disciples who are self-feeders, who can then help others become disciples who are self-feeders, and on and on. Ultimately, the goal is not to create disciples, but disciple-makers.