7 Thinking Errors that Hinder Church Growth

My first degree, industrial engineering, taught me to think systematically which has in turn benefited my pastoral leadership. Since then I’ve read many books on church planning and been certified through Ministry Advantage and Auxano, two strategic planning/pastoral coaching organizations. I’ve also led three churches where I’ve served through a year-long strategic planning process. So, I’m well-versed and trained in the church visioning/planning process. Yet, of all the books I’ve read on strategic planning, Will Mancini’s book, Church Unique is the best. In his chapter called “Lost on the Way to Your Own DNA,” he lists subtle thinking patterns that can hinder church growth. He calls these patterns ‘thinkholes.’ I’ve listed them here with brief definitions.

Ministry “thinkholes.”

  1. The ministry treadmill: busyness eliminates time for reflection. 
    • leads to just adding more programs
  2. The competency trap: presumption that past methods will continue to work decreases appetite for learning.
    • leads to just working harder
  3. The needs based slippery slope: consumerism removes the need for discernment.
    • leads to trying to make people happy
  4. The cultural whirlpool 1: BuzzChurch-innovation short circuits self-awareness.
    • leads to just trying to be cutting edge
  5. The cultural whirlpool 2: StuckChurch-change outpaces the discipline for learning.
    • leads to glorifying the past
  6. The conference maze: success increases the temptation to copycat. 
    • leads to simply modeling best practices
  7. The denominational rut: resources disregard local uniqueness.
    • leads to just protecting theology

At times I’ve been caught up in these thinkholes. How about you?

What other thinkholes would you add to this list?

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Great Staff Meetings Require these 7 Rules

Leaders can’t lead without meeting with others. Sometimes meetings go well. Sometimes they don’t. Often team dynamics derail productive meetings simply because someone misspoke or misheard. As I began to realize this, several years ago I asked a psychologist to help me create some rules for talking in our staff meetings. I call them conversational ethics. Here are the 7 rules.

CONVERSATIONAL ETHICS FOR MEETINGS

  1. Listen: let others say their piece; as Covey said, “Seek to understand before being understood.”
  2. Suspend judgment: don’t make assumptions about what others say.
  3. Share in the thought pool: everybody gives input; participate truthfully (how you really feel).
  4. Stay detached from your ideas: don’t take things personally; use “I” messages; own your personal view.
  5. Let others be inarticulate: help others articulate what they are trying to say by engaging.
  6. Privacy: if personal issues with you and another person potentially could affect a discussion and/or a decision, first deal with it 1-on-1 in private with the individual.
  7. Accountability: everybody helps hold each other accountable to this set of ethics.

What guidelines have helped you lead good meetings?

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The 3 Kinds of People in Every Church

In Judson Edward’s book, The Leadership Labyrinth, he describes 21 paradoxes in ministry. He defines the ‘relationship paradox’ in this way: the people who like you the most will be the ones you try least to please. He then writes that these three kinds of people fill every church.

  • The energizers: their very presence makes us feel better, buoys our spirits, and fills our tank.
  • The regular folks: they may not buoy our spirits, but they don’t demoralize us either. They make up the largest group in a church.

The main difference between the energizers and the drainers are their expectations of us. The energizers don’t place great expectations on us. The drainers do.

We don’t measure up to the drainers expectations. Either our preaching or counseling or leading or availability is not enough. These subtle unmet expectations may not be overt, but when we are around these people, we feel their unspoken disapproval.

Edwards pens these profound words.

“When our credo becomes ‘I am as you desire me,’ we have lost the very thing that will enable us to minister effectively: our authenticity.”

Edwards rounds out his chapter with three insights into how Jesus responded to his drainers.

  • First, Jesus retreated from this drainers to refresh himself and seek God. He regularly sought renewal.
  • Second, Jesus balanced his drainers with his energizers.
  • Third, Jesus didn’t allow the drainers to deter him from his plan and purpose.

Although Jesus practiced a rhythm of renewal and time away from his drainers, he never got rid of them. He still had to contend with them, just as we pastors must do in our churches.

Not everyone liked Jesus. Not everyone will like us. But God’s grace gives us what we need to serve even the most draining drainers.

What other categories of church people would you add to this list?

If this post resonates with you, you may enjoy my third book that released last year: People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership. It was one of this year’s Outreach Resource of the Year Recommendation in leadership.

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The Leadership Paradox: Trusting God or Trusting Others?

Every church leader (or Christian for that matter) faces a common paradox. We’re expected to trust God for our personal and ministry needs. Yet, we need the help of others. Leading is not a solo effort. So, ho do we strike the balance between trusting God and trusting others?

Recently I noticed that same paradox reflected in the choices made by two famous Biblical characters, Ezra and Nehemiah. In the Message paraphrase below each one took a different route. One just trusted God and didn’t approach the king for help. The other sought help from the king and God worked through that choice.

Ezra 8.21 I proclaimed a fast there beside the Ahava Canal, a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance for our journey—all our people and possessions.  22 I was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road. We had just told the king, “Our God lovingly looks after all those who seek him, but turns away in disgust from those who leave him.” 23 So we fasted and prayed about these concerns. And he listened.

Neh. 2.7 Then I said, “If it please the king, provide me with letters to the governors across the Euphrates that authorize my travel through to Judah;  8 and also an order to Asaph, keeper of the king’s forest, to supply me with timber for the beams of The Temple fortress, the wall of the city, and the house where I’ll be living.” The generous hand of my God was with me in this and the king gave them to me.  9 When I met the governors across The River (the Euphrates) I showed them the king’s letters. The king even sent along a cavalry escort.

See the difference? As contrasting as were their decisions, they both made God-honoring ones.

So, what insight can we draw from their experiences when we face a similar situation?

Here’s a thought. The next time you face a ministry choice that requires resources or help, lean in the opposite direction you usually go. If you usually just ‘pray’ and ask God to meet the need, perhaps you should ask others to help meet the need as well. If you tend to go to others first, maybe your first step should be to seek God’s provision before you ask others for their help or insight.

I’ve discovered that God often works in counter-intuitive ways, through avenues outside those most familiar  and comfortable to us.

What do you think about these two options? Do you think leaders tend to show a bias one way or the other?

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The 10 Most Important Questions You could ever Ask Yourself

Questions reveal a lot about us. Good questions can point us in healthy directions. Great questions can save us from disaster. Several years ago I read a brief article by Donald Whitney, a pastor and seminary professor, who gave me permission to re-print his article that lists 10 important questions. It is outstanding and I’ve included it below.

Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

What questions would you add to this list?

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Copyright © 2003 Donald S. Whitney.

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