Word on the Street

30 Sep

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Turning the Ship Around

Three and a half years ago I received a phone call from the Elder Board of a very large church in crisis. The founding Senior Pastor had resigned without warning after leading the church for 31 years. From humble beginnings with five couples meeting in a garage to a number of building campaigns, the church had grown to a regular attendance of 5,000 people and this pastor was at the helm. His sudden resignation left the congregation feeling like the rudder and engine of the ship had been torn away.

To no one’s surprise, they were in a panic. When a long-term, highly successful pastor of a very large church resigns, it unleashes a period of vulnerability for the congregation. When it happens unexpectedly, it is not unlike a high magnitude earthquake—the fear, questioning, and destabilization can be paralyzing.

So for the past three and a half years I have been walking in the trenches of change with this church. We started with initial "triage" by leading a congregation-wide listening and discernment process. Later we helped lead a two-day coaching training workshop for their staff as part of an effort to transform the culture and practices of the staff into more of an equipping role than a direct ministry role. We used the Awaken process to mobilize 90 of their people into ministry in the community based on God’s unique shaping and calling on their lives. And, underlying all of these “public” efforts, I maintained a personal coaching relationship with the Interim Pastor and then with the new Senior Pastor.

The real story, though, is what happened in the members of the church.

Their last building campaign had left a large unfinished lower level. Going against gravity to build out more space to serve the congregation, the church launched an effort to “give away” that space to efforts that would meet the needs of the community. Today a large community food pantry thrives in part of that space. A robust medical clinic has been launched sharing adjacent space.

Out in the community, their small groups shifted from being gathering points for church members to living as missional groups who take ownership for reaching their neighborhoods. Perhaps most importantly, the leaders are no longer just administrators of church life. Instead they are beginning to model lives that are characterized by making new disciples. In short the church is no longer content to thrive as “a church on a hill,” but it is now a church constantly looking to give itself away to the communities around it.

They long to bring the good news of Jesus to life. With all this, it is no wonder their city stood up and took notice, recognizing the church as their “Citizen of the Year” last year. The passion and practices that supported this transformation are the outcomes that all of us long to see. What took place in the past three years is a testimony of the courageous and quality leadership of this church, and it is a wonderful example of what's possible when someone is available to walk with leaders and their churches over time.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gary Mayes gives leadership to CRM’s ChurchNEXT Collective, working to revitalize the impact of churches and leaders worldwide.