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Out My Window…

A few weeks back I spent the weekend with a congregation that has endured catastrophe. It’s the second such congregation I’ve been privileged to work with over the last several years. Now, you may think your church is one of those (and I suppose it could be), but when I say “catastrophe” I’m talking about a reality that leaves one shaking his head. I shook mine a lot.

Gory details aren’t really necessary, but when you combine leadership immorality, financial shenanigans, media scrutiny, hidden sin, and a long-term leader that simply won’t let go, well, you wonder how the church could possibly ever recover.

The good news, is that both calamitous churches are rebounding in great strength. Separated by the full width of the North American continent, these two congregations managed to merge very similar ingredients in order to generate the future they are now finding.

What are those ingredients? I’m glad you asked.

First, both groups found quality leadership. When a congregation has lost confidence in the trustworthiness, not just of their pastor, but of all pastors, a leader known for integrity is absolutely critical. Only a truly trustworthy person can penetrate justified high levels of distrust. A church in catastrophe can’t preach its way out, no matter how good the preaching. You must make integrity job #1.

Second, both groups were blessed with committed lay leaders. Elders, deacons, and others who cared deeply for their churches gave both congregations a chance for recovery. Frankly, it’s easier to leave when you’re hurt and a bit disillusioned–when the leader who brought you to Christ proves to have size 22 feet of clay. But both churches had key people who wouldn’t let the days of tragedy write their church’s final chapter.

Third, both groups sought outside counsel. As a consultant, this may seem self-serving, but a struggling church really needs an extra set of eyes, someone who will see and say what is needed. That person is usually more easy to find among those who haven’t lived the painful realities.

Fourth, both groups looked outside themselves for answers. It would have been easy to become inward focused. After all, there was a lot to fix within both churches. But a bunker mentality would have only caused the pain to drive deeper. Because of their outward focus, the congregation found some meaningful purpose and the congregational energy they needed to address their trouble.

Finally, both churches built a plan and continue to patiently work their plans. Long-term, deep trouble isn’t eradicated in a weekend or even in a year. This is a journey that demands commitment of time and energy. From the summit of leadership to the simplest servant, a commitment to process is essential. Fortunately, with the help of those outsider-eyes, both congregations were able to build a path toward a new day and both demonstrated the leadership commitment to see their plans through to success.

Obviously, there are a few more ingredients that each church found in pursuit of its vision, but these are the foundation stones that made building that new future a possibility–and now, a miraculous reality.

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