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Biblical Conflict Strategy – A Requirement for a Healthy Church

Thus far, we’ve considered the kind of people that we need for a healthy church, but before we leave this discussion, we must consider how those people interact with each other–specifically, how do they respond when difficulty arises.

Unresolved conflict is the bane of many unhealthy congregations. Issues hang in the air like a heavy fog. In such places, olefactory fatigue has set in. This odd condition is what occurs when you’ve smelled something for so long that you can’t smell it anymore. And in many unhealthy churches, the stench of unresolved conflict has been there so long that we are barely aware of how it wafts through the sanctuary. We just know that brother so-and-so doesn’t speak to certain people, and so we try not to corner him with his “enemies” having given up on fixing this long ago. Instead, we pretend there’s no problem and we smile for our guests, hoping they don’t discover what’s seething beneath our congregational surface.

Doesn’t work. Guests in your church can smell that something’s up, and they aren’t as willing to live in the smell of stories they weren’t here to experience or get used to.

So every church needs a conflict strategy–and the good news is that Jesus gave us one. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus explains that if a brother has offended us or fallen into sin, we run toward him, not away from him. We look to restore him directly, and if our efforts don’t succeed, we engage the help of friends and leaders. The goal is to resolve and rescue, to put an end to the issue in as healthy a manner as possible.

Unfortunately, many people run the wrong direction. They don’t go toward the one in need. Instead they go to others, whispering about the offense or trying to build a coalition on their side of the conflict. And in so doing, they enlarge the issue until it would take a meeting with hundreds to finally put the matter to rest.

A biblical conflict strategy limits the number who are involved or even aware of the matter to those who have been directly affected. Others don’t need to know or be involved. The fewer people who must live with the issue, the greater the potential for healthy resolution. That’s why Jesus’ first step is toward the one who has offended us.

Pastors in healthy churches preach on healthy conflict strategies frequently. They know that if they can equip their people to run in the right direction in conflict, healthy relationships will result. And, the pastor won’t be needed to referee or solve an escalating conflict nearly as often. I preached from Matthew 18 once a year, using new approaches each time to hide my repetitive focus. Once I tackled this with puppets on mic stands. People found the blue puppet’s divisive behavior appalling and felt sorry for the offending green puppet, laughing their way to truth, at least until they realized how often they’d been that blue guy.

The point is, as a ministry leader the subject of healthy strategies for conflict must have significant focus in your congregation if you’re going to have a healthy church. Matthew 18’s wisdom can only be experienced with intentional effort. And when what we learn on Sundays leaks into our family life on Mondays, well, you may just cut your pastoral counseling time in half.

Healthy churches are growing healthy people and there may be no place where that’s more evident than in the management of conflict.

Outward-Focused Ministries – A Requirement for a Healthy Church

April 2, 2018 1 comment

When I was a kid, I liked playing with baseball cards, watching television or reading a good book, but my dad wasn’t always on board with my preferred ways to spend my leisure time. He would come home from work and tell me to “Go outside!” Now, he wasn’t trying to get rid of me, but he was convinced that fresh air was healthy for every boy. So I would reluctantly obey, and soon find myself have a great time with the neighbor kids.

Most of us have heard or even used the Dead Sea illustration. We know that while water flows into that sea, it has no means of flowing out. So the water sits, accumulates all of its salt in that one place–and nothing can live in it. Hence the name–Dead Sea. The water needs to “get outside” but it can’t and it doesn’t.

Too many churches are functioning in a similar fashion. While the occasional potential for new life flows in, all the activity is inside–no ministry flows outside the walls. The result? Dead Church.

If you want a healthy church, then outward focus is your recipe. The more we aim our ministries and our people into the community, the healthier and more effective our church will become. Inward focus fills the church with disease. Like the Sea, if the salt stays put, it just accumulates until even what’s inside begins to die.

But an outward-focused church constantly lives in the mission of Jesus. They encounter the brokenness of their community and connect with the needs that surround them–just like Jesus did. They can’t help but give their resources to help others, because the compassion of Christ is growing within them. They are becoming servants, because they are encountering the need to serve.

Outward-focused churches quarrel less and give more. When you’re making a difference, you don’t need to sit around and grumble at one another. Instead, you see opportunities for impact and can’t help but want to give to help.

Think of it this way: If you stopped by your grandmother’s house and found her yard had grown to knee-deep levels, you’d run home and get your mower. Well, when people reach into their community and encounter needs they have the means to meet, they give what they have to help get the job done. Churches on a mission have a way of attracting people who are looking for a mission.

So, what if you took some of your best ministries outside your four walls? What if you let your best Sunday school teacher take a quarter off so she could teach a parenting class on Thursday nights in a nearby community building? What if you took your excellent musicians and held a mini-concert in a local park? What if you aimed your church’s excellent cooks toward the local elementary school and filled the teacher’s lounge with their best baked goods? Take what you do well, and go outside with it.

When we begin to flow out into our community, something wonderful happens–we get healthier inside the church. People begin to rediscover purpose and God is able to use us to impact others, just as He intended when He established His Church.

So if you want a healthy church, go play outside.

People That Hunger – A Requirement for a Healthy Church

Sunday is a day like no other, for many of us. On this first day of the week, we do things quite differently than on other days. We start our day, not at work, play, or with a honey-do list, but gathering with others we don’t see all week to worship. Then it’s off to lunch and perhaps an afternoon nap. The day’s events look nothing like what is awaiting us on Monday.

And maybe that’s why it happens.

Somehow what we do on Sunday tends to be left to Sundays. We compartmentalize Sundays. We allow the unique activities and unique group of friends to be, well…unique. By Sunday’s end, when we’ve left the events and people of the day behind for another week, it’s easy to leave the rest of Sunday behind too–Sunday’s sermon is forgotten by Monday, Sunday’s heart of worship is abandoned for job pressures and the more dominating assignments of the week.

Pastors know the frustrated feeling that Sundays don’t often leak into the six days that follow. But our recent emphasis on extraordinary Sunday experiences only magnifies the issue. Pastor puts most of his energy into his one-day opportunity, while the congregation grows beyond his ability or energy to encounter through the week. Sundays are just Sundays, and increasingly they are only for Sundays.

Somebody has to halt this path–and it’s usually the people who can. Every time they open a Bible rf bow to pray for something other than food, they open a door for God to impact one of their six days. Each time they pause to worship, to reflect in God’s goodness or engage His presence near them, they strike a blow against Sunday-only faith.

Now Sundays matter, but it seems that in the Early Church, Mondays and Thursdays (and their four other friends) mattered more. The work of ministry (the stuff pastors are supposed to equip us for) is supposed to happen mostly on those days we’re not with the Sunday crowd. That’s why Jesus’ command was to “Go,” not “y’all come.”

How do we worship God on Mondays? Doesn’t it boil down to a hunger to really know Him? Isn’t it really all about wanting His powerful hand stirring up my Fridays? A real relationship with God can’t be contained in a single day each week, and those who want more know it.

When people truly hunger for God, they realize that loving Him takes all week… 

Pastor can’t do a lot to affect that change. Yes, he can slow the Sunday-only focus a bit and seek to equip people for what comes next. He can stop tying Sunday’s message into a neat little bow, and leave some stuff to be done on Tuesday. But ultimately it’s the people who have to want more…not more church services but more of God in their lives off campus.

People who hunger for God don’t quarrel easily. They manage to keep their pride and self-focus in check as well. They tend to lift others up while they look for ways to serve the God they love. In fact, the more they are loving God, the more likely they are to love people–since you can’t really separate the two.

Spiritually-hungry people drive everything that’s healthy about a congregation. So if you want to see God working more powerfully among your own faith community, start letting Him work more powerfully in your own life. Pastor, you can join the hunger as well. Remember that God will always grow His Church by growing His people.  No other strategy can be healthy.

Deacons Who Serve – A Requirement for a Healthy Church

March 5, 2018 1 comment

Over the past seven years, I’ve posted more than 300 blogs on the subject of church health. I’ll confess that sometimes I struggle with what to write. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s enough to say about the church to fill a few more years of Mondays, but this form of communication doesn’t allow us to meet eye-to-eye so you can see the passion of these thoughts or even hear the force with which I type them.

You see, there’s some things that I can’t type loudly enough–and today’s theme is one of those. I want you to hear my heart as I tell you that no church can be healthy unless its deacons (elders, or whatever your structure identifies as key lay leadership roles) are servants.

In my work, I get to encounter some unhealthy churches, and one of the common threads that connect them to other unhealthy places is the presence of at least one deacon who thinks he’s a board member. He shows up for the monthly meeting and usually can be found in one of the main services, but that’s about it. His job is to make decisions, and he usually has no idea how bad the decisions he makes really are.

By definition, deacons are to be servants. They are not simply to have a servant attitude–they are to be serving. As a pastor, one of the greatest reasons for the health our church enjoyed was the active involvement of every deacon. My “board room” was filled with the most involved people in the entire church. I didn’t have to describe our latest outreach or bring them up to speed with the results of our ministry efforts because they were as close to the action as I was. Thanks Ron, Del, Bill, Mick, Warren, Adam, Dennie, Kevin, Jeff, Larry, Tate, Thom, Todd, Dean, David, Bill, Dave, Kevin, and Gail. The church was so blessed by you and your ladies. (If I forgot someone, please forgive me and add them to the front of the list, ’cause everyone of these proved what a servant is truly designed to be.)

Some have the idea that if I’m chosen to serve, then I’ll serve. Guess again. Deacons are to be chosen from among those already serving. If you need a title to serve, well, what kind of servant is that?

Deacons who don’t actively serve in the church cannot be equipped to make ministry decisions. Only through serving do we develop the heart of Christ. Without serving regularly, we slip into unhealthy management modes that actually undermine what the Church is designed to become. If you’re not serving, then you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, you’re becoming the leader who’s blocking your Church from the path it’s intended to walk.

Some may say, well, I’m older and my day of doing all that is passed. It’s time for the younger to step up. I’d probably agree with you on that last part, but if you think you’re too old to serve, then let someone younger fill that deacon slot too. The office of deacon isn’t intended to be a title of honor. In fact, personal honor is never the goal of a servant.

Some may say, well, isn’t sacrificing a night every month for meetings a type of serving? I would suggest that unless your serving brings you into direct contact with people and their needs, it’s not the kind of serving that will equip you to lead. Don’t just serve people on paper, but rub elbows with reality.

The first deacons were chosen to serve–to manage the daily distribution of food to the widows in the Jerusalem church. That’s the healthy paradigm. So, if you’re a deacon–keep serving, stay active in the ministries of your church. That’s the only way you’ll be able to serve that role in a healthy way.

There’s really no way to soften this truth. There are too many sickly churches who’ll die unless they are infused with the shot in the arm that serving deacons bring. Yes, this is but one of the factors in helping a church to health, and there are other issues to address as well. But be sure that your deacons and all your key lay leaders demonstrate their commitment to Christ’s mission with their hands and feet.

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 6

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

In our journey of “two steps” we have already seen the two steps a pastor must take (grow himself, build a team) and the two steps that only the congregation can take (face reality, create an embracing environment). And last time we saw the first of two steps the two must take together–find your engine.

The final piece of the puzzle is the second joint effort between pastor and people–aim outward.

Inward focus is the bane of the declining church. Like the natural pull of gravity, inward focus is where congregations drift unless they are intentional otherwise. We get focused on ourselves, what ministers to us, what we enjoy, how we get help for our problems…the list goes on and on. Little wonder that after walking a mile or two down this path, we get self-focused.

Congregations that lose their sense of mission have little left to do but look at each other. And after awhile, it’s not hard to start picking at each other and finding flaws in one another. Conflict, broken relationships, and general weariness of each other is quite common in the latter stages of the church’s life cycle. The more inward focused we become, the less healthy the church will be.

Aim outward. The best way to do this is to take the engine (what we developed in the previous step) and aim that engine into the community. If the church’s engine is loving people, then find ways to show love to them out there. If the church has excellent teaching gifts, start aiming those gifts into the needs of the community. If musical talent fills the church, take it to the city park–stop limiting that ability to Sunday mornings inside your walls.

The best things happen when a church is aimed outward. Such moments give the people purpose, create potential for growth, and get us as close as we’ll ever be to living God’s intent for us. Remember, CHURCH ISN’T ABOUT US! It’s about HIM and THEM! When we get that focus, good things can happen.

Of course, God cares for our needs and wants to use His Church to minister to us. But He does that best when we focus on HIM and THEM. “Seek first the kingdom…” Remember?

I’ve yet to be in a growing church that wasn’t focused on those outside their church. Through friendship, ministry effort, and clear passion those churches see a harvest field and often abandon their own comfort to get out there.

At the same time, I rarely see such a church not growing. But it’s a partnership. I’ve met pastors who were driven to reach the lost, but their people weren’t on board. I’ve even encountered one or two scenarios where the passion was limited to the people, and the pastor was blocking the path. The point is that this must be done together.

Take your best efforts outward. Do the things you can do well in ways that your community can benefit. Figure out the engines of your church and drive yourselves beyond your church walls.

An outward focused church is the only church that fulfills Christ’s passion.

 

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 5

February 19, 2018 Leave a comment

In our journey of “two steps” we have already seen the two steps a pastor must take (grow himself, build a team) and the two steps that only the congregation can take (face reality, create an embracing environment). So what’s left?

There are two steps that the pastor and people must take together.

The first of these is to “discover the engine.” Okay, that seems a bit unclear at first blush, but every has an “engine” that can generate momentum and drive it forward. There is something that your church was made to do. Baseball players speak of a “wheelhouse,” a place where the hitters strength meets the pitch and maximizes his capacity. A pitcher wants to avoid a hitter’s “wheelhouse” because that’s where the hitter is at his best. For golfers, the idea is the “sweet spot”–that place on the golf club that makes a perfect connection, allowing the golfer to hit the ball where he intended, making his best possible shot.

Okay, maybe the sports analogies don’t clear this up for you, but there is something that fits. There is a focus, an effort, a ministry priority that every pastor is made for. Likewise, there are certain things a church can do very well. When you find these, you find the church at its most effective best.

The “engine” is a merger of three key components. First, is the leader’s passion. Not long ago, I visited with a pastor of a small struggling congregation. He was frustrated to say the least, so I asked him what he was truly passionate about. I figured talking about that passion might lift his spirit a bit. He begin telling me how badly he wanted to bring hope to broken people. His own story of brokenness and the love a church family had brought helped me see how this passion had developed. To see that same thing happen for others was the very reason he felt called to ministry. “I want to see broken people healed,” he tearfully exclaimed.

I instantly concluded that this was an “engine” he could drive forward. So I asked him, “Do you think your congregation could help you do this?” You see, the second component of the “engine” is the people’s abilities. What can we be good at? In most struggling churches, there’s a long list of things we’re not very good at, and when we spend a lot of time doing what we’re not good at, well, frustration is guaranteed (so is lack of growth). No one enjoys watching us try to maneuver our weaknesses.

He said, “Yes!” He knew that his people cared deeply for broken people and he’d seen them respond in love again and again.

The final element is community need. I guessed that such an engine could connect powerfully with many people in his community. So we begin talking about how to shape the ministry of his church around this vision–healing broken people. It seemed to be the perfect merger of leader passion, congregation ability, and community need.

That’s where you find your engine. I attend a church where that engine is “life-change.” Everything is driven by this single priority. I pastored a church where “belonging” was the driving force. I’ve seen others where “investing in the next generation” or “passionately teaching truth” fire them up. Every church needs to find its wheelhouse or sweet spot–the central focus that can become their very best effort of ministry.

So together–pastor and congregation–the search for its “engine” becomes paramount. In church life, many books or assessment surveys try to tell you that addressing your weaknesses will get you where you want to go. But remember this: Momentum and growth flow from maximizing your strengths. Endurance is achieved by addressing your weaknesses.

Find the engine, but do it together. Both pastor and people have to bring their contributions to the same table. When you find the spot where the leader’s passion, congregation’s abilities, and community’s needs merge, you will find the path that can bring the momentum you crave.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the second step for this pastor/people partnership.

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 4

February 12, 2018 1 comment

We’ve already seen the two steps every pastor must take toward a healthy church–grow yourself and build a team. Now let’s continue our look at the two steps only the people of the congregation can take. Last time, we saw the first of these–face reality. Today, Part 4 of our discussion calls for the people to create an embracing environment.

I’ve been in many plateaued and declining churches, usually as a guest. I pastored a couple of these, but more recently, I’ve been the guy that the fella at the door doesn’t recognize. And usually…it shows. Now, first of all, I’m glad when there’s someone at the door because that’s not always the case. But a few weeks ago, a tall man held the door for me but didn’t say a word as he pressed the bulletin in my hand. Then I walked through a foreign hallway, flowing with the traffic toward my apparent destination. No one spoke to me, welcomed me, or said a word in my direction, until the pastor instructed such a moment in the service and the old couple in front of me obeyed.

Now, I’m a church kid. I have so much experience walking into churches that I seldom feel confused or uncertain as to what to do. But I’m the exception. The extremely rare exception. In fact, I’m the dinosaur of church life. People like me just don’t exist anymore. Instead, an entire culture drifts into a worship service with absolutely no knowledge of what to do or what will happen. And if we treat them the way many churches have treated me, well…

As a guest, I can tell whether or not the people of the church want me there, have any interest in knowing me, or could ever care about my life. I can make that judgment in minutes. Now that may not seem fair, but that’s what your guests do every week. Where are the people who love people? Where are friendly folks who have a hope that their church might grow? Is the pastor the only guy hoping for that?

Each week, the people of the church create an atmosphere for the guest experience. I’m not talking about making sure the greeters all showed up or have their cues down pat. If welcoming new people is someone else’s job, then my church is failing at it. Now I’m all for trained greeters and the systems we put in place to extend a good first impression, but friendly people–genuinely friendly people–create the best environment.

Sadly, in many struggling churches, the members come in each week more concerned about themselves than their church. They wonder if they’ll see their friend or if someone will notice their new outfit, or if the pastor’s sermon will be what they need. And they wonder why the pastor isn’t growing their church. Maybe he’s just not doing a good job.

In the church I pastored, we did a little experiment. I asked 40 people to commit to a six-month challenge. Each week, when they attended the weekend service of their choice, I asked them to MEET someone they had never met, PRAY for someone or promise to pray for them when they heard or saw a need, and HELP someone in even the simplest way (carry a diaper bag, point out restrooms, etc). We called it MPH and thought such an effort would help us “pick up speed” in becoming the church we wanted to be. We even filled out cards each week, listing the names of those we met, prayed for, and helped.

The impact was unbelievable. During those six months, the church became one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been. I never saw a guest by themselves. New people were making friends faster than they could have hoped. In fact, a year later (we tracked it) our visitor retention rate more than doubled. 48% of those who visited are church in that 6-month period were actively attending and involved in the life of the church one year later.

A deacon’s wife remarked, “Pastor, I’m starting to think that seeing our church grow is more about what we’re doing than even what you’re doing.” I wanted to jump up and down in agreement. When we are intentionally friendly, good things happen. People want to be in those places where they feel cared about and see the potential for friendships.

If there was a guest at your church last week, and you didn’t meet them…you dropped the ball!

Does that seem harsh? I’m not trying to offend you, but if a family came to your house for dinner and you didn’t speak to them, you’re wife would be furious at you! Why is that someone else’s job when that same family comes to your church?

Creating an embracing environment is one step that the people of the congregation can take to demonstrate their desire to see their church grow. It’s their most powerful step. So get some people together and start figuring out how to do it.

When we face the reality of our declining church, most of us immediately want to know what to do. Well, here it is…create an embracing environment in your church. The two churches I pastored, experienced remarkable turnarounds and growth. I’m convinced this was the single most important step in both situations.