Disruption – It may be the opportunity you have been looking for!

Thinking the Covid-19 disruption could help the church might sound strange or even devious at first. But consider that the church in North America has not been doing all that well for the past decade, and you may ReThink the opportunity the crisis presents to the church.

Since upwards of 80% of churches have plateaued or are declining, you have to conclude most churches have been stuck in patterns of irrelevance and insignificance for a long time. Many pastors have been challenging the existing culture within their church, but have found their churches resistant to change. But now . . . change has been forced upon the church. The forced disruption from Covid-19, social distancing, quarantining, etc. at first caused pastors to react, but now the ongoing reality is causing pastors to ReThink how they do ministry. This is not a bad thing!

Pastors started by ReThinking how they streamed their Sunday morning worship service. But as time is progressing pastors, staffs, and church leaders are ReThinking everything. They are ReThinking how discipleship is resourced and practiced. Pastors are ReThinking how they are mobilizing people for missional engagement. Churches are ReThinking how they communicate to and care for their congregations. Church leaders are ReThinking how they meet and make decisions.

Now marry these two ideas: God disrupted our everyday lives and the church in North America needed to be disrupted. Could God be up to something NEW here? I think He is, allow me to speculate a little about people, churches and pastors.

  1. People are more flexible now than they have been in a long time. The norms and expectations have been shattered. Everything is being renegotiated. Everything is on the table when it comes to change. This is the single most opportunistic moment for change within the church since WWII, and the church needed to change. The question is how are you planning for long-term change so when the crisis is mitigated, you and your church don’t fall right back into old patterns that lead to greater decline once Covid-19 is gone?
  2. The church is asking existential questions for the first time in a long time. These existential questions have to do with the mission of the church, how the church does ministry, and what really matters to the church. Everything else has become superfluous. People need the church now more than ever and usually in times of crisis people gravitate to the church. However, this time they cannot “come” to church. So, churches are having to reinvent how they are sharing the gospel, discipling followers and mobilizing members. This is driving pastors and churches back to the essential aspects of what ministry was intended to be.
  3. Pastors are innovating and taking risks for the first time in a long time aka “acting in faith.” Without faith it is impossible to please God, and currenly some churches are in danger of pleasing God for the first time in a long time. Pastors we have to believe the second half of Hebrews 11.6 too, “and that he is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” I believe if the church can get out of its way (get out of its patterns of “how we have done church” in the past) this might be the church’s finest moment in our lifetimes.

God has never wasted the crisis! It was Henry Blackaby that termed the concept “Crisis of Belief” in Experiencing God, and he taught us how God intentionally brings His people to the crisis moment in order to cause them to act in faith and Rediscover who He is. God has caused people to turn to him in faith through crisis. He has transformed people through their crisis. He has changed people’s perspective through the crisis. He has revealed Himself through the crisis, and so much more. Churches, pastors, Christians, don’t waste the crisis. Let this be the moment for this generation when we rediscover and recommit to the mission of the church.

Ps 34.17-20 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

For ReSources to help your church ReCover its mission visit the Corpus website. You can access the ReThink Crisis Management Playbook and access all the ReFocus ReSources.

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Self-Care Checklist

https://www.dropbox.com/s/bohu15io0dkk5g5/ReThink%20Webinar.mp4?dl=0

Having led three churches and having led through three different significant disruptions, I know the challenges and the stresses that crisis can create for local churches. When multiple hurricane events in a single hurricane season caused massive disruption to both church and school ministries, our team had to figure out a way to lead through recovery while doing ministry within the crisis. Years later our team had to lead the church through a fire catastrophe that rendered a building unusable for ministry. In 2008-2009 our team lead a church through the financial crisis in a community where 25% of the home owners experienced foreclosures and home prices collapsed creating a financial crisis for the church. Make no mistake these were significant challenges, however, the current challenge is more of a combination of all 3 crisis occurring within a single event and it is not a regional event it is a global event.

Here is what you can be assured of: God is still on His throne, He has not changed, and His mission is still the same. He has even orchestrated events so that this crisis can be used to further His kingdom agenda if we will pursue Him and His desires. The crisis is even filled with potential. The crisis holds the possibility of recapturing our attention, refocusing us on what is important, and rethinking ministry beyond the crisis. I will write about these issues in the days to come. Today I want to Focus on YOU! You can’t lead through the challenge and you can’t be creative and passionate if you or your team are running on empty! You must take care of yourself and you must take care of your team.


When I faced my first crisis, a direct hit from a major hurricane, I thought once the hurricane passed, the crisis would be over. It was not! The crisis had only just begun. It was the hardest year of ministry I ever faced and it never seemed to end. I was not prepared for the toll it would take on me and the effects it would have on my team. During challenging times, wise and experienced leaders know self-care and team care are of upmost importance. If you or your team members become burned out, spent, or overwhelmed, you will not be able to be fully used by God and you will have little to give to those in need. Below you will find a few questions good leaders continually ask in the midst of the crisis.


Am I fostering my spiritual life through prayer, Bible reading and solitude? John 15 reminds us that we must abide in the vine if we are going to bear much fruit and if that fruit is going to remain. There is nothing more important as you face a crisis than remain “in Christ.” This will be the source of your personal peace and strength through the crisis.


Am I caring for my immediate family and closest friends? If the crisis becomes a family crisis, the focus will rightly shift from the ministry to the home. This will prevent the mission of the ministry from advancing. When it comes to caring for your family at home, use the “ounce of prevention rule.”


Am I taking time to be relationally recharged? Take time for people especially people who fuel your heart and mind. Don’t neglect phone calls from people you love. Stop to interact with people who encourage you. You don’t need all outflows and zero inflows.


Am I taking time to be alone to think? It is easy to get into a reaction mode. It is better to step back and posture yourself in a strategic mode. This does not have to take a long time, but it does require thoughtful consideration regarding the BIG issues. The ReThink resource is designed to help you do just this (https://corpusvitae.org/pdf/)


Am I turning off the world to gain a long-term perspective? In a crisis most leaders only think short-term. The crisis moment is one of the best times to think long-term. The crisis offers an opportunity to embrace changes that would have taken years to activate. But because the crisis necessitates it, the change can be made now.


Am I eating, sleeping, exercising, and drinking enough water? The emotional intensity of the crisis is hard to measure hourly or daily, only time will reveal the real toll it is taking. Paul may have born the marks of the gospel outwardly on his skin, but you are probably more likely to bear the marks inwardly through your blood pressure, heart rhythms, and mental health that can lead to health issues, depression and withdrawal. Caring for your physical body is essential for you to be present for the long-haul of the crisis.


Am I allowing others to speak into my life? You need to be talking to others who do what you do and hear from them the feelings they have, the thoughts they are thinking and the responses they are taking. You will discover you are not alone and you will learn many insightful ways to cope with the crisis and face the challenges before you. Some times you just need to verbalize to another human being what you are experiencing and experisnce the situation through their perspective.


Am I considering that one day in the future the crisis will be over? This too shall pass. You will one day look back on the current crisis with perspective and insights. It will be one of the biggest learning experiences you have ever had. Realize today, this crisis will not last forever. Say it out loud, “THIS WILL NOT LAST FOREVER!” Say it to your spouse, your kids, your leaders. “IT WILL NOT LAST FOREVER!” There don’t you feel better already knowing this will end?


Am I remembering that God is in charge and He ultimately will be the one who solves the crisis? This is a very freeing thought! I am not God. I can’t be God. I can’t do what only God can do. Isaiah 46.9-10 says, “I alone am God! There are no other gods; no one is like me. Think about what happened many years ago. 10 From the very beginning, I told what would happen long before it took place. I kept my word!

Visit the Corpus Website at http://www.corpusvitae.organd click the ReThink button to learn more.

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Most Church Revitalization Approaches Will Not Work

Most church revitalization (CR) efforts will not work because most of what is being offered in the church revitalization space is simply regurgitated church growth (CG) models.  Church revitalization (CR)  and church growth (CG) are two completely different realities and require completely different responses. 

The bell curve is a helpful model to assist in understanding the difference between CG and CR. Les McKeoen in Predictable Success labels the 7 segments of the bell curve with different labels, but he speaks to the distinctions of these 7 regions on the bell curve definitively. At Refocus we refer to the bell curve’s 7 segments as:  1. Birth, 2. Growth, 3. Maturity, 4. Peak, 5. Decline, 6. Decay, and 7. Death. The Church Growth (CG) model operates in regions 1-4. The Church Revitalization (CR) model operates in regions 5-7. Region 5 (Decline) requires a classic revitalization approach. Region 6 (Decay) requires a crisis revitalization approach. And region 7 (Death Rattle) requires a replant approach to revitalization.

Church Growth models live on the front side of the bell curve. Church Revitalization models live on the back side of the bell curve. There is a different look, feel, sound and tone on the front side of the bell curve than there are on the back side of the bell curve. Let’s look at each.

Church Growth Realities

On the CG side of the bell curve there is a lot of energy and excitement. New things are being born. The euphoria of acting in faith and birthing new ministries creates life and vitality. Living on the front side of the curve is marked by a culture of faith, joy and hope. Risk taking stimulates all kinds of activity. Every small victory makes it feel like progress is being made and movement and momentum are building.

There are challenges to living on the front side or at the top of the bell curve but these challenges also create a culture of excitement and anticipation. The challenges include launching the church, resourcing the church and building the necessary systems for the church to grow. During these struggles there are many things to fight for including: securing enough funding to succeed, gathering enough people to be viable, and dealing with the complexities of a growing organization. Yet, these “activities” bring stimulus to the church regarding its mission, vision and strategy. The result is the culture that the church mission and strategy lives within is predisposed to reaching, impacting and moving people. Without going into too many details this results in leaders being able to leverage programs, have a what’s next mentality, follow their “builder” intuition, respond in real time to human needs and take risks anticipating future rewards.

Church Revitalization Realities 

On the church revitalization side of the bell curve life looks and feels very different. On the backside of the curve the survivability of the institution becomes the primary concern of its participants. Maintaining the institution becomes more important than fulfilling the institution’s mission. There is little or no desire to see improvement. Creativity is lost. Risk aversion takes root. Data and analysis paralyzes the organization. There is little meaningful action. Organizational awareness is lost. Hard work may occur but the hard work leads no where.

My guess is you can see, feel and hear the tone of these paragraphs and recognize just how different growth and revitalization feel. So what does the revitalization leader have to know and what must they stand ready to do to lead on the backside of the curve?  What is different for a revitalization pastor that makes them effective at leading a church out of its decline and onto a new growth curve? Here are the seven essentials to leading effectively on the back side of the curve.

  1. You must know why the church is where it is.  It is not enough to know what is happening currently within the church. You must know why.  You must know why things are the way they are.  We call this taking dominion over the church.  Like Adam was given dominion over the earth and the symbolic act of naming the animals indicated his authority over creation, so church leader must be able to name the challenges the church faces and understand why these challenges are creating decline.  It is not enough to simple know that decline is occurring.  You must know the “WHY behind the WHAT.”
  2.  You must be willing to make hard decisions that make things worse. The very fact that revitalization is necessary means things are not as they should or need to be.  This will require significant adjustments to be made.  These significant adjustments will inevitably affect people.  When people are adversely affected, they will become frustrated and greater losses will occur.  However, unless significant changes are made the continued decline is inevitable.
  3. You must reposition the ministry to a place where it can succeed. Jesus did this with the 7 churches of Revelation. He spoke to and redirected its leaders. He looked at the church’s past purpose. And He considered the uniqueness’s of the community where the church was located. At the intersection of these three realities is found the “natural” right position for the ministry. For most churches the right position for effective ministry will require a significant repositioning which means significant change in its ministry.
  4.  You must be willing to decrease complexity and simplify ministry. Ministries that need to be revitalized usually have accumulated a lot of unnecessary, non-essential programs, events and people. These aspects of a declining ministry distract from fulfilling or perhaps from even from seeing the mission. All non-essential ministry resources and activities must be redeployed around mission critical activities.
  5. You must develop a clear and simple strategy to fulfill the mission. The most beautiful and most powerful things in the universe are simple. Clarity and simplicity in what you do and how you do it are the hallmarks of renewal. You must develop a new and clear God given mission and develop a plan to fulfill the mission. Apart from knowing what and how you will do ministry, revitalization will NEVER take place.
  6. You must kill the existing culture. There is a reason why things are in decline.  The existing culture of the church is preventing the mission of the church from being fulfilled. This means things are worse than you think they are and things will be harder to change than you think they will be. The reasons for the decline run deeper into the church culture than you can even imagine. You must relentlessly call out misplaced values, and ruthlessly work to resurrect a good culture in the midst of the decay.
  7. You must burn the ships and refuse to go back. As you begin leading on the backside of the curve towards revitalization, if there is any opportunity to go back there will be incredible pressure to return to the old culture and old ministry. The pain of change will become so intense that there will be a mutiny against those who are leading forward.  There must be resolve and commitment that is ironclad if there is any hope of restoring vibrancy to the church. Going back will ensure the death of the church.

This may all sound dramatic, but if anything this description understates the reality of the difficulty and the pain of leading a revitalization. When you do take specific and dramatic approaches to leading a revitalization the likelihood of your success goes up dramatically. There are six steps you must take to bring about the revitalization of a church. You can learn more about how to lead your ministry through the revitalization process by watching our Refocus videos at https://corpusvitae.org/about-refocus/

 

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MOST Pastors MOST Underdeveloped Skill

As a young pastor in my first church, I remember making a difficult phone call. I called the Dean of Theology at the seminary I recently graduated from and admitted, “I don’t know what I am doing!” 

I had been called to be the pastor of a core group that had recently failed in their efforts at church planting. We were going to make a go at RE:planting this failed church. The church was beginning to grow. We grew from a handful of people past the 100 barrier pretty quickly and ministry got chaotic fast.

I quickly realized I did not know how to give the church the direction it needed. My admission was an honest confession, but it was met with a stunning response. “We really don’t offer leadership skills training for pastors. You will have to find that somewhere else.” Later the president of that same seminary confessed to me, “I don’t believe in leadership training, you are either anointed by God to lead or you are not.” For 25 years I have listened to pastors struggle to find the leadership help we all needed but we did not learn in seminary. Most pastors will admit the single most frustrating struggle they faced in ministry was, “I was ask to do a job I was never trained to do.” Many pastors have even left the ministry as they faced this frustration.

Before we are too hard on our beloved seminaries we have to realize that the seminary is not equipped to deal with the real-life leadership challenges churches face. One of the reasons is most seminary professors are biblical scholars who can prepare pastors for the elder role they are ask to fulfill in their teaching and preaching. Most seminary professors are also caring people who can train pastors for the shepherding role they play. But most seminary professors are not natural leaders or gifted spiritual leaders nor are they skilled adequately in the realities of vision casting, culture development, strategy and the other necessary leadership skills to lead a church. Most seminaries are just not the crucible of the real world where pastors serve as spiritual leaders for a complex organism like the body of Christ.

Since the day of my confession, I have made many mistakes in turning to the wrong places to find help for my leadership struggles. I have turned to denominational leaders who blogged or gave podcasts about leadership “philosophy.” I have turned to charismatic leaders who seem to be a leader and I tried to emulate them. I have borrowed from the business world principles that helped me in my times of crisis. But honestly, I was always left wanting in all three of these efforts usually because their solutions were more charisma based and not competency based.

Yet, what I have discovered is that the Bible is filled with rich insights regarding the MOST UNDERDEVELOPED aspect of pastoral ministry in the church today – THE OVERSEER.

The key that unlocked church leadership mystery for me was one of the biblical labels given to pastors by both Peter and Paul in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5.  It is the importance of the role of the Overseer (επιτηρητής), and I was surprised when I learned Jesus was labeled an “Overseer” (1 Peter 2.25). What I discovered was a typology that caused me to look into the OT to discover who else the Bible labeled an overseer. I also wanted to understand what the role of the overseer entailed.  Here is what I found.

The word Overseer is used in the stories of three OT characters: Joseph, Josiah, and Nehemiah. Joseph is the overseer in Potiphar’s home and the overseer of Egypt. Josiah recognized the strategic need for overseers to revitalize the work of the temple. And Nehemiah when he is preparing to leave Jerusalem realizes he needs to appoint overseers over Jerusalem to establish a culture that could sustain Jerusalem into the future. Each of these overseer types teach important “skills” related to leading in the spiritual arena. Here are three specific skills unpacked regarding an effective overseer. These are skills every local church pastor must have in their tool kits just like they need to tools of preaching and pastoring.

Joseph’s story reveals he was a God gifted vision caster. The problem was he kept abusing the vision casting process early in his life, just ask his brothers and even his mother! However, after God emptied Joseph of himself, God was able to use Joseph to cast two visions that saved Israel and Egypt. His vision casting skills should be emulated by pastors today.

Josiah’s story reveals the importance of strategy. Josiah was young but he envisioned a revitalized Israel, so he set in place a four part strategy to lead Israel back to a holy relationship with God. When pastors are developing their church’s strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission, Josiah is a perfect and biblical example.

Nehemiah’s story reveals the importance of being a culture curator. Nehemiah had been the overseer of Israel during the rebuilding of Israel, but as he prepared to return to Susa, he was concerned about what would happen to Israel after he left. So, he appointed overseers to help establish and maintain the culture he had worked so hard to achieve. This way Jerusalem could be sustained beyond his lifetime.

This is a brief and surface level look at the typology of the overseer. It is the foundation in the OT for what we are taught about the overseer in the NT. These skills are essential skills every pastor needs to faithfully execute the ministry of the church. Three skills: vision caster, strategist, and culture developer. Three things every pastor has wrestled with in the context of the local church. Three things that today are preventing most churches from participating in the Great Commission. Three things keeping pastors from stewarding their church’s ministry and resources well. Three things most of you were never taught in seminary, but wish you were.

Don’t let anyone tell you like they told me that “You are either a leader or you are not.” This places an artificial lid on your ministry that is NOT biblical. When the Bible describes leadership Charisma is not at the top of the list. As a matter of fact is most often shunned. Character and competence are most often pointed to when it comes to good biblical leadership (i.e. David lead Israel with skillfulness of hand and integrity of heart).  Leadership is essential, and you don’t have to borrow it from the world.  It is all right there in the Bible. You don’t have to doubt it and your people won’t resist it, when they see it clearly in God’s Word.  Let us help you learn the skill sets of biblical leadership that can help your church fulfill its God-given mission. Visit our team at www.corpusvitae.org 

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The Law of 10,000 Hours in Vision Adoption

The law of 10,000 hours in contemporary culture is either known through Malcom Gladwell’s writings or through country music. For churches and pastors there is a more significant meaning.  The law of 10,000 hours in church revitalization has to do with how much time it takes a Revitalization Pastor (RP) to cast and communicate a vision for leading the church from a place of decline and decay to a place of renewal and revitalization.

A friend in ministry who led his church through the 6 step Refocus vision casting process declared after working for months with his team to develop a clear and compelling vision, “We have just given birth!” He was so excited and relieved and thought he could breath deep and rest. The next day he called me exhausted and overwhelmed saying, “I woke up today and realized, yesterday I gave birth to the vision and today I realized I have a marathon to run to see it implemented.”

Vision casting can strain the imagination and creative energies of a pastor, but vision adoption will strain a pastor’s perseverance and endurance. Most pastors think when the vision is cast that the hard work is over. The exact opposite is true, the hard work has just begun. Vision adoption in a church is usually a journey that takes 10,000 hours. You can do the math but at 60 hours a week of ministry and church activity this is a little over 3 years. No matter how you try to compress it, 10,000 is a long time and a lot of work.

Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm discusses how new ideas are adopted. His study reveals 2.5% of people are Innovators. Innovators are people who create new ideas. 13.5% of people are early adopters. These people are not afraid of what is new. 35% of people are middle adopters. They like to see something work before they embrace it. 35% are late adopters. They have to argue about the strengths and weaknesses of an idea before they embrace it. 15% are laggards. These people are the dreaded never adopters and will resist to the very end.

Most of the people working on a vision with a pastor will be innovators. They access and accept new things readily. Most pastors love working with innovators. They are exciting to talk to, see things quickly and adopt new ideas regularly. However, most people in declining churches are not innovators.

Most people in churches are not even early adopters. Early adopters will hear a new vision for revitalization and over the first year will learn the vision and begin to live out the vision. This first year is an exciting time in the vision casting process especially for the pastor. What most pastors are not ready for are years 2 and 3 in the vision adoption process.

In year two the pastor will seek to win the middle adopters, but this usually comes with a high price tag. The pastor has to have a lot of conversations trying to convince people of the benefits of moving forward onto God vision in faith and obedience. Most pastors will spend more time than they ever imagined in conversation communicating the benefits and assuaging the fears of the church adopting the vision.

Yet, there is another group waiting for the pastor in the vision adoption process – the late adopters. The late adopters have another price tag on their approval – conflict.  The late adopter usually has to have a significant emotional or spiritual experience with the vision in order to lend their approval.  This requires the pastor to “gird up the loins” for the battle the late adopter needs to have in order for them to become convinced the vision is worthy of being adopted.  I do not mean to position the pastor against the late adopter.  The late adopter will adopt the vision, they just need intensity and opportunity to “get them there” related to the vision.

So RP (Revitalization Pastor) work hard and creatively to craft a clear and compelling vision for revitalization and then, prepare for the 3 year implementation and execution phase where culture shifts and church members learn, lead, and live the new vision over 10,000 hours together!

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