There’s a university in our backyard, Youngstown State University. When they were building the campus, they did something interesting. They had this big project where buildings were popping up all over the campus, and rather than lay pavement to connect the buildings right away, they decided to do something unconventional: They observed the students and how they routinely got from one building to the next. Then they laid the pavement.
Like the university, I think the last two years have given us an opportunity to rebuild something in God’s kingdom, a new expression and a new era of ministry. We have been given the chance to see where the people are going and what their pattern is. Now, not all of their patterns are healthy; there are some we will have to redirect. But watching them may lead us to new frontiers where we can minister in new ways. As the adage goes, “Never let a good crisis go to waste!”
I want to walk you through a few honest questions I’ve been asking myself because I believe that you, like me, want to lead with excellence and do all you can to reach those around you for Christ.
1. Am I building on the right foundation? The pandemic and all these challenges exposed some issues in my heart that I didn’t even know were there. I used to ask myself, What am I doing that will draw a large attendance? I heard one pastor say we shouldn’t measure attendance; we should measure repentance. We pray for revival so often, and then we quantify revival with how many people we can cram into a room. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re just using bait that Christians like — a Christian artist, Christian chicken from Chick-fil-A, a Christian T-shirt — and then we call it “revival.” It’s not the right foundation to build on. Neither is a flashy foundation. I love to have fun with people on our tech team and say things like, “You’re not one LED panel away from revival, you know.” We need to ask ourselves, Are we building this thing on Jesus, the only Foundation that matters? Our vision might be a mile high, but our vision is only as good as its foundation. And fixing the foundation is costly.
2. Do I have a vision we’re following? Did you know that today people are talking about something they call “the great resignation?” Studies are showing that at least 40% of workers are contemplating quitting their jobs. After a year of reevaluating and readjusting, we’re collectively entering what psychologists say is the sixth stage of grief, a pursuit of meaning and purpose. This pursuit of meaning and purpose is causing many people to reconsider why they do what they do, which I think might be healthy. And because of it, we have a unique opportunity to clarify purpose for our church and its volunteers, so that they can find meaning in their contribution. We can tell them, “This is a new frontier. There are hundreds and thousands of people in our neighborhoods, at our schools, at our offices, and they need hope now more than ever. We’re not just putting on a badge or a shirt so we can usher people into a sanctuary; we are helping them connect with Jesus during one of the most critical times in history.” When I started to talk like this to our volunteers, I saw new life breathed into our teams and they began to grow!
3. Am I empowering others to lead? Jesus was a master at this. Think about this: Jesus’ entire ministry was built for the day when He would no longer be there. It’s incredible because Jesus was turning the world upside down, and yet He said, “It’s actually better that I go. I’m giving you My authority. I’m going to place Myself in millions of you so that you can go and accomplish exponentially more than I ever would have been able to as this one, single Savior walking the planet.” That’s pretty cool!
So here’s a couple of pro tips on how to identify future leaders. The best leaders we have have come through relationships. As we’re looking to expand our teams, I look for the people who I’ve done life with. I look for those I’ve been in the trenches with when they’ve gone to the hospital or something. I look for people who have been there for me. And I’m getting really good at identifying in them what maybe they can’t identify in themselves. So if you’re a younger pastor and you feel like you’re doing everything right now, then you just need to get good at seeing the people around you and their strengths. When you do, don’t text them; take them out to lunch or for coffee and tell them, “God put you on my heart. This is what I see in you. I see greatness and leadership in you. Would you pray about, fill in the blank? I’ll show you first, then we’ll do it together, then I’ll watch you. It’s going to be a process.”
4. Are my systems working for me or against me? Most of the lack of growth or lack of traction in my ministry has been due to a lack of system. Often, your problems are a symptom of a system. If there’s an issue you’re running into in your organization, it’s probably going to be traced back to a system that needs to be in place or revised. Church is the vehicle that delivers whatever God’s wanting to do in your community. I don’t know about you, but I know what I want to see God do. I just don’t know how to get there. Usually, I’m a system or two away, or an idea or two away. We see this in churches across the nation. They can get guests in the door, but the challenge is getting them to take the next step in their faith. Putting into play the system of Growth Track literally revolutionized our church in this area.
5. Am I making room for a miracle? Before COVID, my wife has a development system called SOW, School of Worship in which she trains high school students and adults to grow in their musicianship and worship leading ability. It’s this pathway that develops worship leaders who can lead on the weekends or in our student ministry. We had a semester where we didn’t have as many people participate, and then COVID hit. We thought, Maybe we shouldn’t run it for a couple semesters? Then we concluded that we needed to make room for a miracle. If you make room for a miracle, the miracle will happen. Some of our participants had moved away during COVID and others stepped down, but suddenly, new people emerged!
Apply this to your context and whatever God is doing in your church. How are you making room for a miracle in your student ministry? How are you making room for a miracle in your office setting? In your personal time with God? In your finances? Whatever it is, make room for a miracle and watch a miracle result!