In the typical journey of a local church there are usually crises that take place which can either cause a church to decline or rise to a higher level. With proper planning, churches can avoid each of these crises so that instead of these challenges hitting like tsunamis their impact is nothing more than like a ripple of water.
The following are some of the most common tsunamis local churches face:
I. The Senior Leader in Transition Tsunami (there is no succession plan for the next senior pastor)
I have many pastor friends well into their sixties who have no real plan for succession (i.e., who will replace them). According to Numbers 9 a person should minister as a priest from the ages of 30 to 50. After reaching 50, a priest should focus more on assisting the priests younger than him. (Nowadays 50 may be too young but by 65 a transition to a younger group of leaders should definitely be in place.)
Unfortunately, many older pastors do not adapt well to this “sage” phase in which they are to focus more on mentoring and advising young ministers than actually being the person who actively leads a church. Some of these older pastors feel an internal need to be wanted which drives them to continue to work well after they have lost their ministerial edge!
Unfortunately, another reason for this is because some trustee boards never set up pension plans so these pastors can retire, thus forcing them to work way beyond their prime years!
Senior pastors need to have a plan for developing leaders as soon as they begin their pastorate so they always have a pool of prospective leaders when they are not in their pulpit. Also, having a pool of leaders enables a senior pastor to have a choice among numerous people capable of becoming the senior leader.
Once a senior pastor is 45 he or she should more seriously start a process of transition so they can have younger leaders do much of the ministry, even while they remain the senior pastor. This gives the senior pastor more time to observe and then select a potential successor to train.
There are numerous churches in this nation that are about to have leadership tsunamis because their senior leaders are becoming old, physically feeble, are losing mental sharpness and clarity, and have no successor. On top of this, their congregations have huge facilities replete with huge financial debt and empty seats to fill.
The time to start thinking about transition is not when you really need it, but when you don’t really need it, because the process of leadership development can take a decade or more to produce people with the leadership capacity to oversee a growing local church.
II. The Economic Tsunami (churches that continually operate with a financial deficit to sustain their vision and programs)
Local churches who kept purchasing properties, building buildings, and going into debt during the real estate boom are now paying for it big time since most property no longer has the equity it used to have. This is on top of the fact that tithes and offerings have dropped almost 40% across the nation in the past two years since the housing bubble burst.
Consequently, the prolonged economic woes have caused economic tsunamis to attack local churches. This has resulted in many congregations foreclosing on their buildings, laying off much of their staff, and causing untold stress on senior leadership and full-time staff.
III. The Burnout Tsunami (leaders lack rhythms to balance health, family, work, and ministry)
There is a common pattern among senior pastors and executive leaders of all stripes (even in the secular arena) of not knowing how to find a rhythm that balances their personal lives, health, family, ministry, and their own walk with the Lord.
When this kind of pattern continues, leaders begin to act out of frustration, anger and emotional and mental burnout which leads erratic behavior and a lack of authority and depth when ministering the word. The result is failed marriages, moral failures, or failure to hear God’s voice and make wise choices.
Many churches have failed because they have never set the correct rhythm for their senior and secondary leaders. This has become a tsunami in the Body of Christ resulting in numerous divorces and moral failures among church leadership.
All leaders need to be models of properly prioritizing their lives around personal devotion toward Christ, self-renewal, physical health, family ministry, and hard work in the ministry that involves nurturing key and emerging leaders.
Having a strong leadership base is the key for long-term health and success in every area of life because this enables senior leaders to delegate authority and live life with proper boundaries.
IV. The No Follow-Through Tsunami (churches that continually proclaim compelling visions without strategic plans to implement those visions)
Many church members get discouraged after becoming excited over a great vision that is presented by their church, but with no practical follow-through for proper implementation.
Often, instead of sticking with the vision, senior leaders will cast another vision in a totally different direction. The result is a congregation that is fed up with receiving a new direction 2-3 times per year. They eventually tune out the leader and are one step out the door.
I have observed churches go through mass exoduses because they built themselves totally on a vision for either a building, a way of doing cell groups, or various programs, but there was no fruit after all the hype.
Pastors and senior leaders who continually change direction every year lose credibility and, with that, lose their most loyal people.
There is nothing wrong with continually trying to improve the “what” and the “how” a church does ministry. But what I am talking about is not improvement or building on an already established vision but actually changing directions and giving a new vision!
Churches need to continually focus on building the foundation of the apostles and prophets emphasizing the basic patterns of the New Testament church instead of copying the latest trends and fads in Christianity if they are going to be long-lasting churches with influence.
V. The Divided Leadership Tsunami (no true loyalty and relational unity cultivated among the top leaders)
I have observed churches continually lose their best leaders because senior pastors and/or associate pastors did not nurture loyalty by investing personal time into these leaders.
Some churches that have built up large congregations then have many of their secondary leaders take off and start other churches where there is more opportunity, since the senior leaders never provided personal mentoring and training for them. Some disgruntled leaders have caused tsunamis in their local churches from using their influence to take people away from their churches due to years of built-up bitterness and resentment that eventually explodes. This has caused great damage to many churches.
In this day and age, with much economic tension and work-related stress, it is even more important than ever for senior leaders to stay in touch with their established and emerging leaders and make sure they are receiving the personal ministry they need! With all the spiritual warfare released on the earth in these days there will be more and more church splits and leadership conflict if a more pastoral model is not used. Hype, great meetings, and huge programs will not be enough to carry local churches throughout these tough times.
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