NASA has been trying to figure out a way to send a man to Mars for years now, and out of all the challenges to complete a successful mission, the biggest problem is probably not what you would expect. More than funding, hauling food, or having enough fuel, the biggest challenge facing a potential Mars mission is muscle mass. Crazy, right?
As spaceflight has progressed over four decades, scientists have learned humans aren’t designed to thrive in zero gravity. In as little as 30 days, the effects of weightlessness cause the human body to lose muscle mass, aerobic function and bone density. In other words, without gravity muscles break down. They need resistance to stay strong.
Simply put: where there is no resistance there is no growth.
I once heard Craig Groeschel say, “Whenever I hear a leader who is ahead of me, say something I want to reject, I’ve most likely identified where I need to grow.Whenever I hear a leader who is ahead of me, say something I want to reject, I’ve most likely identified where I need to grow.” -@craiggroeschelClick To Tweet
To our credit, church leaders in general, love to learn. Books, podcasts, conferences, and coaching are a few of the ways we try to improve our craft and our church. The problem, though, is when the books we read and conferences we attend never force us to think of things in a new way. It’s a form of confirmation bias— the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. That’s a fancy way of saying, we rarely force ourselves to change our thinking.
I read somewhere that the music you love between the ages of 19-21 is the music you love for the rest of your life. As I reflected, that’s true for me, probably you too. Human beings and leaders alike, form opinions, rarely change them, and rarely search for different views that would challenge them to change.
When we ask for advice, if we don’t like what we hear we usually ask someone else until we get the answer we were looking for. That’s what I did when I launched a Saturday night service for our church. Our church was not in a position to launch a Saturday service, but I plowed ahead anyway ignoring the advice of everyone who disagreed with me. They were right. I was wrong. We pulled the plug three months later.
Are there times when you have to go against conventional wisdom and trust your gut, absolutely, but be careful you don’t resist advice you don’t want to hear because it goes against what you want.
Let me give you 5 pieces of advice pastors hates to hear:
1. Slow Down
A friend of mine was having a “Monday Meltdown” recently. Every pastor has experienced a Monday Meltdown. Things weren’t going as well as he had hoped; he was frustrated and disheartened telling me about all the things he was trying to do to get the results he wanted. Just listening to him made me feel exhausted. When he finished venting, I said, “I feel like you’re a jockey beating your horse to death.” When I moved to Louisville 13 years ago, I knew nothing about horse racing, but I’ve seen enough races now to know the horse who leads at the first turn almost never wins. It’s remarkable really.
I gave my friend the advice every motivated leader hates hearing— slow down! I suggested he write down his definition of a successful church— the kind of church he wanted to build, and on that same piece of paper, write down how long he is willing to work to build that church. His two answers would let him know what kind of pace he needs to set.
I would encourage you to do the same exercise; write down what you’re trying to accomplish and how long you’re willing to work for it. I can almost guarantee two things about your answers: you’re dreaming too small, and you’re underestimating how long it will take. If you’re willing to be patient, pay attention to the details, and not quit, you will build something special.CHURCH LEADER: you’re dreaming too small AND you’re underestimating how long it will take. Be patient, pay attention to the details, don't quit, and you will build something special.Click To Tweet
2. The People Who Start With You Won’t Finish With You
This advice can come in many different forms. Sometimes it’s about planting a new church, other times it’s about breaking a growth barrier, but sometimes it’s about just the general turnover of ministry. People leave. Sometimes they choose to leave, sometimes you ask them to leave, but people leave, and if you hope to grow a healthy church but never have transition your dreaming.CHURCH LEADER: People leave. Sometimes they choose to leave, sometimes you ask them to leave, but people leave, and if you hope to grow a healthy church but never have transition your dreaming.Click To Tweet
In my experience, the people who start with you don’t finish with you for 2 reasons: #1 is because their responsibility grows beyond their capacity. It doesn’t mean they are a bad person, or that they are not a talented person, it just means they can’t lead at the level necessary for where God is trying to take your church. This transition is always a challenge for a pastor because you never want to tell someone they can’t cut it, but to keep them around to their detriment is not helping them it’s hurting them. Give them every opportunity; train them, meet with them, find them a new spot on the team, but eventually, some people just can’t go to the next place, because they’re not supposed to.
The second reason people who start don’t finish with you is because they can’t view you as the growing spiritual leader that you are. Jesus said it himself, “A prophet is without honor in his hometown.” So often when people start with you, it’s difficult for them ever to view you differently than the first version they met; as you change their perception of you doesn’t. They’re too familiar, and it doesn’t make them bad people, but it does make it almost impossible for them to honor you in the way necessary for your church to grow. Some people come for seasons, some people come for reasons, and some people come for life. Don’t expect everyone to be with you for life; they won’t be, and you’re not a bad leader because you have turnover.CHURCH LEADER: Some people come for seasons, some people come for reasons, and some people come for life. You’re not a bad leader because you have turnover.Click To Tweet
3. Your facility is not your problem
I hate when someone tells me my facility is not my problem, especially when the person telling me has an incredible facility. It seems like every conference I attend the speaker says, “your facility is not your problem” and then later during Q&A someone will ask, “When did your church experience a growth spurt?” and the speaker says “When we moved into our new facility.”
I’ll confess that I often struggle with facility envy. I pastor a church that was built in the 1970’s with an “A-frame” sanctuary, and a Sunday School square. We still have a functioning Sunday School bell if we wanted to use it. I’m grateful we’re debt free, God has been so good to our church, but our building doesn’t convey the personality of our church. I would be lying if I didn’t admit every time I visit a modern facility the “new building” smell sends me into a trance.
Maybe you feel my pain. The struggle is real—but let me tell you what I have to remind myself almost every day, there are ten other things you can improve in your church right now that will help your church grow more than a new facility. If you try to construct a new facility before you construct a healthy church the building will be a burden, not a blessing. Build people, Build financial margin, build buy-in, and then build a building.CHURCH LEADER there are 10 other things you can improve right now that will help your church grow more than a new facility. Construct a healthy church before you construct a new facility!Click To Tweet
4. You don’t need to hire another staff member
Similar to the obsession of a better facility church leaders love to imagine the possibilities of more staff, and why wouldn’t we, who wouldn’t love more help—the ability to share the burden and workload with someone else?
Hiring staff can be a blessing, but it can also be the wrong way to solve a problem. I’ve worked at churches, and even as a pastor myself, who’ve fallen into the trap of hiring a staff member to do the job a volunteer should have been doing. The work required to find, train, and empower volunteers is so much harder than throwing money at a problem, but it’s much more biblical. Ephesians says Christ gave the church leaders to equip His people for works of service so that the church could grow. It’s counterintuitive to believe the pastor or the pastoral staff isn’t supposed to do all the work of ministry, but according to the Apostle Paul, that’s the exact opposite of what they are supposed to do. Pastors and staff members are supposed to equip volunteers to do the work of ministry.
Before you assume, it sounds too easy, believe me, there’s nothing easy about it. To equip someone else to do a job you could do better and quicker yourself is extremely challenging, but it’s what God has called you to do. Plus, your church will not be able to carry the financial burden of paying everyone who has responsibility. Chris Hodges says, “Hire 5, work them like 10, pay them like 8.
I’m giving away a step by step Pastor’s guide to delegation. Use this 5 step guide so you can spend most of your time doing the things that matter most.
5. Your sermons are too long
There’s probably not a more sensitive topic for pastors than the perceived quality of his/her sermons. As a general rule, pastors love to hear themselves talk, which can lead to great 20 minute sermons that last 50 minutes.
Anytime someone suggests we may be preaching too long; our initial reaction is usually deflection. We think, “I know I preach a long time but it’s good, and the people really like it.” (That’s if we can admit we preach too long). We think we’re the exception to the rule, but we’re not. There is no “standard” sermon length, and even some of the most famous preachers preach 45+ minutes, but they are the best of the best. I would bet if you went back and listened to your last five sermons in each sermon you could identify 10-15% of unnecessary content. For what it’s worth, I’m not recommending you cut out the stories or rabbit trails, I actually think people enjoy the more “unscripted” parts of your messages, but I would recommend possibly removing one of your “points” or a few of the scripture references.
Speaking for me, I know if I preach 28-32 minutes I preach my best because I’m prepared and stick to the script most of the time. If I preach 35-40 minutes, it’s not the end of the world, but I added unnecessary length, and if I preach 40+ minutes I was not prepared and spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to start and finish.
Trust me, your people will not complain if you preach shorter sermons, and if they truly do love your preaching, leaving them wanting more is never a bad thing.