There are a range of types of leadership. I don’t mean styles, like authoritarian or laissez-faire; I mean contexts which call for different kinds leadership, like entrepreneurship, which is appropriate at the initiation of an organization, management, which is leadership for steady organizations with a charted trajectory, and rehabilitation, for organizations that are facing an impending closure. You really need different kinds of leaders for different contexts, and most leaders are going to serve better in one context than another.
Something that’s fascinating about starting a new church is the kind of leadership it requires. You are certainly an entrepreneur, but the first thing you have to do is to lead change. That’s because the first people who usually come visit a new church are not people who don’t believe in God; they’re Christians who are looking for a new church. They’ve decided whatever experience of church they had before wasn’t what they want or are called to, but they’re not giving up on church. For that population, those who lay the groundwork for the for the future of what the church will be, leadership must be transformative. The leader inherits the whole package of experiences and expectations that Christians already have, and then he or she must lead change from the start. But unlike an established organization, there are no formal institutional traditions for anyone to lean on. The leader has to lead transformational change specifically in the expectations of a people who have come looking for something new.
I’m new to this. We’re a year in to our new church. Here’s a few things I’ve learned so far about transforming expectations
1. You have to be clear about what you’re not.
Being clear about what you are is fun and exciting. You can proclaim big visions for life-change and kingdom work. But refining your mission into a specific task requires defining boundaries against what you are not. For instance, megachurches from at least the 1980s have thrived on offering a buffet of activities for every demographic. When you list them all, it looks like the menu at the Cheesecake Factory. Effective new churches start with the idea that we’re going to do a few things well. Specifically, a good church seeks to experience dynamic worship as a community, effective discipleship in small groups, engaging children’s programs, and absolutely nothing else. That means all the favorite menu options have to go. When they ask for a sports ministry, you have to respond the way Chick-fil-A would if you ask them for a cheeseburger.
2. You can teach what you know, but you can only recreate what you are.
Telling people that they should talk to lost people about Jesus is great. Giving them examples of people who have done it is inspiring. Having seminars to teach them how to do it is thoughtful. But if the leader isn’t doing it, neither is anyone else. Want to hear your church talking about their conversations with people who don’t believe in God. Tell them your stories about talking to people who don’t believe in God. Some great stories that I’ve heard have come to me as I was standing at the door after a Sunday worship service, and someone ran up to me and said, “That story that you shared reminds me of something that happened to me this week….” And if I’m paying attention, and if it’s relevant, I ask that person to share that story in church or on video the following week.
3. You have to repeat the thing you just repeated.
If you haven’t said it in 6 days, there’s a solid chance they’ve forgotten it or marginalized it. If you sent your congregation out on a mission last Sunday, start this Sunday by asking them how it went. If it slips away for you, it’s definitely gone for them. Placing vision statements on your site, in your print materials, on signs, and in speeches is an essential form of repetition. At about the time you’re sick of hearing yourself, someone is only just catching on. When you’re transforming people’s expectations, this is an essential step to breaking old patterns.
If the pastor is the only person who sees the vision of the church, it’s not a vision – it’s a hallucination.
4. You have to switch from fulfilling goals to pursuing vision.
Good leaders know how to set goals and love doing it. Youcan’t very well lead without a sense for what you want to achieve. But pursuing vision means breaking out of the standard measurable goals inherent in your field and chasing after vision-driven goals that many people might not respect. This week I talked with Ger Jones, the pastor of Vintage Church LA. I went to his Alpha program where I ended up in a conversation with an atheist who had been invited to the church by another atheist. Neither believed; both loved coming. Ger noted that at ordinary churches you might count how many people attend. At great churches you might count how many people are baptized. But he wondered how many people count how many conversations your congregation had with atheists that week. I myself would ask – how many churches have atheists who are not only attending, but are evangelizing others and bringing them to church?
Transforming the expectations of already churched people means changing the standards of measurement that most churches are using.
These are just a few of the early lessons that I have learned and am learning again. Starting a new church was nothing I ever dreamed of doing, but in the end, it’s been more educational than college, but exhilarating than mountain-climbing, and more clearly Spirit-led than any ministry I’ve ever experienced.