Core Non-Theological Beliefs of A Successful Church
Today’s post follows yesterdays. Both build on posts by Dharmesh Shah, the founder of Hubspot.
Here are some thoughts on how they apply to church life.
Beliefs are nothing without action, he states. What are the common traits of leaders and organizations that lead the way with their actions? How do they apply to congregations?
1. They believe they don’t have to wait to be “selected.” They can simply select themselves.
Church people have difficulty with this. We wait for “the call.” We rely on the skills, interests, and initiatives of the pastor who has received “the call.” A pastor’s call is elevated above the mundane calls of the laity—not by the Bible—not by Martin Luther—but in practice.
We all know that theologically we all receive calls. Some are followed. Some ignored. Some respected. Some despised.
When “the call” isn’t heard or, more likely, heard but unanswered, we use this as an excuse for failure.
The internet amplifies “the call.” It gives everyone the ability to do almost anything with their God-given interests and skills. So many impediments to success have been removed. Anyone can improve his or her theological education. Anyone can reach out. Anyone can “tell it.”
Listen carefully. God may be bypassing the layers of authority.
It would be just like him.
He did it in the Old Testament when he called Moses, Saul, Samuel, David, Jonah . . .
He did it in the New Testament when he commissioned His son and called Peter and eleven other disciples, Paul, Zaccheus, Lydia . . . .
2. They believe being the first matters less than being the best.
The game of life is a race with more than one winner.
The ones who get the best start often tire before they reach the finish line. Suddenly, the ones who paced along, trailing by yards, move into the forefront.
There is plenty of work in the kingdom. Let each congregation shine in its own race.
Hey, we can even help each other get to the finish line.
3. They believe success seems predictable only in hindsight.
Here Shah quotes the visionary, Steve Jobs.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.”
Jobs was wildly successful but his failures were noteworthy and newsworthy. They were public, humiliating and complete. Jobs was kicked out of the company he started!
In fact, his failures created his ingenuity. He had a LOT to overcome. Routinely he emerged with a new idea that changed the world—backed up with new systems and structures to promote them. Wow!
Here’s where so many congregations need a lift. We’ve been told “you can’t” or “we don’t see how you can” so many times. So many congregations reluctantly hand their future to leaders with no vision—leaders who are themselves tired and doubting and willing to carry congregations on their backs as they fall.
For them, hindsight will be too late. Predict your own success. Do it today!
4. They believe personal success comes from service, not selfishness.
There is a reason for this! Service creates connection—bonds. When we approach mission as service-oriented we reach out, we build bridges, we create a platform—or pulpit—from which the Word can be heard. Rather than viewing mission as a protection of assets, we see assets with the intent to serve. That is what the people who provided those assets had in mind!
The challenge for the modern church is to strengthen the individual. That’s not going to happen the traditional ways—Sunday Schools, Confirmation Class, etc. The writing for this is so on the wall that it is a grand mural.
Our challenge is to find ways to educate and empower in today’s world. It’s never been more possible, by the way!
5. They believe in doing a few things no one else is willing to do.
Shah writes: The best opportunities often lie waiting in fields other people can’t be bothered to cultivate. Find those fields and start cultivating.
That should be enough said, but Redeemer’s Ambassador visits, reveal that most congregations are doing the same things. Many of them are supporting non-church charities like Habitat for Humanity, disease-cure walks, and contributing to food pantries. We send our youth to Appalachia, New Orleans or an Indian Reservation to work on a specific project. All good ventures. All have someone else providing the infrastructure and management, which helps churches that have lost that infrastructure. Mission made easy.
But here are two questions for every congregation to ask a few weeks before their Annual Meeting.
What opportunity for service is waiting for US?
What service can we provide that no one else can do?
6. They believe that the depth of their network is more important than the breadth.
The numbers game is a real temptation. We all play it.
You must have 150 members to support a pastor. Then giving drops, participation drops and we suddenly need 250 members to pay the same bills. All those country and city churches that never had more than 150 members—all those churches that made their way through the founding years of our young nation and weathered the Great Depression are struggling amidst today’s affluence.
The internet numbers game is also a temptation. 2×2 watches our numbers. We are regularly solicited by Search Engine Optimizers to use their services to boost our numbers. We don’t use them. We want to grow organically. (We now, in our fourth year, have about 400 readers per day.)
The strength of the connections is more important than the numbers.
Strengthen the bonds and the numbers take care of themselves.
7. They believe ideas are important… but execution is everything.
How many church council meetings have you sat through that someone offered a great idea. “Let’s reach out to _________.”
And that’s where the idea stops.
Ideas are easy. Strategies and the ability to follow them and shift gears and resume speed when glitches occur—that’s the tough part.
Pick a great idea. Work at it.
8. They believe leadership is earned, not given.
We’ve heard the cry before. “If only the congregation would let me lead.”
Leadership doesn’t work that way!
Poor leaders sit around and mope about their pay or that they aren’t given the respect their position deserves. They build their reputations on a single achievement—ordination or the completion of a specific training course.
Inspiring leaders turn the attention outward, giving their followers the support and credit for success.
Shah is worth quoting directly here.
Real leaders make people feel they aren’t following—they’re on a journey together.
9. They believe in paying it forward.
Successful people don’t wait for the right conditions for success. They work at creating conditions for success.
This is a particular challenge in today’s church. So many part-time pastors are paid by the hour.
“But you are only paying me for 15 hours a week.”
That doesn’t leave much time for leadership and opens the door for conflict as people fight over exactly what 15 hours should represent.
Real leaders don’t say, “Pay me more and I’ll do more.” They start doing more. They give their all.
This does more than earn raises. It earns respect. Respect builds teamwork and teamwork helps us reach goals—mission goals and monetary goals.
10. They believe they will make their own history.
In 2009, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with the secular court’s permission, locked the doors of Redeemer Lutheran Church and carried away our church records to be archived in the library of the Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia.
They considered our history to be over—ready to collect dust.
It is 2014—five years later. Our history is not over. We are making our own history. We’ll archive it when we are ready!
By all means, you do the same!
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