Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

7 minutes
Download

Revitalized Churches Require Renewed Leaders

In July 2004, I simultaneously learned that my wife was pregnant with our first child and chose to move us 12 hours away to pursue a student ministry position. I was confident God had called us to bigger and better things and naively walked into the worst church experience I’ve ever endured.

We joined a church with a dynamic preacher, lots of young families, and enthusiastic teens. Not long after my family arrived in town, the church added a talented worship leader, and we were off to the races. The church was growing, people were excited, and the future was bright. It seemed like the perfect situation, but the cracks would quickly begin to emerge.

As Jesus so clearly reminded us, we have an enemy who came to “steal, kill and destroy” everything that is going well. The church was growing, things were advancing, and so the enemy began attacking. It began subtly enough, as a small personality conflict led to a tense meeting. Churches are no stranger to tense relationships, so everyone acknowledged it and just kept moving.

About this time, I learned my church had been through multiple splits in the past. I’ve since come to learn that churches who split tend to split again and those splits almost never happen over theological issues. Rather, they are almost always over issues of preference and pride. This is because unhealthy leaders pursue the wrong things.


“Unhealthy leaders pursue the wrong things.”


Over time, one small frustration led to another, frustrations led to disagreements, which led to broken relationships, and eventually families began to leave the church. Every disagreement needs a lightning rod, and in early 2005 the lightning rod emerged. A decade or so before, the church had raised some money to purchase trees to plant along the driveway leading up from the road. Along with the purchase of trees, promises were made that eventually plaques would be purchased and placed on each tree with “In Memory Of ________” inscriptions.

The decade-old demand for plaques almost felt like a joke to us in 2005, but there was nothing funny about it. As with most young, growing churches, there wasn’t enough money to purchase much of anything, let alone plaques for trees. Our elders politely explained that the plaques would not be purchased, and the issue was put to rest—or so we naively thought.

At this point, we were beginning to lose a family here and there. As things began coming to a head, we lost a few pivotal families all at once (including some elders and deacons). In their defense, they were tired of the nonsensical fight and were feeling the pain of damaged friendships.


“They were tired of the nonsensical fight and were feeling the pain of damaged friendships.”


The growing mess took on a new sense of urgency when a group within the church announced they had banded together and developed a plan. They had found leverage with their money, choosing to place their tithes and offerings in a savings account, rather than an offering plate. They openly shared that the money would be given to the church—once our senior minister had resigned and plaques had been purchased.

With a young, naive staff and some stubborn elders, lines were drawn and sides were chosen. We were committed to staying the course and winning the battle. Money dried up. Ministry ground to a halt. Church staff took turns being paid once every few pay periods. Savings accounts were drained. Things began to look grim.

A congregational meeting was called. By this time, we were down to just a couple elders and some worn out, beaten down, hungry ministers. The meeting could not have been more stereotypical, with the room evenly divided down the center aisle. One side rooted for plaques while the other side called for a return to our previous church growth. Both sides said horrible things and the church’s fate was sealed.


“Both sides said horrible things and the church’s fate was sealed.”


The preacher resigned. The worship minister resigned. Half the church left. The angry mob won. But the church lost. And the community suffered.

I was asked to become the senior minister. When I declined, my wife, our 3-month-old son, and I were evicted from the parsonage.

This is what can happen when unhealthy leaders pursue the wrong things.

Now that I think of it, I don’t believe plaques were ever purchased. Then again, it seemed always to be about pride, never about plaques.

There are too many stories like this one. In fact, it seems as though everyone has their own story of a church becoming devitalized due to unhealthy leaders passionately pursuing the wrong things. Sometimes unhealthy leaders are ministers, elders, or deacons. Other times, they’re just loud, influential, or wealthy congregants. Regardless of the title, unhealthy leaders will inevitably pursue brokenness.

Sometimes, the pursuit is driven by a memory of the past, although our memory rarely tells us the full truth. Other times, unhealthy leaders run in pursuit of the perfect production, whether “relevant” and flashy or built upon traditions. Still others get pulled in by the seductive lure of prestige, longing for a larger stage and bigger audience.


“Sometimes the pursuit is driven by a memory of the past, although our memory rarely tells us the full truth.”


There are no easy answers or quick fixes. What’s clear is that if a church is to experience revitalization, the hearts and minds of her leaders must first be renewed.

Renewed leaders return to Jesus’ view of people. “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36, NIV).

Renewed leaders return to Jesus’ call to forgiveness. “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44, NIV)

Renewed leaders return to Jesus’ model of leadership. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44, NIV)

Renewed leaders return to Jesus’ commitment to multiplication. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a, NIV).

Renewed leaders return to Jesus’ Kingdom. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a, NIV).

Is it possible that while you’ve been longing for revitalization in your church, Jesus has been longing for renewal in your heart?

Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

You Might Also Like

Help Us Find Effective Disciple-Making Churches

Help Us Find Effective Disciple-Making Churches

Dear RENEW.org Network Leaders, Are you looking for models of disciple-making churches that you can learn from and imitate? I have both the responsibility and honor of being the point leader for RENEW.org Network (which focuses on Jesus’ teachings) and Discipleship.org (which focuses on Jesus’ disciple-making methods), two North American disciple-making networks. My short biography in the last fifteen […]

More