By Jon Weece
Risk. Freedom to fail. Dream big. Think outside the box. Try again.
These words are frequently spoken by leaders at Southland Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky. We like these words and others—like creative, innovative, daring, and even crazy—because they make us take deep breaths, cause our hearts to race, and make us swallow hard. These types of words keep us up at night and drive us to our knees.
Leaders at Southland are not afraid of climbing the high dive. We like to take risks; we’ve come to realize that fear is a great faith-builder for our team. When we slow down, we tend to lock up; paralysis by analysis sets in, and we end up climbing down from the high dive instead of jumping in.
We’re not fans of words like status quo, that’ll never work, or same old, same old! Through it all, our team can tell you more about what doesn’t work than what works. In the process, we’ve seen some principles and discovered some ideas that any church can implement.
PREPARE THE CHURCH FAMILY FOR CHANGE
Great leaders never force-feed changes to the church. Instead they provide vision and strategic initiatives in bite-sized pieces easy to chew, easy to swallow, and easy to stomach.
If you are a church leader intent on leading a congregation through change, handle it with sensitivity. Expose the church family to the books you are reading, the sermons you are listening to, and the churches you’ve studied.
At the height of World War II, Dwight Eisenhower called a meeting of his top advisers. After everyone was seated, the general placed a string in the middle of the table. He quietly leaned in and pushed the string and it crumpled up into a pile. He stretched the string back out and this time, pulled it. He said, “Push and you’ll create a mess. Pull, get out in front of your men, and they’ll follow you wherever you go.”
AVOID GENERATIONAL BIAS
I’m seeing a dangerous trend in younger leaders who are champing at the bit to create relevant environments conducive for evangelism, all the while sacrificing their relationship with the older generation that helped build the church. I’m also seeing a knee-jerk response from the older generation resisting any and all change for the sake of protecting personal preference.
The passion of the young needs the wisdom of the old, and the wisdom of the old needs the passion of the young. The bravado of both generations needs to be broken, and a thread of humility needs to bind us together for the cause of Christ.
Strive for multigenerational harmony, and biblical health and blessing will follow.
PRUNE WHAT IS HEALTHY
Every church has competing systems, and competing systems create competing energies. Look at it from the perspective of tires on a car. When tires are not aligned, they pull against each other and make steering difficult.
Before you add another layer of programs to your church, sit down and evaluate what is currently in place: staff, structures, lines of communication, strategy, processes, future goals, etc. Unplug what isn’t working. Say no to good things so you can say yes to great things, and put a grid in place to assess what you want the whole church to get behind. Those criteria will protect church resources (money, volunteers, staff, building usage, etc.).
What you say no to is just as important as what you say yes to. Live and die by the motto, “Less is more,” because a mile wide and an inch deep does not glorify God and it is not good stewardship.
KEEP THE ENEMY ON YOUR RADAR SCREEN
I team teach with a communicator and leader who is more gifted than I am. Every time he teaches I make it a point to find him immediately after the service. I hug him and talk about the great parts of his message. I compliment him from the platform and in meetings. I am his biggest fan.
I have learned to celebrate publicly the things that threaten me privately. All of us have an ego, and our pride can cripple the efforts of God through us. I purposely hire people much more qualified than I am. And what I ask of the team I play on is that we all remember this motto: Public loyalty results in private leverage. We watch out for each other, we always assume positive intentions, we don’t gossip, we build up, and we encourage.
We do all of this because we know our enemy! People are not the greatest foe; the devil is.
HAVE A BIBLE, LEAVE A BIBLE . . .
NEED A BIBLE, TAKE A BIBLE
One writer penned, “The idea is not to get the Word out, but to let the Word out.” I believe the revolution is still alive, but will be resuscitated through biblical literacy.
At Southland we noticed people had become careless about bringing a Bible to church. Some were not bringing a Bible because they did not own one. In an effort to reinstate the value of Bible study in our weekend services, we encouraged those who owned more than one Bible to bring them and leave them on the stage each weekend. Now, every weekend, we make it clear to visitors or those who do not own a Bible that they are welcome to come and pick from the pile on stage.
As a preacher I cannot tell you the joy I now have each weekend as I hear the pages turning.
DON’T KILL THE POTLUCK
Food serves a vital role in the life of the church and for good reason. Old preachers used to say, “Where he leads me I will follow; what they feed me I will swallow.” In the frenzied pace of today’s fast-food, drive-through culture, there is something intrinsically appealing about sitting down around a table and enjoying a meal with others. It is refreshing and creates an atmosphere conducive for koinonia. Plus people always bring their best dishes!
Use the church budget to fund backyard cookouts and tailgating parties at high school football games. You won’t have to make a sales pitch; most are hungry and some are starving for community. Revelation speaks of a feast, and I think we need to whet our appetites for it.
TAP THE FIVE SENSES
When teaching on Jesus being the bread of life, I built a 12-foot cross using loaves of bread. When I finished the message, I took loaves off the cross, broke them, placed them in baskets, and our church participated in Communion.
I recently taught on having childlike faith and spent the better part of the introduction taking people back to their childhoods by passing out Popsicles and Hubba Bubba bubblegum.
Instead of offering plates we have Joy Cans. We place these metal trash cans around the room and we invite people to “throw away” their money. As Paul said, “We consider all things rubbish. . . .” Strangely our offerings have systematically increased.
HAVE A NAME WALL
I don’t know what the Lamb’s book of life looks like, but my guess is it resembles the wall right outside our sanctuary. Every time someone is baptized at Southland he or she is given a pen to write his name on the wall. Our goal is to fill every square inch of wall space in the entire facility with names. Some have written in big bold letters; others have written small and light. Some handwriting is textbook and some is indecipherable! Some names are written using English characters, and others are written in Arabic or Chinese. Some used a ruler and stayed within the lines, others are diagonal, upside down, and backwards.
It’s a picture of our diversity. It’s a picture of belonging. It’s a picture of Heaven because names represent people . . . saved people!
LEADERSHIP IS LONELY
I have a lot of great friends and leaders around me—like David’s mighty men—and when I get raked over the coals, they dig in and fight alongside me. But at the end of the day, it’s still my name at the top of the e-mail or letter that challenges my integrity, not theirs. The sticks and stones adage just isn’t true.
If it’s done well, ministry is hard. Doing the right thing versus the easy thing is draining. If you are nodding your head, then you are probably like me. I’m tired of conflict and confrontation. I’m tired of debt retirement plans and feeling like a real estate agent instead of a minister of the gospel. I’m tired of armchair quarterbacks and backseat drivers who never add a solution to the end of a gripe. Several times, I’ve wanted to turn in my keys and take a job mowing grass for the city.
Hey, when it gets that bad for you, pick up the phone and call me or another friend in ministry. When it gets that bad, call time-out but don’t quit; God may be silent, but he is never absent. When it gets that bad, read Nehemiah and handcuff yourself to the calling that put you on the wall. When it gets that bad, put yourself in Pilate’s courtyard and remember that religious people may have crucified Jesus, but they didn’t stop him.
“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Jon Weece is senior minister with Southland Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky.