2012 is a week away and all of us in church leadership need to be prepared. Ministry is changing so rapidly, and the challenges of leading a local church are growing so large that it’s important for we ministers as well as well as our lay leaders to get ready. We can’t predict the future but we have to be prepared to take advantage of whatever opportunities it brings. We have to be ready to impact the lives of others with the gospel, to advance the Kingdom and to move our congregations forward.
1. Upgrade your prayer life.
Prayer isn’t one more thing we leaders do in order to empower our agendas. Prayer instead is how we connect with the One who called us into ministry to begin with and who longs to impart His life to us. Apart from a vital prayer life, ministry is dead; church is tedious; and our leadership is nothing more than secular motivation tricks on a religious stage. How can you upgrade your personal prayer life in 2012? Try this: change gears. Maybe it’s time to shake up whatever routine you’ve been following for years (or decades). Take a personal prayer retreat. Learn the value of silence in prayer, just resting in God’s presence instead of continually bombarding Him with your laundry list. Get together a small group and pray with them. Identify the real praying people in your church and take the time to learn how they pray (yes, those people are in your church; you just have to find them. They’re probably people under the radar but would jump at the opportunity to have you pray with them). Church leadership flowing from a vital prayer life is the most exciting thing in the world.
2. Build better relationships between ministerial and lay leadership.
The most impactful churches are built on strong relationships between the ministry team and lay leadership. Take the time in 2012 to deliberately address that situation. In your church, do the ministers and lay leaders actually like each other? Do they get along and have some kind of relational connection beyond just doing church stuff? If not, your church is going to struggle to make crucial decisions and move forward.
3. Streamline your decision-making process.
Every congregation makes decisions differently, depending on their particular tradition, experience, personalities and need. What’s important, though, is that whatever decision-making process is used, that it actually be effective. Ministry today is so complex, and the needs of our congregations so pressing (everything from looking beyond themselves to reaching younger people to financial) that cumbersome decision-making severely limits our future. Does it take a committee for your church to decide to change a light-bulb in the women’s restroom? Do the elders or deacons call a special meeting when the minister calls in sick? Does the treasurer give the Small Group leaders grief when they spend $25 more than the budget calls for in ordering next year’s study material? If so, then leaders need to take actions to correct that. Nothing so demoralizes a church than to have a committee structure that chokes the life out of initiative instead of facilitating creativity. What one action can you take this year to streamline your decision-making process?
4. Reorganize something.
Take one key area of your church’s ministry, whether it’s your children’s ministry or your small group ministry or even your annual Christmas program, and re-organize the daylights out of it. Churches are notorious for keeping the same things in place for years; some for decades; a few for centuries. That’s one very important reason churches today in their organization resemble the agrarian, revivalist places our great-grandparents worshipped in more than effective centers of Kingdom growth in the twenty-first century. In 2012, identify the most seriously offending program in your church—in terms of egregiously clinging to worn out traditions and—and reorganize it. Reposition it for success in the modern area. Recruit new leaders for it. Re-cast the vision for why it’s important. You might fail. But you may very well succeed!
5. Take personal accountability more seriously.
Especially for us ministers, accountability is something we pay lip service to but do little about. We generally want everyone else to be accountable but not us. We prefer to maintain our distance and initiative so that we can do what we want, when we want and how we want. But I’ve learned how valuable personal accountability actually is. When I take the risk of sitting down with key lay leaders in my church and asking them the hard question of “How am I doing?” and when I give them the opportunity of saying to me, “Pastor, we think you need to change something in your ministry” then I’m building a real sense of accountability in my own ministry. I’m also saying to my congregation that I take them seriously. In 2012, is there a small group of key lay leaders that you can sit down with at least one time and have that kind of dialogue? I believe that’s one of the healthiest things any of us as (paid) church leaders can do.
6. Find the right yardstick.
What drives the evaluation of your church’s ministry and programming? How do you decide what ministries and programming are worth the best of your finances, time and energy? What’s your yardstick? In today’s shifting church environment, where a secular culture meets limited church resources, our yardstick has to be missional. In other words, everything we do has to be scrutinized on the basis of how it reaches out to the unsaved and unchurched. If not, we’ll end up bankrupting our future impact for the sake of our present comfort. In 2012, we as leaders need more than ever to find the right yardstick. Find one program this year and hold up the yardstick next to it, not the yardstick of what makes the congregation happy but the yardstick of what reaches new people with the gospel.
7. Sharpen your saw.
This is one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that Steven Covey talks about. And it still is one of the most important. In 2012, how would your leadership be enriched by intentionally investing in your own leadership development. Go to the Orange conference in Atlanta, where new ways of young family ministry are being actively developed. Or step outside your box and attend a week-end prayer retreat at a monastery. Do something to break the routine of church leadership and give God the chance to re-invigorate your ministry.