While there is widespread agreement that strong spiritual leadership is critical for strong churches, there are competing theories and approaches for making that happen or even what that looks like. One Biblical, time-tested approach is still alive and relevant today: apprenticeship. Yet in order to have apprenticeship work in your congregation, you have to have good “master” disciples who are themselves still being apprenticed by under Jesus Christ.
Based upon our study of disciple multiplication movements and work with congregations to multiply their kingdom impact, we have baked our understanding of what it takes to lead a Jesus movement into the Readiness 360 survey and report. Depending on the strengths apparent after a critical mass at the church takes the Readiness 360 survey, a customized set of Leader Tips appears at the end of each church Readiness report. Different churches receive different tips. These Leader Tips are ranked in order starting with those issues where a church is already showing some strength. The number 1 tip is not to address that thing that the church really fails at. Readiness 360 is an assets-based tool. So the top tip is typically an area where there is significant strength already, and just a little work toward strengthening may go a long ways.
Think of it like a golf course, where there are balls on every fairway and a few near to or up on the green itself. The top tip is like a ball on the green that just needs a simple putt, and it will be in the hole. The next couple tips are like balls near to the green, where a little chip will land the ball near the hole, and putt will knock it in.
Out of a possible 25 leadership tips, no more than ten will appear on any given report. The top three tips are those that are closest to the hole. We find the balls that are most strategically positioned on the green, and offer tips where minimum effort can yield major improvement in a church’s ministry.
We decided to do a little research, and to see what leader tips appear most frequently in the top three for American congregations that took the Readiness 360 in 2013. (It is important to note that the majority of congregations who took the Readiness 360 were a non-random sampling. They were congregations who were motivated or selected to take the assessment because they were desiring to improve.) Here are the Leader Tips that appear in the top three slots most often:
1. “Commit to your own spiritual journey.”
This tip comes out of a composite Spiritual Intensity score that is not quite high enough to fuel a disciple making movement. As such, it relates to both church leaders as individuals and to the church as a collective. The journey we are on is an adventure with God, first and foremost. All the best how-to books about ministry will accomplish much less than simply deepening a church’s sense of living relationship with God. At Readiness 360, people often ask us what is the best book for a church to read to get ready for ministry these days. We are convinced that the best book is The Book of Acts. (For those who like a companion to scripture, we recommend Catch Fire in 50 Days.) Church leaders are sometimes surprised to see this as their first leadership tip. But without an almost palpable, vital and dynamic relationship with God that flows into everyday life, all the rest of our plans will yield very little kingdom fruit.
2. “Simplify and concentrate your purpose to help your people keep their eye and hearts on reaching your mission zone.”
This tip is related to a composite score for the area of Missional Alignment. Missional alignment has to do with not only knowing what our mission is—what/whose business we are in—but behaving as though making disciples of Jesus Christ and growing God’s kingdom here on earth is the clear priority. Finally, ministry must be designed to be relevant and engaging for our neighbors. If it is just designed for the tastes of those already gathered, a church will die. Many of our churches need to finish making the shift from the notion that the church exists for growing membership to the church exists for blessing the world through discipleship. (It is encouraging to us that this is showing up as a ball that is puttable!)
3.a. “Let your church know that it is time for an alignment.”
This relates to the second tip and is particularly tied to a statement about not having enough resource to both maintain existing ministry and to expand reach through new ministry with new people. Just like our cars need to be sent to the garage for an alignment on a routine basis, our churches need the same. Once a church is clear about who it is seeking to reach and how it seeks to impact their lives, everything the church does should be aligned to this end. All over the world, many of the most rapidly multiplying church movements share this in common: the people are poor and the churches have very little in the way of financial resources. In the west, we tend to create ministry with very high overhead, along with the illusion that we can’t afford to do what it takes to grow ministry. In reality, churches always have the resources to do what God is calling them to do. Leaders working with this tip tend to do three things: a) ministry audits that realign activity/investment with the Great Commission; b) preach/teach on abundance and; c) enter a season of prayer and discernment about what new rallying cry needs to be crafted.
3b. “Lift up and model habits of cultural openness.”
This is generated from a composite score of a third area: Cultural Openness. When a church is isolated socially from its mission zone, the pastor and a few leaders can break the ice and get involved personally in service projects, community organizations or other intentional experiences where they build relationships with folks who reflect aspects of the community’s diversity. Talking about our experiences building relationships in the community openly and with good humor will help the church begin dealing with issues of how to connect younger people and/or with neighbors who are different than us. In addition to doing the above, churches working with this tip often go back to review what existing strengths exist within this area for the church and where the opportunities exist to model some of the weaker behaviors needed for improvement (which often includes improving the sharing of power with newer leaders).
Folks, almost the entire generation of millennial American adults is experiencing cultural disconnect with organized Christianity. This is not a passing trend. This is a crisis. And unless churches quickly wake up to what it means to embrace and engage their neighbors, we will be looking at a very marginalized American Christianity in the future.
These four Leader Tips relate to that which is clearly within reach. In each case, churches and leaders have strengths and gifts that can be built upon to achieve the above realities. If your church is like the majority of the churches who have taken the Readiness 360, the ball is on the green, but it will not go in unless you and your friends at your church do something about it.