I love coaching pastors. I want to be a pastor’s biggest cheerleader. They’re in this role because God has called them and they have a heart for people: for the lost to come to Christ and the saved to become disciple-making disciples. It may sound like a cliché, but I truly believe that Christ’s church is the hope of the world. For the sake of mankind, we’ve got to keep the lighthouses burning brightly.
Lifeway Research has found that six in ten Protestant churches are plateaued or declining, and more than half saw fewer than ten people become believers in the past year.1 More than six in ten pastors say that accumulated stress is a burden for them, and almost half point to discouragement and distractions that rob them of joy in leading.2
I’ve been a pastor, I am a pastor and I plan to remain a pastor, so I know what it feels like to be under the gun as a leader of a staff-led, volunteer-driven organization. I’ve seen success, and I’ve known failure. I’ve witnessed the amazing work of God, and I’ve wondered why He was hiding. I seldom talk with a pastor about a problem I haven’t faced.
When the pastor’s cell phone rings, the vast majority of people who call want one of three Cs: they want to complain, they need cash or they want counseling. They’re not calling to tell you how wonderful you are! I know the complexity and the pain that come along with the role, and I know all pastors need someone to champion them. When I send emails to a group of pastors, I often sign off, “Always in your corner!” . . . because I am. I fight for pastors and their churches. The kingdom of God is too important to let things slide.
Right now, we have 30 coaches in our network who work with groups of eight to ten pastors each month. Not long ago, a pastor being coached by one of our people sent me a text and asked if I could spare five minutes to talk to him. I was glad to. When we got on the phone, he began, “Chris, I won’t take much of your time. I just want to tell you that no one has ever believed in me like you guys. It means the world to me.” That’s why I do what I do. That’s what gets me up in the morning. That’s what drives me to find more ways to help pastors thrive.
For the first time in America’s history, the church is on the decline. The factors are many and varied, but the result is that fewer people claim to be Christians, more churches are closing their doors and more lost people remain lost. I have a God-given calling, a solemn responsibility to do all I can do to help pastors and their churches turn the tide and begin growing and thriving once again. Someday, I’ll stand before God to give an account of all the resources He has entrusted to me. On that day, I want to be able to say, “I gave it everything I had.”
Several members of our Church Boom team met to talk about the next steps in our strategy to provide resources for pastors, and as we talked, some vehicle metaphors bubbled up. In the course of the conversation, we noticed that all of the tools, techniques and resources we provide fit into five components of a train:
Engine: growth strategies. We have worked with pastors of churches that have been at 200 since the day after Christ’s ascension. What can pastors do to create a bump in attendance? Growth strategies help pastors follow up with visitors, get people involved more quickly and coordinate efforts to create more momentum.
Fuel: leadership and finances. Everything depends on these resources. Many times, pastors have managers in leadership roles, and that bogs things down. They also may not have an effective leadership ladder to identify potential leaders and grow them into dynamic leaders. I’ve never talked to a pastor who didn’t need more money to accomplish more in the ministry. They need specific ways to motivate people to give more generously and more cheerfully.
Tracks: staying on course. Pastors need to clarify the mission, vision and values of the church and the team. This isn’t a mundane exercise. These concepts are essential for effective strategic planning and regular evaluation.
Conductor: the essential role of the pastor. The pastor’s role is crucial. The health, essential skills and focus of the pastor must be clear and strong. The pastor needs to embrace the responsibilities of the position in a way that feeds his soul instead of depleting it. In this way, he can provide visionary leadership, shepherding and guidance.
As a church grows, the focus of the pastor changes. When the church is at 200, he doesn’t have the same circle of familiar connections he did when it was at 100. How does he spend his time? Where does he invest his energy? The benchmarks of 500, 1,000 and more require continued adjustments so the pastor has the biggest influence on those who are making big impacts. At each level the decision-making process is different, the criticisms are different and the stresses are different.
Cars: alignment of staff, leaders and the congregation. Effective communication, team-building and a shared vision create an environment of cooperation and collaboration. It only takes one car to derail many more cars on a train. Pastors need the board, staff team, volunteers and the entire congregation to function as one. They need to wade into the controversies, handle conflict and seek genuine resolution and reconciliation wherever possible.
All parts of the train are designed to give pastors enough traction to move forward. Traction means “to begin to have success” (plainenglish.com), “the kind of power used for pulling or drawing” (yourdictionary.com) and “progress and momentum” (coresignal.com).
The metaphor of a train is especially helpful for pastors who feel stuck. A mighty engine with loaded cars is stopped cold before it begins by a seemingly small concrete block on the tracks, but when the same train has momentum, it smashes through the barriers like they were feathers and Styrofoam! My goal is to help pastors get their teams and their churches up to 60 miles an hour so they can blast through every barrier they face.
When you’re stuck, every negative comment is like a knife through the heart, every failure is a catastrophe and every person who leaves the church is a public indictment (and negative judgment) of your leadership flaws. But if you have momentum, snarky comments don’t bother you, failure is a stepping stone of growth and there are so many people coming that those who leave aren’t a threat in any way.
Momentum works for churches of any size. One of our coaches met with a pastor who had about 65 people. He told the coach that he was frustrated because they hadn’t grown. In addition, he was having a struggle with one of his key volunteers … and he couldn’t afford to lose anybody!
The coach shared a few principles and strategies, and in only six months, the attendance was holding strong at 130. He had been frustrated and discouraged before, but now he had the swagger of T.D. Jakes! The pastor’s relationship with the key volunteer changed because the pastor was no longer afraid to lose him. He could be more direct and give the volunteer clear choices. He told the coach, “He can decide if he wants to stay with us or not.” That’s confidence! That’s momentum! That’s traction!
Some trains have a second engine that pushes the train from the rear of the line of cars. Few people even notice them. That’s who I am, and that’s who our coaches are. We’re behind the scenes, providing strength to move the train of the pastors we coach so they can move down the tracks with more traction, speed and momentum. We’re not the first engine; we’re the second engine helping pastors reach their full potential.
Momentum hides a multitude of sins—not personal sins, but organizational deficiencies. John Maxwell writes, “Momentum is a leader’s best friend because many times it’s the only thing that makes the difference between losing and winning. When you have no momentum, even the simplest tasks seem impossible. … On the other hand, when you have momentum on your side, the future looks bright, obstacles appear small and troubles seem inconsequential.”3 He’s exactly right.
I’ve seen God use these concepts to clear away debris from a church’s tracks so they can gain tremendous momentum. When this happens, the things that kept them stuck won’t be big problems any longer. They’ll only be bumps along the way, and they’ll roar past them on the way to fulfill their God-given calling. Nothing less than that.
You can buy Chris Sonksen's book, Traction, here.
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