Leading Your Church into a New Reality

When I first became the pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in 2007, the church had been in decline for the better part of 25 years.  It was a slow, gradual decline from over 600 people to barely 100 people on an average Sunday.

Photo by cassieshook (Creative Commons)Photo by cassieshook (Creative Commons)Why did this happen?

It happened because the world and the neighborhood around the church had changed, but Northminster did not (much like this picture).  The culture was different than it had been in the 1980’s, 1970’s, 1960’s, and 1950’s.  As a result, what had once worked for growing a church and connecting with the neighborhood simply wasn’t working anymore.

What's a Leader to Do?

In a case like that, what’s a leader to do?

Clearly, Northminster was struggling with an adaptive challenge.  There were no clear answers or solutions to the challenge of massive decline and disinterest in the church from the larger community.

What Northminster needed was a missional leader.  What does that mean?  It means it needed a leader who would help them discover the solutions to their adaptive challenges.

But here’s the thing.  A missional leader can’t come charging in with his or her own agenda.  A missional leader, according to Roxburgh and Romanuk (in their book, The Missional Leader), “cultivates an environment in which the people of God imagine together a new future rather than one already determined by a leader.”

More Authentic Conversations

Nurturing such an environment involves inviting people into authentic conversations.  It means helping people listen—to one another, to their friends and neighbors, and to God.

It’s an environment in which God’s people are free to ask questions and dialogue with one another in order to discover where God is leading them in the midst of discontinuous change.

Alan Roxburgh puts it this way:  “Missional leaders cultivate ways of engaging people in dialogue and discussion that brings to voice their experiences and locates them within God’s narrative.”

So, how does a pastor or church leader lead a church through discontinuous change and into the solutions to the adaptive challenges they face?  In a nutshell, by bringing them together to share their stories of neighborhood engagement and by helping them listen to one another and to God in order to discover what God is up to and how the church might join God in the ministry he’s already doing.

How does your church do at listening to one another?  To your neighbors?  To God?  Do you or your pastor foster authentic conversation in your church?  How?  What questions does this post raise for you?

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