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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

14 Apr '13

Facing down the giants in the church

Posted by T.J. Addington in church health

I often think of the account in the Old Testament where Moses sent twelve spies into the land that would one day become their home. The vast majority of the spies came back and reported to the nation that "there are giants in the land" and that it would be impossible for them to prevail. Only two, Caleb and Joshua called on the nation to move forward, confident that God would help them overcome the giants (Numbers 13).

Church leaders face giants regularly which keep them from leading their congregations into greater health, more meaningful ministry and community impact. As I have consulted with numerous churches and leaders four of those giants stand out.

The giant of fear.
It is the fear of failure: we cannot do that! It is the fear that someone will object: they will! It is the fear that the money won't be there: not everything depends on money and there is more than most people believe! It is the fear of uncharged territory: uncharted territory requires courage!

It is interesting to me that the number one command in Scripture is "fear not." The reason for this is that fear is the killer of faith and faith is the currency of God's kingdom: "Without faith it is impossible to please God." The evil one is a purveyor of fear while God is a purveyor of faith. After all, we don't enter into any ministry endeavor on our strength but on the strength and power of God.

Jesus did not just give us the Great Commission but he reminded us that "He is with us always, even to the end of the age." Fearful leaders are no different from the ten spies who declared that to go in is to embark on a suicide mission. Fear is a giant, but not to God.

The giant of comfort.
Anytime leaders lead courageously they are taking themselves and their people out of their comfort zone. It is human nature to want to stay in ones comfort zone where life is predictable, where we are safe and feel that we can control outcomes and where our status quo is not messed with.

This is precisely why we have the saying, "Don't rock the boat." We like stability and comfort which is precisely why the church makes so little difference to its community or the world. Leaders are not immune to that comfort and followers generally love that comfort.

The job of leaders is not to keep people comfortable but to help them be all that they can be under Christ to fulfill the mission He left the church. Whenever we are comfortable we are in a danger zone and the longer we remain comfortable with what is the harder it will be to move out of that comfort zone into what should and could be.

The giant of change
How often do church leaders hear from someone in the congregation, "we've never done it that way!" How often do church leaders say the same thing when considering ministry initiatives. There is no forward movement in any organization without change but people are naturally change resistant, including many leaders.

We do not look at change for change sake. We look at change so that we can remain effective in a changing culture. The gospel does not change but strategies for reaching people does. This is not about chasing the latest ministry fad. It is about ensuring that our ministries are as effective as they can be so that we can fulfill the mission of the church.

Show me a church that has not changed much in the past decade and I will show you a church whose ministry is on a downward slope, its leaders still clinging to the past and its people comfortable in their familiar but unproductive territory.

The giant of conflict
Conflict is not all bad! In fact, I saw a book recently titled, "Every Congregation needs a little Conflict" and I agree with the title (not having read the book). Conflict makes people think and consider and evaluate.

There is always some kind of conflict when leaders face down the giants of fear, comfort and change because most people find change hard and some find it sinful, unnecessary and wrong. These are the "laggards" on the change scale, they hate change. We call them the "squeaky wheels" in the church who will squeak whenever change is suggested.

Even in the best congregation, conflict of some kind will happen with major ministry initiatives. It is normal, it is expected and it is inevitable. Real leaders listen, process people and lead with sensitivity but they are not cowed by the loud voices who make their opinions known - often in unhealthy ways.

Courageous, wise and missional leaders are hard to find. But that is what is needed in the church. Good leaders know there are giants that they will face as they lead, just as Caleb and Joshua did - they saw the same formidable people that the other ten saw. The difference between Joshua, Caleb and the other ten spies is that they also understood that if they followed God where He was leading them that they would prevail.

In God's strength, what look like giants to us are not to God. How is your leadership board doing in facing down the giants?