From Break-Down to Break-Thru

Part of my role at Auxano is to walk alongside leaders, to draw out of them the work that God is doing and shaping for His glory. Here is a very quick, very fictional narrative, that captures a bit of the Contagious Passion I share for the Pastors who selflessly serve the local church. Very different from my usual blog fare… I hope you are inspired and enjoy.

From Break-Down to Break-Thru

The Pastor walked out of the elders meeting sat down in his vehicle but didn’t start the car. He sighed and just sat there staring blankly at the old light fixture casting its faded yellow glow across the office parking lot. He sat there with only one question replaying over and over in his head:

”What am I going to do next?”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this eight years ago. After moving his family to a new city from their dream house on two acres of land to a smaller, older house that could be described as a “project” at best. After taking the kids away from their teams and top-ranked public schools to this sports-obsessed community and educationally-sketchy system. Especially after asking his wife to say goodbye to the closest, and safest friends she has ever had, to start from scratch in a closed and spiritually immature context. But, everyone made those sacrifices with a heads-up. The whole family was in agreement together, that the potential of this new ministry was in every discernible way, enormous.

And it was good for a while. At least it after the outgoing pastor finally handed over the reigns. The elders had to step in, as the original eighteen-month transition began to approach month twenty-two. Who could blame the old guy though, any shepherd would have trouble giving up their flock after nearly thirty years. It had not been very easy at first, this well intentioned, and well-sold, transitional season. Honestly, his responsibility amounted to little more than the internship he held during seminary.

The first three years as actual lead Pastor were great though. Leadership accepted the needed changes that everyone knew were imminent, just impossible until the former preacher finally ceded control. The body was excited. Events were well attended, and there was even a harking back to a Promise Keepers-type ministry revitalization among the men. Smiles abounded all around, as it was finally the good ole days again!

In every visible way, things felt right, even though in his heart Pastor knew that they were not.

Attendance numbers were holding steady, but Pastor knew that it was mostly sheep swapping. The new members coming in were less mature spiritually, and physically, than those who were leaving.

Giving was steady, even up, as reflected in the quarterly business meetings. However, Pastor knew that a few core leaders had been giving a bit more to keep the trends healthy. As well as support their own personal ministry projects. In reality, funds were actually lacking to improve or initiate what mattered most.

People were happy, but this happiness remained centered around maintaining status quo more than pursuing abundant life. Excitement peaked at key events and waned in the everyday formational work of making disciples. Core member attendance moved from every other week to once a month, as long as the weather held up.

Sitting in that car, as a light rain hit the windshield, Pastor wondered what he was going to do next. The elders had just hinted, more like directly suggested, that the steady decline in attendance giving and happiness, had very little time left to be remedied. The former pastor’s name actually came up during the meeting. Pastor suspected that the board chairman still kept his friend and former leader filled in on the latest happenings during their weekly golf outings.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, and Pastor felt out of options. He had called every mentor and friend, gone to the conferences and peer gatherings. He read every book and installed more new systems and processes over the last few years than he cared to admit. The exciting “refreshed” logo was already stale and overlooked. The new website cost twice as much and now required double the effort to keep current. Pastor suspected the congregation was checking out a little more with every “family meeting” full of manufactured excitement about the latest new initiative. Even after spending quite a few hours, and dollars, with capital campaign experts and strategic planning facilitators, their vision-fueled next step still remained unclear.

As Pastor sat there in his well-worn sedan, he held little hope that anyone could help.

Looking back on that crisp October night, after this season of vision clarity articulation and ministry alignment, Pastor exhaled a deep sigh of relief. Heads around the table turned to him and the consultant asked him about it.

He began to walk the vision team gathered around him through that night in his car, and all that had lead up to it. With every word, Pastor knew that he was more confident than ever of what was next. And better yet, so was the staff, and even the elders. In fact, most of the small group leaders could state the church’s missional calling better than he could.

It had been nine months of work with this vision team, for sure. Long days that somehow moved at warp speed and left him more energized than his morning cup of espresso. Each vision meeting required a LOT of heavy lifting, but somehow it never felt like drudgery. There were the friendship-wounds of from a “secret worshipper” visit one Sunday. But those immediately healed with the immediate return of excitement as Guests started to feel welcomed and connected before they ever made it through the worship center doors. One of their parking guys was even using his phone and own initiative to remember Guest names. Children’s ministry had never been stronger and safer. Pastor could actually pour into his staff each week instead of running around putting out fires.

Every part of the vision that this team could now articulate felt like a precious artifact emerging from the years of program and personality driven sediment.

Pastor had to admit to the team, he did not get the need for clarity at first. After all, they had a bunch of vision words, their website was misery-inducing proof of that. Always wanting more of a tangible product-based solution, Pastor did not see the need for more or better language of vision. He especially did not feel ready to lay out any time or money for it.

Looking back now, he was thankful his team got it even when he didn’t. He was thankful for the Christian Education Minister who started the vision-clarity conversation in the first place. And thankful that he risked asking the elders and finance team for much more of an investment than anyone was expecting.

As Pastor looked down at their developed vision, he saw a clear articulation of purpose, method and success. He sensed tremendous kingdom impact ahead through the long and short-range vision actions they had mapped out.

Sitting at that table, as a single tear hit the page, Pastor had to admit to this warrior-like vision team that he had almost lost hope. The sigh, he explained to them, was the conviction that God indeed was not done with him, or this church, just yet.

The sigh was of a leader, confident and prepared for what he was going to do next.

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