The Shrinking Church
Leadership Thoughts for Reversing the Trend
Prologue and Introduction: Intent and Purpose
This thread of articles is for clergy and leaders of mainline protestant churches. The purpose is to recognize systemic dysfunctions and leadership gaps that are limiting the effectiveness of the local church and many times are in the way of true and effective ministries. For the full statement, see Post #1 of the ongoing series. The intent is to promote dialogue through, and awareness of, possibilities for growing healthy ministries of any kind.
Pastors are Entrepreneurs…So Get Over It!
Please reframe the male gender in the language and focus of this classic book about how our thinking drives our results.
“The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state…Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” ― James Allen, As a Man Thinketh*
“As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.” ― James Allen, As a Man Thinketh*
In a previous post, I focused on the feeling by some leaders that they are not worthy. Feeling unworthy and thinking that we are unworthy leads to people treating us as unworthy. For over 40 years, I served PCUSA and UMC churches as Director of Music, Director of Music Ministry, or Director of Worship and Fine Arts, and worked with some really capable clergy as senior pastor or associate pastor.
Many of the pastors were, in fact, very savvy in business principles and systems. Some were not. The big difference with those who were able to think like an entrepreneur, was in church growth, effective and relevant programming, and positive financial results. The church wasn’t a business. But the church embraced good business practices.
The same traps catch clergy that catch business leaders. Below is my list of the top 5 essential elements for healthy organizations, without which leaders guide the organization onto risky ground.
The essential pillars for organizational success are these:
- Strategy – Without a musical score, the musical conductor is helpless. No motions or creative interaction can create a grand musical statement. Yet, every day, church and nonprofit leaders go about the work of leading the organization without a master plan, executing tactics in the absence of an overall strategic framework. The excuse, mostly, is lack of time. Failing to plan means planning to fail. Define the vision and mission of the organization, the market served, and the impact of the objectives. (By the way, the Great Commission is NOT the mission of your church! It’s a Biblical mandate.) Get disciples…then what?
- Skill – The strategy defines the competencies needed to reach the specific long-term and short-term objectives, and articulates the action steps in sequence to reach those objectives. The first skill to focus on is self improvement. Transformation of the organization begins with the transformation of the leader. Clergy don’t have much education on leadership in seminary, and they get a download from other clergy who mostly didn’t study leadership. Is this the blind leading the blind, and is ego blocking the self-awareness for clergy effectiveness? We’ve been taught wrong and we’ve inherited broken systems…it’s time to change! Not continuously working on building and growing personal leadership skills is the cause of 90% of business failure. (D&B 1995). Authenticity and skill are essential tools.
- Culture – When interviewing clergy for my ebook, Creating and Sustaining Healthy Teams, I was enlightened by their open and direct comments about how clergy foster conflict and infect the culture negatively…and then make it worse by their interactions…mostly doing nothing and avoiding conflict. We impact the culture by our position of influence, and not by our power of position. Entrepreneurs are not corporate game players. Politics don’t belong in a faith-based organization. The culture is a reflection of the leader. The culture is defined by the Guiding Principles in the strategy. The over-functioning leader creates a culture of under-functioning members. As Murray Bowen stated, “Over functioning is irresponsible responsibility.” Yet, the burnout rate with pastors, rabbis, and nonprofit executives is massive.
- Finance – Not knowing finance, and not having the skill to construct or read financial statements, is a sure cause for failure of any enterprise. The wise entrepreneur has a trusted advisor for financial education and advice. This is in addition to a bookkeeper and CPA. Every line item in the budget should be directly tied to a milestone in the strategy.
- Council – The Nonprofit Entrepreneur is the leader, and not the doer. Being willing to do what you ask others to do is integrity. Doing it all is not. Knowing the difference is the wisdom. Our skills and experience are in our primary discipline, and not in running a business. Filling the gaps in our skills with those knowledgeable and experienced in the gap areas is wise leadership. Having external council on paid retainer is insurance for accountability, balanced decision making, blind-spot revelation, and business guidance. The integration of strategy and performance is a skill not held by many leaders. The best leaders I know have more than one paid coach.
Good preaching…Effective pastoral care…Knowledgeable teaching…Nurture of individuals…are all essential roles for the pastor. Effective organizational leadership allows those skills to have greater, sustainable impact on members.
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