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13 Pastor Mistakes That Hinder Growth

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“Here are 13 common mistakes that lead to sluggish growth, or even decline. Fix these and watch what happens.”

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When I coach senior pastors, we’ll quickly identify what the growth limitations are that keep the congregation from growing. The first three are always either parking, children’s space or seating capacity in the auditorium. As we proceed, we’ll always find four or five more, and what surprisingly ends up on this list is the senior pastor abdicating his or her responsibility to lead the way in resource-raising.

This is your job—no one else’s. Trust me, I get the reluctance, but if you don’t do it, no- ne else will step up and take the lead. There are five things that never leave a senior pastor’s plate: leadership, preaching, evangelism, generosity and personal growth. You have to master all five. Parts of these tasks can be delegated, but never abdicated. People need your leadership to unleash their generosity. My article “10 Changes That Will Dramatically Increase Giving In Your Church” will help in this regard.

8. You’ve placed the wrong people on your governing board.

You have placed pastoral-care givers on your board (i.e., elders, council, etc.), instead of pastoral leaders. Consequently, when issues are brought up for them to help you solve, their minds immediately go to individual solutions instead of churchwide solutions that best serve individuals. Your job is to evangelize, disciple, install and release leaders who can simultaneously see the forest and the trees. As you well know, these people are rare.

This is why, even though I think the ideal number for this team is five to seven, I’d rather have two or three pastoral leaders on this team instead of a large number of people who are better suited to serve elsewhere.

And on another note, please don’t tell me you’re powerless to effect who gets on your governing board. Many will tell me that their bylaws have a stipulation that says all governing board members must be elected by congregational vote, which is utterly ridiculous. Can you imagine the early church functioning this way? Listen, even if this is the case in your situation, this does not let you off the hook. Bylaws can’t remove your influence. Lead with all diligence.

9. You’ve hired staff members who aren’t leaders.

You’ve hired staff members who can only minister to individuals, instead of being able to envision and run an entire department of volunteers who can minister to individuals. Thinks Acts 6. I believe one of our jobs as senior pastors is to know how to distinguish leaders from doers, and then put the right screening process in place to flag limitations before potential staff members come on our payrolls. We’ve all made mistakes in this area. The key is to not repeat these mistakes.

10. You haven’t redesigned your bylaws to facilitate growth.

Your bylaws—the organizational guiding documents of your church—are not written in a way to facilitate growth. Yet, you haven’t led the charge to fix them yet. Why? Most bylaws do not have clearly spelled-out roles for the governing board, senior pastor, the interrelations between both and the staff, and how money is allocated and deployed. Here are our church’s bylaws, and here’s a helpful guide for transitioning your bylaws. Feel free to steal them if you find them helpful.

11. You have no standing, weekly, open-ended appointments on your calendar for evangelistic breakfasts or lunches.

Do you have standing, open appointments on your calendar ready to be filled by meetings with non-Christians? For the first four years at CCV (Christ’s Church of the Valley), I scheduled 10 meetings like this a week. I would put an index card in my back pocket on the way to church that had 10 circles on it: two for each day of the following week—5 breakfasts and 5 lunches total. My goal was to fill those slots before the day ended with meetings with non-Christian leaders attending our church.

Listen, any senior pastor can meet with a non-Christian once a week. That’s called an accident. Meeting twice a week with non-Christians, every week, only happens strategically. Your job is to lead the charge on evangelism, model that for your governing board and staff, and as a result, permanently inculcate evangelistic DNA into your church. Trust me, if you’re not trying to help at least two people become Christians a week, you will not grow. James Clear’s “paper-clip strategy” will help you in this regard.

12. You have not built relationships with risk-taking, entrepreneurial senior pastors.

I’ve noticed that one thing all senior pastors of growing churches have in common is they hang out with other senior pastors of growing churches. One thing I’ve also noticed is that senior pastors of non-growing churches tend to hang out with one another, usually critiquing the other group—their tactics, preaching and theology. They do this, in part, because they have unconsciously sought out a peer group that won’t challenge them to change in areas they need to change. It’s much easier to pick apart someone else’s theology than to address one’s own deficiencies.

13. You allow yourself to stay bored.

Trust me, I’ve been there. Many, many times. The problem is when a senior pastor disengages too frequently, everything starts to trail off. This usually happens because of one of three things:

1. You are burned out and need to take better care of yourself.

If this is the case, you need to put into place what I call the “Big Five” of pastoral burnout prevention:

  1. Get to and stay at your goal weight by exercise and nutrition.
  2. Take two mandatory days off a week (while still working 55-60 hours a week).
  3. Go on monthly reflection retreats.
  4. Engage in annual M.A. programs.
  5. Take routine sabbaticals.

2. You have tried everything, are fresh out of ideas and are unwilling to seek help.

That’s easy to correct. Make a list of the top 10 senior pastors you want to learn from, then email them and set up a time to interview them. Let their passion and wisdom lift your spirits and your vision.

3. You’ve stopped taking risks.

If you’re not actively involved in some congregationalwide initiative that makes you really scared if it doesn’t succeed, that’s a red flag. This is usually a symptom of not engaging in the previous two activities. If you take better care of yourself and then seek out fresh voices to speak into your life, you will take bigger, scarier risks. When that happens on a regular basis, you’ll never be bored again.

As I say all the time, you can do this.

You can.

Brian Jones is a church planter, author and the founding and senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia. This article was originally published on SeniorPastorCentral.com.