The Phases of Church Leadership: Assessment

In my last post I mentioned I was going to flesh out five phases a church must go through in order to move toward and to remain in a place of strong health. Please read this entire series as I walk through the phases of: Assessment, Identification, Vision Development, Adjustment, and Implementation.

Church leaders must assess what it is they are seeking to grow, to revitalize or to keep healthy and how far away from that ideal they currently reside. They must have a clear understanding of the goal, the standard, and the desired outcome or they will never know how to reach it, whether they reach it or how to stay within its reach.

On a universal level leaders must have a firm grasp on sound, biblical ecclesiology. They must constantly ask and answer simple yet profound questions such as: What is a church? Who is a church? Why is a church? Leaders must assess biblical content and define the standards these answers create. They then must compare the local church in which they serve to these standards.

We must understand what the Lord desires of His church. He is and always has been the owner and master architect. All too often we confuse ownership with stewardship and we claim rights and property that are not truly ours to claim. He never gave up ownership and Lordship to us. This confusion can lead to major conflict and distraction in the church away from the biblical standards that are set by Him.

On a local, contextual level church leaders must also assess the church community of which they are a part as well as the physical community in which that local body lives and ministers. This process includes assessing the past, present and potential future of the church and surrounding area. Conducting personal interviews, surveys, statistical research, demographic studies, evaluation of current personnel and ministry structures, financial reviews, observations of the physical facilities and neighborhoods, and more can all be part of this process.

Looking back for ten years or more and graphing statistical information such as attendance, baptisms, giving, membership and more and then putting them into visual perspective can be an eye opener for the congregation and can give great indications concerning health issues a church might be facing. They can provide moments of celebration as well as moments of honest revelation.

Assessing the community around the church can provide helpful information about the people who the church should be reaching and to whom ministry should be conducted. Often specific needs for ministry can be identified through this study such as ministry to single parents or to low income families. If the area around the facility is loaded with young adults or young families, the planning of programs and projects can be guided with some intelligent wisdom and direction.

I would also suggest every leader meet with those who head the various ministries of the church regularly and assess and discuss what aspect of biblical function the specific ministry is fulfilling. For example a church can assess recent activity by studying a passage like Acts 2:42-47 and recognizing that the first church was engaged in worship, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and prayer. Then go back over the church calendar for the past year and categorize and assess the programs and projects by primary biblical function being fulfilled. It is often amazing to recognize those areas of biblical responsibility that are being underserved.

Where are we? Where should we be? Assessment is a necessary phase and ongoing project for a church to stay healthy. How consistent, how honest, are you being in your assessment? This first phase will lead us to the next. Watch for the next post to read all about it.

John Ewart on God’s Servants in Zambia

I have the privilege of writing this just before Christmas from the campus of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia in Lusaka. I am here teaching courses to a cohort of leaders from around their convention and churches. These men are pastor/teachers who seek to develop other leaders as well. They are a sharp and godly group! They humble me.

No matter where I go and how often I have the opportunity to be a part of the incredible team at Southeastern that helps train leaders in the international church just like these men, I am always struck by how universal and cross cultural the needs of discipleship and leadership development truly are. God has created His church and maintained ownership of it from the beginning. We, as mere stewards and servants, are asked to help guide and lead His people under His command. The task is great but the resources He provides are even greater. They are supra-cultural. They transcend culture.

I recognize and am teaching this week about the reality of contextualization and its great importance. I understand and will expound upon the fact that our specific methods and approaches to church life, missions and discipleship are greatly affected and often specifically defined by context and culture. First Corinthians 9:19-23 shows we must be willing to adapt and be sensitive. But underneath that willingness lays a firm foundation we must always acknowledge that is never changing and wholly dependent upon God.

I have been learning from my students here once again about the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer. I am being schooled on what concepts like total dependency upon God and amazing faith in the Word look like in real world practice. I am being blessed by testimonies of victory and triumph over darkness. It is good as the teacher to also be the student. I appreciate the early Christmas present I am receiving by being here.

As we seek to train trainers in our local churches, our schools and for the nations, I pray we will study well the lessons learned from others. It is good to learn from those who went before us and succeeded at impacting others. The principles we can find in books and conferences or even a blog like this are often valuable, challenging and encouraging. They also give us something to footnote!

Ultimately, however, may we never forget the primacy of Scripture and the Holy Spirit in the fulfillment of the Great Commission to make disciples and leaders. To remember that our relationship with others must be squarely based upon our relationship with our Father as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 22:34-40. To never forget that no matter what role we play in the process, God, in the end, is the One who causes the growth to occur as Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:5-7.

I have already finished teaching these leaders in a course on evangelism. Now I must expand the discussion to missions. I pray I can teach them well; teach them something of value. But if I were to be honest, selfishly, I am really praying they will teach me more as well over the next few days. Good leaders must never stop being good learners. I will be looking for that next early Christmas present as I meet with these dear brothers!

John Ewart on Dog Fighting (or jealousy among leaders)

Have you ever been in a dog fight? I don’t mean a deacon’s meetings gone wrong or a bad church business session. I mean a real fight between two canines. Well I have now unfortunately. So check that off my bucket list.

The day before Thanksgiving I had to break up a fight between my daughter’s pit bull and my very spasmodic beagle mix. They always have to warm up to each other a little bit when they have not seen one another for a while but they were doing just fine. Fine until I showed too much attention to the pit bull. My psycho mutt got jealous and attacked. I found myself bent over the arm of my recliner. I had the pit bull pinned down by the throat with one hand and my dog stiff armed with the other! My wife did not know whether to laugh or cry when she came into the room to my screams for help. Let me tell you, eating turkey and dressing with a busted rib diminishes the festive atmosphere!

Later that day those two knuckleheads were playing with one another and running around the yard like nothing had happened. I literally groaned.

But the wars between the Fido’s reminded me of something. I have known leaders in our denomination and others who were exactly like them sometimes. When they saw God paying attention to and blessing another leader or another ministry they reacted poorly. Instead of being thankful for what God has already given to them and how much God has been blessing them, they were jealous and competitive. Suddenly God’s rich blessing on their lives and ministries was not enough and they wanted to force His hand off of someone else so they could somehow receive more. Some even resorted to tearing down the other leaders and speaking negatively about them in order to feel better about themselves.

All jealousy and negative competition leads to is conflict. Conflict with one another, with ourselves and with God. Coveting the grace of God bestowed upon another is a sin and a shame. God chooses to bless and to favor according to His perfect plan and mission. We cannot see all that is involved and must rest in His grace no matter how He chooses to manifest it in our lives. That is what is right and perfect for us at this time, in this place, with the lessons we must learn and the way He is still molding us. Anything less robs us of what God is doing in and through us.

Everything we have is by his grace. As leaders, we must stay focused upon these right priorities. We cannot be jealous or competitive and we must not pass this attitude on to those we train. Instead we must focus upon His grace given to us. If we do this we can focus better upon bringing him glory rather than worrying about our success. If we do not, I fear first we might find ourselves pinned down by the neck, but far worse, I fear He might remove His hand from us completely.