Are you and your church dying a slow death? Dick Wills, in Waking To God’s Dream, sees only two options for the church today: deep spiritual change or slow death. He writes, “One might think that if a church has indigenous worship, small groups, and empowerment of the laity, it will certainly be a vital community of faith. But there is a problem. The fundamental need is for the pastor to be a “spiritual leader.”¹
In recent years, we have moved toward more secular models of leadership development. We have developed managers, CEOs, and innovators. We have focused more on charismatic leadership than on the spiritual character in our leaders. We can learn a great deal from business leaders. Business leaders can be spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders, however, cannot only be business leaders.
When we are faced with change or death, it is a reminder we need more spiritual leadership. Spiritual leaders nurture their lives in prayer, scripture reading, and study. They are role models of faith to others as well as welcome accountability to others. Additionally, spiritual leaders have people with whom they pray, seek wisdom, and celebrate the ways God is moving in their lives. No, that is not an exhaustive list. But, if we claim we want to be spiritual leaders, the Spirit is an essential part of leadership. Today, we have too few spiritual leaders who serve as models for those who need guidance in our spiritual leadership development. Wills writes, “The church will never experience renewal without spiritual leaders.”²
In the midst of slow death, pastors and leaders have at least three options:
Peace at any price – Don’t rock the boat. Leave things as they are. Don’t upset anyone. Keep trying to please all the people all the time. Wills, speaking from experience, writes, “When this happens, something precious in you dies.”
Exit – You leave. Clergy leave their pulpit for another appointment; leaders and members leave the congregation for another church. It is a simplistic illusion that all a congregation’s problems will be solved if the pastor departs or all a leader’s pain will be eased if they depart the church. Either way, Wills sees this alternative as falling victim to the old lie that “the grass is greener on the other side of the hill.” In some cases, the pastor explores the option of retirement. Doing nothing seems a better option than dying a slow death. In other cases, the pain is so great that these pastors exit the ministry. Most people in the church do not really know the heartache and pain of pastors in the midst of dying a slow death.
Deep Spiritual Change – This is the final and best solution. Personal change on behalf of congregational leaders (both pastors and lay leaders) precedes organizational change. Deep spiritual change is what is needed to lead the church today into the future.³
When a leader seeks deep spiritual change in his or her own life, there is always God’s invitation to walk by faith, not by sight. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Deep spiritual change is guided by seeking God’s will and God’s way. Along the way, change will also mean letting go of something. It’s part of God’s way of making room for the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
What choice will you and your congregation make?
Peace at any price? Exit? or Deep spiritual change?
When you choose deep spiritual change, keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to God’s work in your midst. Get connected to what God is doing around you. Above all, continue to pray for the health and direction of the congregation. Your relationship with God is where spiritual leadership must start. It is also where you must continually return.
1. Dick Wills, Waking to God’s Dream, page 120
2. Ibid., page 121
3. Ibid., pages 123-124