Why Leaders Settle for Plateau and Decline

In the early part of the 21st Century Gene Wood, then pastor of Grace Church in Glendora, CA, wrote a book entitled Leading Turnaround Churches. Among the number of things he discussed to add value to our lives is found in Chapter 11, Why Leaders Settle for Plateau and Decline. I believe it is worth our time to review the contents and examine ourselves. The number of churches in the US that are either plateaued or in decline is approximately 85%. If the research is close to correct then nearly 9 out of every 10 senior pastors are shepherding a declining or plateaued church. Thus the need to examine ourselves and give some much needed attention to how we are responding to this situation. He mentions “four identifiable factors” why we may be settling for plateau and decline. Here they are.

Fear of Conflict: It has been said that United States Marines run toward the gun fire. When you hear, see or feel conflict among your congregation how do you respond? Do you run toward it or take off running the other way? It takes courage to confront conflict but it is essential to the health of our ministries. Research done at Emory University in the mid 90’s found that all churches that reversed their decline experienced conflict….without exception. Simply put, what can hinder growth? Fear, fear of conflict, fear of making someone, anyone, unhappy with us. It has been stated that there are two leading causes of decline in our churches. One is no governing purpose and the other is power struggles to control the church. Does it look to you like we need to make some changes in the way we lead our churches?

Lack of Discipline: “Professional discipline is the trademark of all successful turnaround pastors.” Stewarding the resources and opportunities God entrusts to us is imperative. “The distinguishing feature between turnaround pastors and those who cannot develop a healthy church lies in how disciplined they are with the hours they do work.” Lead and manage yourself first then others.

Inability to do Personal Evangelism: If you are struggling in this area then consider studying the results presented in The Unchurched Next Door by Thom Rainer. It may give you some insights and direction toward developing your own skills at reaching your community for Christ along with leading others to do the same. We are hard pressed to justify pounding on our congregations from our pulpits about winning people to Christ if we aren’t doing it either. Work hard at this and ask God to bless your efforts with the fruit of transformed lives.

Unwillingness to accept coaching: Most of us, including myself, would rather coach than be coached. In most every arena of professional life we find people relying on coaches for personal development. We get to church and ministry in general and we don’t see this happening. What is the cause of this? Here are four benefits listed by Gene in his book.

A good coach pushes us to the point of pain in practice. “No pain, no gain.” The point is a price has to be paid to achieve excellence. A coach can help you achieve excellence.

A good coach helps you set realistic goals. The goal is steady improvement in our personal and professional lives. A coach can help you manage your efforts to maximize your development. He can keep you from setting unrealistic goals that can’t be reached and thus protect you.

A good coach walks us through the times of injury and setback. Being hurt while in ministry is a normal part of life. How we respond and recover can be improved by a coach. He can help us keep God’s perspective on our pain and injury and develop a program to help us heal.

A good coach helps us finish well. A good coach can help you discern areas that need correction, improvement and specific attention so we continue to maximize our performance for Christ.

What is stopping you from addressing your situation? Christ stated that a person has to die to self, take up their cross and follow Him. I believe it takes courage and sacrifice to address the areas listed above. What would He have you do?

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