By Carey Nieuwhof on Sep 27, 2023
When you’re a church leader, you feel a lot of pressure.
When you’re a church leader, you feel a lot of pressure.
Almost every leader feels the pressure to do more when the key to effectively accomplishing your mission is often doing less and doing it well.
So how do you resist the constant pressure to add more programs, especially when those programs seem to be programs that won’t lead the church forward?
First, realize that much of the pressure you feel is not external, it’s internal. It’s a pressure I felt for years, until one day it vaporized.
So much of my desire to add programs and my guilt over not doing it was based on a false assumption I held and many leaders hold.
Let me explain.
A key source of that pressure is that you’re leading a church.
Your church is on a mission. Quite literally, it’s on a mission from God.
And the terms of that mission are written within the scriptures, a document everyone who attends your church (and even those who don’t) can read anytime they want. And a document you hopefully read daily.
As a result, many people have opinions on what your church should be doing or shouldn’t be doing.
And even as you read the scripture, you probably find yourself thinking we should do more of X, or I believe that we need to introduce Y so we can be more faithful to the church’s mission.
You don’t need anyone to suggest new ministries because you feel enough pressure to generate them all by yourself.
Most local church leaders feel a deep pressure to do everything they read about in the Bible in their church. After all, you lead a church.
But should you?
You shouldn’t. And here’s why.
How The Pressure Mounts
I lived with that tension and pressure for about a decade. Over time, as our church grew, I assumed we had to add more programs so we could be faithful to our calling.
You feel the pressure to do more as you read the Bible and see the need around you. And even if you didn’t or said nothing (which most leaders would never do), often the program ideas and ministries get suggested by people as you grow:
The church needs to care for the poor… we should start a food bank.
There are a lot of bikers in town… who’s going to reach them?
What are we going to do for moms of pre-schoolers?
We need more services with different music/teaching approaches to reach more people.
The needs in Asia are so great… why isn’t our church doing anything about it?
As a result, most churches by default start doing everything they can to meet every need they see around them. After all, you’re the church. You should do that!
But in the process of doing everything for everyone, a few things happen:
You end up doing nothing well.
Your ministry becomes a maze with no sequence, no progression and end in mind for helping someone grow in their relationship with each other.
The ministries and programs end up competing for time, energy and money.
People are out 5-7 nights a week, and ultimately some people burn out, including you.
When you try to be everything to everyone, you usually end up being nothing to anyone.
So why is doing everything in one local church a bad approach? 6 reasons.
1. You’re A Church… Not THE Church
So how do you resolve this tension? Or do you?
The penny dropped for me a few years ago as I was reading the scriptures one morning.
We are A church. We are not THE church.
Before you declare that heresy, think about it.
Your church is not the entire, universal church of Jesus Christ. It just isn’t. It’s an expression of the capital C church. It’s a local embodiment of the Church. But it isn’t THE church. It’s A church.
Maybe Jesus doesn’t expect you do absolutely everything HIS church will do because HIS church is bigger than YOUR church.
This should be a tremendous relief to most church leaders.
Suddenly the weight of being all things comes off (Jesus is all things anyway, you and I never were).
And we, as local church leaders and local churches, get to do the authentic work of Jesus in the areas in which we are best equipped to do it. No more. No less.
I’ve come to believe that local churches function much the way individual people do within the body of Christ. Together we make up the body. Individually, we are parts of the body. As Paul famously said, a body is comprised of feet, ears, eyes and even elbows. So it is that God weaves all of us together to be the body of Christ.
I think local churches function the same way.
2. You Are Not The Only Church In Town
Chances are you’re not the only church in the city. So don’t act like it.
Understand God has raised up other leaders and other congregations with slightly different giftings. Each church can play its part.
What you might not be great at, some other church is. What you’re best at, others aren’t.
3. Your Church Will Never Be The Only Church God Uses
You will never be the only church God uses. You just won’t be.
I’d bet we’d all get along better if we adopted that approach.
God designed churches to complement each other, not compete with each other.
I’m not saying we need more joint ministries between churches (let’s all merge and become one is probably not a very good idea).
There is an effectiveness in diversity that many people miss. Assuming orthodoxy within many local churches, each of those churches is free to do what each does best.
I’m thankful for the other effective churches God has placed in the cities in which we have locations. It’s going to take all of us to accomplish the wider mission the church has been given.
Think about it. As a church leader, your competition is not the church down the street. It’s the beach on a sunny day.
4. Thinking You’re The ENTIRE Church Is A Sign Of Ignorance Or Arrogance
When church leaders act like they are the only church in town or the only godly leader in town, that’s either ignorance or arrogance speaking. Sadly, it’s most often arrogance.
Your church is not the ENTIRE church. And you are not the ONLY church leader God has appointed.
Rather than being threatening, this should be liberating. It really should be.
And it will be, as long as you have the humility to realize that the Kingdom of God is bigger than any of us.
It’s arrogant to act like your church is the only church in town. Just ask the other pastors.
5. Ministries Also Happen Personally, Not Just Organizationally
So what do you do with all these great ideas that come along, building the pressure to be all things to all people?
I think you realize you’re playing a small part of a bigger story.
First, look to other organizations that could do it better. At Connexus, where I serve, we decided when we launched that we wouldn’t run a food bank. Instead, we partner with local food banks who do a far better job than we ever could.
Second, realize other churches might be better at doing certain ministries than you are. In our community, for example, there are churches who do recovery ministries astonishingly well. We don’t have to duplicate their efforts.
Third, there’s no reason the person with the idea couldn’t start something personally.
I am amazed at how many people at our church run ministries on their own. Several run international relief and mission agencies. Others are deeply involved in personal ministries. None have to have a Connexus ‘stamp’ on it to be God-ordained.
This frees them up to do what they do best and for us to do what we collectively do best.
6. Do What You Are Best Equipped To Do Within The Larger Body Of Christ
So what should the local church do? What that church believes it can do best given its gifting and resources.
For sure, there are core elements like the ministries of the Word and Sacrament and the gathering that have to be met to be a church. But beyond that, there’s some freedom.
So let me give you an example from my context.
What do we want to do at Connexus? It’s simple.
We want to be the best shot an unchurched person has at coming to faith in Jesus Christ, and we want to get as many Christians involved in that mission as possible.
In the process, we want to lead as many as we can into a growing relationship with Jesus.
I realize you might be thinking well isn’t that what every other church is trying to do? Not really.
Not all churches will be as explicitly outsider focused as we are. And even if they are, they will express it differently. Their music, teaching and the way they gather will be different.
And they will reach people we’ll never reach. That’s great.
And we may reach a few others won’t reach. That’s equally great.
But we won’t feel the pressure to be something we’re not. Neither will they.
We’ll each be free to pursue the ministry and gifts God has given us.
This Can Be Very Liberating
So just imagine.
God has set you and your church free to contribute the best you can to a mission that’s bigger than all of us.
God has set you free to become the leader you were designed to be, equipped with your best.
And God hasn’t left you alone.
How amazing is that?
Do you struggle with feeling the false pressure of being the entire church?
How have you overcome it?
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