When coaching pastors, I have heard a question along these lines:
“My church is one hundred twenty-three years old. There have been pastors before me who tried to make changes and grow the church, but they failed. Why should I believe I could make a difference?”
It’s a valid question.
I could have responded with the old seminarian quote I’ve heard so many times before, “It is easier to give birth than raise the dead.” (In other words, go plant a church and let dying churches die). I’m not sure that is always the answer. So many pastors face this same dilemma — their church has been stuck at 400, 200, 100, or less for years. They want to lead a change, forge a new trail and see something fresh happen, but they just don’t know how to do it.
While I agree that church planting is a fast track to reaching the world, we can’t overlook the smaller churches throughout America who, like any church, should be making a difference. There are times churches must close their doors and end their era of ministry, while others simply need help. Perhaps that’s a hard decision, “Do I go or do I stay? Do we close or do we keep going?” Personally, I believe it all depends on whether or not the pastor has had what I call a “Burning Bush Moment.”
I use the Exodus term because I believe many pastors ask a similar question that Moses asked, “God, how do I lead your people to something new (the Promise Land) who have been doing the same thing for four hundred years?” For Moses, his challenge would be convincing the people things could be better. For us, it’s more likely persuading people to abandon powerless traditions.
Many churches across America live behind the walls of “doing” church that produce little or no impact. And, despite the obvious fruitless trends over the last twenty, fifty or one hundred years, the people have become married to these traditions. They have accepted their way of doing church as a lifestyle because it’s safe and predictable.
What we’re really talking about, then, is the concept of leading churches from traditional to intentional. And to do that, every pastor needs a “Burning Bush Moment.” Not a gooey, angelic experience; rather, a fiery desire in their heart to see Kingdom growth. A sense that God is up to something. When a pastor has a Burning Bush Moment, no one can talk him into leaving and nothing can prevent him from staying. He just knows, with resolve, that God is on the move.
Maybe you’re leading a smaller church and you’ve experienced your own Burning Bush Moment. Perhaps there’s a fire in your heart that will not let you rest. What are your next steps? How can you lead a traditional church to becoming Gospel-intentional? And if you take some next steps, what can you expect?
Here are three things I believe you’ll experience:
1) While everyone loves the idea of leaving Egypt (tradition); not everyone will love the change and discomfort that comes with it.
2) Burning Bush Moments are always followed with Red Sea Moments, meaning, you’ll have to be ready to take some risks that will affect all of your people…and yes, you’ll lose some.
3) At the end of the day, you must discover, build and empower the Joshuas and Calebs around you… because you can’t do it alone.
These are just three of many things you’ll probably experience. My best advice to you is to seek out help. Remember, there is safety in a multitude of counsel.