April 30, 2014
How do we develop staff as leaders? If we are going to move in the direction God is calling us, we need staff to be leaders and not just doers.
By Fred Koenig
With that sentiment, Doug Anderson opened his two-day workshop on leading church staff at SunRise UMC in O’Fallon. About 40 Missouri Conference pastors and staff participated in the learning event.
Anderson cut right to what he believes is the core of many of the challenges that most churches face. About 90 percent of churches have plateaued or are declining, and he attributes it to their mission.
“I think it’s because most of our United Methodist churches are more preference driven than purpose centered,” he said. “At a preference driven church, a small group of people with enough power leverage every decision around their own personal preferences. Preference driven churches have an ongoing, regular predictable cycle of conflict – if decision making process puts people in categories of winners and losers, you’re going to have conflict.”
Preference driven churches focus inward, purpose focused churches focus out, because the mission is always reaching out.
“The key to the transformation of a church from being preference driven to purpose centered is the spiritual development of the leaders in the church – to the place or point that the mission of God is more important than their own preference or comfort in decision making, program planning or initiating new ministries,” Anderson said. “Do I have the spiritual maturity to choose to do what God wants me to do, which will be more difficult and take me out of my comfort zone? If leaders are centered on preference and comfort, they are not spiritually mature. In the United Methodist Church we choose too many leaders based on expertise as opposed to character and spiritual maturity.”
Why don’t Methodists share their faith? The reason we don’t share our faith outside of the church is because we quit sharing our faith inside our churches, Anderson said. Maybe the question is “How have you experienced God recently in your life?”
An Assembly of God pastor shared three words with Anderson 43 years ago, and Anderson said he can hear them clearly today. When he asked the AG pastor how he was able to do such a good job of outreach in the community, he laughed and replied, “We do Wesley.” He then gave the following examples:
- We do indigenous worship: It’s an anthropological term connected to or rising out of the culture of the church. Teaching sermons, preaching outdoors, music similar to what hear in bars, all related back to the early days of Wesley.
- We aim for people at the margins: Some people say the Wesleys averted a revolution in England that would have been as bloody as the French Revolution by easing tensions between the classes in society.
- We do accountable discipleship: Like in Wesley’s small groups, people should read scripture together, pray for each other and for God to use us, and share their faith.
Anderson said a barrier to a church becoming mission centered can be a person in the congregation who is opposed to change, and wields a lot of influence. He asked the group to name ways people can build clout in a charge and end up with more than their share of influence. They came up with this list:
- Being a member of a church for a long time.
- Personality – either by being charming or confrontational
- Doing a lot of volunteering.
- Making large financial contributions
- Family connections
- Expertise (such as a contractor getting the final word on building decisions)
Anderson noted that the Methodists were 100 years behind when they got started in the United States, and they quickly rose to being one of largest denominations in the country. In the 1870s there was a new Methodist church starting every day. Soon after decline started, and he points toward one letter in one word as explaining the negative course.
“Our clergy shifted from the horse to the house,” he said. “Previously pastors had been appointed to a geographic territory. From the 1870s on, the pastor was appointed to churches.”
He also points to lower requirements of laity. “In 1904, the Book of Discipline was changed so that you could join a Methodist church without being part of a class meeting,” Anderson said. “You could say that accountable discipleship became optional.”
Anderson emphasized that the key to church development is the spiritual development of your leaders. “You won’t go anywhere until you have leaders who make the mission of God more important than comfort and preference,” he said.
“You can’t move the church in the direction of the mission if you don’t have leaders who are in the place spiritually to move the church in the right direction.”