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03/01/2013 by Chris Green

colour-gears-168pixelsI was sure the speed limit was forty, but the police were equally sure it was thirty, and so I found myself on a Speed Awareness Course, finding out about the dangers of speeding, and tips for driving safely.  One of which was to select the right gear by listening to the engine.  Choose the right one, and you can hear the engine racing if you go to fast.  Then, you slow down, or change up a gear if it’s safe to go faster. Or you can choose to be faced with a costly repair bill. A simple message, really.

Have you ever come across a church in the wrong gear?  Everyone is working too hard, problems are not addressed, people are treated like consumers – the engine is revving too fast.  There are only three options:

Slow down. Is the church being too ambitious, or being driven by an ambitious pastor?  Are they keen to get noticed or be significant?  Is the minister getting his CV ready for the next (bigger) church?  Just slow down. Rejoice in the people God has given you, and the fellowship you can have together. Rejoice in the strengths of being the size you are. Let the speed of the car match the gear you’re in.

Change up.  It’s well known that different seasons of ministry, and different sizes of church, place different expectations on the pastor. The skills that got you to where you are will not be the ones that take you on.  So, pastors, it’s time to dig out some of those ruthlessly pragmatic church growth books – not to see what causes growth (that’s the ugly face of pragmatism), but to uncover some of the sociological and relational patterns that your current and anticipated church size expects of you, and to see where you need to adapt, and what new skills you need to learn. Change the gear you’re in to match the speed you expect to be driving at.

Burn out the engine.  This is the expensive choice, and it happens too often. The pastor takes early retirement. The leadership splits. Long standing members leave.

I was at a conference for leaders of larger churches (in the UK, that’s any church with over 400 members). In the seminar session I went with the group for assistant ministers, and heard fifty or so keen young people repeat the same, depressing story.  “Our minister doesn’t know how to lead or grow the church. He was appointed because he’d been successful at running a smaller church, but he doesn’t get how to lead a larger church. He doesn’t understand how we reached this size, and he certainly doesn’t know how to lead us on.  Either he learns what to do, or the church is going to fall apart – but at he moment he’s heading for a nervous breakdown.”

Those are the options: change up, slow down, or burn out.

Process questions

  •  Listen to the engine of your church. Do you think you are in the right gear at the moment?
  • If you are accelerating, are you already anticipating the need to change gear?  Pastors, are you prepared to pay the price for the church’s growth by changing the ways you pastor? What changes do you anticipate?
  • If you hear the whining of the gears, but you don’t know whether you do want to change your role, are you prepared to stand aside and allow another pastor who does have those skills take over?  Or, do you want to slow everything down a little, reduce the pressure and let the church live within your skill set?
  • Or (seriously) are you heading for a burnout?  This is the one that is unacceptable, because it damages you, your family, and the church. Talk it over with your spouse, your lay leaders and some wise Christian friends – but you cannot drive at fifty in third without causing damage to the engine.

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