Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Courage to Be Contagious

There is one question that every church leader needs to ask – if you were not serving as the pastor of your congregation, would you still attend that church? If the answer is yes, what is it that you find so appealing? If the answer is no, then what needs to change, and more importantly why do you continue to perpetuate something that just doesn’t work?

It doesn’t matter where you are, there are things happening in vital churches that seem to draw people in. Interesting ministry invites people to come and see what the excitement is all about. In many ways, vitality is contagious. People talk about what interests them and what is important in their lives, and that is just as true about the churches we attend as anything else. 

How about in your community? Are your members talking about the church in ways that will encourage and invite others to come and see what is happening there? Simple things matter, from worship services that move our spirits, to Vacation Bible School programs that are open to every child in the community, to youth groups that seem to be on fire, to fellowship and mission activities that show the love of Christ.

Those are the kind of things that represent what it means to be the Body of Christ. And being the Body of Christ is essential to becoming a vital congregation. When you ignite an excitement in your members, you can be sure that they will share that message with their friends and neighbors, in both intentional and unintentional ways.

So is your church contagious? What is happening in your midst that will encourage others to want to come and see for themselves? It is our task to share the love and message of Christ with the world around us. But there is nothing wrong with doing that in a way that is appealing and inviting. If we are satisfied with simply providing three hymns and a sermon every week, if that is our standard, then one can reasonably ask why a visitor would bother to get out of bed and spend an hour with us on Sunday morning.

How can we begin to make our congregation contagious? While the answer to that question is wide and varied, there are a few things that good leaders can do to encourage the spread of enthusiasm and excitement in your community:

See opportunities, not limitations. Small and rural congregations are well aware of the dynamics that work against us. We know that demographics are not usually in our favor and that a decline in population usually means fewer members, lower attendance, and limited financial resources. The key is to stop worrying about what we don’t have and focus on what resources and opportunities are available to us now. We are not asked to do ministry with the gifts we had twenty years ago, but with the gifts we have here today.

Let mission take the lead. Worship is often synonymous with church, and is the most visible aspect of our ministry. But mission is our connection with the world around us. Non-members may never see the inside of our sanctuary, but they are often exposed to the work of the church in the community. Finding ways to express the love of Christ outside the church building sends a powerful message, both about the Lord and about your congregation. What needs are present in our community and how can we dedicate our membership and our resources toward strategies that will enable us to respond to those needs?

Be authentic. It is interesting to note that most rural pastors don’t come from rural backgrounds. But that does not mean that you cannot be effective. Leadership in a vital congregation means understanding what you know and admitting what you don’t know. No matter what your background, be yourself. People can smell a phony a mile away and once you lose credibility it is hard to regain it. Don’t be afraid to let others know that you want to understand who they are and what they do. And that you want to be a part of their community – and their lives. There is a reason God brought you to this church and this community – be inspired to use your gifts to  respond to that call in vibrant and enthusiastic ways.

Speak Jesus fluently. As leaders we come into a community not just as a helper, but as an ambassador for Jesus. It is our calling to talk about Jesus wherever we go and whatever we do.  In some new leaders there is a tendency to tone down the faith aspect of our work until we gain the people’s confidence. But that is so unnecessary because everyone knows why we are there.  And it is confusing to others if we don’t intentionally express and live the faith that we represent. If we don’t, who will? The unintended benefit is that our willingness to speak about Jesus frequently and fluently gives permission to others to be more open about their own faith. In the process, the church develops a reputation for being excited and unashamed about what we believe, opening the door for others to join the conversation.

Model leadership. Pastors are expected to model what it means to be a person of character and to be the de facto leader of the congregation. But if we limit that expectation to our called clergy then we miss a great opportunity.  We cannot do it all alone and we should not try. When we allow the elders, deacons, teachers, and others in the church to share in leadership and service we demonstrate that faith and service are valued in everyone and not just those who are paid to do so. Modeling leadership does not just mean sharing the work, but also extends to the sharing of ideas and initiative as well.

Do you have the courage to be contagious? Like it or not, as pastors we set the tone in everything we do.  We establish the standard for the attitude of any gathering by the attitude we present.  We play a large role in developing a sense of excitement and enthusiasm and wonder about the faith and community experienced in our congregation. Vital churches have pastors who are inspired about their faith and are not afraid to share those feelings in all that they do. Most of all, they are not afraid to encourage their members to do the same!