When I was selected as the Interim Pastor of APC, I was only 26 yrs old. Allison Park Church had been in existence for over 20 years and most of the people who belonging to my church were there far longer than I had been. They were resistant to change and with good reason, I was green and new and inexperienced. What a daunting challenge!
What I learned during the first five years were some important components to leadership during transition. Recently, I was asked to talk about these principles. Here are my recommendations:
#1 – LISTEN MORE THAN YOU TALK
I spent a lot of time in the early season of my ministry just hearing people’s thoughts and dreams. I asked a lot of questions. I took notes. I sought the advice of leaders in the church, volunteers, and guests. When someone was upset, I listened. When someone was happy, I listened.
Sometimes, I had no answers for the problems that were presented to me. But the fact that I took the time to hear the problem, was enough to earn a degree of trust.
Listening also helped me to form a broadly based opinion of the problems that needed solutions.
#2 – IDENTIFY EASY WINS
As I listened, I was able to pick out some action points that would bring immediate agreement from just about everyone involved. There was a lot about the church that people were in disagreement about. But there were a few things, that everyone agreed should be done.
For instance, we had not had a church picnic in years. Several mentioned how they missed those types of fun gatherings. So we did something that was LOW RISK and HIGH RETURN. We hosted a picnic. People attended and actually had fun. It was a win that we could all agree upon and enjoy.
#3 – WITHHOLD CRITICISM, SPEAK BLESSING
In an atmosphere of tension and conflict, it is so easy to offer opinions. Often just sharing those opinions can cause open relational wounds to continue to fester.
People would often ask, ‘what do you think about what he did?’ or ‘why do you think things went so wrong in that area?’ or ‘why couldn’t those two seem to get along?’
How do you answer those kinds of questions? I would choose my words delicately by saying things like, “I’m not sure.’ or ‘At this point the most important thing is simply to move on.’ or ‘It’s over now, and I am thankful for God’s grace which can heal all wounds.’
Analyzing relational conflict can be entertaining on the O’Reily Factor or a sports show like PTI, but it is typically not healthy in a church or family environment. What heals wounds is the choice to speak blessing. In the Greek ‘to bless’ is the word ‘eulogia’. It is like offering a eulogy.
In a memorial service, we give a eulogy. Eulogies are selective speech. We choose to ignore the negative and speak only the things that are positive. This kind of selective speech is necessary when a family, a church, or a business is in a turn-around phase of its life.
#4 – HAVE FUN
Proverbs 17:22 tells us that ‘A cheerful heart is like good medicine, but a crushed spirit drys up the bones.’ Joy is contagious. Depression is too. So as a leader, it is important to model joy.
I remember doing some creative things in the services that just helped everyone relax. We did some skits as sermon illustrations. We hosted picnics, fellowships following the services, valentines banquets, and whatever else we could come up with to help people get together and just enjoy each other again.
#5 – PLAN PRAYER GATHERINGS
A big part of the recovery out of this season of turbulence and decline had to do with a push toward prayer. I challenged people to follow me as I took some steps toward fasting and prayer.
We hosted some All Night Prayer Meetings. The first one we did was from 10pm until 8am. Wow, was that long and hard. The hours from 3am until 8am were pointless because we were all so tired. But even though it was not the perfect structure, it inspired people to do more in prayer.
Spiritual hunger is also contagious. We held our first week of fasting and prayer. I told the church how long I was fasting and encouraged as many as possible to join me in some way. This is a practice that we have continued.
BTW – I was remembering those All Night Prayer moments. We were also bold. We asked Dr. Cho from Korea to call in. He did! He addressed us for about 20 minutes over the phone (which we fed through the sound system). Leonard Ravenhill also called in to our prayer meeting. I am amazed that those great men would take the time to encourage our church.
When a church is laughing together and praying together, it is hard for conflict to live. Prayer and laughter help stop out bitterness and tension.
#6 – CLARIFY IMMEDIATE VISION
Just after being selected as the Senior Pastor, I attended a conference. Pastor Tommy Barnett did a talk about Getting First Hand Vision From God. He challenged us to not live off someone else’s dream, but to hear from God for ourselves.
Immediately after that talk, I found a quiet place to get alone with God. On a sheet of paper I wrote listed five categories. This was before the whole Purpose-Driven model. But I had been taught somewhere to base ministry on God’s five purposes. So I listed them out: Worship, Fellowship, Ministry, Discipleship, and Evangelism.
Under each of those categories I wrote several bullet points of things that could happen within the next year to increase our effectiveness in fulfilling these purposes. This was not so much a long-range plan. I don’t think the church was ready to dream that far ahead. It was more simple steps that everyone could easily agree upon that would advance the ball a little further.
After writing out the short-term vision plan, I brought it back and shared it. First, I shared it with my staff. They affirmed and added to it. Next, I brought it to my Board. They did the same. Then I shared it with a larger group of leaders and eventually with the entire church.
This became our working plan for ministry that we sought to execute together. When people agree on vision or plan, there is immediate momentum. Now we were going somewhere together. There was hope. There was new expectation. The past and its pain was fading. The future was beginning to seem bright.
#7 – ENJOY THE JOURNEY
Too often we let the difficulty of transition keep us back from enjoying God’s presence, enjoying the moment, and enjoying the people that we are leading. It’s tough to make progress with anything when we are miserable.