Going for Broke

Being a leader is challenging for me. It’s tough because, before I was a lead pastor, I worked for some pastors who were pretty bad leaders. And I don’t want to be them.

Note, they were all pretty good men. They loved the Lord. But some simply stunk at leadership.

Some of them led too strongly. They were dictators. They didn’t listen to their staff or the church, but simply saw them as ferrets to accomplish their own selfish ambitions.

Others didn’t lead at all. They avoided staff meetings, stayed cloistered away to themselves, never giving clear direction. As a result, the staff just wandered around aimlessly. It was like the book of Judges: each man did what was right in his own eyes.

So now I’m the guy. I’m the leader, and I don’t want to screw it up. But I can feel the subtle intoxication of the power I finally have.

I admit it feels good being able to change the direction and outlook of a church with just one staff meeting. I’d been praying through some changes I thought we needed to make, but I was also a little scared. The changes would involve a huge risk, but without them we could die.

Our church has been on life support for so many years now. It needs a burst of adrenaline to get its heart started again.

I’m talking about tipping some tables upside down. Shutting down some programs that aren’t producing fruit, and starting some new things. It’s intimidating, but I strongly feel we need it.

So today, after talking some ideas through with a trusted advisor, I told the staff we would make some pretty big risks. And with my talk, I changed the very temperature of the room. Brains that were probably tuned out thinking it would be the usual kind of meeting were suddenly clicking on all cylinders. “What ifs” were floating through the air.

It all happened because I, the leader, decided today was the day. And honestly, that scares me a bit.

It’s easy to sit back and critique someone else’s leadership, to play armchair quarterback, to second guess the other guy. That’s what I’d done as a support staff member for years. But it’s quite another thing when you are the other guy, and it’s your decisions everyone is dissecting.

I think that’s why so many leaders play things so safe. They make only incremental changes. And then they wait to see if there are repercussions before they take the next timid step forward.

That all sounds very conservative, even wise sometimes. Except when the ship is sinking, you may not have time to wait to see if the few little holes you plugged make a difference. You need to do something more drastic than plugging holes, but if you do and it fails, the whole ship will surely go under. With the conservative way, at least the ship goes under slower.

However, the end game is the same. If you move slowly, it will most certainly sink. The hail Mary move may sink you, but it may save you, too.

It’s like that Old Testament passage in 2 Kings 7 of the lepers outside the city wall who were starving. There was an enemy army camped outside the city too that might give them food, but might kill them too. The city was starving—no need climbing on board a sinking ship. So finally they reasoned, “Why sit we here till we die?” They eventually got up and walked into the enemy camp. And lo and behold, the enemy had destroyed themselves, leaving all their provisions behind, saving not only the lepers but giving provision to they starving city.

Sure it was a bold move. The enemy could have just killed them. But they were going to die anyway sitting still, but they’d just die slower. In the end, they took the smart gamble by going for broke.

As the kids today would say, “Go big or go home!”

That’s what I said to our staff today. It’s the right decision, because this ship is due to sink without a major renovation. It’s just a bit scary being the guy who tells them to stop plugging holes and start building a new ship.

As I prayed today for God to search my heart and motives and root out any personal ambition, I think God showed me something important. He said, “I’m actually working in you through your frustration with things. And you using the power I gave you to bring change is exactly what you’re supposed to do. If not, why did I bring you there in the first place?”

Good question. You see, I’ve tried to be respectful of the church I began pastoring last June. I wanted not to come in initially making sweeping changes. I needed to learn the lay of the land at first. And all that was wise. Only an arrogant man comes in tipping tables over, not knowing the value of the table’s contents.

But I’ve noticed I’ve begun to get uneasy in my spirit. Problems within my staff I’d been trying to live with began to irritate me more and more. The sorry condition of the building and the impression it makes on new people was depressing me. I started to resent being stuck in such a dysfunctional place.

So imagine what staff or church members feels when they see those things and can do nothing about them. In fact, we had lost several church members before I arrived simply because we wouldn’t change things that were broken. And I remember that helpless feeling when I was on a staff but did not have the power to change anything.

Well, as the corny old hip hop song used on a million commercials goes, “I’ve got the power.” And God led me here knowing I would see these faults and not be okay with leaving things as they are.

I’ve given myself ample time to “know the territory” as the guys in the Music Man would warn. I’m including others in the process, getting their feedback. They’re seeing the same needs as well, so it’s not just me.

Now it’s time to take action, because that’s why God brought me here.

It’s time to “swing for the fences,” “all or nothing,” “shoot for the moon,” and a hundred other scary phrases.

If we fail, I’ll probably get the blame. And that’s a gut check for me. That’s why many pastors just play it safe and don’t stick their necks out to take a risk.

And that’s how so many churches die. From being so careful not to do the wrong thing, they never do the right thing.

But if we sit here, we’ll die.

But if we get up, we may die as well.

Better to die trying to live, than die a coward.


First published on Bad Pastor’s Blog.

Bad Pastor
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