3 Discoveries About Leading Congregational Renewal

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I was three months into the Renewal Lab journey with East Leonard (Grand Rapids, MI) when this exciting and daunting realization struck me: nothing’s gonna happen around here unless I start doing something around here! And the number one thing I had to start doing was have the right attitude about renewal.

Here are the top three things I learned about leading renewal. 

I need to lead. 

Even with all the books and coaches and renewal team retreats, no change was going to happen in our congregation if I didn’t lead it. This was the quintessential money-where-my-mouth-was moment. I talked about renewal. I supported renewal. I lamented about the slowness of people to get on board with renewal. But nothing would happen without me leading it. So, I started to lead. I restructured our time together as elders to be more about renewal than business. I gave them the books we were reading as a Renewal Team. I structured my week and my work so that renewal wasn’t something I added to my calendar but gave shape to what I did. I started delegating. That was hard. But handing people the reigns and giving them permission to develop ministry is making our ministry better – and me a better leader.

Criticizing existing programs is a bad idea.

I’ve found there’s no value in attaching a negative value to anything that our church or its members were doing. Thankfully I learned this lesson in several elder’s meetings! Being critical of ministry – to church members or even to other pastors – is lose-lose. Ministry is always personal. At some point, God had conceived a passion for something that someone birthed into a ministry that currently exists in my context. Whatever that something is energized someone. Someone spent time and energy and resources bringing it to reality. Someone recruited others to catch the vision, and so on. The point is, criticizing programs has the unfortunate effect of people feeling criticized. And, duh, that doesn’t foster the atmosphere of love and trust that renewal grows in.

Trust that God’s people want to see him work.

Yeah, sure – every single person is not on board for renewal. I don’t let that raise my blood pressure. Some would be content to preserve what we’ve got. Again, no hairs are turning gray over that. The reason? No matter what people think they want, there’s nothing that makes their soul soar more than real contact with God and the work that he does. I have to believe that. God made us in his image, after his likeness. We were shaped to delight in his presence and his work. Blue psalter hymnals and assigned seats can’t stop God igniting a soul to rejoice in the work he’s doing – even if it’s a brand new work. So, I keep going. I keep learning how much to push change and when to back off. I’m doing my best to stay enthused about mission and vision in the slowdown of summer. I’m committed to renewal because I believe that nothing will make our community more alive than a genuine experience of the living God at work among them. And if what we’re doing right now isn’t making that happen…it’s time for something new!

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