Just over a week ago I was catching up with longtime friends who are also in ministry. They are in the midst of transitioning into a new church and we were reflecting on our various congregations over the last few years. At one point I shared this comparison. (Now I want to qualify this with the fact that I am in the throes of parenting school aged children and this is not intended to be patronising.) I suggested congregations were like our children. We may choose to be parents but we don’t pick our kids. We may freely answer a call to be pastors, but we don’t pick who is in our congregation. In both cases our job is to love them for who they are, be open to learning from them, and do our best to draw the gold out of them. As Emma Percy describes, “(a) mother is a mother of certain children and her mothering is shaped by the reality of those children and the things she does for them and the way they respond to her doing.”
For a pastor of a small church plant, reading business management consultant Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Good to Great in the Social Sectors left me reaching a little for implementable strategies. In all honesty I may have done better to read a book titled ‘Floundering to Surviving’. While I appreciated his emphasis that the ‘who’ has to proceed the ‘where’ , his premise that we need to “get the right people on the bus (and) the wrong people off the bus” assumes that the leader has some authority to regulate who is on the bus. If the bus is the group who will work together to determine direction, then in a small church, everyone is on the bus. In such contexts it remains true that your people (empowered by God) will determine your capacity for greatness but kicking people out of the church is rarely part of a culture that will lead to greatness. So how do we get the right people on the bus in a faithful way? Alternatively, how do we nurture the people on the bus into being the right people?
A level 5 pastor would need to be humble as would any level 5 leader, but their drive would perhaps need to be about a high commitment to nurturing a particular culture. “Clergy can and should inspire, motivate and encourage the whole community in their discipleship and ministry but, as Martyn Percy says, they cannot compel. The health of the ministry of a given church requires, as Paul’s body metaphor reminds us, the working together of all its parts.” If the bar is kept high on both discipleship and valuing one another, then those who don’t want to be held accountable will get off the bus without being asked. This process can take time. It requires creating conditions where people’s brokenness can emerge and their vulnerability exposed. Space for storytelling and authenticity must be created. Often during this process people will begin to rub each other the wrong way. There may even be squabbling. And let’s be honest, given the indeterminate time this stage takes, people start to complain ‘Are we there yet?’ In the midst of this jockeying it makes sense to do the same thing that I do if my kids are creating unhealthy chaos in the back seat of the car. You stop the bus until they’ve worked it out. That is, you refuse to determine the direction until the people have found the right seats. We “start by focusing on the First Who principle—do whatever you can to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people into the right seats…greatness flows first and foremost from having the right people in the key seats.” What a pastor can do is pull the bus over. The wrong people will very likely get off the bus at this point.
Allowing a time of discomfort within the bus, in the midst of discipleship will invite an important refining process.“Getting clear on our value and our team members’ values will revolutionise our company and create lanes where none might have existed before—instead of a ten-person race, we start to develop a coordinated relay in which team members baton-toss to each other’s strengths instead of vying to run the whole stretch alone. Once everyone understands their value, we stop hustling for worthiness and lean into our gifts.” At best, what will emerge is a freedom for each person to offer their best gifts and the direction of the bus can be established on those strengths.
Collins’ hedgehog image can thus be created as a natural outpouring of the Holy Spirit through those who remain.
While Christ will always be the ‘passion’, a small church must find a particular flavour in which that passion is expressed in order to further define it. For example ‘revival’ or ‘social justice’ or ‘service’. While many churches may want to embrace all of those flavours, one must emerge as the hallmark expression in order to figure out where the bus is going. Of course the next question will likely need to be that of resources. According to Collins, “[t]he resource engine in [this type of social sector] depends heavily on personal relationships and excellent fundraising.” What is also true is that the people themselves are a limiting resource. There is only so much volunteer energy to be spent—at least as the team begins to get the flywheel moving. Determining what ‘great’ thing a small church can do requires careful definitions of both the goal and the evaluative scale. Truth be told I even struggle with the word great. I think for my little church I’d replace it with faithful. Good to Faithful. Who’s staying on the bus?
1. Percy, Emma. What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing. London: SPCK, 2014, Kindle p23.
2. Collins, James C. Good to Great. London: Random House Business, 2001, Kindle.
3. Ibid., p12.
4. Percy p11.
5. Collins, Jim. Good to Great in the Social Sectors: a Monograph to Accompany Good to Great. Boulder, CO: Jim Collins, 2005, Kindle 14.
6. Brown, Brene. Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts, Random House 2018, p98.
7. Collins, Jim. Good to Great in the Social Sectors: a Monograph to Accompany Good to Great. Boulder, CO: Jim Collins, 2005, Kindle 12.