Jim Latimer is one of Coaching4Clergy’s newest faculty members. His coaching niche is helping pastors and churches get off to a strong start in the revitalization/renewal process. In today’s guest post, Jim addresses one of the most common mistakes made by pastors and churches – jumping into the revitalization process before they’ve clarified their expectations. It’s an absolutely essential preliminary step, as you’ll read below.
Renewing Your Church: What Do You Expect?
Every congregation in significant decline says they want to grow again – to increase attendance and financial health. And every “revitalization” pastor wants to help them do it. The rub comes in how to do it. Expectations drive everything – not only what is to be done, but also how it is to be done.
How the renewal work is carried out is driven by deep-seated notions of the purpose of the local church. Here are three common ones:
- “My church exists to serve us, meet our needs (our church is for us).”
- “The church is the primary vehicle for the moral education of our children (if we don’t, who will?)”
- “The church’s purpose is to connect people with God and help them grow spiritually.”
The first two understandings commonly require staying in a particular place or building, i.e., keeping the doors open. The third understanding, however, depends less upon continuity in a building and more upon the dedication of the people to their purpose.
My intention here isn’t to advocate for any particular mission for a church. Rather, I advocate that all parties involved in a renewal effort work to understand each other’s perspective.
Armed with this awareness, pastor and congregation can do significant work together even with somewhat different notions of the purpose of the church. They can find enough in common to make real progress.
However without this mutual clarity, attempts at renewing a local congregation are greatly impaired, not only because efforts are uncoordinated, but also because no one agrees what “success” looks like.
The problem isn’t the differing expectations per se – no two individuals ever have exactly the same viewpoint, much less a pastor with an entire congregation. Rather, the problem comes when participants do not examine their own expectations and assumptions of the purpose of their church. Consequently, each party’s viewpoint is tacit – held as “common sense” – and therefore “right.” Differing viewpoints are seen as misguided or wrong. Trust and credibility suffer. Unexamined expectations are a central cause of failure.
The vital need to clarify expectations between pastor and congregation sounds obvious. However, the hidden nature of many expectations makes this very challenging without additional skills. Two skills in particular are essential: Deep listening and powerful questioning.