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Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing
How Leaders Can Overcome Costly Mistakes
By Geoff Surratt
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One TRYING TO DO IT ALL
When I was pastoring little Church on the Lake in Texas, my schedule followed a similar pattern each week. I began every Monday morning by resigning as pastor. I told my wife and whoever else would listen that the church was full of whiners, the leaders were wimps, and the preaching was poor. Although they often agreed, by noon my little pity party was over and I headed into the office to start the week. The first task was to see if we were still in business. I checked the offering count from the weekend, saw what bills were due, checked our account balance, and breathed a sigh of relief if we had enough in the bank to pay the bills and my salary for one more week. I then found my way back to my office to begin praying that God would give me one more sermon. Actually, two more sermons, because I had to preach on Wednesday night as well. Actually, three more sermons until we finally canceled the Sunday night ser vice after I decided I couldn't stand listening to myself speak three times a week anymore. (When I first started pastoring, I prepared four sermons a week because I also taught Sunday school. I quit teaching or going to Sunday school early on because I had always hated Sunday school as a child and figured I didn't have to go anymore now that I wore big-boy pants.)
Tuesday was accounting day. That was when I entered all of the tithe checks into the database I kept on my personal computer. I knew this wasn't the wisest way to keep the books, but it was better than the system they used when I came to the church. A sweet older lady we called Sister Dolly used to count the money, make the deposits, and write the checks. The challenge was that math wasn't Sister Dolly's strong suit. Occasionally she added checks to the balance rather than subtract them. That can cause some consternation at the end of the month. Once a month another volunteer took her work, mistakes and all, and transfered it into a handwritten ledger. Any expenses he didn't recognize he lumped into the miscellaneous category. One month we spent more on miscellaneous than on all the other categories combined. The next month I became the church bookkeeper.
On Wednesdays, in addition to coming up with a fresh word from God for the handful of adults who would show up for Wednesday night Bible study, I began getting the music ready for the worship team on the weekend. When I first came to the church, we had two musicians: a piano player and a drummer. Listening to this little two-piece band was like hearing a train wreck in slow motion; we didn't worship as much as we held on for dear life and prayed that it would all end soon and on beat. Our deliverance came one Saturday afternoon a few weeks after I became the pastor. The piano player called to say that she wouldn't be there on Sunday so we would have to have "song ser vice" without her. She wasn't good, but she was all we had. Without a lot of options, I rushed to our local Christian bookstore and found that they carried backup tracks to several popular worship songs on cassette tape. For the first time ever, our worship that weekend consisted of our worship leader singing along with a karaoke band. The congregation looked a little confused but relieved that for the first time the music wasn't painful; as bad as karaoke worship was, at least no one was injured in the process. The next week I told the piano player and the drummer that we were going to take a break from live music on Sundays and use backup tapes instead, and suddenly I became the worship director at our church. Every Wednesday for the next two years, I gathered all of our worship tapes and made a master tape for the weekend ser vice. I then made duplicate tapes for the worship team, typed out lyric sheets, printed copies, and delivered everything to the singers. I was so focused on being the best pastor I could be that it never occurred to me that someone else in the church might be better suited for this job (considering I can't sing or play an instrument).
Thursday was sermon preparation and depression day. I spent part of the day working on a sermon for the weekend and part of the day feeling sorry for myself because I wasn't Bill Hybels. I had been to Willow Creek and knew that Bill wrote his sermons in a plush office looking out over Willow Creek's private pond full of seeker-sensitive ducks. (I imagined that's how his office looked; I'd never actually seen it.) I wrote my sermons in a converted singlewide trailer with burnt orange shag carpet, a window air conditioner that leaked, and geese that honked and left little presents on the front porch. Starbucks had not yet hit Huffman, Texas, so I did my sermon preparation alone and feeling sorry for myself. In my pity party I didn't realize that I could have pulled a team together to help write the weekend message with me. The congregation included some exceptionally creative and talented people who would have jumped at the chance to help shape the sermons; all I had to do was ask. But I didn't; I was the Lone Pastor.
Friday was bulletin and PowerPoint day. I typed up the bulletin, illustrated it with cheesy clipart, printed it, and folded it. Once my bulletin duties were done, I worked on the PowerPoint slides for worship and for my yet-to-be-completed sermon. If I had time once the bulletin and PowerPoint slides were finished, I hopped on the Sears garden tractor and mowed the grass for the weekend. Various repairs and maintenance jobs had to be kept up with as well, and occasionally I'd have lunch with a church member if there was time.
Saturdays were reserved for final message preparation and church cleaning. Every Saturday, I woke up with a knot in the pit of my stomach, knowing that in twenty-four hours I would stand in front of my congregation with nothing of value to say. This would be the week they would discover me to be the fraud that I was and would either laugh me off the platform or just stare coldly at me until I ran screaming from the building. By noon I usually had something that passed for a sermon and headed over to the church to clean. We had rotating teams of volunteers who came in to clean on Saturdays, but it seemed that every time someone got a sniffle, my family needed to step in and take their place. "Besides," I thought, "no one else cleans the church as well as I do."
Sunday school started at 9:30 a.m., and by 8:00 a.m. most Sundays Sister Dolly called to tell me who would not be able to teach class, work in the nursery, sing on the worship team, or fill some other essential spot at our little church that weekend. This early morning phone call always sent chills down my spine, but I usually detected a hint of glee in the voice of the bearer of bad news. My first instinct was to yell into the phone, "I don't care if Sister Mary fell off her porch and broke her ankle; she had better suck it up and get over to the church to teach our children about the love of Jesus." My second instinct was to explain to sweet little Sister Dolly that I didn't give a flip who taught Sunday school this weekend, laugh maniacally, and slam down the phone. Fortunately, I have seldom followed my first or second instincts in life, so each weekend, my stomach tied itself into knots as I thanked Sister Dolly for her thoughtful phone call and assured her that I would make sure the position was covered. Then I asked my wife if she wouldn't mind covering this weekend. If she was already doing two, three, or four other jobs (see chapter 2 on the wrong role for the pastor's family), I began calling everyone I could think of and begging them to fill in for just one Sunday. Usually by 9:25 most of the volunteer positions were filled by whomever I could guilt into exercising their spiritual gift of willingness to serve where coerced.
If you are scoring at home, I was the pastor, the bookkeeper, the Sunday school superintendent, the worship director, the administrative assistant, the groundskeeper, the maintenance man, the janitor, and the preacher. As I look back on my time at Church on the Lake, I can't help but wonder what I was thinking. We had capable and gifted people in the church who would have done a much better job than I did in most of these roles, but I seldom took the time to develop them or give them the freedom to make the job their own. As I've talked to pastors around the country, I've discovered I'm not alone. Trying to do all (or most) of the work themselves is the number one stupid thing pastors and leaders do that inhibits their church from growing. Inevitably in growing churches the senior pastor does less and less of the everyday work of the ministry, and the staff and volunteers do more and more. At Seacoast we have asked our senior pastor to cast vision, connect with leaders, and teach the congregation. He leaves almost everything else up to the leaders in the church. That is one of the major keys to the growth we have seen over the past ten years.
Why Pastors Try to Do It All
As we discussed in the introduction, pastors are relatively smart people, so why do they often try to do all of the work themselves? I think it comes down to several basic issues; let's address them one at a time.
Lonely Martyr Syndrome
Have you ever had this thought: "No one will do it as well as I will"? If you are like most pastors, you think no one cares more about the outcome of ministry than you. From designing the bulletin to picking up the trash to choosing the curriculum for the children's ministry, you are the only one who is really committed to excellence. You have given away tasks to others in the past, and they either did a poor job or dropped the ball altogether. You know you need to give away ministry to other leaders, but if you do, the quality of the ministry will suffer, needs will not be met, and people will leave the church. Rather than giving away ministry, you wind up taking on more and more tasks, stretching yourself beyond the breaking point.
If we were really honest, we would admit that deep inside we believe that the success of the church depends on us. And deeper down we would admit that we like it that way. We want to be in control. We crave the validation we get from praise. This attitude also feeds our bitterness and resentment toward people who we feel are using us. We adopt a martyr attitude and bear our cross for Jesus, relishing the role of the lonely martyr. Many of us cling tightly to the roles we have in our church because pride is rooted deeply inside our souls. Our church will not grow until we repent and turn to Jesus, rather than ministry, for fulfillment.
Hired Gun Disease
The thinking goes like this: "I am being paid to be the pastor. How can I ask volunteers to do my work for me? Besides, they have full-time jobs; they don't have time to do extra work around the church. We're taxing our people's time already by asking them to teach classes and attend small groups - we can't ask them to do even more. And what will the people think of me if I'm not working hard? They'll find out that other people are doing all the work and I'm lying down on the job."
My brother Greg, the senior pastor at Seacoast, has shared with me how he struggles with guilt in this area. At Seacoast he has built a teaching team of very talented communicators who share the load of weekend preaching. Everyone on the team loves the opportunity to teach, but Greg feels guilty asking us to teach. He feels like that is what he is paid to do and he shouldn't be asking us to do his work. We are each busy with our own assignments, and teaching just adds another burden. Over the past year we have helped him see that we love to teach and that being asked to teach on the weekend is a privilege, not a burden. One of the key factors in moving to a team-based ministry is getting past the guilt of giving away work and realizing that what is a burden for you is a blessing for someone else.
Corner Cutting Disorder
Sharing ministry is a lot of work; often it's easier to do everything myself. To share the load, I first have to identify what part of the ministry I will give away. Next, I have to find a leader who can take over the task. Then I need to recruit and train the new leader. This process can be difficult because I've never really thought through the steps of what I do; I just do it. New leaders, however, need a step-by-step process to follow. After I've trained new leaders, I need to coach them in their new tasks. When they make mistakes, I have to help them improve rather than stepping in and taking over. In the end, recruiting, training, and coaching usually take much more time and effort than doing the task myself. Many pastors work too hard and do too much because doing it themselves is simply easier.
When I first saw Sherry Sparks, I knew I was in love. She was the foxiest-looking fifteen-year-old chick I'd ever seen. (That's how we talked in 1978.) The problem was that the thought of actually talking to her terrified me. What if she laughed at me? What if something fell out of my nose while I was talking to her? And most terrifying of all, what if I finally got the courage to ask her out and she rejected me? Fortunately, I was able to ask a friend to see if a girl he knew would ask her best friend to call Sherry and find out if she would be willing to allow me to call her. After thirty minutes of rehearsing my speech and several practice runs on the phone without actually dialing the number, I finally called the lovely Miss Sparks and invited her to our church's next youth group party. Two children and thirty-two years later, she still has that effect on me.
Sometimes we don't ask people to share the load of ministry because inside we are still that fifteen-year-old boy terrified of being rejected. What if I ask and they turn me down? Whether we're asking for a first date or asking a member to lead the prayer ministry, the fear of rejection is never easy to deal with. (By the way, it's a bad idea for a pastor to ask someone to lead a ministry while on a first date.)
Why Pastors Should Share the Load
One of the greatest leaders in the Bible is Moses. Here's a guy who took more than a million people for a forty-year stroll in the desert and somehow kept his sanity. Can you imagine how long it took just to stop for bathroom breaks? I know he was anger-challenged a couple of times when he beat the rock and threw the Ten Commandments, but overall Moses kept it together and did a very effective job of leading. He almost lost it early on, however. For the first few months of the journey, Moses looked like the Lone Pastor on steroids. He was settling every dispute, judging every criminal case, and hearing every lawsuit for a million people. The man was in serious need of a vacation. Finally, his father-in-law, Jethro, showed up right before they hauled old Moe off to the rubber pyramid. Moses told him about the escape from Egypt and invited Jethro to come to the office with him the next day.
The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?"
Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me to seek God's will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws."
Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people - men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain - and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied." - Exodus 18:13-23
Excerpted from Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing by Geoff Surratt Copyright © 2009 by Geoff Surratt. Excerpted by permission.
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