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Posted November 12, 2013
Wilson's Ready, Set, Grow: Three Conversations That Will Bring About Lasting Growth in Your Church is intriguing to me. First, I really don't need another book on leadership. Perhaps 1/20 of my 2,000+ volumes in my library concentrate on leadership, pastoral ministry, discipling and church leadership. Second, there were many moments where I kept thinking, 'Where have I heard this before?' Then it dawned on me: Robert Coleman's 'The Master Plan of Discipleship.' While not a duplication, many of the principles are articulated in Coleman's book. Third, because we've been in a two-year process of bringing about a culture of disciple-making disciples at Cornerstone EFC, I wanted to see what Wilson brought to the table.
Wilson discovered that his church, The Oaks Fellowship, in Dallas, Texas, was reaching highs but always coming back to about the same number of people: 650. His goal: 1,000. He had to devise or discover a method of getting him to that plateau. He did and this book is how it happened. It's a fascinating method of writing for what would seem to be an instructional 'How To' book. Wilson gives a narrative of how he discovered his methodology, how he brought it to his pastoral staff and how, over a three-year process, it got implemented. I liked this approach, simply because he was putting on display how it worked itself out in their church. Most, who want the quick, bold bullet points on how to do this or that might be a little frustrated with this approach, but I found it a better read.
I think there are some good principles laid out in Wilson's approach. His plan of 'Model, Mentor and Multiply' is fairly sound. I don't think he strays too far from what Coleman discussed in his book. A big difference is Coleman exegetes the texts of the gospel accounts while Wilson doesn't. Whether Coleman assumes the reader is familiar with the texts and didn't feel the need to 'go there' or he simply didn't want to lay out the texts in this fashion, I'm not sure. He gives no indication of intent here. Being a firm believer in exposition, I found this left the book wanting for me.
Here, in a nutshell are some of the methods Wilson employed:
He was intentional in his selection of potential leaders
He did not assume that his staff would buy in to his vision
He held people accountable after getting buy in
He followed up on how people were doing with his challenges
He set definite goals for growth: both personal and church-wide
He managed people well and adjusted where necessary
He dealt with conflict both fairly and quickly
I did have some concerns and questions to raise, however. My first concern with books like these is always: 'Why and where do you get a biblical mandate to set numerical goals for growth like this?' I know a pastor within my own denomination who thought pastors that claimed to be unconcerned with numbers 'stupid'. Well, color me stupid, but I'm really not all that concerned with numbers. Do I know how many attend our church? Yes. Do I think about the future numbers we might get? Partly, if it would mean we could plant another church or two in the area. Do I set goals for growth based upon numbers? No. Never. Absolutely not. I see no precedent in the Scriptures for it. So, whether it be in a vision statement our EFCA is working on at present or whether it be at Wilson's church, these things are troubling for that reason.
The principle of multiplication is one I think is missing in far too many of our churches, EFCA or otherwise. I really liked this stress in seeking a means to multiply people and leaders. My concern (and you knew there was going to be one, didn't you) is this: I think, if I recall correctly, there was only one place where the author even mentions any thought of evangelism in this process. Otherwise, the whole process deals with modeling, mentoring and multiplying leaders within the church. Ephesians 4.12ff is the basis for this: 'to equip the saints for the work of ministry.' Great. Good foundational passage for this. At the same time, I couldn't help but feel sorry for those that were 'mere workers.' In order to reach their goal of 1,000 (and that goal became too small after everything got rolling along), they needed to concentrate on the number of multipliers it would take to achieve that goal. Very little is said about how to get the 'mere workers' (the other approximately 750 or so parishioners of the church) to be involved in the process somewhere along the line.
I don't know exactly what the leadership organization looks like at The Oaks Fellowship, but whenever the board is mentioned in this book, it seemed to be a group of people who existed separately from the paid staff, who ran the 'business' end of the church and gave the stamp of approval to matters the staff did. I may have this all wrong, but that's the impression I received from the book. One of the big questions this narrative left unanswered was this: 'Why weren't any of these board members involved in this process?' Were they not in leadership positions? Or are they just the governing board with several CEO/staff members over them? They seem to get informed of certain decisions/processes the staff makes, but they were neglected (on purpose, by sheer lapse of forethought, or by the organizational structure inherent in this church). This group needs to be the elders of the church who are the ones helping equip the saints for the work of ministry.
I think this book can be helpful, but I would want to read it with a group: of other pastors, of elders, or just with other wise, mature, grounded men in order to extricate the nuggets and skim off all the detritus. So, I recommend it…with some reservations.