Fish or Cut Bait: How Winning Churches Make Decisions

Fish or Cut Bait: How Winning Churches Make Decisions

by John E. Kaiser

NOOK Book(eBook)

$10.99 $17.99 Save 39% Current price is $10.99, Original price is $17.99. You Save 39%.
View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now
LEND ME® See Details

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426731105
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 05/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 1,020,301
File size: 704 KB

About the Author


Dr. John E. Kaiser is president of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada (, one of the country’s larger evangelical denominations. Prior to that appointment he developed and directed GHC Network (, a movement for growing healthy congregations, under the auspices of the American Baptist Churches of the West (, based in Northern California. In the 1980s and 90s, he successfully founded and led both a midsize church and a large church in Florida with the Evangelical Free Church of America.


John consults, trains, and coaches leaders of churches, nonprofit organizations, and denominations across North America, New Zealand, and Australia. He lives near Toronto with Lee, his wife of 27 years. They have two adult children, Ben and Ruth. John holds a B.A. from Bryan College, an M.A. and M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a D.Min. from Denver Seminary.

For resources and information related to John’s consulting, training, and writing, check out



Read an Excerpt

Fish or Cut Bait

How Winning Churches Make Decisions

By John E. Kaiser, Ruth Kaiser

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2011 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-3110-5


Five Value Choices

It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are. Roy Disney

The Germans were not invited to the Olympic Games of 1924 in Paris, the second such snub in a row for having started the last war. The Americans won by far the most medals and the most gold medals, including three in swimming by Johnny Weissmuller, better known as Tarzan in later years. But the most fascinating story from the 1924 Games concerns the "Flying Scotsman," who refused to run on Sunday.

Eric Liddell became a household name after the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire portrayed his story and that of his fellow British Olympians. As depicted in the film, Liddell, a devout Christian and son of Scottish missionaries to China, faces a difficult decision. His best personal event is the 100-meter race, but to compete he will have to run in a heat on Sunday and thereby violate his conviction against playing sports on the Lord's Day. In spite of pressure from the British Olympic Committee and the Prince of Wales, among others, Liddell chooses not to compete in the 100 meter. On the day of the race, he is shown watching from the stands. When his friend asks, "Any regrets, Eric? You're not down there with them?" He replies, "Yeah. No doubts though."

Though he was a sprinter and not expected to excel in a longer race, Eric Liddell switches to the 400 meter, which required no running on Sunday. As he sets up on the starting line, he is handed a note that an American fellow believer has written, which reads, "It says in the Good Book, 'He that honors me, I will honor.' Good luck." Liddell wins the gold medal.

Chariots of Fire took some liberties with a few details of the 1924 Games, particularly the timeline. Eric Liddell actually knew the Olympic schedule months in advance and made his hard decision well ahead of sailing for Paris. The essential events, however, are true to history. He did give up his best shot at a gold medal to live by his convictions, and the Prince of Wales and others pressured him to reconsider. And as we all now know, he did bring home the gold against the odds.

Eric Liddell made a difficult, potentially costly, and unpopular decision, but he did so with confidence. Why? Because he had made more fundamental choices years earlier about what was most important to him in life. His values were firmly in place long before the specific decision confronted him. Liddell was in every sense a winner. Churches that win, in God's view of their purpose, likewise make difficult decisions with a courage that flows from value choices previously settled. In this chapter, we will overview five such fundamental choices, each of which is further explored in a chapter of its own.

Big choices make hard choices easier

Church leaders face all kinds of decisions. Some, like which room to use for worship practice, are constant operational decisions that manage week-to-week ministry activities. Some, like which increases and cuts to make in the budget, are regular planning decisions that shape each ministry year. Some, like whether to ask dearly loved but hopelessly divisive Jim to step off the board, are gut-wrenching, urgent decisions that arise through conflict. Still others, like whether to start a third worship service or get a larger building, are occasional strategic decisions that create long-term consequences both intended and unintended. Cutting across all of these categories is the simple spectrum of easy to hard.

There is one more group of decisions, however, that has a profound influence on all the others. This group can be reduced to a single question: what is important? Or, even more powerful: what is more important than the best alternative? More on this refinement of the question in a moment. Before going into the five big value choices, there are two pitfalls that should be flagged in the process of identifying congregational values.

The trap of paper values

Publishing a set of core values is a common practice in congregations these days. One need only peruse a custom-printed bulletin cover or an "About Us" website page to find them. Unfortunately, there are at least two major problems that render many such lists under the heading "Our Core Values" nearly useless. The first problem is that the list contains what is supposed to be important instead of what actually is important. The second problem is each item on the list is compared either to a contrasting evil or to nothing at all.

With regard to the first problem, consider Main Street Gospel Church, which proclaims "helping people find Christ" as a core value. Sunday after Sunday the congregation sings gospel songs from the era of Moody and Sankey. Regardless of the sermon topic, the preacher winds it up by asking anyone who wants to "get saved today" to walk down the aisle to find out how. The weekly bulletin devotes half a page to news from missionaries the church supports financially. However, as a result of these gospel-related activities, few non-Christians visit Main Street Gospel Church, and those few who do feel that the people there are speaking a strange religious language. This strange language seems to mean a great deal to the members of MSGC but does not help the uninitiated find Christ or even want to find him. It may, in fact, help them want to find the nearest exit.

What's wrong? Is it just a matter of updating to newer church music and language? Would these newcomers be better helped to find Christ if they heard vague phrases about Jesus put to hip-hop tunes and if the preacher—no, the "spiritual director"—said, "Give God a clap offering"? Or is the problem deeper?

What Main Street Gospel Church states as a "core value" is not what MSGC treats as important in terms of its behavior. The official list says the value is helping people find Christ. The real value is helping people who have already found Christ feel good about it and sending money overseas to those who (hopefully) are helping people find Christ. If Main Street Gospel Church actually valued helping people find Christ, it might review its language to see that it is based not on whether it contains the shibboleths of our ecclesiastical tribe but on whether it clearly and graciously explains who Christ is and how to know him personally. It might review its music not for its age or style but for how it makes guests feel about the message that it conveys.

So the first problem for a congregation to avoid, in the process of identifying its fundamental values, is simply composing an attractive list of what we might call "official values" without thinking through the changes in behavior that such statements would require to be worth the paper on which they are printed. If we will not give up real money, real time, and real comfort for something, then it is not a real value for us.

The trap of values in a vacuum

The second problem to avoid regarding core values is failing to rank them against their most meaningful alternatives. This problem frequently shows up through a list of undeniably good things that are not compared to anything else. For example, if you were looking for a new church home, you might do an Internet search and then go to the website of a likely possibility. Under a tab labeled "Our Values" you could find the following statement:

At Community Christian Chapel we value ...

The Bible

The Holy Spirit

Jesus Christ




The list might be shorter or longer, but you get the idea. Would you be able to choose for or against joining Community Christian Chapel basedon this list? Do you think the leaders of CCC would be able to choose for or against, say, building a new educational wing based on this list? One reason that such a list may prove sterile when it comes to decision making is that each item, while good in itself, hangs in midair with no point of contrast.

Would the following revision provide more guidance? At Community Christian Chapel we value ...

The Bible, not error

The Holy Spirit, not the devil

Jesus Christ, not idols

Prayer, not cursing

Love, not hate

Faith, not unbelief

Probably not. When you rank something good against something bad, it is obvious that the good thing is better. To make a value choice in a way that can guide real decisions in a challenging world, it is much more useful to rank the item against its best alternative, or we might say, its most likely competing value. Good must be ranked beside good in order for us to make a choice about which good thing carries more weight. No one wants to make a bad decision. What individuals face and what congregations face is choosing one good over the other.

Eric Liddell loved to run. It was good. He also loved doing what he thought would please his Lord—another good thing. Which did he love more? Did the ranking of one good thing against another good thing help him make tricky decisions? You bet. (Just don't place that bet on a Sunday.)

In the same way, when a congregation makes its big value choices by thinking through their most meaningful competing values, it can develop a set of priorities that provide powerful guidance for its decision making. For example, let's say the leaders at Cathedral of Truth adopt the following value and determine to live by it: sharing God's love with others is more important than speaking against the sins of society. The folk at CT think that sharing God's love is good. They also think that speaking against sin is good. They intend to do all the good they can. But they have decided that, on the whole, sharing God's love is more important.

So one day the pastor at Cathedral of Truth, which maintains an outreach to young men and women caught up in the sex trade, finds a piece of mail on his desk. It is a personal letter from a fellow pastor in town asking to recruit the CT congregation for a protest march on the local adult bookstore. The pastor reflects on the core values of CT (or more likely doesn't, because they are a part of him) and takes the following three actions: (1) He tosses the letter in the wastebasket. (2) He phones his pastor friend to decline the request but to offer CT's child daycare service free to participants in the march. (3) He drafts an e-mail to the woman who owns the adult bookstore stating that, while he agrees with the position of those marching, he would prefer to express his convictions through respectful dialogue if she would be open to that.

The kind of wording in CT's value statement may make you feel uncomfortable. Perhaps you would give the greater weight to the good of confronting sin. That's between you and God. Or perhaps you don't agree with the example. That is not the point right now. What makes the statement seem biting, whichever good alternative you prioritize and whatever example you would offer, is that the words have teeth. Most of the core values we have seen leave no bite marks on any practical decision because they are toothless. Something to chew on.

Introducing the big five questions

Just what are the key value questions that a congregation must answer if it is to be effective in its decision making? Doubtless there are any number of ways to organize these priorities. In order to highlight the distinction of churches that thrive from churches that don't, there are five major questions explored in the next several chapters.

1. What must be done?

2. Who says so?

3. Who takes the lead?

4. What's it going to cost?

5. What if there's trouble?

The first question raises the issue of mission and vision. By mission I mean the enduring and universal imperative for the church. By vision I mean the time-limited and unique imperative for a particular congregation. There are many things that could be done and even should be done by the church. But what is it that must be done? What will be the driving force? The raison d'être? The sine qua non? The reason to get out of bed in the morning?

The second question is one of authority. If the controlling imperative of the first question is challenged, who gets to decide the right answer? By way of analogy, the sixteenth-century Reformation is said to have turned on two overarching principles: Sola Fidei, or salvation through faith alone, and Sola Scriptura, the final authority of Scripture alone. The first of these is called the material principle of the Reformation; the second is called the formal principle of the Reformation. The material principle answered the question, How can we become children of God? Luther's answer was, "Through faith alone." The formal principle answered the question, How can we know how we can become children of God? According to Luther, "On the authority of Scripture alone." The first two questions of the big five above concern a different subject but bear a similar relationship to each other.

The third question relates to leadership. Is the congregation expected to rise up spontaneously and fulfill its purpose en masse without human direction? Do we look to the pastor to take the initiative? What about a board or council? What about the paid or volunteer staff? Bottom line: where do we look for primary leadership in order to accomplish the mission? Without a clear answer, congregations suffer nothing but conflict and confusion.

The fourth question is tactical in nature. How should resources be managed in order to accomplish the mission? What is it going to take to succeed? Are we willing to pay that cost?

Question number five addresses the active opposition and passive resistance that inevitably form against leadership on a mission. What is most important when conflict arises?

Each of the big five is critical in and of itself. All of the five, however, are related to one another. Logically, we might do well to reverse the order of the first two questions and make the last two questions parallel. Follow the relationships in the diagram below:


Someone has the legitimate right (authority) to determine what the church must do (mandate). Then someone must mobilize the church to do it (leader), both allocating resources (cost) and overcoming opposition (courage). The answers to these five value questions that are chosen by highly fruitful congregations differ remarkably from the majority. And these distinctive answers guide those congregations through the blizzard of decisions they encounter on their journey. The chapters that follow will deal with the big five questions in the intuitive order in which they might best be asked: What must be done? Who says so? Who takes the lead? What's it going to cost? What if there's trouble?

One final note about Eric Liddell. His courage of conviction in 1924 was not a unique flash of nobility. It was, rather, a typical display of his character. After the Olympics he returned to China and served as a missionary from 1925 to 1943, when he was imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp in occupied China. He died in the camp in February 1945, five months before it was liberated. In 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government revealed that during a prisoner exchange approved by Winston Churchill, Liddell turned down a chance for release from the prison camp and gave his place to a pregnant woman. Even his own family members were unaware of this sacrifice. Knowing his values, however, would they have been surprised?


Big choices at the value level shape all the decisions that follow.

Values with meaning give more weight to one good than to another.

Pitfalls to avoid include values without comparison and comparison only to something negative.

The most powerful way to construct value statements is to rank the good alongside its nearest competing good.

The big five questions are: What must be done? Who says so? Who takes the lead? What's this going to cost? and What if there's trouble?

Winning churches make different choices from other churches on the five questions of authority, mandate, leadership, cost, and courage.

The next chapter tackles the first of the big five questions in their intuitive order: what must be done?


What Must Be Done?

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. C. S. Lewis

The 2001 United States presidential inauguration was unique for several reasons. One was simply that it marked the first such transfer of power in the twenty-first century and the new millennium. Another was that it followed one of the most contentious disputes over election results in American history, a dispute that required a Supreme Court decision to resolve. A third distinction was that the new president, George W. Bush, was the son of a former president who bore the same first and last name— this being noteworthy but actually not unique because it had happened once before, almost two hundred years earlier with the John Adamses. And then there was the matter of the Westport Wildcats.


Excerpted from Fish or Cut Bait by John E. Kaiser, Ruth Kaiser. Copyright © 2011 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Dan Southerland,
PART ONE—First Get the Big Questions Right,
Chapter 1: Five Value Choices,
Chapter 2: What Must Be Done?,
Chapter 3: Who Says So?,
Chapter 4: Who Takes the Lead?,
Chapter 5: What's It Going to Cost?,
Chapter 6: What If There's Trouble?,
PART TWO—Then Get the Devil Out of the Details,
Chapter 7: The Art of Application,
Chapter 8: Who Decides What,
Chapter 9: Best Practices for Typical Decisions,
Chapter 10: A Catalog of Dysfunctions to Avoid,
Appendix: Profiles of Ten Winning Churches,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews