To accomplish more, do less. To bear more fruit, prune. To see God work more powerfully through you, listen and obey and trust, and quit trying so hard. In our workaholic culture, these words almost always come as a surprise, but they are also almost always welcome words for weary spiritual leaders, according to Eddy Hall, Ray Bowman and Skipp Machmer in their book The More-with-Less Church: Maximize Your Money, Space, Time, and People to Multiply Ministry Impact. Embracing this basic truth that our ministry is more effective not when we do more, but when we do fewer things with our whole hearts, is the first step in becoming a more-with-less church.
The book goes on to describe several ways in which a church can achieve more with less:
More-with-less ministry: eliminating over-programming to concentrate on a small number of highly effective ministries
More-with-less staffing: concentrate on achieving more through team work and using paid staff more to equip others than to do the ministries themselves
More-with-less buildings: re-use existing buildings in multiple ways in preference to investing in new buildings
More-with-less finances: operate within the income God provides, instead of living by the world’s financial system.
The book contains plenty of advice which challenges common practices, supported by the extensive experience which the authors have had in church building and consulting over many years. Most church leaders will find in the book a range of possible solutions for problems which they are currently facing.
A critical area of competitive advantage nowadays is the ability of organizations to lead rather than follow changes in the market and this means having the ability to roll out the right changes quickly and reliably in a way that delivers a return on investment for the organization, according to Helen Campbell in her book Managing Organizational Change: A Practical Toolkit for Leaders. What most organizations haven’t yet managed to do is build the capability to respond reliably to needs for change, let alone stay ahead of them.
When we fritter away our one and only life doing things that don’t really matter, we sacrifice the things that do matter, according to Bill Hybels in his book Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul. Simplified living requires more than just organising your closets or cleaning out your desk drawer. By examining core issues that lure you into frenetic living, and by eradicating the barriers that leave you exhausted and overwhelmed, you can stop doing the stuff that doesn’t matter and build your life on the stuff that does.
The ten practices involve replenishing your energy reserves, prioritising and restricting your schedule, mastering your finances, aligning your job with your passions, forgiving, overcoming fears, deepening relationships, finding a life verse, moving on to new seasons in your life, and finding satisfaction in God’s purpose for your life.
As is the case with any book by Bill Hybels, this book is filled with practical wisdom, mostly garnered from his own extensive ministry experience. Bill has worked harder, seen more success, encountered more problems, found more solutions, and had his life more open to public scrutiny than the vast majority of Christian leaders. This means that he has plenty of entertaining personal anecdotes, but it also means that his advice comes with the genuine conviction of one who has been there before.
The challenge for the first world church in the twenty-first century is to radically reform itself, such that people who are poor are not merely the subject of outreach efforts, but are found right at the heart of our worshipping communities, according to Greg Paul in his book The Twenty-Piece Shuffle: Why the Poor and Rich Need Each Other. Sadly, a great many churches have not even got to the point of doing the outreach. They’re too busy trying to figure out how to develop a more relevant and attractive worship style.
The book tells the fascinating stories of numerous characters from the author’s church community, Sanctuary, which serves the poor and marginalised in downtown Toronto. There are homeless people, drug addicts, sex workers, disabled people, office people and ordinary suburbanites all sharing together in the richly textured community.
Rather than adopting the triumphalist tone of an aid agency, spruiking the number of people served and saved and providing an address to send more donations, the author puts the failures and immense personal costs of street work front and centre. What began as a mission to serve the poor turned into a humbling journey in which the author learned how to accept friendship and ministry from the people he had set out to serve.
There are stories of amazing personal transformation, of people becoming followers of Jesus in the most unlikely ways, but these stories occur towards the end of the book, to avoid the impression that the author might be trying to claim credit for what God has been doing. This book definitely provides a compelling challenge to the prevailing concept of what a “church” should be.
With reduced staff, wasting time at work is unconscionable – that’s why we all feel so guilty when we find ourselves doing just that, unwillingly, unintentionally, but definitely doing it, according to Edward Brown in his bookThe Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had. The book outlines a number of actions which can significantly reduce the amount of time lost through interruptions or distractions.
Francis may be a self-described “sinner”, but he is, without question, the right man for the right job at the right time; and the planets seldom align themselves as neatly as they have for this modest yet brilliant figure, according to Jeffrey Krames in his bookLead With Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis. The author even describes Francis as the anti-Hitler, the twenty-first century’s answer to the twentieth century’s most malevolent mass murderer.
When an old church suffers from declining attendances, financial troubles, inward focus, ageing membership, power struggles and rapid pastor turnover, it is hard to imagine an escape from the death spiral. However, new life is possible as illustrated by the remarkable story of First Calvary Baptist Church, told by Mark DeVine and Darrin Patrick in their book Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again.
The book describes the story of First Calvary Baptist Church of Kansas City from the time Mark DeVine was invited to become the interim pastor there in late 2001 until the time the church merged with The Journey of St Louis and relaunched as Redeemer Fellowship in 2008. By 2001 the church was a faded reflection of its former glory, with a history of decades of declining attendance, struggling to pay its bills, inwardly focused, and tightly controlled by a small clique of lay leaders. After painfully working through many of the issues which were holding the church back, DeVine looked around for a larger healthier church with which First Calvary could merge, eventually settling on The Journey.
This is a helpful and inspiring book. Many leaders of smaller churches will be only too familiar with the power struggles, financial difficulties and other problems described by the authors. As the book shows, a church is not condemned to solving all of its own problems using only its own resources. Sometimes the best solution is to find a larger well-run church which shares the same gospel mission, and completely surrender all resources and control to the larger church.
Focusing is important, but sometimes noticing is better, at least when you are making critical decisions, according to Max Bazerman in his book The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See. If you are naturally inclined to focus on what you are doing, then periodically you should take a break, remove your blinders, and notice all the valuable information around you.