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“Tension Headaches in a Growing Church”
Hillcrest Church Office
November 20, 2003

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“Tension Headaches in a Growing Church”
by Tom Goodman

Note:  LeaderLines will not be published next Thursday, November 27.  Our webmaster (Paul Waldo) and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day with our families.  LeaderLines will return Thursday, December 4.

Pastor Travis Collins wrote an insightful article called “Ten Tensions of Leadership in a Growing Church.”  Much of his article applies to the distinctive tensions a senior pastor faces.  Still, I imagine you, as my leadership partners, can identify with most of his insights, too:

1.  The Tension Between Change and Continuity

Change in any organization is inevitable, healthy, and necessary for continued relevance.  Change is also disruptive.  As leadership partners, we live in the tension between these two realities, and it requires patience and persistence.

2.  The Tension Between Fortitude and Foolishness

Collins writes, “Prayerfully measured risks are part of leadership.  Churches and their leaders often have to step out in faith, relying on God to do what only He can.  Yet some growing churches have been derailed by overly ambitious plans.  Take risks, but don’t jeopardize the health of your church.  Prayerfully hold on to the tension between fortitude and foolishness.”

3.  The Tension Between “Seeking Great Things” and “Seeking Great Things for Ourselves”

Jeremiah 45:5 (NASB) says, “Are you seeking great things for yourself?  Do not seek them.”  Collins points out that the danger Scripture warns against is not in seeking great things, but in seeking great things for yourself.  “We have to hold in tension our healthy ambition for great things and the temptation to seek great things for ourselves.”

4.  The Tension Between Study Time and the Ministry of Interruptions

This tension is felt more by the pastor and Ministry Staff than volunteer leaders.  “If I’m going to communicate biblical truth to a growing church, then I’ve got to study,” Collins writes, “I’ve got to study well and study often.  And that means minimizing the intrusions into my study time.  At the same time we can’t be so obsessed with our schedules that we aren’t open to the ministry of interruptions.  We have to find the balance.”

5.  The Tension Between Pastoral Initiative and Priesthood of Believers

Collins makes an important distinction between a pastor being authoritarian and authoritative.  “Authoritarian leadership (the pastor is boss) should be rejected.  Authoritative leadership, however (the pastor speaks and lives with contagious conviction and vision), is the kind of leadership that results in growing churches.”

6.  The Tension Between Progress and Patience

“The leader must stay within sight of the followers.  This is not to say that a pastor should violate his values or concede his convictions.  Yet the truth is that it is only after a long time that some good ideas are embraced.  Leaders often have to set aside or postpone wonderful plans for a day when those plans will be recognized as necessary or beneficial.”

7.  The Tension Between Rancher and Shepherd

Though it’s the favorite image of a pastor in our churches, did you know that the image of the pastor as “shepherd” rarely comes up in Scripture?  When Scripture describes the role of pastors, words like “overseer” and “leader” are used far, far more often than “shepherd.”  So, along with our image of the pastor as “shepherd,” we need to develop an image of the pastor as “rancher.”  A pastor who thinks of himself primarily as a shepherd thinks the folks haven’t been cared for unless he personally cares for them.  A pastor who thinks of himself in the other biblical image of “rancher” makes sure that persons are cared for, yet he prioritizes his work toward the overall health and effectiveness of the congregation.

In that light, the way Collins describes his congregation sounds remarkably similar to where ours is headed:  “Our own church has reached the point where, without becoming detached from the congregation, I am going to have to become a ‘rancher.’  In the last three years our morning worship attendance has increased from about 430 to well over 700.  As our church grows, my attention increasingly focuses, by necessity, on new members, preparation for preaching and teaching, ‘casting the vision,’ and overseeing new ministries.  All those things draw me away from one-on-one caregiving.  My personal goal is to be a rancher with a shepherd’s heart.”

8.  The Tension Between Team Player and Buck Stopper

We call our leadership group a “team,” but have you noticed that the teams we love to watch in sports have captains, coaches, managers, and owners?  To call a group of leaders a “team” doesn’t mean that lines of authority don’t exist.  Teams don’t work well when members ignore these lines of authority, or when leaders are afraid to be decisive.

9.  The Tension Between Compassion and Manipulation by Negative People

Collins acknowledges the importance of compassion and graciousness in our relationship with those we lead.  However, he writes, “Whiners and controllers must not be allowed to set the agenda for the organization.  When leaders, for the sake of ‘harmony,’ permit troublemakers to get their way by complaining, they send the message that if people want to change things all they have to do is throw an ecclesiastical fit.”

10. The Tension Between Passion and Balance

“Effective leaders,” Collins says, “have a passion for the church, and that passion translates into long hours and hard work.  At the same time, a good leader has a life outside the church.”  Something my wife has to remind me of often!

On the Highwire . . .

Ten good points for reflection!  It’s good to know that tension isn’t always a sign that you’re doing something wrong.  Leaders may struggle with these ten tensions precisely because they’re doing what they should be doing.

It’s a balancing act to lead a church.  As my leadership partners, thanks for joining me on this tightrope!

Collins article can be found on the Lifeway website at www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0,1703,A%253D150984%2526M%253D150034,00.html

P.S. Would you like to do something that takes very little time, feels really good, makes you a better person, and has an important impact in God’s kingdom?  Be a PRAYER PARTNER in the Upward Basketball program.  Signing up is as easy as taking this link to www.HillcrestAustin.org/prayerpartner.html or calling Patty Waldo at 836-2054.  You will receive (1) an Upward Calendar that gives you specific prayer requests for each day in the Upward season, (2) the names of several children and/or volunteers to pray for throughout the season, (3) an Upward Prayer Pin to remind you to pray each day, and (4) the satisfaction of knowing you are making an important contribution to this wonderful program that will reach over 200 kids and their families.  The 100 days of prayer start on November 30. Don’t wait! Sign up now.