Soul Care + Strategies for Optimal Church Growth
Mastering five principles of personal health and leadership can equip pastors as they guide and grow the church in a changing cultural climate. | by Carey Nieuwhof
If you were to focus on just a handful of key leadership principles to master, which would you focus on?
Here are 5 principles I think about almost every day. The first three relate to the personal health of the leader. The final two are two of the key concepts that I think should drive much of what’s happening in church these days, but often don’t.
Like most worthwhile principles in leadership, these are easy to understand and much more difficult to implement.
But if you do stay focused on these 5 things, I believe you’ll see a marked improvement in your leadership and character. And that can only be a good thing.
Your competency will take you only as far as your character will sustain you.
As a young leader, I was 100% convinced that competency was the key to effectiveness in leadership.
I no longer believe that’s true.
Sure, competency is important. Incompetence doesn’t get you or your mission very far.
But competency isn’t the ceiling many leaders hit. Character is.
Why is that?
Well, all of us can name highly gifted pastors, politicians, athletes, and other public figures who failed not because they weren’t competent, but because they weren’t up for the job morally. An addiction, an affair, embezzlement or honestly sometimes just being a jerk caused them to lose their job or lose their influence.
This is why I’ve come to believe your competency will take you only as far as your character will sustain you.
So, what do you need to do to ensure you character doesn’t undermine your talent?
Work twice as hard on your character as you do on your competency.
I know that’s difficult to do but do it.
Cultivate a daily habit of prayer and scripture reading. Go see a counselor before you need to. Have great people around you who have permission to tell you the truth. Do the soul work you need to do to animate your other work.
It doesn’t matter how talented or gifted you are if you disqualify yourself from leadership.
Abandon balance and embrace passion.
So maybe you’ve been trying to find work/life balance. Welcome to the club. Almost everyone in leadership would advise you to lead a balanced life.
I’m not so sure that’s good advice at all.
What if that’s the wrong goal?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think everyone should work 80 hours a week.
But here’s my struggle.
I think we find many circles in our culture where balance has become a synonym for mediocrity. Don’t work too hard. Don’t be intentional about your time. Just be balanced.
Here’s what I’ve seen.
Most people who accomplish significant things aren’t balanced people. They’re passionate people.
They are passionate about their:
In fact, they’re often even passionate about their nutrition and their rest.
They never see work as a job…they see it as a calling. As a quest. As a mission.
They can’t wait to get up in the morning and attack the day.
When they engage relationally, they’re fully present.
When they’re with their family, they’re with their family. They give everything they have to everything that’s important to them.
So do a variety of things (work, play, family), but allocate your energy so you can do everything you do, including rest and relaxation, with passion.
I love what John Wesley said: “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
I never want to lose my passion. In fact, I’m praying that it intensifies as I grow older in everything I pursue.
Don’t let balance become a synonym for mediocrity. Balance is a retreat.
Passion is an advance. So passionately pursue all you do.
So many leaders struggle with staying healthy in leadership… spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally, and financially.
One way to look at leadership is to see it as a series of deposits and withdrawals.
All day long as a leader, people and the mission make a series of withdrawals from you: someone needs to meet with you, another person needs counseling, a third needs advice, a fourth wants to get that report done asap.
If you think of your life as a leader like a bank account, the problem eventually becomes the ratio of deposits to withdrawals. Over the long run, if you make more withdrawals than deposits, you go bankrupt.
That’s exactly what happens to far too many leaders.
The withdrawals that happen to you in life and leadership are inevitable.
You can manage them well or poorly.
Here’s the thing, though: the withdrawals never go away.
It’s your responsibility to make the deposits.
This means applying the spiritual disciplines, physical disciplines, financial disciplines, and the discipline to get the help you need to resolve your emotional and personal issues.
Here’s a question I’ve learned to ask myself and I would love every top leader to ask themselves daily: Am I living today in a way that will help me thrive tomorrow? Spiritually, physically, emotionally, relationally, and financially?
If not, why not?
Since I started asking that question, I’m far healthier. It’s a recipe that works. Start using it.
Understand that attendance no longer drives engagement; engagement drives attendance.
It’s interesting to me that we didn’t get to a strategy insight until the fourth insight. The top three pieces of advice are all heart and character issues, which is exactly as it should be.
But in the church, the strategy you apply matters too. So here we go.
As North American culture becomes more and more post-Christian, declining attendance has become a universal phenomenon.
The current approach to church has largely been driven by getting people to attend. The idea is this: get them in the door, and hopefully at some point, they’ll engage in the mission.
But in an age where fewer and fewer people are motivated to attend church at all, that’s a bad strategy.
Instead, if you want to see your church grow, stop trying to attract people and start working on engaging people.
Why? Because engaged people attend.
The more engaged you are in the mission, the more likely you’ll want to be part of the church.
In the future church, only the engaged will attend. So do what you can to drive engagement.
My guess is you spend 80% of your time trying to help your struggling leaders get better.
They’re producing maybe 20% of your results, but you’re devoting 80% of your time trying to motivate them, get them to show up on time and get them to do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.
What if that’s a colossal mistake?
What if you spent 80% of your time with the leaders who give you 80% of your organization’s results?
That’s what the best leaders do: they spend 80% of their time with the people who give them 80% of their results.
What do you do with the bottom 20%? Let them go or let them figure it out on their own. Or limit your involvement to 20% of your time.
Your best leaders get better with time and attention. Weak leaders never do.
So, try it…spend 80% of your time on the people that produce 80% of your results.
I know… you’re pushing back. I get that. You think this isn’t a Christian thing to do. I’m not sure you’re right.
You’re afraid that playing favorites isn’t biblical.
Just the opposite. Not playing favorites makes you unfaithful.
I know, I know…. what?????
Moses tried to treat everyone the same, and it almost killed him and wore out the people he led (just read Exodus 18).
The solution? Moses had to learn not to treat everyone the same.
He appointed leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. The result was that Moses met the people’s needs and he got to lead for the rest of his life. His leadership (finally) scaled.
If you start to look for it as you read, you’ll see organizational principles throughout Scripture (how did Israel become a great nation after all?)
For example, even in the New Testament, Jesus and early Christian leaders didn’t treat everyone alike.
Jesus walked away from people who needed to be healed to get food and rest.
Jesus organized his disciples into circles according to potential impact…groups of 70, 12, 3 (Peter, James, and John) and 1 (Peter) and intentionally spent the most time with those inner circles.
The early church reorganized and moved their principal teachers and preachers away from daily tasks and appointed new leaders, which fueled new growth.
Loving everyone the same does not mean treating everyone the same way.
So, if you want to be more biblically faithful, start treating different people differently.