After more than 30 years growing a successful multi-campus church, this is what I tell pastors today

The first of a six-part series

Every time I find our church at a particular place in its development, I first look at myself. | by Dale O’Shields

Church growth is contagious. Whatever area of responsibility you have in a church’s life, growth always happens when there’s growth in you. Growth in you creates growth around you. Anytime there’s growth in you, growth happens around you as well.

That’s why the first thing I wish I’d known when I started is that the most significant breakthroughs in my church will first be breakthroughs in me.

One of the most helpful truths for me to discover over the years is the fact that when I’ve needed breakthroughs in our church, it was really not so much about our church as much as about me. Now, every time I find our church at a particular place in its development, I first look at myself.

To give you a frame of reference, we have five campuses at our church in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area. We have had a growing church really for 30 years now. It’s grown some years as much as 20 percent, other years less than that. Obviously, every church will have plateaus, yet our growth has never been zero. There’s always been a basically steady growth year by year. Why?

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Sometimes we seem to be kind of stuck in a place. When that happens, for me at least, part of what has to happen to go to new levels is that it has to happen in me first. This discovery has vastly changed my thinking.

Your thinking processes about who God is, who you are, and who other people are, all have to change.

Your values, if you have questions about them, have to change.

Your priorities have to change.

Your faith has to change. The breakthrough needed in faith is about increasing your capacity to trust God in larger, increasing measures over time.

Your levels of toleration have to change. Breakthroughs come in what you’re willing to tolerate in two dimensions. First, learning to tolerate certain things that perhaps you weren’t so tolerant of in the earlier years of your ministry life. Second, becoming less tolerant of things that you put up with before.

All of these breakthrough points have to happen in you if you’re going to see a church that can consistently grow over the years.

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Number One: Significant breakthroughs first and foremost are going to be required in you.

The second thing I wish I’d known better is that ministry is a life calling. It’s not a professional occupation we choose.

I’m a second-generation minister. My father was a pastor. I remember riding in the car with my dad and saying, “Dad, uh, I think that, uh, God is calling me to be a pastor.” I thought for sure he would say, Amazing! Fantastic! Awesome! I’m so proud of you!

Instead, he looked at me and said, “Son, if you can do anything else, do it.” I thought, I was looking for a little encouragement here.

In looking back, this was one of the wisest things he could have ever said to me because if I could have done something else, it would have been an indication that I probably didn’t need to be doing this. But, if I could never shake the reality that God had called me to ministry, it was the right choice for me.

It is this calling, this awareness, that allowed me to pursue the process that has led me throughout my life to this stage.

When we moved to Gaithersburg, Maryland, I knew in the depth of my being, come hell or high water, we were going to be there for the rest of our lives. We planted ourselves in this community. God always has the ability to change our direction, but it was our intended plan that we were going to live and die here. Very early on, I decided to give my life to this community.

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“Calling” is so important because ministry is not always fun. Ministry is not always easy. Maybe I could say it this way: ministry is not always post-able. As pastors, we’re not always wanting to post a picture of our day. When we go through ministry, there are significant numbers of times throughout our year that are hard, challenging, difficult.

I like to say that ministry is “brutiful.” So brutal, and so beautiful at the same time. There’s the obvious beauty. I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my mind than what I’m doing. But there are also those moments that are extremely brutal. And if you don’t know that you’re called to ministry, it’s brutal.

Calling will keep you where you need to be. Emotions will try to take you everywhere. And, people can sense whether you have a calling or not.

Settling your calling is one of the toughest things to secure. You don’t want to be in life with somebody who bounces around. The Bible says that those who are planted in the house of God will flourish in the courts of our God (Psalm 92:13).

Know your calling. Have no doubts about it. Know that you’re called and that you’re settled in and okay.

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Number Two: Get planted in your calling.

Watch next month for the continuation of Dale’s “Top 12.”

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