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Leading the Church

What to do when Leaders Leave or Fail? Part III

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
How to rebuild after a pastor leaves, even in a fall from grace.

To rebuild any church, whether it is from the retirement of a great pastor, the fall of another, a history of spiritual neglect from its leaders, or the slow backslide of apathy or liberalism, we have to be willing to reset. If there is no reset, the congregation will die off. A reset is relatively simple, though. It is a call to us found in the midst of Hebrews 13.

Hebrews 13; 2 Peter 1:1-4

How to rebuild after a pastor leaves, even in a fall from grace.

"Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.  Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you." Hebrews 13:17

To rebuild any church, whether it is from the retirement of a great pastor, the fall of another, a history of spiritual neglect from its leaders, or the slow backslide of apathy or liberalism, we have to be willing to reset.  If there is no reset, the congregation will die off.  A bad mentality will set in:  "The glory days have passed on...we're nothing but a sea of gray hair...we've already done that...we're tired..."  You get the picture.  A reset is relatively simple, though.  It is a call to us found in the midst of Hebrews 13.  It is a passage that many in leadership like to quote to get their people to summit their authority, "respect me" and "obey me".  Yes, we are to respect and obey Our Lord and the leaders He gives.  Unlike Christ who is perfect, our leaders must strive to be worthy of the respect the passage tells us we are called to honor.

The keys to rebuilding are in worship and prayer. Your church must be the example of the leaders to, "offer to God a sacrifice of praise" and have "the fruit of lips that openly profess his name."  Do these things happen when we are prideful?  No. Do demonstrate worship and praise when we insist others respect us?  No.  Are we leading my example when we sit in our offices and think about how great things used to be?  No.  Are we truly living the Fruits of the Spirit when have meeting after meeting? No. What does it take?  It starts with real worship and prayer.

Next, we must view transition as an opportunity, not a crisis. We must look to Our Lord, not the trauma of our situation.  Christ has given to us all we need in order to grow.  We have His Holy Spirit, His Word, His Fruit, and our faith community.  This does not even include the countless resources we have in our modern age.  Christ has called us and empowered us, so what more could we expect?  The clincher is that we have the responsibility to make it happen.  Our faith is in our hands.  He gives us the water, the fertilizer, the ground, the air, the "SON," and the seed. He even plants it!  All we have to do is cultivate what He has given.

What stands in the way of the cultivation of our faith?  Usually, it is a lack of conviction of faith and not recognizing and taking to heart Christ's promises, which leaves us unsure of what we can do.  A leader needs to be the 'exclamation point', not the 'question mark' (2 Peter 1: 1-11).

How to realign ourselves with to Christ.

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."  2 Peter 1: 3

  • A faith as precious. This is what we are in unity.  It refers to a real faith as subjective to each person's experience, and is to be true and valuable.  Each person grows at a different rate and depth. It also refers to the body of believers (as in the Church) who share in a common belief and practice; there are no different castes or classes for those in Christ!  This is why good pastoral leadership is so vital; we are to shepherd them to the green pastures of God's goodness for our mutual spiritual growth.  In 2 Peter, the context is in combating various false doctrines and divisions. Build up your congregation; diminish your problems!  Emphasize the truth that there is one faith through Christ, and we all are on an equal playing field before Christ. There may be varying levels of growth and maturity, emotions and fears, but we all are equally accepted in Christ to be in His church (John 20:29; Jude 3; 1 John 3:1-3).

  • Grace and peace. This is the template of how we are to be before God and with one another!  A leader must be welcoming and must be a blessing, living out and articulating God's special favor (Rom 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:2).

  • Abundance.  We are called to stretch and grow beyond what we think we can do!  In times of transition, this is the time!  Make sure your leadership team offers encouragement for all, because we are those who are in Christ, who are called to grow in Christ!

  • Knowledge.  Work within the confines of the wisdom God has given us through His Word, not by our pride or expectations.  We are meant to communicate the fundamental saving knowledge we need in order to know who Christ is before He can be our Savior.  We are to keep the faith to know what is true and real--God can only be known through Christ.  A godly leader is to denounce what is esoteric, manipulative, or counterfeit.  We are to live out foundational Truth and never bow to false doctrine (Matt. 11:27; John 1:18; 2 Pet. 1:2-3, 8; 2:20).

So, how can I get my people moving on?

Being a leader means to be a servant of Christ, thus we surrender all of what we are; He becomes more, and we become less.  Why?  By recognizing that Christ is, indeed, the King of Kings, we gain so much--peace, serenity, confidence, hope, and, especially, the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.  This impacts others around just as much as impacts us.  A good leader needs to know this is a slow and arduous process. That is OK, as Christianity is a process within a journey, not fast food. Remember, Peter went from being the arrogant, headstrong, and a reckless fisherman to calling himself a slave, a remarkable picture of Christ's imputing and impacting work that we can also have (John 3:30; Gal. 2:20-21).

  • Beware of Divisions!  Romans 16:17-24 gives us a stern wholehearted and passionate warning that divisions will destroy the church!  When we focus on people's personalities and difficulties and lose focus on Christ, we will lead away from what is good and holy and into factions--neither of which is good or holy. Nothing will destroy a church or ministry quicker than strife, competition, dissension, and gossip, all of which eventually lead to breakdowns and separations in a church. These become a snare and a stumbling block to others in the community; at this point,  your witness is tainted and even harmful. Thus, a good leader admonishes His people to discern between standing for truth and causing unrighteous divisions, confusing people's faith, and relationship to God (Rom.13: 13-14; Gal. 5:19-20).

  • The Romans were a people who liked order above all else. The government quickly puts down divisions in the provinces.  Regarding the young church, Paul writes to about having problems getting along with those who were socially and culturally different.  Paul again acknowledges several others as a testimony on the importance of encouraging and giving our blessings to others.

  • Beware of factions. Remember to have your mission statement communicated, and use it as a template to say who we are, why we are, and what God has called us to.  Those who sew strife and make divisions in the Church are not doing Christ's work; they are attempting to gratify themselves and seek their own glory. They cause people to follow a person and not the Person of Christ!  Contentious, divisive people will cause others to stumble, so they must be avoided, and disciplined, which means removing them from fellowship if they persist (1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 Thess. 3:6; 2 Tim. 3:5; Titus 3:10)!

  • Do not allow false teaching.  Christ has a stern warning against false teachers, including those in and out of the church.  We are told to "turn away from them!" They must not be tolerated in the church, or on TV, or anywhere else!  They are divisive.  They not only point people away from true Truth, but they also destroy the peace and unity of the church. God, who is the source of peace, will crush this work of Satan through the wisdom and obedience of believers (Rom. 8:28).

  • Be open to the Holy Spirit. We must keep our hearts open to the Spirit with passion.  We must guard against that which is contrary to God's Word and Will with all diligence.  Do this so that you are not deceived.  Pledge to not be deceivers yourselves.  Anything in the Christian walk which has power and meaning is from a directed effort by the Spirit to many in the Body. The blessing the apostle gives from God is victory over Satan, which defiles, disturbs, and destroys, and keeps us from God's best (Gen. 3:12-19; Job. 1:6).

  • Take comfort; God is in control. He does, indeed, have a plan for your church, even in chaos and transitions, even when you cannot see it. His will for your collective growth in Him is clear!  He wants you to be faithful and good so others can see in you a demonstration for the new life that they can have, too. He gives you the ability, the power, and the strength to endure and to enjoy!  The most important aspect is to keep our eyes focused on Christ, with racehorse blinders on to block off the rest (Gal. 6:7).

Sometimes, when we are on our Christian journey, many forget what it is all about.  We can forget what is important; we forget the reason and purpose of our relationship with Christ and what and how He has called us to lead. Pastors sometimes think that since our call is a tangible, unyielding, permanent position, we do not need more training or time with our Lord; therefore, the main thing is neglected.  We think we are protected, and since we are pastors, the knowledge and intense training we have gained will carry us through the ministry.

This is not true. We lose sight of our call because we lose sight of the main thing, just as so many regular (we are all ministers together) Christians do.  We need to keep the main thing the main thing--personally growing in relationship with Christ.  Church politics and countless crises have replaced prayer and devotions, so we have dried up and burned out.  By the time we realize it, it is too late, as we have fallen off the path our Lord had for us. The passion has been lost.

To rebuild, we must offer to God a sacrifice of praise

            Hebrews 13 gives us a template and a baseline for restoration that is simple. This must be adhered to so you can navigate and bring your congregation forward.  The hard part is getting your people to comply.  Peoples' frustrations, expectations, grief and desires may manifest; the desire to seek Christ and follow Him will drag behind.  Try not to be frustrated yourself.  This takes a lot time and a lot of prayer.  This is how we start:

  • Your church can be as called for, an enduring city. This means to really submit to Christ.  Be an example to our living faith that God gives and builds along with our efforts.  We are given a warning for negating our spiritual development or neglecting what God gives.  If we refuse to allow His work, our faith and the future He has for us and our church will not be received. If we leave our spiritual formation aside and try to rebuild without His tools and materials, we limit our sanctification and cut ourselves off from God's plan, opportunities, and reward for being faithful.  We will fall to bad or natural consequences for refusing His guidance or the fellowship of others.  Our church will become a statistic (Psalm 137: 5-6; 147:2; Isa 62:5; Gal. 6:24; Heb. 10:10; 13:15-19; Rev. 21: 2-4, 9-27).

  • Your church can be an offering to God.  Being a sacrifice of praise, because Christ is the offering, we respond by offering ourselves up to God in devotion and surrender to His Lordship. Our leadership and church are an outgrowth of what Christ is doing in our collective living faith and piety that pleases God.  This is what endures.  God desires our intimacy, a living sacrifice. For the ancient Jews, this was a lifestyle of worship that God be continually praised. This continues and refers to the fact that we belong solely to God, not to ourselves or the world or anything else. This is a key component of maturity and spiritual growth in the faith. This stems from our trust, obedience, and gratitude for Who Christ is and what He has done for us (Lev. 7:11-21; Psalm 4:5; 27:6; 40:6; 50:7-15; 54:6; 69:30-31; 119: 108; Prov. 21:3; Hos. 14:2, 12; Luke 10:36-37; Rom. 3:25; 6:12-17; 8:13; 12:1-3; John 15:13-15; 37-38; Eph. 4:23; Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:15-19; 1 John 3:16).

  • Your church can be Purposeful.  We need to realize that we have a purpose; we have a reason to keep going even in times of dire stress and when all seems lost. Even in our darkest hours, God is there communing with us, enabling us to persevere. His blessings come to us in ways we cannot always fathom.

  • Your church can know Christ better and can practice moral excellence. Before moral excellence can happen, our hearts and minds must be lined up with God; before we can do this, we have to know Him. Character and Fruit are only exhibited when we are communing with Him, not when we are negating or neglecting Him. The more we know God, the more we know His call; the more we know Him, the more we will have the desire and ability to grow in Him and live His Will. We grow more in character, as the knowing and practicing also helps us to be built up in Christ.  Beware of becoming myopic in our outlook on life; not seeing Christ or applying Him in our lives will cause us to fail at what is important--virtue and character!

  • Your church can obey your leaders. Yes, we have a call to have respect for authority and their call to care for and keep careful watch over the people as shepherds; leaders will be held to account. Another call is to submit to those in authority and to value and respect them, enjoy orderliness, and learn from them. In contrast, a person with a lack of faith will not respect others because the emptiness where faith is supposed to be is filled with pride, self-destruction, worry, and stress; these lead to nowhere good. For the church to move on and grow, there has to be respect for the leadership and process. This does not mean we submit to dictatorial or dysfunctional leadership (Isa. 21:8; Jer. 23:4; Ezek. 3:17; 33:6; 35:7; Hab. 2:1; Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:2-4; 3 John 9-10).

  • Your church can be a place to pray for us. This was an example of a prayer request.  As Christians, we are all priests to one another as we collectively rely on Christ and minister to one another. Christianity is a community; we are all mutually dependent upon one another and must act accordingly with goodness to one another. When we do this, we prosper in faith and call (Phil. 4:18; Heb. 4:16; James 1:27).

  • Your church can live honorably.  This is the desire to pursue Christ and His precepts and being careful that we honor Him and not lead other astray. This must include our devotion and surrender to Christ, for only in Him--by Word and Prayer--and being held accountable by others will our conscience be clear. Even in the face of struggles and hardships, we are know God as comfort!  If we just live our lives with the attitude of how things affect "me" and not "others," we are living with the devil, and not with God. This is also a request for the people who hear and read this to keep others and the author in prayer too (Rom. 15: 33: 16:20; 2 Cor. 1:12; 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 3:16. Heb. 13:15-19).

  • Your church can be a prelude to our eternal covenant.  Christ takes the place of our debt of sin and fulfills the old covenant which was instated by the Law of Moses and the blood sacrifice, which was temporary and flawed, to atone for sin.  Now, it is superseded by Christ, so we can go directly to God, person-to-Person. God renews His relationship with us, His people, and gives us an age of grace in Christ by faith alone. That means as our LORD, He can and will renew you and your church. The key is you have to want it and do it (Ex. 24:8; Deut. 30:11-14; Psalm 37:31; 40:8; 119:11; Isa. 51:7; 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 31:31; 32:40; Ezek. 37:26; Rom. 6:9; Heb. 8:8-13; 9:11-22; 13:15-19;).

  • Your church already has a Great Shepherd. This is a Name of Jesus, and it means that He is the One who leads, equips, and guides us; we all desperately need it.  It is our call to hear His voice and obey as a good sheep does in order to be fed and not be eaten by predators.  Even when the pulpit is empty and the elder's room is vacant, we have a Leader.  For us to be in the safety of faith, we not only need to be in Christ, we have to trust and obey. This is a result of our intimate relationship with Him. We know Him, He knows us, and we do what He says. We are concerned with what concerns Him, and we act accordingly. Like sheep, we can't lead ourselves or others without being forever lost and unfed (Psalm 23; Isa. 63:11; Jer. 23:1; 31:34; Ezek. 34:6-16, 31; Hos. 6:6; John 10:1-8; 16:13-15; Rom. 10:7).

Keep in mind the Book of Hebrews was written to a church in crisis, perhaps far worse than what you are going through. These words of God are relevant and real. We are given a plan, and we have encouragement to remain in Christ and not fall away. What we are to do is keep the faith and stick to His plan as we honor the superiority of Christ and hear God's call so we can venture into Christian maturity to rebuild our church (Phil. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:3).

Your pastoral ministry and your church can be God's Masterpiece.  However, if you do not manage the pride and temptations discussed in the previous article, you will painting graffiti, marring what is good.

As Christians, we are in tighter community together in Christ; as Christ-followers, we are to be deep friends who are bonded as a family. The purpose of our doctrine and the study of His Word is not just for the knowledge, (which is very important), but our supreme goal should be what we do with that knowledge. This is the relationship that is growing in Christ and outward for others around us.

Remember: His shed blood paid for us!  You have truly dedicated your right to yourself to Christ!  We give Him our all!  It is easy to die for a cause, but are you willing to live for Him in perfect obedience, so your life is poured out and so that your strength is gone and you must rely on Him? Hebrews is about keeping your faith real and growing. Our relationship with the Lord must be transparent and not secretive (unless you live in a closed Muslim country)!

 

© 2015, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org

 

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