A message for church leaders by Doug Roe, senior pastor of the Dayton Vineyard Christian Fellowship, of Dayton, Ohio
Last summer I found myself on a road trip with a group of pastors who were pondering the pitfalls and struggles of ministry. As we were talking I offered the following challenge: A struggling pastor could escape those pitfalls if he could make five basic changes in how he approaches life and ministry.
Later, one of the ministers remembered my words and asked me if indeed I thought that reshaping one’s ministry could be as simple as “Five easy steps.” I reassured him that I truly believe this is possible and went on to explain how I have lived this out over the last eleven years of my life. I explained how it took me 2 years to realize I was how terribly I was stuck! Our church lacked both growth and excitement. In short, we bordered on boredom. So I began to seek God and to ask Him to teach me what needed to change. At the time, our congregation consisted of about 50 people. Now, about 3,000 people call the Dayton Vineyard their church home. The real excitement to me is not how many attend but how much is happening each week. In the last month we have seen over 250 people turn their lives over to Jesus Christ. We have also seen about 25 people receive physical healing. One couple who had given up on having children announced that they are now expecting twins!
I attribute these successes to the following changes that God has made in my life:
# 1 Create an encouraging environment
One Monday morning after a somewhat difficult Sunday service, I found myself sitting at McDonalds pondering what had happened the day before. Some kind soul had delivered a “prophecy” declaring that we were going to have a huge snow storm the following week. We were also admonished to buy candles, water, and blankets. The only problem was that it was the middle of the hottest summer Dayton had experienced in many years! Coincidentally that same Sunday, three families decided it was time to find a new church home. So there I was, sitting in McDonalds drinking my coffee and asking God for help. I felt that the Holy Spirit asked me what it was I liked about McDonalds. I reasoned that it was because I liked the consistency of the product, the friendly atmosphere, and the play area for kids. I then felt the following challenge: “If you create an atmosphere like this on Sunday morning, I will fill it with lost and hurting people that need God.” Later, I summed up that encounter by declaring that from now on, the atmosphere of the Dayton Vineyard would be, “Safe, Fun, and Anointed.”
I now realize that when hurting people think about doing business with God they think of it in terms of going to church on a Sunday morning. The question is; “What are they going to get?” As for me, I am concerned about what our church looks like and feels like to a first time visitor. At the Dayton Vineyard we make our church services safe, fun and anointed by ministering to each of the five senses and creating an atmosphere of love, acceptance and forgiveness and our sign on the street now tells the community that we are a “pretty good church.”
We try to reach people with soft, light touches. In short, we try to be naturally supernatural. Churched people tend to view Sunday morning as the Holy of Holies. We view it as the Court of the Gentiles. We endeavor to make each service similar to what a real estate person would call an “Open House.” We realize that people truly want to know if God really does care about them. We also realize that before they check out God, they check out the church.
#2 Start where Jesus started
During this time of change, I began reading through the Gospels to understand how Jesus started The Church. I outlined everything that Jesus did: Healed the sick, forgave sin, raised the dead, preached the Good News, touched the untouchable, overcame storms and became a friend of sinners. So I created a list of some 30 or so items which I call the “Jesus To Do List.” I continue to ask myself if we are doing church the way that Jesus would do if He were here today.
Doing this has been an uphill battle for me. The easy stuff was praying for the sick, acting spiritual and demonstrating devotion. The hard and brutal part was learning how to relate to unchurched people. Not long ago, I was fly fishing with a friend who is a vivid fisherman. I asked him, “Barry, you seem to always catch fish, how do you do it?” He replied, “I just try to think like a fish!” As I thought on this, I realized that I need to catch fish the same way! I had to learn how to become friends with people who did not go to church. I had to think outside the box. I had thought that church was about me! God was now asking me to make it about someone else. I had to learn how to talk in ways that unchurched people could understand. I had to learn about sports, about cars and about business news to have something to talk about as a starting point. Remember, Jesus spent far more time in the marketplace than he did in the temple!
#3 Clear communication
The Bible says, “Reliable communication permits progress.” That means that unreliable communication hinders progress. One of the investments of my life that has paid the biggest dividends is learning how to communicate clearly to my family, my friends, the staff and the congregation. Here is what clear communication means to me.
–Make your “yes be yes and your no, no”.
–Don’t be afraid to say what needs to be said, but say it as kindly as possible.
–“Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” If I do this, people will begin to think I’m a pretty smart person. It also gives me time to think through my answer.
–Say I don’t know when I don’t. I don’t have to have an answer for everything.
–Defeat gossip and slander.
–Drop the religious jargon. Normal people don’t speak it, neither did Jesus.
–Don’t talk around people … talk to them.
– Avoid triangular communication.
#4 Work on myself
This is important for one simple reason: The messenger is the message. Whatever God is going to do through me he is first going to do to me. People are watching to see if God has done in my life what I am saying He can do in theirs. As our church began to grow, the pressure of growth began to take its toll on my emotions. One Tuesday morning I felt the Lord ask me to fix my own heart. I thought, what does that mean? I soon realized God was asking me to work on my heart, not the hearts of others. Because I was still struggling with hurt and discouragement, it wasn’t until I began to concentrate on fixing my own heart, that true healing began. I had to reach a crisis point where I determined that even if it required a lobotomy, I would do whatever necessary to become a whole person. And for the record, some people think that is what happened!
Since then I have taken classes, gotten counseling, worked on codependency issues and asked many questions to leaders who have come further than I have. I have asked for prayer and gotten powerfully touched by God in ministry settings. My goal now is to be a life-long learner. My advice to you is: Don’t do it alone. Please get some help! Deal with the unresolved issues of your heart, marriage and parenting, so you can go into ministry settings with emotional wholeness, confidence, and peace. Ministry is draining. I have to go into ministry settings with something to give. I can only give what I have received. A prepared heart makes all the difference.
#5 Have faith
Everyone needs to believe that God loves them, is for them, and wants to use them to extend His Kingdom. Faith is spelled “RISK!” Dare to believe God. The Bible tells us that God wants to do more than we could ever imagine, more than my heart can perceive, more than my eye has seen. Faith comes down to keeping score. Although I am not a great golfer, I love to play the game. And because of persistence, I am improving. How do I know that? Every round I play – I keep score. I think that most people pray unanswerable prayers. Prayers like, “bless the church, reach the lost, touch souls, light the fire….” Ask yourself these questions. What does a blessing look like? How many lost do you want reached? Whose soul do you want touched? What fire do you want lit and what does that look like? Spend time alone with Him. The Bible teaches that David encouraged himself in the Lord. Get God’s heart for how many souls to be touched. He wants to tell you. Pray! Pray specifically, pray intentionally and pray strategically.
Wait on God and watch the growth happen. On a regular basis I go through our church’s mailing list and pray specifically for people whose names jump out at me. Sometimes I give them a call to see how they are doing. I am amazed at how many of them at that very moment are in great need of a shepherd’s hand. Pray in specific terms. Pray for the exact amount needed in the offering. Pray for specific attendance figures, conversions, baptisms, healings, etc. Think this through with me. When I pray for a sick person, I don’t pray a general prayer of healing. I ask God to fix the hurt, broken, or sick area of the person. I pray specifically. Do the same for your life, your family, and your ministry. I encourage the people at the Dayton Vineyard to have specific prayer goals. God loves a challenge and honors people with faith who dare to believe Him!
In answering my friends question about the five easy step to getting unstuck I would one give you last thought. That thought is this. These five easy steps are not all that easy and in fact may be some of the hardest steps I have ever taken. In looking back over the last eleven years these steps have been hard but freeing, hard but eternally rewarding, and hard but life changing. Enjoy the ride!