We’ve all seen them, sometimes from a safe distance in the news or through the grapevine. Some of us have been in them ourselves.
They’re the churches who close their doors, who shrink painfully in attendance, who see giving decline, who file bankruptcy, who even lose their good name, when the leader steps away. It’s a heavy blow to bear.
They’re churches whose substance relies too heavily on the persona of their leader rather than the identity of God. So when the leader leaves, what’s left of the church?
It’s a sneaky phenomenon, and one that can sometimes happen despite our best intentions.
We give God the glory and shout His praises. Yet somehow, the people come because they’re more interested in hearing us speak than in growing closer to Christ. They may not even realize it! And before we know it, our church’s existence becomes entirely dependent on our longevity as leader.
Christian author Ed Cyzewski suggests we ask ourselves one question to determine whether our church has gone down that path: When we tell someone about our church, do we talk about a particular person or about lots of different ministries and people?
If it’s the former, we need to address that area of our leadership.
Because what happens when God calls us somewhere else? Or if we get sick or have some other circumstance that requires us to step down? Will our church make it without us?
Fortunately, it can! In fact, that’s Christ’s plan for the church and the reason it’s persevered for 2,000 years. Because though countless leaders have shepherded their flocks in that time, Christ has remained above them all.
As He tells His followers in 2 Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
But ensuring our church bodies remain focused on God and not on us requires us to steward our leadership well. Here’s what to consider when you’re evaluating whether your church will last long after you’re gone.
1. Examine Your Heart
Christ said in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His church. It’s not up to us! As pastors, we’re more like “lead followers,” showing others how to follow Christ through our example. This has to be the position of our heart as we lead our churches, because all of our actions will flow from this place.
A pastor must lead not with absolute authority, but with a spirit of love. We must guard our hearts so as not to abuse the authority God has entrusted us with. In other words, we must be a good steward over our spirit.
Does our church trust us? Have they tested us? Do we have the spirit of a Christlike servant to our congregations, not one of absolute power over them? The spirit of Christ in us keeps us from abusing this authority.
2. Consider Your Church’s Community Identity
What is the outward reflection of your church? When people in your community think of your church, does your face automatically come to mind, or are you secondary to something else your church is known for, like kingdom work?
In other words, if something happened that caused you to have to leave your church, would it still stand, or would it suffer severe consequences in the community’s eye? Don’t base your church on your personality, base it on the person of Jesus—and make sure the community sees it that way.
3. Raise Up Other Leaders
Are you discipling other godly people to serve alongside you? Perhaps a campus pastor and an associate pastor are just waiting for you to prime them to become great leaders themselves. Partner with your team, don’t stand above them.
You want to develop, train and mentor future talent and empower your staff. Everyone should know what the goal is and the steps in place to achieve it. When you empower your team to be the best they can be, the mission becomes less about any one person and more about serving the Lord together.
4. Reevaluate Your Leadership Structure
Is it more top down, or is it side-to-side? The vision of your church should be collective, reflecting the thoughts and hopes of the entire group. Your role is to guide that vision, not dictate it.
Think of it like leaving a legacy to your church. If you suddenly left, would your team have enough information, or know where to access it, to immediately carry on in your absence? Would a godly, adequately prepared leader rise up in your place? You need a solid transition plan in place.
Every church, regardless of size, age or denomination, should plan for the congregation’s continuity separate from the leader. When we do this, we’re not only stewarding our own role well, but we’re honoring God by preserving His church, protecting His people, and keeping the spotlight on Him, not us.