In every local church I’ve served, I’ve always wanted to lead them boldly into the future. When I think of leading boldly, Braveheart with Mel Gibson playing William Wallace comes to mind. The warpainted face, tightly tied kilt, and raised sword and positioned shield charging the English flashes before my mind. 

There’s a scene in Braveheart that sinks your heart. At the battle of Falkirk, Scottish noblemen Mornay and Lochlan show up with their army only to ride away before the battle starts—because they had been bribed by King Longshanks. Down two noblemen and their army, William Wallace and the rest of the Scots continue ahead with fighting the battle. It was a fierce and bloody battle. 

At one point, Wallace sees King Longshanks and his entourage leaving the battlefield and decides to go after him. But one of the king’s soldiers stays behind to stop Wallace. The soldier that prohibits Wallace from reaching the king is none other than the King of the Scots, Robert the Bruce. When Wallace realizes he’s fighting Robert the Bruce, his heart sinks. He can’t believe the betrayal. 

Rewind that entire battle scene. If Wallace would have known the two noblemen, Mornay and Lochlan would betray him and leave the battle, if Wallace would have known that the King of the Scots (Robert the Bruce) would turn on him and side with the English King and army, would he have still charged boldly at the battle of Falkirk. In all likelihood, probably not. 

As a pastor, I love mobilizing believers to participate in the mission of God and vision casting what this may look like for a local church engaging and reaching her community. 

However, through the years not only have I read about the difficulty (and even failed attempts) of leading a church boldly into the future—from decline or plateau into growth and community transformation—I’ve experienced the difficulty firsthand. 

Personally, I have served at churches where the majority of the church hungered for a renewed and fresh vision. Yet, in the same church exists a vocal minority who’s fine with the way things are. And any movement forward might cause friction that rubs them the wrong way. 

As a result, they complain, critique, attack, and threaten church leadership. When this begins to happen regularly, such activity begins to erode the resiliency of many church leaders and pastors. Rather than continuing to move boldly into the future, the church remains stuck in this never-ending merry-go-round of complacency. And the face of many pastors resembles the face of William Wallace when he looked at Robert the Bruce that day on the battlefield of Falkirk—discouraged and defeated.

In all honesty, most churches aren’t ready to move boldly into the future. It’s not that they don’t have vision, a plan, or the heart; it’s just that they aren’t ready for the obstacles that lie ahead. Proverbs says, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Prov 21:31). If I had to guess, most churches are just relying on the Lord for victory when it comes to fleshing out vision rather than preparing themselves for the campaign of fleshing out vision—and then trusting the Lord for the victory of the vision being realized. 

So, what will it take for pastors to have a brave heart that boldly leads their churches into the future—the future that consists of an accelerating culture and an aging church? 

Aside from a vision, a plan of execution, a qualified team to execute, and the Spirit of God’s empowerment, I offer up three other—more practical—things pastors (and churches) will need to lead boldly as the church moves further into the 21st century.

Board Support

Like the example I used at the beginning with William Wallace, at the Battle of Falkirk, he lacked the backing and support to engage the English in battle. If pastors are going to lead their churches boldly into the future, they will need the full support and backing from their board. Depending on the church’s tradition and governance structure, will depend on who the “board” is. This could be an elder board, a deacon board, an advisory board, a church council, a board of trustees, etc. Wherever or whomever people go to complain, critique, and criticize things in the church, that’s the board.  

The board is key to future mission and growth. 

I’ve made the mistake in the past of not intentionally investing in everyone on the board. I’ve invested intentionally in some of the board, but not all of the board. It’s not that I didn’t like the other people on the board, it’s that the other relationships came more naturally for various reasons. And I also had this misconception that they should know me and trust me because we meet often as a board, they hear me preach every week, and I’m good friends with many on the board. 

Here’s a truth that has sunk deep down into my leadership: people will not have your back unless they know your heart. 

For years I thought that because I’m the pastor, because I’m giving my all to lead the church towards gospel centrality and mission orientation, because the church leaders have expressed wanting fresh vision and new growth, that church leaders—like those who sit on the board—should have my back. In a perfect world, that very well may be the case. But we are part of a broken world where that is not always reality. 

If you want the board to have your back, you need for them to know your heart.

Getting to know your heart (as well as theirs) requires the discipline of developing significant relationships. The depth of relationships with the board will be essential in the communication and execution of bold vision. 

Crisis Management Team 

Until recently, I never thought of a crisis management team as part of a church. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a deeper dive into crisis leadership, I believe every church (regardless of size) should have some kind of Crisis Management Team (CMT). 

Taking into account multiple descriptions of CMTs, I would summarize that a CMT is a group of people that have been selected by the organization’s leadership body to assess, process, advise, and facilitate the organization’s response to a crisis situation. 

Crises don’t always come in the form of a global pandemic infecting millions of people. They can come in the form of a natural disaster, church shooting, financial hardship, turnover of staff, scandal, damage to reputation, etc. These kinds of crises and more could hinder or cause major problems to a church pursuing a renewed, fresh, and bold vision. 

The creation of a CMT would serve as a “Braintrust” that identified potential crises, create templates of responses to crises, and then be the designated group to help the leadership manage the crisis when it hits. In short, when a crisis hits and causes a disruption to the order of the church or threatens the flourishing of the church, the CMT is there to help bring order to the chaos or to help minimize or eliminate the threat to flourishing that the crisis has caused. 

Peacemaking Team 

Outside the support of the board, developing a Peacemaking Team may be the most important thing a pastor (and church) can do in preparing for the battle that lies ahead. At the end of the day, churches (as well as believers) are caught up in a spiritual battle. Moving a church towards a vision of reaching people far from God, engaging the community in both gospel word and gospel deed, and witnessing believers be conformed more into the image of Jesus, is a spiritual battle. I think this is one of the most forgotten truths in church leadership. 

Newton’s Third Law of Motion applied spiritually would say,

“For every gospel force there is an equal and opposite satanic force.”

Satan loathes the glory of God and the gospel of King Jesus being advanced. Therefore, the world, the flesh, and the devil are enemy combatants to gospel work. 

For a pastor, church leaders, and church (in general) to be prepared for battles they will face in boldly enacting a gospel-centered, mission-oriented vision, the creation and training of a Peacemaking team is essential. 

Movement causes friction. Friction can cause conflict. And conflict can cause roadblocks to vision. Conflict simply defined is, “a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires” (29, The Peacemaking Pastor). Let’s be honest, most church conflicts are not dealt with biblically. 

In his book, Peace Maker, Ken Sande shares the “Slippery Slope” scale that provides an overview of the ways people deal with conflict. 

Conflict styles – slippery slope – Reliance Fellowship

Applied to a church boldly moving into the future, I think every pastor and church has witnessed people leaving the church upset—more of a flight response. I also think every pastor and church has experienced being assaulted by disgruntled church members—more of a fight response. 

In many cases, the exodus or enmity of a small minority of church members isn’t over theology but methodology; it isn’t over doctrine, it is over the application of doctrine. In such cases, the exodus or enmity has a negative effect on the church’s vision. The negative effect comes by stalling the vision in an attempt to keep people or to calm the noise—for the sake of “peace”. However, stalling a gospel-centered, mission-oriented vision isn’t “peaceful” it is negligible at least and sinful at most. 

This is where a Peacemaking Team would be of great gospel service to a pastor and church who has a bold vision. The PMT would serve as gospel mediators. Those who make up the PMT would be trained to assess, advise, and/or engage the conflicts (biblically) that arise in the church—including the ones that arise over vision. 

What’s the result of having a biblical peacemaking presence within the church? Ken Sande notes, 

One of the greatest benefits of resolving conflicts biblically is that outreach and evangelism are enhanced. Conflict is inevitable in a fallen world; Christians and unbelievers alike struggle with disputes and broken relationships. So when unsaved people see Christians admitting their failures and forgiving and reconciling with one another even after intense disputes, they cannot help but take notice. The more our relationships reflect the amazing love and mercy of God, the more people will want to know about the power that is working in us to maintain peace and unity. What a marvelous way to increase the harvest!

Isn’t reflecting and reaching people with the amazing love of God what creating and executing a bold vision for a church is about anyway? I think so. But to do so will require support from the board, a crisis management team to be prepared to deal with crises that may arise as well as a peacemaking team ready to engage the fires of conflict when they arise. Such things will embolden a pastor to have a brave heart in a blistering world. 

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