You Can Have Growth, Or You Can Have Control

Grace Hills Church In a Movie Theater

If Proverbs could have a 32nd chapter of nuggets of wisdom, David Chrzan would write it. In the five years or so that I’ve known and worked with David, he’s repetitively dropped advice that has shaped my own philosophy of leadership. For example, in a recent conversation David said, “You can have growth or you can have control. And you have to decide how much of each you want.”

Wow. So true. David wasn’t implying that control is a bad thing. In fact, some level of control is essential. And “control” really refers to the amount of institutional structure and machinery required to guide a movement forward within protective boundaries.

This past weekend, Grace Hills set a new attendance record for the third time this year and it’s only February. At least five adults have trusted Christ this year in our services. And on Sunday, 36 people came to our Newcomer’s Lunch which is more people than we had in our very first public meeting two and a half years ago. Angie and I go home on Sundays and talk about how humbled we are to even get to be part of it, and then we usually talk about how scary it is.

Scary? Growth? Isn’t growth good? Yes. Growth is good for a church if it’s the result of God’s response to a healthy body. But with growth comes the feeling of a loss of control. Suddenly, we don’t know everyone anymore. We can’t remember all the names and match them up with all the faces. We are scrambling to staff our kids rooms and other areas with enough volunteers to keep things working well. It costs more money to minister to more people. People from different backgrounds are converging, which brings a broader array of philosophies into our small groups.

Our gut reaction to rapid growth is to immediately try to control it. We need more systems. We need more machinery. We need to stabilize the institution. I know… let’s form some committees…

As David shared the principle of how growth and control are fierce enemies, he also pointed out that as a church grows, some level of control is necessary. Systems are good. They help us keep people from falling through the cracks and getting left behind. But if a movement is gaining momentum because of the involvement of the Spirit of God, then who can really stand in its way?

So here’s an alternative plan to follow when growth comes.

  1. Celebrate the wins and the changed lives and the steps forward happening in the lives of people
  2. Try to get in front of the movement with a framework for making disciples that will scale with growth.
  3. Have a solid theological framework for doing ministry long before you start.
  4. Focus on developing leaders who can create healthy systems, not systems for which you desperately need leaders.
  5. Go with the flow. Follow the Holy Spirit’s movement, which can be as unpredictable as the wind.
  6. Realize that growth should be multi-dimensional. How will you turn this new crowd into a committed congregation?
  7. Never shift from an outward focus. It’s never time to “stop reaching new people and start discipling those we have.” Discipleship, by its nature, involves reproducing, so remaining outwardly focused is the best way to make disciples.

You can have growth, or you can have control. How much of each do you really want?

3 Ministries of Every Church Staff Member

Some churches view the staff as hired workers. If that is the case in your church, respect your leaders and don’t blame any rebellious attitudes on what I am about to say about this. Other churches view the staff as interdependent creative thinkers and leaders. In the first case, the usual mentality is “anything you aren’t doing for the church should be done ‘off the clock’.” In the second case, the mentality is “everything you do as ministry and mission benefits us as long as your priorities are in order.”

When I was at Saddleback, I learned some pretty great lessons about systems, structures, and staff leadership. In spite of our blessed chaos and the “fast, fluid, and flexible” environment of the southern California megachurch, I learned a ton about leadership and how a church staff can function in a healthy way.

One of the principles Pastor Rick often shared was that every church staff member is expected to fulfill three different ministries, on or off “the clock.”

1. Every church staff member has a ministry to the lost. And our ministry to the lost trumps our other responsibilities every time. We advocate for the lost, relate to the lost, and give our time and energy to bringing lost people to Jesus, first and foremost.


2. Every church staff member has a ministry to the church. It is this second priority that is made first in many churches, probably to the detriment of the creative potential of the staff collectively. We wind up falling into the trap of just doing the work we’re expected to do with little time for independent, creative thinking. Apple, Google, and thousands of other tech startups could teach us some important lessons here about freeing people up to think beyond what currently exists. Gmail, for example, was a product born out of the personal development time granted to some employees who were free to play around on the clock. Today, it’s a core Google component. If we aren’t thinking about the lost and how to creatively reach them as much as we think about getting our jobs done, we’re toast.

3. Every church staff member has a ministry to his or her peers. That is, we have a responsibility to pour into and invest in our parallels. As Pastor Rick put it, Saddleback’s receptionists were to minister to other church receptionists, children’s ministry leaders to other children’s ministry leaders, etc. This is the trickiest of all for established churches who see “outside” ministry interests as competing with the productivity of their own staff. But it boils down to a matter of stewardship. If my church is blessed with knowledge or resources, it’s up to our staff to share that blessing with others. Ministering to our peers keeps us in the company of encouragers, prevents isolation and burnout, keeps me up-to-date and sharp on leadership innovations, and is ultimately good for the kingdom (and heaven knows how we need more kingdom-minded churches!).

It’s a tough shift. If you lead a church to be clock-punching and productivity-obsessed, you’ll get a lot done and perhaps build a larger, more effective church. But if you care about developing people into more influential leaders and growing the kingdom as much as you care about growing your institutional machinery, you’ll at least open yourself to the possibility of releasing your staff to think more about the lost than your church and also spend time investing in their peers.

Graphic background by Zach Fonville.

When Police Pepper Spray Peaceful Protestors… There Is Hope

Police Pepper Spray Peaceful ProtestorsI just watched a video of police pepper spraying peaceful protestors at UC Davis, which led me to investigate further into why people are occupying Wall Street (and plenty of other streets too), which further led me to read some of the testimonies of people who are suffering in this present economic recession.

That last link is a collection of hand-written notes about where people are financially. Most are drowning in student loan or medical debt. Many work very hard for very little and struggle to make ends meet. One, however, that grabbed my heart was written by the kind of person we have a tendency to write off in our culture…

I have major depression, OCD, an eating disorder, and I cut myself. My parents can’t afford the treatment. I am the 99%.

What do you think? Is it real? Is it just drama? Is it just an attention-seeking person ranting about “the system?” Should we ignore it if any of those questions can be answered “yes”?

What is happening around us isn’t anything new. The videos I’ve seen remind me of early-1970’s era footage from Vietnam War protests. They remind me of what I’ve read about the Boxer Rebellion in China and the earliest rallies of the Nazi’s in Germany under a yet-to-be fuhrer named Hitler. I don’t have all the answers for cleaning up the present mess. But this much I do know… there is hope.

Things are broken. Whether you write off the above quote or not, it represents reality for thousands. Of the 7 billion people on the planet, 7 billion are broken. Society is broken. Governments are broken. Systems of trade are broken. Even nature itself is broken. But this much I do know… there is hope.

Humanity is being ravaged by a universal disease known as sin. It is present in every human being born into the world, and the mortality rate is 100%. We are all sick. We are all sinners. We all miss the mark. We are… broken. Sound harsh? Don’t stop reading… there is hope.

Jesus Christ is the Great Physician. And the same Bible that declares us all to be sick with sin and doomed with a broken world apart from Christ also declares exactly what He came to accomplish…

“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”
~ Luke 4:18-19

And He completed the mission. There is coming a day when all government will be completely submissive to Him. People will turn their weapons into farm implements because there won’t be anything to fight about. Protests and pepper spray will be unnecessary. I don’t fully understand how God will bring all of this to pass, but I rely on and trust completely in the Scriptures. There is hope.

There was a cross, and Jesus died on it to absorb the entirety of the wrath of God against my sin so that I could be reconciled to God, redeemed, and set free from sin’s penalty, power, and presence forever. He rose again as the absolute, guaranteeing assurance that He was exactly whom He had claimed Himself to be and that He would indeed fulfill all that He has ever promised.

I don’t trust in governments or systems, presidents or policies. I trust in Jesus Christ. I trust the ultimate Rebel who came to completely overthrow and destroy this broken, awful system. He began that work with His cross and resurrection, and He will complete it when He returns someday.

There is hope. Even for someone with severe depression, OCD, an eating disorder, and an addiction to cutting. There is hope. His name is Jesus. Trust Him.