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Ministry Operations and Management
Ministry Operations and Management
An Interview With Steve Gray
J.D. King: As International Director of World Revival Network of Ministries I’m often privileged to sit down with Pastor Steve Gray and have strategic conversations. Gray is known around the world for his great insight on effective ministry leadership and execution. His uncanny ability to pull people together and establish dynamic ministry environments has garnered attention from ministry leaders around the world.
In the following conversation I wanted to hear what Gray had to say about church operations and management. I was eager to get his insights on how things should function "behind the scenes." I know there are a lot of different strategies that you will gain from this extended conversation and apply to your own context. So here is my feature interview with Pastor Steve Gray.
J.D. King: What are practical things a minister could do to establish a ministry? How can they get the ball rolling?
Pastor Steve: A lot of times, the first mistake a leader makes in starting a ministry is in their perception of other people’s willingness to become part of a group. Some people are certainly interested in the idea of a church, but they are not ready to truly become part of a spiritual community. You can get kind of shocked when you suddenly realize we don’t have much of a community culture in America. We’re individuals who just go from whatever to whatever - not committed. Most people are not going to be committed and they’re not going to be supportive of what you do, at least at first. I see a lot of pastors struggle because they have the notion that if you come up with a good idea and good place to have your good idea, that people are going to come and support it. Many times I’ve had leaders come to me from another city planning to spend millions of dollars to build a worship center. Their idea is to have people from all the churches in the area come and have worship events –this church choir and that church choir come in a kind of community where we can all get together. I always warn them, “don’t spend your money on that”. They can’t figure out why. “It’s such a great idea”, they say. And frankly it is except for one thing: the people won’t come. We’re not community-minded these days. They’re not going to take their choir from their church and get all loaded up to bring them to another strange building with a bunch of strangers when they’ve got fine facilities and a crowd already. The first thing about ministry that’s misunderstood is this community idea that everybody’s going to help you and everyone will think it’s a great idea, be friendly and support you. When you first start off, nobody’s probably going to help you and no one is committed to anything. You have to make sure what you’re going to do is something that’s really going to help people or really is what they need to have done, as opposed to a nice idea, or just repeating what they can get someplace else. Because if you’re not really good, if you can’t do “new and improved”, then there’s no reason for them to leave where they are and come over and give their loyalty, money and time to you.
Another problem many leaders have with a church plant or young, already existing work is that the people who come first are often disgruntled. They didn't connect with the last guy who was also trying to rally them around an idea. Either they weren’t made to feel important enough or they didn’t get that special place of authority they deeply desired. So a newer work is probably going to attract a lot of "rogue" Christians - at least at the beginning anyway. The people that you’re going to get at the beginning probably will move on to another new idea within two or three years. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them to start something, or that they don’t want to be used. But too many people start their ministries with the idea that those who are gathered around them are going to stay with them forever. So they put their roots down and invest in the very people who are most likely to leave after you finally start to get a new crop. You must set up your ministry in such a way that this ministry is “me”, my ministry, even when these people leave. If they leave, and it’s “their ministry” too, then they’re going to leave with a part of it. And now you’re stuck, because it was your heart and now they’re gone.
J.D. King: You’re talking about the importance of building spiritual community, how does somebody do that? People are often independent and individualistic. They don’t want to come and sit under another man’s leadership. How do you get people to actually want to be a part of a community?
Pastor Steve: Getting people to be part of a community is hard in this individualistic society, but there is still a need for it. Deep down people do want to be part of a community, but the break down comes when we come into a ministry trying to prove how loving we are, or what a nice guy/gal we are. Saying things like, “we’re all going to get together, we’re all going to do this together, we’re all going to be a big family, and we’re going to do it better than the last guy did it.” That falters because it’s not really what the people want and not everybody is qualified to do that. The person who is being called to the ministry needs to be the leader. That’s trouble to us because we feel that we’re being arrogant and prideful and we want to show everybody how we can get along. So we don’t set up our ministries with the idea that I’m going to be it and people are basically going to come and hear me. But if you don’t do that, then you’re not going to get a community. You think you’re going to get a community by all holding hands and sharing all responsibilities. But they don’t want that. They may think they do and say they do, but functionally it doesn’t work. They want a leader to basically do it all for them and they’ll just show up. You must have something to give them. There are a lot of things you can do – you can do the hands across the aisle thing and make a family feel important or let people pray for each other sometimes, but most people are not capable of carrying a ministry. Most people are not willing to make it their life. If you as a leader are willing to make this your life, then you have to realize they’re not on the same level as you are. You just have to accept that. You have to build it as though this is going to be your ministry and they’re coming to hear and receive from you.
Basically it comes back to the question, “Why should I listen to you?” You have to want to be the leader and desire to answer this question for them. “Why should I listen to you if you’re just like me? If I’m just like you, why should I give money?” It’s immediately a breakdown. You have to separate yourself and say,“ This is what God wants me to do, I’ve got something to offer and I want you to help me, but I’m going to be the leader and I’m going to lead.” If you’re going to be the leader, then lead and get out in front. Be the worshipper, be the lover of God, be the pursuer of God, be a giver and tither to God and lead the way. Let them follow. One of the biggest mistakes I see is leaders don’t lead and they don’t give anything to do. A lot of rebellion in church isn’t really rebelling against God. People are rebelling against leaders who aren’t requiring anything of them. They are actually rebelling against neglect rather than leadership or authority because we haven’t given them responsibility. We’re afraid to. We’re afraid we’ll look arrogant or like we think we’re a hot shot.
J.D.: So am I hearing you say, basically, that a true community is built by a strong leader?
Pastor Steve: Exactly.
J.D.: That’s counter-intuitive.
Pastor Steve: Well, you’ve really got to think through that one. People want to follow a good leader. They want a leader to tell them how to do things and what the next move is. But, like I said, the mistake is we try to show how common we are and how we’re just like everybody else and then they won’t build a community around us and why should they? We have to separate ourselves from being common. You be separate, you pay the price, you pray the prayers – make it your blood, sweat, and tears. Then at the end of the day you are different. Not because you’re better than they are, but you’re different because you gave the blood, sweat, and tears that they don’t want to give. You paid the price, you took the risks and that’s what makes you different. It was valuable enough for you to take a risk and it’s not valuable enough for them. Until they see you. When people see someone who takes a risk and shows value for something they will want to follow and try it too. It’s basic human nature. They just need to see it done by someone else first. Once know that you can see how many ministers are going to make mistakes. They’re going to go down and get a building, start a church and end up with all the rogues that are wandering around and try to love on them and show them that we’re all equal, we’re all friends here, and you’re all respected here. All those people are going to do is take advantage of you and wonder why they should listen to you. Then they’ll be gone soon, talking bad about you next. So the best is to get together and do something different. Let them know you’re called to do this, have a message and can help them. Show them how their life will get better if they will follow you as you follow Christ.
J.D.: I like what you said about community. A question that comes up sometimes related to this is when someone says, “I’m starting this ministry and I don’t have anybody. Where do I get some people? How do I get started gathering a tribe, or a group that would actually listen to what I have to say?” What would you tell them?
Pastor Steve: That is a problem because as soon as you put the sign in the yard “New Church”, who are you going to get? Probably a lot of times not the people you want. They’re certainly not the people who are going to stay with you or else they would be staying with somebody else. You can use those people to help establish, but don’t trust them to be with you and don’t give them any authority or put their name on the lease or whatever. But that’s what people do. They put the rogue’s name on the lease and now they’re really in trouble. If you’re going to start a ministry and you don’t know anybody make a friend. It is always better if you know somebody who knows somebody. You can get to know people over time, but if you start going to church events or community events, other leaders are going to see you as out to steal “their” people and now you’re up against that too. When you first start out, find someone you know on a professional level outside of the church and sit them down with a couple other people that you feel like have some spiritual roots. Whether they go to church or not at this point is irrelevant – you are just looking for allies. You must make friends without saying they’re church is bad or making their pastor look bad. Explain to them what you feel called to do and how you plan to pioneer your ministry. Show them you don’t what to steal sheep from someone else’s flock. Describe the vision of what God has placed on your heart and make them your friends.
That brings me to the next point: “why are you doing this?” I’ve already mentioned if you’re going to do the same thing that everybody else is doing, then why aren’t you on the team? Why don’t you go offer yourself to somebody who’s already doing it and ask how you can help them? So ask yourself why you are starting a church. Is it because you want to be the leader and you really just want to be the top dog? It will fall apart on you eventually because that’s faulty thinking. But if you really believe you have something clear and unique like revival, commitment, community or the power of all then these are unique to churches. You’re going to come to World Revival Church and see and feel things that you couldn’t find somewhere else. That gives me a good reason to start a church. If you want to take this model then go to some businessmen, people you meet, somebody you just know or work with, and sit down and explain your model to them and ask, “would you become my pioneer ally and help me get this started?” And they’ll probably know someone too and then we’ll go sit down and talk. So before we even start we have some people who understand our vision and can stand up there with us and say, “I get his vision. He wants to do something better and different than what we’ve seen before and here’s what it’s going to produce for us. I think we need to get behind him.”Obviously, it’s more complicated than that but it’s the basics. You find an ally and you explain your vision. If you don’t have one then you don’t have any reason for starting a ministry.
J.D.: What kinds of decisions need to be made first?
Pastor Steve: Well, you can tell what doesn’t need to happen. Many people want to start churches, like I said, just because they want to love on people and show them God’s love. But that’s not a good reason to start a church. People can get that without coming to your church. They can get that by watching Christian TV and getting CD’s. That’s not a good reason. You’ve got to have something that people want. That’s the first thing. What do you have to give? Maybe it’s not different, but how about a bigger dose of something, or a wider angle lens? What’s your goal? If your goal is to help people and love on them, that’s good, but what do they need help in specifically? They’re going to need help in finances, relationships, marriage, kids, jobs, things like that. So what can you give them that will help them get a better job, or is going to help them get the raise, or is going to help so their children don’t to want to leave home and rebel against God? If you can do that, then you already have a ministry. I think too many people want to minister who don’t have a ministry already. It’s like going to be a missionary without a ministry so then you just wander around buying pencils and shoes for children in need. Then they get laughed at by the locals in the country who just take advantage of free stuff. So get a ministry, get a purpose, and get a focus. What is our focus at World Revival Church? We want to restore God’s honor, we want to bring a revival of the presence and power of God to everybody, including the individual and the group. By bringing the power and presence of God, we can restore your family, relationships, and finances. If we can first get you that kind of connection with God your whole life will change. That’s our goal and that’s what we go for.
J.D.: I like what you’re saying here too because you’re describing a mission statement, a purpose. It says, “This is who we are and this is what we do”. It’s kind of hard to identify the ministry if there is no purpose. It’s hard to give any kind of indication of direction without purpose. It’s hard to even communicate with someone on the street about why they should come if you don’t really have a clear vision statement.
Pastor Steve: We can buy backpacks for the school kids if we want to and give them school supplies if we want to. But that’s not who we are. I don’t get up in the morning with a deep desire to buy school supplies for needy children. That’s not a church ministry, that’s a Habitat for Humanity type thing. That’s good for humanity and that’s loving humanity, but you don’t need a church to do that. You can go to your neighbors and get donations. So that’s not a good reason to have a church. Your church might do some of those things – we do some of those things at times. But they are not our purpose. That is not our reason. Your purpose must describe what you want to happen to people spiritually. Spiritual people can still flow out into helping humanity at times, but if you haven’t developed spiritual people in the first place then nothing has changed and again, you aren’t doing anything different than the church down the street. Why should I support your church and not theirs?
J.D.: I like what you were saying about a ministry that touches the family and the work life. I get concerned among Charismatic and revival churches sometimes that we don’t really go for that fleshed out reality, the down to earth, nuts and bolts, real world experience. You’re saying the church needs to do that. Am I catching it right?
Pastor Steve: Yes. And do not be afraid to push those issues. Jesus was someone who took issues as far as he could take them with people. We’re so humanistic in our thinking that we start churches not as Jesus would, but as humanists. Leaders make so many mistakes by starting the church out on a humanistic level. Like I said earlier, if we’re going to have a church where “we’re all family, we all get along, and have low expectations and we all accept each other just as we are” and we’re going to be a new church? That’s the church they just came from! Or that’s where they are now– why change for more of the same? Jesus didn’t do appeal to humanists. Did Jesus say I’m going to give you a non-challenging, easy-going, come as you are in your pajamas type of church? No. He said you’re going to have to pick up your cross, die to yourself, and lose your life - that’s what got His disciples. That’s how Jesus started his ministry. I’d say that’s probably one of the biggest deceptions in many ministries is that to be a minister you must be a super salesman, willing to do super compromise. Sure, you can build a big church by being a super salesman and super compromise and be such a super preacher of humanism that masses will go for it. You can do that, but you have to be a super humanist to do it because you’re touching their human spirit. You’re not touching their Holy Spirit, their born-again spirit. But if we’re going to assume that you want to make spiritual beings out of these people, then you’ve got to do it the Jesus way, not the sharp business way. Most of us are not that sharp of business people anyway. If I gave most people a fledgling, hurting car dealership down the street and let a few years go by it would still be a fledgling, hurting car dealership. But there’s a few guys you could give it to that could turn that thing around. Sure, there are a few guys that can go into a high school and take a terrible football team and in two years have a winning team. But not many can do that. If you’re not the person that can do that then you can’t succumb to humanism. If you’re not that type of person, you need to see yourself as you are and you’ve got to get a better system. Jesus gave us a system that nobody’s and outcasts can use and make it work to build His Kingdom.
So what do I do to make it work? As soon as I get a hold of somebody’s life I don’t “ease them into the pool”. Easing them into the water means we’re going to make church as convenient as we can, no expectations, and we’ll just show how much you’re loved and how loving we are. But then a year or two from now I’d have to really put it to them and get a committed disciple out of them. It’s not going to work because they came in on that level and they’ll want to stay on that level. What I do is I go in and realize these people want to give their lives to something so I give them a big assignment right away. Let’s drop our nets now. You’re here. I’m going to strongly suggest, I can’t make you of course, but I’m going to suggest you drop your net now, whatever that is, all the weights, all other priorities and distractions and let’s pursue God as hard as we can. Then, what I do is help them make it a priority for life. I give each person as much as they can do, rather than as little as they can do. I don’t want this to be convenient because that’s not the Jesus way. The costly way is the Jesus way. What you want to do first is get a dedicated person, because a dedicated person who feels it’s their calling in life can do more than the person who’s “just coming in to help”. That’s where I see a lot of leaders make mistakes.
J.D.: I see there’s another application too, the idea that somebody has to take ownership. I think that’s probably true in the areas of smaller sub-ministries of a church, but is that not true in the identity of the senior leaders and pastor? They must personally own what God has been calling them to do. Do I understand that right?
Pastor Steve: This might discourage some people, but if it were me, I would tell them to find whatever building you can get and own it yourself. This is not a committed society anymore and people leave for silly reasons. Sometimes they get jealous and split while their name is on the lease and they’re supposedly helping you make payments. Now, they’ll purposefully not make the payment just so you’ll fail. It’s horrible, I’ve seen it dozens and dozens of times. So you be the first to take the risk and take ownership. You get the place and you get the chairs, the sound system, the overhead projector and all that stuff. It may take you awhile but start collecting. There may be other ministries that might even help you if they know you’ve got a clear-cut vision.
Here is my reasoning for ownership. First of all, you preach differently when it’s all on your shoulders and it’s your baby. You just preach differently. If you divide the baby between two mothers, then nobody owns it. You take the risk. It’s your place. It sounds arrogant and people might say you’re controlling or worse. I’ve been called all those things, but it will work if you can supply them life-changing messages and experiences. They’ll give money to keep your ministry going. If you want people to pay you, you’ve got to give them something worth paying for. Not just because you’re a nice guy. Remember what I said, if you’re equal to them, they’re not going to give you money to do what they can do themselves. You must be out in front of them and you’ve got to be the guy with the risk. You might be thinking, “Why would they give to me if I own the building? Why should they give money to me?” But that’s your point. If you take all the risk and pay all the bills they’ll know you’re not in it for money. If you can come through for them by not letting them have the soft spot and not taking it easy on yourself either then they’ll come through for you. A lazy person wouldn’t have helped you anyway. Tell them what kind of church you’re going to be. We’re going to go for the gold, run the race, pick up our cross, stretch ourselves, and pursue God. Is anybody with me? If you attract people with that they’ll be with you a long time. And that’s the kind of person you want to attract. There will be others that will come, but these are the people you can align yourself with for life.
J.D.: What about the stuff that doesn’t happen on Sunday - the behind the scenes stuff? Personally it’s something I’ve observed in a lot of churches I’ve worked with. They may have a good Sunday morning service, but their “backroom” ministry is not going well. The operations are mismanaged; there is bad communication, wasted money, lack of stewardship, and discord. Could you talk about backroom ministry and delve into this core idea of infrastructure and systems – how ministry operates behind the scenes?
Pastor Steve: Well I set up my ministry knowing that I was going to do this for life. Therefore, I’m going to give my life to this, realizing others might not. I’ve already taken the risk and set it up. Then after that I’ve got to realize that when I’m not up there preaching, I still have to maintain the store. I think many preachers look at being in ministry as church on Sunday, getting a call to pray for an occasional sick cat and maybe a wedding. But unless that call comes in, they’re going to be sitting at home, watching TV, and maybe reading their Bible and praying, but not too much. Then a problem comes up and they scramble and tend to things to see what everybody is doing, not realizing that the behind the scenes is what would’ve made it work in the first place. So getting that good, clear vision, obviously spending time in prayer, studying good resources and getting around good people like World Revival Network can help them know who they should be reading and not reading. Part of it is studying, but the main thing is staying on top of people’s lives. Sometimes it looks like fellowship but it’s actually just seeing where they are and getting to know them. When you talk to people, and see a problem or you see a hurting person or you get a new couple and realize they had a fight and they’re having struggles – do something about it. You know what I would do. I get right over there immediately, as fast as possible. Don’t wait until Sunday. Don’t wait until it’s convenient for you. Help them as fast as possible and be on the scene. That tells them you’re different right away because you’re quick. That’s one thing religious people are; they’re slow. Slow to change and slow to jump on things. Other leaders will think about it and pray and fast about it. You’re there immediately to check, even if it’s not that big of a deal, you’re there to say, “I just wanted to check on you”. That sets you apart. You’re quick and you’re interested in them. Then, again, when you’re there, you don’t want to come in as their buddy saying I know exactly how you feel. My life is falling apart too; I have a lot of marriage problems etc... You have to gain a certain amount of stature before you tell your struggles. Kathy and I went through a lot in our marriage. Now that I’m older and have that stature with people it’s great to listen to people laugh at our early miseries. They say, “Well, that makes me feel a lot better that he got where he is going through what I’m going through.” But if you’re a young minister or you’re just starting out, you don’t want to sit down with them and say, “My wife and I just had a fight the other day, too, and I know exactly how you feel and God saved us and helped us.” No, no, you don’t want to do that. You’ve got to establish that you’re there for them and not talk to them on that level. Sure, you may be common, but God’s goal is not to put a commoner in front of them. God’s goal is to put the man or woman of God with an anointing, with a fire in their bones. That’s what they need to see. I am different, not because I haven’t gone through things too, but because I have a fire in my bones that they don’t have. That’s what made me get in my car and rush over here to take care of you and it’ll get me to rush back home and read my Bible and I’m going to rush to church on Sunday ready to worship and ready to pray. I have a fire in me that the average guy doesn’t have. So that “backroom” infrastructure is very important because it helps set you apart from other ministries.
J.D.: I’m hearing you talk about something of infrastructure, maybe in terms of pastorally relating to people, which is very helpful. Could you help us understand, even beyond the people, just in terms of looking at the operations of the church, the problem solving and the communication that goes into it? Obviously pastoral care is Monday through Saturday and I observe you and know you spend many hours in prayer, but I see you spending many hours also checking your email, looking at problems, solving issues, and creating things that operate whether you are there or not. You’re delegating it. You’re not necessarily doing all the work, but you’re managing the work that others are doing. This is kind of what I mean by the term infrastructure and systems.
Pastor Steve: The problem is a lot people are not good communicators and yet that’s what the ministry is. It’s communicating the gospel. To help make up for it you need to be a person that’s ahead of everybody else. So email reports, checking in on what’s going on in people’s lives, phone calls - you need to stay ahead of it. For instance, let’s say some guy comes up with some preacher fad, it’s the latest thing. He writes a book and everybody’s running, everybody’s preaching it, everybody’s doing it. What I’ll do then, is jump on it and maybe without the church even knowing it; I’ll give a little correction on it without even bringing up book. Most of the people in our church probably didn’t even know that book exists. But I’m going to jump on it and I’m going to give balance to it showing what’s wrong with thinking in this way and here’s where we want to stay focused on. Then I reaffirm our vision and why we do our vision. We don’t run after fads because they come and go. Well, the church likely thinks that was just a good sermon and walk out not knowing that I had done a preventive sermon long before the book ever got to our people. I do a lot of preventive things like that. If you see a little bit of movement where people are starting to miss church and they’re pushing the idea that it’s okay to miss, you jump on the idea without jumping on them and start building up. Why does the Bible say not to neglect your gathering together? There has to be a reason. I’m correcting ahead of time a problem that I see from the pulpit, but I’m gathering my information when I’m not in the pulpit. That way I don’t come across like I’m getting mad at them now. Instead I’ve been gathering information all week of what’s going on - what’s happening with families, maybe what’s been going on in the country, maybe even prophetically what I need to say, without even saying, “Thus saith the Lord”. Maybe I catch wind of the economy looking bad. So I talk about fear and where our source really is. I may not say the stock market says they’re going to crash. That’s irrelevant at this point – I’m concerned with the fear in my congregation. What are they at home worried about right now? What are they struggling with right now? I don’t necessarily speak prophetically about the future. I speak prophetically into their lives and what they are dealing with.
J.D.: I see you having a very astute knowledge and awareness of the whole tone of ministry. How do you deal practically with your other staff, money in the church, management etc. I frequently see you creating systems and new mechanisms. You raised a pastoral team to provide care for people. There’s a method for how they can communicate. You spend hours crafting ways for this to operate and work. How can a pastor who is maybe not as spiritually gifted as you implement the framework you use to run World Revival Church?
Pastor Steve: You have to realize you can’t just bring on a partner and think they’re going to minister exactly the way you want them to. They’re probably going to minister the way they did before. If they came from a failing church or a failing ministry and it’s not really gone that well for them, they’re going to keep doing that, only they’re going to do it on your dollar now and your reputation. So you need to decide what kind of attitude you want and what kind of ministry you want and you’ve got to impart it into that person. Then you’ve got to be a step ahead of all of them so they can respect and be loyal to something you are. You can’t give them the mentality that they should just be loyal because you’re the senior pastor. You’ve got to give them something to respect. Basically be ahead of them to train them, to give them the tools and to help them see that their job is to promote your vision not theirs. You took the risk so that makes you the leader. And you’re going to give them something to follow.
J.D.: I see you having a wide angle lens, looking at everything. In addition to that, I see you being creative and proactive to create bridges, stability and structure that fit the different operations that are going on. I watch you do that all the time and you’re adjusting and shifting and making things operate that probably in many cases would not operate. That’s something, as we’re having this conversation, I want other leaders to learn and realize the importance of seeing not only the big picture, but figure ways to make it operate financially, to make it work in terms of people and to make it work in terms of being able to facilitate what God’s calling them to do.
Pastor Steve: One of the things I do is I go through seasons. All areas of ministry get their season. Take the kids ministry for example. I’ll restructure that, and just put the people in place and see how it goes. I let some time go by and then I’m going to start checking up on it again more regularly. If I hear a problem I’m going to go back and I’ll probably restructure again, move people around, get people in, and get other people out. Not as a disciplinary measure, but to not let it get stagnant. Then I’m going to leave it again for awhile, let it run its own course. By the time you have a children’s ministry, a youth ministry, a worship band, maybe an outreach ministry, all those need maintenance constantly and you should just go through them every season. Many pastors just glance at the area and if it’s running okay, we’re just going to neglect it. But you’ll notice at World Revival Church right now, one of the things I’m doing is moving things around. We even moved the chairs! We’re talking about changing our worship band and some of the instruments and the way we do things, adding, taking away, and upgrading it a little bit, trying some new things. Then that will go through a season. Worship will go on for a while like that. While I’m letting worship go on its own for a bit; I’m going to check and see maybe how our School of Ministry is doing. How we could get more students, why we don’t have more students, how to use the ones we have. I’m going to go through that with a fine-tooth comb and give a lot of attention to detail. But I can’t give a lot of detail to it all at the same time, because then I would pull myself apart or I can’t neglect all of it at the same time or it just falls apart. So what I do is I go through and just get a new plan, set it in motion, see how it does, and I’m going to leave it to them to run it while I go to another and give attention to another, size it up, change it up, tighten it up and let that go for a little while.
I do this in the preaching too. I might go where you hardly hear me do anything about stewardship or giving or tithing – money stuff. Then all of a sudden the season will come and I’ll do it a lot. The only downside is visitors might think that’s all I ever talk about, but oh well. That season will leave and we’ll go to something else like we’ll go from preaching personal responsibility before God, to God’s pouring out his grace upon your life. You’ve got to know when the people have had enough about responsibility and you’ve got to give them a sermon that says it’s okay. You know those, “its okay and we’re going to make it” and “others have made it you can too” kind of sermons. Then you also have to know when you say “it’s not okay”. This is not okay, we need to do better. The people want to do better and they’ll accept it. But if you push conviction all the time, then as you know, religion becomes like you’re just pounding the sheep all the time, or you’re just turning them out to the pasture with no guardianship at all and they get hurt. To know when to switch gears is a key to operations. And to be quick at it! Don’t take your time to adjust to the seasons. Remember, you are supposed to stay ahead of the people. Alright it’s time for me to preach some stewardship. Or it’s time for me to get on those nursery workers and get them to take this more seriously or whatever. Maybe I need to go to the youth meeting this week and preach revival to them. Sometimes those kids need to be reminded there is a hell, you know? You do that, but you go through seasons and you manage this thing by juggling everything, but not juggling everything at once.
J.D.: My own personal observation is that’s a significant part of your success. Most people reading this would think it’s your preaching or your dynamic prayer ministry that makes it all work. But I think your success lies more in your behind the scenes leadership and your ability to manage and facilitate these infrastructure pieces.
Pastor Steve: Yeah, and going to people when there’s a problem. Sometimes I have to go people instead of waiting for them to come to me. Usually I like one of my leaders who are in the infrastructure to go, but sometimes I have to go and deal with it. When they talk to me it usually gets better because I get to look at them and say, you’re thinking this and you’re thinking that because other people said this and other people said that and they spoke for me, but look at me. You know me. You’ve heard me preach, you’ve been around me, you know what I mean, you know my intention, and you know I would never hurt you purposely or confuse you purposely. This is what I meant by such and such. I need us all to do the very best we can and I don’t want you mixed up or confused. Let’s start over now together just you and me, and now they’re back on with me again. Sometimes people speaking for you works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it works for a while, but then you’ve got to get back in there again yourself. Even with the prayer time at the end of service, sometimes you can let all the prayer warriors pray and sometimes you’ve got to go pray for everyone. Most of the time that will flow for a season then you’ve got to go back and let the prayer warriors pray for a while. You’ve got to know when to make those changes and you’ve got to be quick at it.
J.D. King: That’s good. We’ve been talking about infrastructure. Another term I want to introduce here that’s much the same thing is business operations. In many ways we could talk about revival and prayer and the deeper things of God, but in this time, I want to delve into the more practical things. This is a hard area and I’ve had dozens of leaders tell me how much they struggle in this. And this is not just talking about the finances, but the whole “how do you operate the ministry from the business point of view?” There is a business side to ministry, however uncomfortable that may be to discuss. I want to have you talk a little bit about that. Where do you think churches are getting it wrong in terms of business operations?
Pastor Steve: You alluded to it, I think especially newer churches and leaders just starting out - they shy away from the business side because they feel it’s not a part of God. The government makes us keep track of our money and wants to know who gave and who donated. So you have to have some business side to it. But the business side is spiritual. First of all, from the Hebrew perspective, they see that God is in everything. He’s in business, he’s in your money -He’s in everything. As Greek-minded Westerners we see business and money as separate from the Spirit. The Hebrews would never do that. So we need to correct our thinking.
Anyway, when we get down to it, we realize that being business-minded is part of God’s plan. The hard part is managing this as a business so that you don’t go in debt, or too far in debt. While at the same time you are striving to stay out of debt you don’t want to be in poverty and struggling and worthless. So, how do you get that balance between them? The first thing is, like I said, be dynamic enough and decisive enough and courageous enough that you have something worth giving to. I hear a lot of sermons that are not worth giving my money to. I could listen to what’s being said at the local church that wants me to tithe and attend and be a part of it or I could listen to that same kind of message just by turning on the radio - the same ol’ same ol”. People are not going to give to that because it’s not challenging them. The first thing you need is to get a message that people believe in and is worth giving to. Still share the message of Jesus, but take it out farther and push past normal church. If you’ve got a message of love, make it love your neighbor as yourself, or tough love or costly love or something. If it’s outreach, let’s go and make it actually outreach past your four walls. Let’s really go for it. I’d give to that and so will they. They’ll give to a cause. They want a cause. So there’s your first infrastructure: Will the people give? A lot of leaders own church people are not giving to their ministry. You have people going to your church who are not supporting you, or at least not very much. They’re giving to some big TV preacher. So there’s your first problem. If you don’t solve that, then if you ever grow you’re just going to get more people who give a little when they feel like it. So how do you get them to give? Get a cause. Get a purpose. Get a vision. Tell them, “this is what we’re going to do.” That’s why, when a church does a building program, all of a sudden finances and giving go up, because people say, “oh, here’s something we can give to”. But you don’t always have to be building a building to get money. Give them a concrete goal or purpose. Give people something to latch on to. Once you get vision and purpose and cause then repeat your cause, why we are doing what we do, why we’re showing up, why we’re giving our money, why we’re worshiping the Lord like we do. I think people, even the leaders, don’t always know why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s kind of like, why are we following this guy? That’s the first financial side.
J.D. King: Would you add the simple idea that you need to ask people, in terms of finances? You need to ask people to give. Why would they give if they’ve not been given the opportunity to?
Pastor Steve: It’s a simple principle. If you want to increase healing, preach healing. If you want to see more healing, do two things: preach healing and get sick people there. You’ll see healing increase. If you want to see finances increase, you’ve got to talk about it, you’ve got to preach it and you’ve got to tell them why from God’s point of view you should be a giver. Tell them why it is good to give to your ministry. Why this one and not another one? If God is over all the ministries, you could just give to any ministry and get a return - so why give to this yours? Show them why your ministry is unique. People will jump on that and that will help you. Then, like I said, keep the debt down. I think borrowing is okay to a certain degree, but get wisdom on it and don’t just run out and borrow a lot just to make everything look good.
J.D. King: I think the issue of spending and how to spend money is an issue that comes up often. I’ve been to churches where they spend lavish amounts of money on their children’s ministry and then I step into their sanctuary and their sound system is terrible. Could you list areas that people should focus their money first?
Pastor Steve: Well, a sound system is a good one because that’s where your message comes out. People are used to hearing good sound. They don’t go to the theater and hear a bad sound system. So you’re going to have to do it. You say, well I don’t know how. That’s why we have the World Revival Network. You come to the network and say, J.D. King, I don’t know how to do sound. I don’t even know where to begin. He will help you locate the people either there or here and we’ll get you some advice. If you just go to the store yourself unknowing, they’re going to quote you a big price and you might not know if it’s what you need or not, depending on your worship style. So get advice. Sound system, lights, and even temperature are all important. Chairs and benches are important too. People want to be comfortable. I have found if they like the church well enough, they won’t complain too much. We’ve be trying to do a little better ourselves since I’ve been talking about visitors. Do you give visitors special parking if you know who they are if you spot them? I think that helps. People need to be able to park their car easily and they need to know where your facilities are. So we have greeters who say this is where the nursery is, this is where the bathrooms are, this is where you go, and if you need help, here’s an usher. Create an atmosphere that welcomes people in.
J.D.: In the same vein, sometimes we forget what the experience might be like to visit a church we aren’t familiar with. Visitors don’t know where the kids church is. There’s no signage to point where the bathroom is. Little things like that help create the infrastructure we’re talking about…
Pastor Steve: We’re going through that at World Revival Church right now. With the growth we’ve had recently, we’re asking:“Will people know where things are?” Or, “Is it easy to get connected and stay connected here?” We’re reevaluating things like that ourselves to see what we can do better.
J.D.: I think this issue of where you put your money is a relevant issue because there’s only so much money, so maybe if people had better insight of where the money could go first, that might be helpful.
Pastor Steve: If I were starting a church today, I would go where there are lots of people. I know where there are less people it’s important too, but if you’re starting out as a novice and you’re going to risk your life to do it, make sure there are some people. The second thing is, don’t go into debt if you can help it. Fortunately, because of equal opportunity laws a lot of schools will rent cheap and they usually have a lot of facilities. You’d have to get your own sound system, so that’s the next thing. The next problem you’re going to have is worship and how you’re going to do the music. You could use CD’s I suppose, but if it were me, I would go around town and find somebody who’s doing nothing, or maybe they’re not doing anything in another church. Try to be as polite as you can, but you may even be able to go to another pastor and see if they have a guitar player doing hardly doing anything. Or if you’re part of the Network, you can call and say I don’t have guitar player or piano player. What can I do? Well, years back I had a church that had no piano player and no musicians. I had one person who had taken a few piano lessons when they were a kid. I said, can you read notes, like if I told you play a C on the piano, could you play a C? Could you play an E? They said yeah, but that’s about all I can do. I bought them a keyboard that’s programmable and you program it and all you do is push that note down and you read the music and there’s a C. You can take a quick lesson and most of the choruses are built on three to six chords, then you just push buttons. So there are ways. Just ask advice and get help. What about the children’s ministry? It might have to be your wife, or friend, or somebody who is trustworthy that has your vision. The first person I would hire probably, if you can do your own secretarial work, is hire a counselor. Don’t hire another pastor first, because now you’ve got two guys who do exactly the same thing and all the people want is counseling. Hire a counselor - professional if you can - that will do all your counseling but have your vision. They’re going to do all the counseling, and you’re going to do all the preaching and pastoring and you’re going to be the man of God or woman of God. That’s what I would do. For the youth, try to get a volunteer. The music, try to get a volunteer that’s dedicated. Get them to be allies with you. But counseling is the one that drains most pastors. People just want to be counseled. If you don’t have to do the counseling, it frees you up a lot. If you can get somebody licensed and afford them, it’s even better, rather than a separate pastor. Usually people get a music minister or a youth pastor first, but then they spend all their time counseling and it drains them and you dry.
J.D.: How important is staff - volunteer and paid? How important is it to get a team together working with you and how do you decide who to pay and who to have volunteer? I’ve observed this is important, but what do you have to say?
Pastor Steve: Sometimes the most talented and dynamic person is not the best for the team. You need a person who fits your vision and has a team mentality. Like I said earlier, there are not many people who can turn a football team around. That’s probably a big, big thing. Sometimes it would be better instead of starting a church to get on a team and help another church first. But if you’re starting a team, then what you want to look for is people who are loyal, understand you and believe in you. Otherwise eventually they’ll start building their own ministry at your expense. Then they’re going to take people away from you later. So you want people who are loyal and kind and have the fruit of the Spirit and care about people. It’s good if they can teach, but mostly if they can unify and love people and take care of people. That’s what makes a great ministry – those who can minister with you.
J.D.: We’re touching on some of the key areas that ministries struggle with. My observation is that developing leaders is right up there with money, people, and everything else. There isn’t investment of time or focus on building leaders or developing a person that may not look that talented on the outside.
Pastor Steve: We have a little bit of an advantage with our School of Ministry where you can go if you want to be a leader. You can get a lot of insight that you won’t normally get. But I think that’s right. We just sort of give the person a job and hope that it works out. We don’t teach them enough about how to deal with people. I think if you’re going to build people around you, it’s important that you continue to remember that the buck stops with you. You’ve got to be the leader and this is somebody to help you do what you do. Let them know that whether they come to your church or not – you are going to be doing ministry. My staff knows I’m going to be worshiping, I’m going to be preaching. This is what I do with my life. If nobody else helps me, I’m still going to be doing it. If you can be talked out of it, you probably will. So now when you add that new person, you say “this is what I’m going to be doing, do you want to help me do what I do?” As opposed to, “Would you want to help me do what you do because you’re a good singer and could help our music ministry?” If they are just helping themselves get a music ministry on your dime that’s backwards. Obviously you need their help, but it won’t work and they’re just going to use you as a stepping stone to something better.
J.D.: You’re kind of clarifying the idea that you need spiritual sons and daughters, those people who really identify with you.
Pastor Steve: Take the time to pick them and train them. Probably the mistake that people make is they get 20 or 30 people together on a Sunday morning and then they pick the man who’s had the most business experience and the one who’s got the most money or the one who was a leader at another church. You’re setting yourself up to inherit someone else’s problems and philosophies and the way they did things before. There’s probably a reason why they’re not in that church anymore and it may not have been that they had such a bad pastor. It could be they were the problem. Steer the ship as long as you can by yourself. I made that mistake, J.D. I felt like I looked like I was trying to be the star of the show so I added elders just to make it look better - like I was a team player with everybody. It always backfired on me. So steer the ship by yourself as long as you can, even though you might get a little criticized. Then, get somebody younger than you and train them - that can be respected soon - but still younger than you. Train them and ask them to come on board and you’ll be a lot better off than having somebody who’s older and been on every church board in the county, the Full Gospel’s Men’s Board and owns a business with a lot of employees. That guy wouldn’t listen to you. So that’s not a good choice even though they may have the money and the experience. Raise somebody up and pay the price and get somebody up from the bottom.
J.D.: Typically the problems that ministers have in the church don’t come from the “weaker” or less respected people; they come from people in leadership. My observation has been that sometimes there’s been neglect of the “stronger” people because the idea is they’re already well and we don’t need to put any time or training into them. We go get the new people or counsel all the “weak” people. The “stronger” people can be the real source of trouble if there’s not the right kind of investment, awareness, or leadership development in them.
Pastor Steve: Almost always. Really, it causes two problems: it’s the stronger people or the insiders, the ones that you’ve pulled inside your life personally that are now might think they see through you and question why you get to be pastor and they don’t. So they set out to prove you’re no better than them and try to knock you down a notch. The other problem is, like you said, we’ve been giving all our time to the Friday night drunk who’s in jail every weekend. So we’re always working with that guy. Then the people with real talent and ability, they’re getting neglected. They get angry about the neglect while you’re saying everything right. But along the way you’ve stopped touching their lives and unknowingly ignore them thinking they’re doing fine. Inside they got offended at you. You’re right, I don’t remember what the percentage is, but we need to give a certain percentage of our time to those who are going to produce, and not to the ones who don’t produce. That’s good stewardship.
J.D.: These are things I think that the World Revival Network wants to continue to try and develop. Where do we put our time? Where do we put our energy? A good thing about developing leaders is you can not only minister to them, you can minister through them because they can extend who you are in the lives of others.
Pastor Steve: Exactly. I love to minister to pastors because it’s such a great investment – I know they’re going to minister to other people. Sure, technically they’re no more valuable than the person who has had a drug problem and struggles with an addiction, but that would be a poor investment for me because then I only reach one at a time. Who are they going to touch if I get them straightened out? Let that person be straightened out by somebody else in your church. You invest in people who you can turn into leaders and they will take care of the addict and many more. And now you’ve reached both. If you’re a real leader, you don’t just want to go minister to all the poor, broken down folks in town because that’s a poor investment of your time and resources. There are other people who can minister and they deserve to do ministry. Give them the opportunity! If you’re a real leader, touch those who can lead people, so that your time is invested in those who can touch other lives. Teach people in your church who are already on top of things, pay their bills, have a good family, give them a ministry. Invest in them and get them plugged in to do that and let them go after the drunk on Friday night. If you do it that way you can increase to a hundred fold instead of being stuck at only producing thirty fold results.
J.D.: What do you think would happen to a minister or ministry, or leader, if they began to better apply some of the things we’ve been talking about today?
Pastor Steve: Sometimes people visit us and go try to apply some of the things but they don’t get to know us enough. Spend time, come spend the week or the weekend, and ask a lot of questions and find out what do each day? Ask, “What’s he going to be doing Monday? What’s he doing on Tuesday?” So you can figure out how this works. So most come in and they just see a bunch of committed people tithing and attending, then they go back to their church and say we need to become more committed, that other church is. Then they start telling them how committed they’re supposed to be without giving them anything to be committed to and not knowing themselves. If we could get people to understand you can’t just go by the outward things and realize there is a whole lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes. Most people fail when they look at our model and try to implement it. It’s not because it doesn’t work, it’s because they don’t go far enough with it. They take the outer edges of it and they change their preaching a little bit and they change their worship a little bit, but they don’t change their whole view or their whole attitude about ministry. They’re still thinking it’s nice to sit at home on Monday and just relax and go out for coffee with people at 11:00 in the morning and then go down to the Post Office and pick up the mail and just kind of wander around town saying hi to people. If you want to succeed, take what we do here and lay it out piece by piece and do it all with the attitude, and get the staff attitude and the music attitude and the preaching attitude and every attitude we have. Because that’s what World Revival Church has. It has an attitude that we think is biblical. Many Christians are doing works, but not everybody has the attitude and the Bible says we should have the same attitude as Christ. That’s what we want to get in you. When the leader gets that attitude, then that attitude comes out in everything you do. They want to get our music and our preaching, but they don’t want to get our attitude. So if you get this attitude, I think it will work. It’s going to take you awhile, and it may cost you some people, but most of the time I find out people leave because you didn’t go far enough with it. You went halfway and they didn’t get the vision. They didn’t get the reason why you made changes, so they leave. If you give the whole package, then most are going to get this and get committed. But most leaders only go halfway. They’re trying to do revival things and seeker-sensitive and prosperity and interpreting dreams. Pastors are listening to all these different voices, trying to throw it all in thinking something’s bound to work. But the attitude we go for is not a fad, it’s not to get people’s money, or grow a mega-church. It’s to get people to encounter God and to become a committed citizen in the Kingdom of God. So, ask yourself what you want. If you want a committed church where people attend, they tithe, they love you and you love them and they’re with you for years and God moves mightily in your midst, then this is the model for you. If you want to just show up on Sunday give a nice sermon and get a few good ol’ boys to go out to the buffet afterwards, then pick some other model. If you really want this lifestyle and you want what we have, then you’ve got to take the whole prescription, not just change the music or preaching around a little bit.
J.D.: Well Pastor Steve, I’ve learned a lot listening to you talk. I hope people had a notepad out and wrote down some notes and will think a little more deeply about who they are and what they’re doing in ministry.
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