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3 Leadership Cop Outs That Sound Spiritual, But Aren’t


by Carey Nieuwhof: I often hear from people who say “We don’t any need more ideas/strategies/conferences/skills…all we need to do is ________,” and then they fill in the blank with something that sounds spiritual.

Maybe you have people like that at your church, or someone like that on your team.

It’s amazing how common this perspective is.

You know the drill.  Every time you suggest “Why don’t we try reformatting our services/changing our kids ministry/reaching out into the community” they shoot back with “what we really need to do is just pray” (or “what we really need to do is get back to the Bible…”) as though that settled the discussion.

Sometimes, of course, it’s not other people who have the problem. Maybe you’ve fallen for a leadership cop-out too—dodging the real issue by putting a spiritual mask over it.

Can it be that something that sounds so spiritual can actually stop some very spiritual work?

Well, yes. The answer is yes. In the name of God, some people end up opposing the work of God. And it’s all done in the most holy-sounding way.

Here are three leadership cop-outs that sound spiritual, but aren’t.

In the name of God, some people end up opposing the work of God.Click To Tweet

1. All we need to do is pray about it

This sounds so good. After all, how can prayer be a BAD thing?

I mean how are you supposed to counter that? It puts you or anyone around you in a horribly awkward position.

If you disagree, you sound like you’re coming out against prayer.

If you agree, you’ve just mothballed any productive strategy conversations.

I mean who really wants to come out against prayer? Not me. Not you.

And so, not sure what to do, we shut down the leadership conversation and all the potential that comes with it.

Prayer alone can become a smokescreen. Why? Because while prayer is foundational, God almost always moves people to do something.

The walls of Jericho ultimately fell down because having heard from God, people obeyed God, marching around the city for a week, blasting trumpets and shouting.

The early church grew because Paul prayed day and night then got out on a boat, escaped from jail and kept preaching the Gospel even if it put his life in danger, which it did again and again.

Jesus prayed all night long and then went out from city to city encountering people in a way that changed their lives and the world.

All of this kind of sounds like strategy doesn’t it?

Interestingly enough, the scripture is filled with strategy if you look for it.

I haven’t become an atheist. I agree that the church needs more prayer and I believe all authentic, effective ministry is rooted in prayer.

But saying “All we need to do is pray” really misses how God works.

If all we needed to do was pray, we could lock ourselves in a closet and never come out. But I’m not sure that’s how God has moved historically.

What begins in prayer should end in some kind of action, because prayer without action lacks courage.

As Augustine said, pray as though everything depended on God; work as though everything depended on you.

Prayer without action lacks courage.Click To Tweet

2. We’re Just Being Faithful

I’ve seen too many leaders behave like faithfulness and effectiveness are mutually exclusive.

They’re not.

Just because you’re being effective doesn’t mean you’re being faithful, but just because you’re being faithful doesn’t mean you’ll be ineffective.

And yet time and again I’ve seen leaders use faithfulness to justify a lack of fruitfulness.

Too many leaders use faithfulness to justify a lack of fruitfulness.Click To Tweet

Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade.

No, you’re not being faithful. You’re being ineffective. (Enough said.)

Sometimes, church leaders, you’re not being faithful. You’re being ineffectiveClick To Tweet

3. Jesus Didn’t Have a Strategy

People often tell me “Jesus didn’t have a strategy.”

Actually, he did.

He needed one. The opposition to his ministry was so intense to approach it in a haphazard, poorly-thought-through way would have meant disaster.

Think about it.

He prepared for thirty years for a three-year mission. that’s a 10:1 preparation to accomplishment ratio. He spent ten years preparing for every year of ministry he did.

During his active ministry, Jesus would disappear again and again to pray. He knew his private input would need to exceed his public output.

Jesus intentionally organized his community of disciples into concentric circles of 70, 12, 3 and then 1. His prayer resulted in action…thoughtful action. He built a succession strategy directly into his ministry.

The night before he went to the cross, he talked to God all night in agony to prepare him for what was ahead. Do you know what that was? It was a strategy.

Leaders, a great strategy is a wonderful companion to a great prayer life.

Great strategy is a wonderful companion to a great prayer life.Click To Tweet

And it’s not just Jesus who thought and acted strategically. God noticed that Moses had a bad leadership strategy that was ultimately going to wear out both him and the people. So God used Moses’ father-in-law (of all people) to give him a new strategy that required tremendous reorganization.

The early church continually rethought its strategy as the church grew and the mission expanded (see Acts 6Acts 13 and Acts 15 as examples).

Sometimes church people behave like strategy is the enemy.

It’s not. It has never been.

Strategy is not the enemy. Overly simplistic thinking is.

Strategy isn’t your enemy. Overly simplistic thinking is.Click To Tweet

So Where Does This Leave Us?

So what’s the point?

Strategy should be a good word in the church. And it should be a good word in your church.

That means you should have the tough conversations.

You should surface disagreements (even pray through them).

You shouldn’t skirt tough issues.

It also means you need to lead.

Leadership requires your heart but it doesn’t stop there. It requires  your soul, your strength AND your mind.

So use your mind. And your strength. And your soul.

So Next Time

So next time someone interrupts the conversation and says “What we really need to do is pray”…what should you do?

I think you might agree…and say “I agree. We should pray.”

But then add.

“And after we pray, let’s get working on the most important issues facing us. The mission is just too important to ignore them.”

And when people say their’ being faithful, challenge them to be effective. When people say Jesus didn’t have a strategy, beg to differ and sharpen your strategy (prayerfully, of course).

Great prayer can and should lead to great action.

It’s time for the church to act. And to get the best strategy we can find to accomplish the mission God has given us.

Great prayer can and should lead to great action.Click To Tweet

Some Strategic Help

In the end, a prayerful strategy can be exactly what a church team needs.

I love producing resources that I hope will help with that.

If you want to drill down on why your church isn’t reaching new people, my book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow covers the major reasons churches fail to reach new people. In the book, I outline 7 issues that keep churches from reaching their mission. You can get it here.

Plus I’ve created a Lasting Impact Team Edition video series that will help your leadership team discuss the book in a healthy way. You can get that here.

If your church is reaching new people but is stuck an attendance plateau (this is so common in growing churches), check out my Breaking 200 Without Breaking You course. It’s designed to lead you and your team through the barriers that keep growing churches from their true potential. While it addresses the #1 church growth barrier (200 weekend attenders), it has also helped hundreds of churches scale the 400, 500 and even 700 barrier. The principles are often the same.

Click here to learn more.

Both of these resources provide deeper help for leaders who want to move forward.

Anything Else?

Have you ever run into leaders who block action in a holy-sounding way?

Anything else you’ve said or heard others say that stunts your mission?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

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