So, is your church stuck and can’t move forward?  Are you wondering how to lead it out of its well-worn ruts?

Churches are conserving groups by nature.  Our communities of faith have a precious Message to protect and share.  That’s our legacy and stewardship.  But, since it’s also easier to conserve and protect than it is to share faith and expand, we often settle for options with few risks.  Holy practices become habitual patterns in churches. 

How do you exercise creative leadership at the Church of Stuck-ness?  Three kinds of leader partners can help your church get out of its ruts.  How can you both identify and bless them?

Which of Your Church Leaders Show a Scouting Mentality?

Think of the scouts for the wagon trains that traversed the American Western frontier in the early-to-mid 1800s.  Those scouts had two roles: they found the way forward, and they protected the travelers.  Your church scouts face two leadership directions too. They assure the congregation is secure while risking new ministries and opportunities.  It’s a balancing act to find the future without circling the wagons in the face of threats, real and imagined.

John Colter, the advance scout for the Lewis and Clark expedition, was the first European to see Yellowstone’s geysers.  He thought he’d found hell.  His scouting mentality wouldn’t let him turn back from the scary unknown.  That pioneering mindset took him all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  

Who in your church has a bifocal “protect-and-pioneer” mentality to reassure other leaders while seizing the future?  Who can relate to the congregation’s internal and external tribes?  Cultivate a team of leaders with both-and perspectives of your congregation’s future.  Stabilize, stretch, and move ahead.

Who Are Your Congregational Leaders with Faith’s Holy Unrest?

Let’s take a “faith census.”  In your church, who’s being stirred by Christ’s Spirit to explore faith’s frontiers?  Who are your Calebs—those restless souls who are ready to face the daunting challenges just ahead (Numbers 13)?  These leaders are ready to exercise faith’s muscles and serve beyond the ruts.  Let them be contagious.

There was a cautionary sign in St. Joseph, Missouri for those heading west across the frontier in the 1800s: “Choose your rut carefully.  You may be in it all the way to California.”  Stretch goals challenge us to escape our paralyzing routines and follow our holy unrest into new cultures and eras.  

Who, among your leaders, is moving toward to God’s kingdom?  Gather a leader team of believers who are growing steadily.  Don’t settle for “we’ve always done it this way.”

Who Are Your Church’s Leaders with Risk Intelligence?

You’ve heard of “multiple intelligences” — the observation that we’re all smart in a variety of ways.  Recently, the idea of risk intelligence has shown us how to deal better with uncertainty.  This business arena has studied leaders the church has overlooked — financial traders, gamblers, and weather forecasters.  

Discovering how to cope with uncertainty, measure the limits of our knowledge, identify reliable sources, learn fast, estimate possibilities, make better predictions, and act on them are the pivot points of effective decision-making.  In the words of that great theologian, Kenny Rogers: “You’ve got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

The easiest way to discover your own risk tolerance is simple — if you know yourself.  Do you focus on personal and institution’s surviving and preserving the known?  Or, are you a person who thrives on fresh ministry frontiers?  Are you stuck, or are you strategic?

Develop a cadre of faith leaders who are wise adopters without being risk averse.  Look for folks who thrive on the edges of tomorrow.

Ready to Believe in Your Future?

To sum up, risk is a secular word for faith.  Are you able to “faith” your way beyond stuck-ness and into the future?  Are you?  Remember a simple truth —change begins with your faith and the faithfulness of the team you disciple and develop.

Bob Dale
Robert (Bob) Dale, is an Oklahoma Baptist University graduate and former assistant executive director of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. He is a noted author, consultant and coach has been a thought-leader in the world of congregations as they engage the question of health and vibrancy for nearly 50 years. Following a distinguished career as a pastor, seminary professor and denominational leader, Bob now turns his focus toward coaching. In that role, he is helping guide a generation of clergy and laity toward a healthier understanding of leadership and maturity. He is also a consultant for CHC.