I like to think in images and metaphors. I reflect on the things around me and imagine how they illustrate an idea. I suppose that is why bicycle wheels cause me consider leadership and healthy congregations.

Four years ago, I took up cycling. After years of running, I drug a hand-me-down-Schwinn up from the basement, planned a fifteen-mile route, and I started to ride for exercise. I was hooked, immediately. In less than two months I progressed through the stages of becoming a cyclist. I wore out the old Schwinn, acquired a replacement from Craigslist, purchased spandex cycling shorts, and mustered up enough courage to join a local group ride. Several thousand miles and a third bike later, cycling provides a new perspective on health, life, working as a group, and many other things. This brings me to bicycle wheels.

Bicycle wheels are usually an afterthought, but they are beautiful in their complexity. The quality of a wheelset depends, not only on the type of rims, hubs, and spokes but the construction. The best parts, if improperly constructed, are useless.

Wheels are sturdy when the individual spokes all pull with an equal tension between the hub in the middle and the rim around the outside. Despite their importance, spokes are relatively flimsy. Their strength lies in the tight connection between the hub and the rim. For the rim to roll straight, or true, all the spokes maintain a connection between the hub and the rim with equal tension. If the tension of the spokes is not properly balanced during construction or readjusted during routine maintenance, the wheel will wobble, cause trouble, and ultimately be un-rideable…even if the best hubs, spokes, and rims were used during construction.

Healthy congregations are balanced groups of individuals and ministries that collectively and cooperatively pull together to move a church forward while connected to the power of God. As an image of the church, I imagine that individuals are like spokes connected inwardly to Power of God in the hub and outwardly to the local church at the rim. In a healthy congregation, all the individual spokes and ministries are well balanced in their connection between the outer rim and the inner hub of God. When all the spokes pull together equally, a healthy balance is created, and the wheel is strong and reliable. But when some spokes are forced to pull too much, the church wobbles. When certain spokes go missing or break, the wheel cannot hold together for long, and we find ourselves or our congregations out of balance and maybe even walking home.

So consider today, are there broken spokes in your congregation that need repair and reconnection?
What areas of ministry need to pull a little harder, or are pulling too hard?
How can the spokes of our congregational systems pull appropriately so that we all can remain in balance, moving forward for the sake of the Kingdom of God?

Our task as congregational leaders is to create a healthy system, not just make our personal connection between the hub and the rim healthy. Our job is to figure out how to balance the tension in all of the spokes so our wheels roll true and we all move forward together.

Chris Aho
Chris is the Pastor of Oxford Baptist Church and is involved in service and leadership in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Chris is a graduate of Baylor University, Duke Divinity School an an alumni of Wilshire Baptist Church’s Residency Program. He received his coaching training through the Center for Congregational Health in 2011 and works with ministers and churches to help them positively move forward with their unique ministries. He is a coach for CHC.