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Live by Consensus AND Die from Constipation
By: Bill Easum

I don't know how long it has been going on; it started before my time. But it has become honed in the past 50 years.  I’m referring to the passion for consensus in many of our churches today. So many are afraid to act without finding out where everyone in the church stands on the issue.

Not long ago, a church contacted me about doing a consultation in their church. They asked if would do a survey of their church to find out where their members stood on some issues, as well as what they thought the church needed to do. I told them, “I don't do surveys of the congregation because they don't help and they take lots of wasted time.” If the members knew what to do to grow the church, they would have done so. Most members are clueless as to why their church is declining or, if it is growing, what will sustain that growth. It’s not that they are stupid. It’s just they haven’t spent years learning what does and doesn't grow a church.

Instead of surveying the congregation, it is essential to do an internal audit of the entire church and staff, looking at ministries, systems, and staffing. A survey of the congregation won’t answer any of those issues. All it will do is help the staff reach a consensus of what the membership wants done, and that will never solve anything.

In a world of rapid, epic change, all consensus does is cause constipation because nothing radical or important gets done. The only consensus most churches can arrive at on any radical change results in a watered-down version of the original issue. No one is pleased with consensus.  

Consensus is never the way to go if a church wants to grow. Instead, it needs strong leaders who love their flock but love the Kingdom of God more and are willing to make the hard decisions on behalf of the Kingdom and the congregation that consensus never makes. And it is those hard decisions that either growth or kill a church. The next time you are tempted to survey the congregation to get some consensus of their ideas, remember – “Those who live by consensus die from constipation.”

So, what’s the best practice for leading and getting buy in from the church leaders?

Be sure who you are and what God called you to do and to be and act proactively.
Congregations are never stronger than their leaders. On top of that, no one in the congregation, unless it is a very small church, understands everything going on in the church as well as a good leader. So, it stands to reason that the pastor should strongly lead the way forward.

One of the survey questions I ask in the beginning of my coaching a pastor is, “In every aspect of ministry, my call sets my agenda not the church.” I ask the person to rate that question on a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being totally agree and 10 being totally disagree.  What I’ve learned from this is those pastors who rate themselves from 1-3 are able to lead a church more than those who rate themselves from 4-10.  Those who fall between 4-10 invariably tell me they have trouble leading their congregation in ways they don't want to go. Yes, you read that correctly - in ways they don't want to go. Remember the two sayings, “Those who lead us into this mess aren’t able to lead us out of it” and “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you will keep getting what you’ve been getting.” Leading a congregation is normally taking a group where they would not go on their own but will if they have a confident, secure, who listens to God more than the noise of the crowd.  

Love your congregation, but don't be a victim of high mercy. 
One of the most downloaded articles on our website was written two decades ago. It is titled “On Not Being Nice For the Sake of the Gospel.  In it, I write that many people confuse being nice with being Christian. The problem is Jesus wasn't always nice, not if it got in the way of his mission. Remember I told people to leave him alone. He drove the money changers out of the temple. He said, “Who is my father and who is my mother?” How do you think his mother felt?  And, remember Judas, who he told to get lost? Niceness has nothing to do with being a Christian, but grace and mercy filled with love and accountability do, and those aren’t always nice.

When faced with constipation, take a laxative. 
Most dying congregations are like constipated people. All it takes is the extraction of one or two people and the church usually begins to grow. I’ve consulted with hundreds of dying congregations, and I’ve never seen one with more than one or two people who are plugging up the works. Remove them, and the church has a chance to grow.  And you can’t accomplish this and be nice at the same time. You have to be sure who you are and what your marching orders are and be “graciously ruthless” when telling them to leave.

So what?
People will react to this article in one of two ways – “Wow, right on, I love it,” or “I can’t believe he wrote that.” Why the different responses? Here’s my guess. Those who react favorably to this article probably feel more call to transform people than to care for them.  And those who responded negatively probably feel more called to care for people than to transform them.  Those who feel called to transform know that you can’t do that without first caring for them, and those who feel called to care for people probably think that caring alone will transform people. Well, guess what? Both are correct. It takes both to make a leader. Unfortunately, most pastors who feel called to care for people have such a high mercy gift that all they do is care for them.

So, if people are not allowing you to be the kind of leader God called you to be, ask yourself, “Is it because I then to err on the side of caring or on the side of transforming?”Your answer will probably be “on the side of caring.”

Bill Easum is the founder and president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christians for global impact, www.effectivechurch.com.  

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