One thing Bishop Ron Ramsey has emphasized is, “Lead!” Get out from underneath your wussiness and lead. Guys, it’s time to stand up and take a leadership role. Everything rises and falls on leadership.

I believe most of our churches have people who want to be exposed to some empowering leadership, and want to be part of an effective church. But they need some good leadership.

When I go into churches and start talking about principles of leadership and church health, I almost always see a couple people who are like wilted flowers that got rain water on them. You can see it in their faces: “Yes, that’s what I’m looking for!

Where leadership is exercised, we find people waiting in the shadows to step up and get involved. People who previously stayed on the sidelines decide they now see a situation in which they’re willing to invest themselves. When people see things change, resources that have been sitting there the whole time get unleashed.

We have ministers who are at the strongholds where Satan lives in their city. They know that to break the strongholds hindering their churches, they have to deal with certain issues. And they’ve taken them head on. They would charge hell with a water pistol, because they know that Ron and I stand behind them. Though they’ve been bloodied, they feel they’ve been loved on and they’ve learned some powerful lessons through it.

One pastor has gotten beat up badly, but we stood with him and talked straightforwardly with his people about some issues. Some of our pastors are just as straightforward as we are. I’m proud of them. They’ve learned some powerful lessons about tempering their straightforwardness with care and tenderness, and God is doing things in their churches.

We’ve had people be pretty caustic with us. Most times we find that when we follow the Lord’s agenda and processes, he does the work, moving resistant people out of the way. In some churches, we’ve seen people turn and repent. I had a guy come ask forgiveness for something that happened 12 years. You see that and realize it’s God.

When it comes to pastoral assignments, we’ve had the opportunity to take time. Years ago, your pastor left one week and the new pastor came the next; that’s how our system worked. But now, many months may pass between pastors. Some of these interim times have enabled churches to realize what a pastor means to them. Sometimes, in reviewing their church profile, we’ve addressed some issues. If a pastor left in conflict or was pushed out, we addressed some of those issues before the new guy arrived.

In other cases, we had interim pastors, like Ron Cook and Wayne Goldsmith, who did good work that was extremely helpful. George Speas came down to Freeport, Mich., and was able to assess that the church wouldn’t be able to sustain a ministry, and he led them toward the concept of closing down. For their situation, that was the most effective decision.  They celebrated their history and ministry and now resources will be used to re-invest in the Kingdom as their legacy.

It’s good when a pastor comes with an intentional plan, rather than as a savior, and uses the first-year honeymoon period to build some strategic things into the life of the church.

Sometimes you get a new pastor without assigning a new pastor. I think Banner of Christ in Michigan got a new pastor. The Mike Caley I see now is different from the Mike Caley when I first visited there four years ago. Mike has shared how he had been discouraged.

Since their consultation, the Lord has done a fresh work in Mike’s life and the life of the church. He is free, confident and the Lord is working mightily. Sometimes it’s not a matter of changing people, but of seeing people change.

Some ministers, by passion and personality and giftedness, will never be anything more than a shepherd. They enjoy doing the hands-on ministry to people. History says they can grow a church only to what they can handle–about 100-150 people. So when that church grows to 150 and stagnates, the best thing we can do is put him back into a church of 75 and not see that as a demotion, but as how he can shine and be fruitful.

It’s not about numbers. It’s about recognizing who he is, and not making it something negative. It’s how God wired him–his passions, his abilities. Then bring in somebody who can delegate to lead that church of 150.

We run into people who think effective change is about methodologies, about us giving you a program to use. Our message has been, “It’s not about a prepackaged method, but about finding the most effective way to accomplish your mission in your locality.” How that happens in southern Ohio is different than southern Michigan. The key is what you’re trying to accomplish, not how. Bishop Ramsey and I have been consistent on that.

Most of our churches think in terms of program, not process. The mission is to make maturing disciples who reach other people, but most churches haven’t thought through a clear process for taking a totally heathen person who doesn’t know Jesus and leading them to a relationship with Jesus Christ, then to becoming dependent on Christ and sharing the gospel with others. There aren’t clear processes.

Instead, churches too often are just doing church. They know what programs they want, what music they like. But they aren’t thinking missionally about their role in the body of Christ and how to walk people through the maturing process. People don’t think in those terms, only in doing church and being cared for.

Pat Jones, Director of Healthy Church Ministries

This past Sunday, Pam and I had the privilege of visiting with Michael Longfellow, pastor of New Life Church in Chanute, Kansas, and cluster leader for that area. The New Life Church (formerly Highland Avenue United Brethren) had been stymied in growth by a very limited building. An opportunity came up last year for the congregation to purchase the Alcott Elementary School that was relocating to a new school complex.

The whole story of the purchase, renovation and first Sunday is a magnificent account of the grace of God. First, the school was purchased for $25,000. It is a two-story non-combustible building. The school left a centralized fire alarm system, a centralized communication system to every room, a number of tables and chairs, plus some other supplies and materials.

Through six weeks of hard work in renovation/construction, all done by the congregation, the place was transformed into a wonderful house of worship and fellowship. Funds were suddenly offered for special carpet in the former gym (now the worship center). Skilled professionals (electricians and plumbers) had just recently started attending and provided their skills and labor. Even a few eighty-somethings gave of themselves cleaning up both inside and out.

Michael (right) estimates that with some extra, unplanned projects that were done based on donations, that the total renovation costs amounted to around $21,000. That means they got the property and renovated for under $50,000. And the joyous thing: they are in their new facility debt-free.

This congregation that averaged 105 two years ago had an Easter attendance of 267. Previously, Easter attendances were enlarged by visiting family members. Not this year. Not this year. While some visitors were family, a good portion of them were from their neighborhood and other parts of the community.

Michael says that their desire is for the church to become the focus of the community once again. They have the beginning stages of an exercise room that will be available to the community. They plan to use the hallways and stairs as a walk/climb track.

With economic challenges hitting this community of 9400 very hard, Michael and the congregation see increasing opportunities for sharing the Gospel. This newly renovated facility will provide them the space to reach many people for Christ.

Two days ago, I mentioned some things Bishop Ron Ramsey and I have learned during the past four years. Here is one more: People value historic relationships over spiritual health.

In a number of churches, one or two individuals or families use gossip, slander, or position to either attack the leadership or cause division in the church. Rather than stand up and address the sinful actions of these folks, the people tolerate the sin and watch to see how long the pastor can survive it.

My question is, “Why do you tolerate this?”

The church is unhealthy because cancer is ignored or tolerated. The Body, not just the pastor, must be willing to stand up.

Jesus’ desires for his Church should take precedence over how long someone has been in a church or what your personal relationship has been with them if they are acting ungodly. Scripture says to warn a divisive person once, warn them a second time, and then have nothing to do with them (Titus 3:10). Where people have stopped tolerating such actions, freedom and blessing have come.

It is hard to believe that almost four years have passed since the Bishop Ron Ramsey and I began this journey together. In our travels and interactions, we have learned (or been reinforced in) many truths about churches. Here are a few.

God can and will bring transformation to the willing.

It has been thrilling to see the power of the Lord released into the lives of people who humbly sought his desires over their own comfort and previous traditions.

Discipleship produces evangelism.

Many churches are trying to do evangelism but are not equipped to walk with people through what it means to be a disciple. But where churches are creating environments where people are truly growing in “grace and knowledge of the truth,” evangelism is the natural outcome. That brings long-term, sustained growth.

People can’t do what they have never seen or experienced.

We can’t assume people know what to do just because they have been told. If they have never seen it, experienced it, or done it, how are they supposed to do it? That is why mentoring and exposing them to other patterns is vital. People do more what they see than what they are told.

There is no power without personal and corporate prayer.

We have found where the pastor and leaders are busy doing rather than being, there is no power. When there is no corporate emphasis on prayer and personal study of the Scriptures, there is no power. Methodologies may change, but the basics never do. Craig Groschel’s book “IT” captures this truth.

People confuse forms and functions.

Some have asked us when God ordered the church to change. As far as functions, he hasn’t. Worship, prayer, study of Scripture, using our gifts in ministry, preaching, evangelism, and giving as stewards are all functions that will never change.But God has called us in Psalm 78 and other places to effectively communicate the great truths about the Lord to the next generation. And to do that, our forms and methodologies must change. We must not confuse the non-changing functions with the need to change forms.

What truths do you see?

I am reading through the Scriptures once again following a chronological plan. Several things struck me as I am reading through Exodus and the accounts of the plagues. For example, the interplay between God saying he sovereignly hardened Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh hardening his own heart.

But the key thought that struck me most this time had to do with the Lord saying several times, “I make a distinction between my people and your people.” At least three times when he brings a plague on the Egyptians, he protects the Israelites and the land of Goshen from that plague. The people of Egypt see the distinction, and because of that, they are favorably disposed to Moses and the Israelites.

A distinction. To mark someone or something out as different. To make a comparison between. To use as an illustration that is apart from the norm. To separate out as something admirable.

What a great description of God’s people. We are illustrations. We are protected from the consequential disasters that fall on others because of our relationship with the Lord. We are shown by the Lord as different, holy. When the Lord uses our lives to reflect the difference, people will see and hear and give him glory.

Do you see the distinction? Do you acknowledge how the Lord protects? Do you find that people are drawn by what they see happening in your life?

We have a loving Father who keeps watch over us. His purpose is to show everyone himself through us. He distinguishes us from those around us. And the ultimate end is that people will be apt to revere him because of what they see in our lives.

I’m grateful for such a wondrous God.

When I became pastor of Devonshire UB church (Harrisburg, Pa.) in 1988, I laid out my six-month plan for preaching. A couple ladies approached me.

“We don’t think you’re being led by the Spirit.”

“Oh?” I said. “Help me understand why you think that.”

“How can you be led by the Holy Spirit if you’re planning things out six months in advance?”

I asked them, “When did God lay out the plan of salvation? It was before the foundation of the world. He created this plan, then Jesus came 2000 years later and implemented it.

“If God can plan 2000 years in advance, are you saying he can’t lead me to know what to preach about six months from now?”

To them, being led by the Spirit was flying by the seat of your pants.