I pastor a small church in Durham, North Carolina. We meet outdoors, so we don’t have a building. We meet in different locations each Sunday along the American Tobacco Trail which is an old converted railroad and is now an asphalt trail used for walkers, runners, and cyclists.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about organizational leadership. Where do you find yourself within your organization? How are you receiving guidance from others? How are you supporting others within your organization, particularly those who report to you?
Specifically to the last question, one piece of advice for church starters, imagine yourself as a great manager. Not the manager you are in your current communities—family, work, etc., but the manager you want to be. For these purposes a great manager is one who daily asks the question: what can I do to take one thing off your plate?
You could propose that question to anyone that reports to you. In your family that might be a child. At your work, it is someone you helped hire, but you have not followed up with in the last week or two.
Sometimes we think manager is a status we achieve so that we can have others do for us. But that’s not what Jesus does in Mark’s 4thchapter as he continues to share insights into his kingdom through the example of a sower or a planter.
He teaches a big crowd. Then he sets up fewer distractions and gets himself set to teach more effectively by moving away from the crowd, so that he can be seen and heard more clearly by this large group of people. When he really helps as manager, he takes something off his hearer’s plates. And when I say hearers, I mean the smaller group who for this moment is particularly interested in trying to understand his cryptic message.
He essentially says this to his disciples or the small group of hearers, while parables seem to be tripping you up, if you stay the course with me, you will understand me and therefore you will understand my parables. Now, how does that take anything off their plates? The manager is telling them, you don’t have to have this all figured out, just keep living the parables, and it will be okay. That frees our children, our parishioners, our employees not to try to tidy everything up, but to just stay the course.
Church planting often seems to be an epic failure when done properly. There are so many things that don’t work. Folks don’t show. Limited resources inhibit us from pulling off the huge event. But when church planting works, it is just how understanding the parables works. Just keep showing up and you’ll get it. His disciples understand his words and keep working out his parables by continuing to be faithful to him. Church planters who stay the course, and keep showing up for what they were called to do, in what might seem to be an epic failure and on the verge of implosion, well, if they stay the course, one day, we call their organizations churches. I do not understand the parables of Jesus and I gather this is true for many others who call themselves Christians. But we keep reading them and praying them and we keep trying to let them read us. If we just keep at it, then the parables and church starts are working. Great managers take something off the plates of others by saying good job, keep at it. If you cannot imagine yourself a cheerleader you may struggle as a church planter and in general as a leader.
–George Linney is a multi-vocational pastor of the Tobacco Trail Church/Community in Durham, NC. They are three years into their organizational journey, busting at the seams with eight members, and roughly 15 people in worship every Sunday afternoon. God has given more work than they could possibly ever handle alone. Their fellowship meets for worship in south Durham, North Carolina at a different location each Sunday along a 6.5 mile running, walking, and biking trail that was once a railroad and is now known as the American Tobacco Trail. Learn more at: www.tobaccotrailchurch.com and on Facebook at Tobacco Trail Community.