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On Easter Sunday, I celebrate my two year anniversary as the Campus Pastor at Forest Park Carthage (a multisite church based out of Joplin, MO). For the two years before that, I served as a full-time consultant with churches around the country. I still consult some on the side, but not nearly as much. Recently, I was reflecting on the difference between my two roles/jobs.

Picture This

A consultant may be good at seeing the big picture, but a pastor is the one who sees the whole picture. A consultant may tell you need to get from Point A to Point B, but a pastor knows who needs to be led in order for this to happen, the changes in-between that will need to be made and most importantly, how long it will take to get there. Consultants sometimes come across like a change can happen overnight (I’ve been guilty of this), but a pastor knows it may take years to get to the desired result.

Can You See?

A pastor over time gets used to and accustomed to his scenery and surroundings. I love being a consultant on occasion because I get to come in with fresh eyes and point out things that jump out at me, but may have been a blind spot for the pastor and his team. Do I still recommend that churches seek outside help on occasion? Absolutely. I love working with consultants and have several that I stay in touch with and hope to one day hire to come into my church. Consultants help get you unstuck (as Tony Morgan says) and give you questions and thoughts to wrestle with as a staff.

Seems Shaky

A consultant is able to point out weak areas in your ministry (due to his or her fresh eyes). A pastor coming into a new church could and should be able to do this as well, but for most pastors that have been at their church for years, they may need to bring in outside help (maybe even another pastor in their area). I go into churches in my own city and give their pastors ideas and suggestions for change. It’s all about the Kingdom.

When I arrived at my church two years ago, I had fresh eyes, so I immediately went into evaluation and assessment mode. I stayed in that mode for quite a while. I noticed that there were three big needs or weak areas: our children’s ministry, our worship and our morale. Our church was in decline and needed strong leadership.

Over the first year at my church, I hired a Kids Pastor and a new Worship Pastor. We addressed children and worship from a new leadership perspective (this could have been done with volunteers if your church is not in a position to hire). I started casting vision, preaching with passion about evangelism and letting everyone know that I was here to stay (establishing stability and thus helping morale). You see I was the third Campus Pastor in three years. The church needed to know they had a leader that was committed and here for the long haul.

Look Deeper

In the last two years, we’ve nearly tripled in size. I thank God for His hand on our ministry, but as Andy Stanley teaches, we must evaluate why God is blessing and why there is momentum in the organization. I think a lot of our turnaround came from my experience as a consultant and my new eyes when I came to my church. I took strategic and intentional action steps to institute change and bring about desired results.

Each year I go away with my staff on a retreat and we evaluate why we do what we do, how we can improve and what we need to do to sustain and continue the momentum we’re seeing. We’ve used video resources from Catalyst that have been a great help to our team.

Ready, Set, Go!

Recently, we went away on our annual staff retreat. Now we have the tough task of implementing and executing our ideas and strategies. It will be a process and won’t happen overnight, but we at least clarified our vision and who we are and know what steps we need to take to better cast vision and accomplish our goals as a team.

Evaluation and execution are essential. A consultant can help you with the evaluation, but it’s up to the pastor and his team to execute and make it happen. I seriously think a huge part of our turnaround as a church was a mindset change. We moved from maintenance to mission. We exist to reach the lost and now we don’t just do church, we are the church.

Pace

One thing I talked about on our staff retreat is pace and timing. As a consultant, I see what’s wrong, missing, not needed or needs to change and I say, “This needs to go, grow or change.” I leave and fly home and besides checking in from time to time, I trust they will make the change (sooner than later). After being a pastor for two years now and working under a Lead Pastor that’s been at my church for 16 years, I see that change takes time and I must pace myself.

At our staff retreat, I showed my staff a picture of our overall church’s growth chart (from the last 16 years). It took a long time to see growth and change. I reminded them what God reminded me – we are in this for the long haul and things won’t happen overnight. I reminded my staff of Larry Osborne’s story that he shared in Sticky Church. North Coast took 5 years to go from 130 to 180 and it took another 5 years to reach 750. Now they are a very large and innovative church. Read that again: It took 10 years to grow to 750 in San Diego! Pace yourself my friends! Don’t let a consultant push you to change overnight. Pastors know their people and their culture and how long it will take to get from here to there.

Who Has the Vision?

I made the mistake a few years ago of pushing my vision (as a consultant) on a church and a pastor that had his own vision for the church. I was working with Miles McPherson and The Rock church in San Diego. I’m a huge believer in Simple Church (read the book) and still love the concepts and principles in that book. I believe we can accomplish more by doing less.

If you know Miles and The Rock, you know they are known as the “Do Something” church. They have over a hundred outreach ministries and believe everyone should just do something. This rubbed against my simple church philosophy, so we butted heads.

What I see years later is that vision belongs to the pastor. I should have never tried to change Pastor Miles’ heart and vision for what God laid on his heart for their church to be about.

I now know and fully believe it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. God designed it this way. There’s no cookie cutter approach to doing church or planting churches. Be who God called you to be (as my friend and consultant, Will Mancini says in his book Church Unique).

Both And

What I’m experiencing now is that pastors make great consultants. When I consulted full-time, I had fresh eyes, but I wasn’t leading in a local church context week in and week out. Now, as a pastor, my mindset and approach is different.

I recently consulted with a great church in Tennessee and I was able to help them create steps that will get them to the next level based on my heart, experience and life as a pastor of a local church. I think the best consultants stay plugged into their local church and are right there with you in the trenches.

Move

Honestly, whether you bring a consultant or don’t, go to a conference or don’t, read a new book or don’t – as Miles McPherson would say: DO SOMETHING. You need to move from maintenance mode to leadership that takes people somewhere. What journey is your church or organization on and what’s your next step?

All of us have a next step as an organization and have ways that we need to improve at what we do and how we do it. Another one of my consultant friends is Jim Tomberlin, who helps multisite churches like ours and many others, take their next step.

For some of you, the best thing you could do is bring in the outside, fresh eyes of a consultant. For some of you, it’s a mindset shift (as Craig Groeschel talks about). You need to change your mindset to bust through barriers.

Stay Connected to Your Source

Lastly, know who called you and to whom you answer. Stay connected to Christ. Above all else, listen to the voice of your Savior. Put Him and His Spirit’s leading above anyone’s opinion or suggestions.

I remember one pastor telling me that he knew what I was telling him was right and what he would tell another church (he used to be a consultant, too), but he said God hadn’t released him to make that move, yet. He has since made the change, but at the time, God hadn’t led him to make the change. That’s okay. Consultants can only suggest. You as a pastor and leader, must move and change as God leads you. Never forget that. Christ is the Head of the Church.

“In Him we live and move and have our being.” – Acts 17:28

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

 

Greg Atkinson

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