John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 6

I have been posting a series of discussions concerning critical abilities for the missional leader. If you understand the true mission, establish a biblical vision based on that mission, and then build bridges of leadership that guide your entire congregation to get on board with that vision, get ready. The enemy will not be pleased and he will certainly do everything he can to tempt some of the people with whom you serve to not be pleased either.

In my last post I introduced the fourth critical ability, managing change and conflict well as an important tool for missional leaders. Though this might seem like a reactive ability, it requires a very proactive approach. Let me attempt to help you think through this a bit.

Causes of conflict can involve several issues such as unmet needs, misunderstood intentions, unrealistic expectations, a sense of devaluation, basic personality differences, fear, and sin among many others. It is very important to attempt to understand the real root issues of the conflict at hand and not simply react or overreact to its symptoms. Some causes of conflict may go far back in history and others are very personal and deeply felt. Overreaction to every minor criticism and difference of opinion can suck the life out of your ministry but a failure to ignore significant conflict and take it seriously will eventually escalate the problem even further.

Research the cause of conflict. Listen to all sides. Seek to determine the truth. What do they really want? Why? Is this conflict affecting the congregation’s ability to fulfill the vision and mission God has for it? Is there clear sin involved? To what extent is this conflict affecting your ability to lead? Remember individuals respond differently to conflict and so do congregations. Some do not handle it well at all. Apply scriptural principles and pray to help you discern objectively the significance of the conflict being addressed.

Inevitably confession and repentance will be necessary in real conflict. True repentance requires replacement. It is not enough to stop a behavior. One must fill the void left by the negative actions or attitudes with positive ones or they will eventually fall back into the hole left behind. This is the cycle of addictive behavior. One is convicted, seeks forgiveness but then falls back into the habit after a time because they did not replace their addiction with a positive discipline. This principle can be seen in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit.” Replacement!

Conflict resolution requires replacement as well. Old behaviors and thoughts or decision-making processes have to be replaced with new ones. If they are not, it is very likely the conflict will simply be repeated in the future when the same set of circumstances arises again. Though compromise is a short term solution in which both parties give in to get along to end the immediate conflict, it does not prevent the conflict from being repeated later. A long-term solution requires addressing the real root issues and putting into place the appropriate replacements based upon mission and vision. An effective, missional leader will have new behaviors, processes and actions ready because he has mastered the first three critical abilities. Though the change produced by these abilities might lead to the conflict, they will also be a source of the resolution of the conflict.

Resolution may require individual forgiveness as well as corporate opportunities and teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation. Some churches may need to “draw a line in the sand” and mark a place in history at which they have chosen to move forward by “forgetting what lies behind.” Working together through key bridges of leadership will aid in developing these processes and moments for a congregation. Conflict is never a good time for a leader to be alone.

Isaiah wrote in 62:10 “Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations.” As church leaders we will often find ourselves in the stone removal business. Identify walls in your ministry. Determine which stones to remove first and work, based on a mission and vision, and with a team of other leaders ready to “pass through, pass through the gates to prepare a way for the people” with you.


John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 5

I have been discussing specific critical abilities a missional leader must possess in order to lead a church forward. These abilities build on one another. The first critical ability is to understand the true mission. Secondly, leaders must establish a biblical vision. The third ability from my last post is to build bridges of leadership.

The fourth critical ability is to manage change and conflict well. If a leader develops and displays the first three abilities effectively, I promise this one will be urgently needed.

Not everyone is going to get excited about moving everything under the banners of mission and vision and creating synergistic unity. This alignment may require leadership to say “No” to a ministry idea that does not fit as part of the train on the tracks. It may mean shutting down an existing ministry because, based on the mission and vision, it simply is not effectively fitting in with the new direction. It may also mean creating new ministries, decision-making processes, and end goals. Any of these changes can produce conflict and must be managed well.

I once pastored an established church next door to a public elementary school. There was a line of trees and bushes that completely separated the two properties. It was trashy and ugly and prevented one side from being able to see the other. It was a wall.

In addition, years earlier the church had allowed businesses to purchase the frontage property along the major roadway upon which the facility sat so any view from the front was obscured. It was known as “the church behind the Waffle House.” It was a wall.

Finally, the church had built a block wall on both sides of the main entryway. This thing stood several feet tall. It was literally a wall! Thousands of cars drove by every day but in order to actually see the facility you had about a 1.5 second drive by window of opportunity.

So…I met with the school leadership, organized work crews, and we cut down most of those trees, cleared out the overgrown underbrush, cut the front wall in half, planted some flowers and made the whole area park-like. No more physical walls. A teacher at the school actually said she did not even realize there was a church next door!

We then adopted the school, began to host their fifth grade graduation ceremony in our sanctuary along with a reception that followed, invited their sports teams to use our gym, conducted tutoring and reading programs during and after school hours, filled their supply closets, supplied snacks on field days, created experiences of appreciation for their staff and allowed them to use our parking lot as overflow whenever it was needed. In return they allowed us to distribute informational pieces advertising our various children’s programming opportunities to the families. We followed the rules and they did too and it was profitable for all. No more walls!

As a result we saw hundreds of kids and parents become involved in everything from our Upward sports programs, to music programs, to seasonal events, to our weekly programming. Many children and adults were saved and became great church members. In fact we were seeing God save people weekly and were baptizing each week. That was a new experience to this more than two hundred year old church. Walls were falling all around us.

This relationship caught the attention of the city mayor who invited me to his office. I spent 45 minutes alone with him discussing how other churches could and should become community partners like we had become. I even had the privilege of sharing the gospel with him one-on-one. So much for walls….

Or so you might think. While we were out there one Saturday cutting those trees, a long-standing member of the church walked up beside me. She crossed her arms, looked at me with a frown and said, “Pastor, I liked it better when the trees were still up. I liked it better when we could maintain our privacy.” Some walls are thicker than others.

To this day, many years later, all I can say is “WOW!” but I have learned that growth always produces change. Change often produces conflict.

How does a leader manage change and conflict well? I will be writing more about that next time.

John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 4

John Ewart is Director of the Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching and Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives. This is the fourth post in a series on Critical Abilities in Pastoral Leadership. 

Previously I have posted that the first two critical abilities a missional leader must possess are 1) the ability to understand the true mission and 2) to establish a biblical vision. With these in place, the tracks are laid; the train has been built and set into place.

Now how does the train stay on track and move forward? I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the question of how do new churches make decisions concerning what they are going to actually do. I was concerned with the “now what?” question. We have planted a church, now what do we do and how do we decide that in order to best move forward?

Over the years I have seen a plethora of churches that cannot make healthy decisions, do not realize they need to, and/or if they did, have unhealthy practices in which they make them. This inability has led to a lot of contextual chaos…bumper cars from a previous post, or a train wreck. They are either going in a million directions with no cohesive process or they are doing virtually nothing. If they continue, they often end up in reverse or totally off track.

So what can a leader do? The third critical ability of a missional leader is to build bridges of leadership. If there is no understanding of the true mission or a strong biblical vision, leaders will not be able to guide the church down the tracks in the proper direction or at the proper speed. But even with those first two abilities, it is absolutely critical to put in place the right leadership team with a proper understanding of bridge building.


A bridge connects two sides of a gap of some kind. Some bridges are designed for one-way traffic; others are for two-way traffic. Some leadership relationships are one-way while others are two-way. Let me illustrate just a couple of them.

The first leadership bridge a missional leader must build and cross is the leadership relationship between leader (himself) and God. This is a one-way bridge. Not the relationship but the leadership. I never lead God. God must always lead me. It is amazing how often pastors and church leaders need to be reminded of this basic truth. This is where it begins and ends. How is your total submission to the leadership of God? Are you trying to lead Him? How is that working for you?

Another bridge to build and cross is the leadership relationship of leader to leaders. Some may argue that this is a one-way bridge. I do not. In fact I am confident this is part of the problem sometimes. I believe this is a two-way bridge. Missional leaders recognize they can still learn from and at times be led by other leaders.

I always worked closely with the other key church leaders, both vocational and volunteer, as a pastor. We worked together in synergy, moving down the tracks as one. We met and communicated with one another frequently and learned to trust and love one another. We were friends and co-laborers. We were on the same page.

I am convinced that if this type of understanding and harmony existed among the leaders of churches, then the health of the church would vastly improve.

Remember a third leadership bridge. The leadership relationship of God to leaders. I actually believe that I do not own the market on discerning God’s will. God speaks to others through His Word as well. This is a one-way bridge for them just like it is for me. A wise man will seek wise godly counsel from God-led people and not attempt to lead alone.

How are you relating to and leading those with whom you serve? Once these initial bridges are built, there are several others to cross. These include leaders to congregation, God to congregation and congregation to the world. Understanding these connections and the proper way they fit together is critical for missional motion down the tracks.

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