I have had twenty-three jobs. And that’s not even counting my first few forays into the workplace as a kid delivering the newspaper. I started to make a list:
- lawn care
- fast food
- factory worker
- gas station attendant
- convention center set-up
And that was just a few of the jobs I have had. Over half of my jobs have been in the ministry. I’ve served as a student pastor, college pastor, singles pastor, online pastor, spiritual formation pastor, and more. I’ve served at Lifeway and currently as the Director of Replicate, a non-profit ministry designed to equip churches to make disciples. Each of these roles has equipped me with different skills. I’ve had to learn how to write, train, market, sell, teach, and create ministry tools. It has been and continues to be a crazy ride, and I have loved every minute of it. But I know that not everyone enjoys change and transition. I am well aware that many people enjoy doing one thing for a long time and perhaps, hope to stay in that role for their entire life. I know this is true because I have finally found that position myself. As the Executive Director of Replicate, I employ all of the skills I have developed in my various roles over the previous two decades of ministry. I mention all of this not to impress but to illustrate what I believe is the most overlooked and critical attribute of ministry leaders today: ministry agility.
Agility is defined as the ability to move with quick, easy grace. Being agile also means to be adaptable and resourceful. As I have had the privilege of working with thousands of church leaders in hundreds of churches and conferences over the past seven years, I have discovered a significant challenge. Church leaders are generally not agile. Hear me out. I am not saying they can’t be agile; I am saying that my experience is that ministry leaders, weak or strong, are not able to move at the speed they need to so they can adapt their church or organization to change. And it’s really not even their fault. Churches move at a glacial pace. Even great leaders who are on the cutting edge of knowing how to lead their people well can take years to implement new processes or change and shift existing ones.Even great leaders who are on the cutting edge of knowing how to lead their people well can take years to implement new processes or change and shift existing ones. Click To Tweet
A church I served at for eight years was led by one of the strongest Pastors I know leadership-wise. After years of praying and seeking, he determined, along with the key leadership, that the church needed to change its name in order to reflect its multi-campus approach better. This leader had a great new church name that everyone on the team agreed was what we needed. He secured the URL and walked through every possible outcome that this change might bring if implemented. And after all that – he still waited almost three years to implement the change! Ministry leaders move slow, even the best of them. And this is becoming more and more of an issue in a culture that will not hesitate to move on without the slightest hint of warning. I believe being an agile leader in ministry is one of the most critical needs in our churches today. We must develop this area of our leadership, or we will continue to struggle, and our churches will continue to decline.
Organizational design specialist Wouter Aghina clarifies that agility is the opposite of fragility. This is peculiar because when we think of fragility, we think of the opposite as strength or resilience. When we begin to understand that agility is the attribute that will help us navigate the challenges of ministry, we will, in turn, shift our culture and lead more effectively. To complement this concept, Aaron De Smet adds that agility can only be effective when there is stability. Again, this is counter to our idea of agility. We think stability means we don’t have to change or shift our people, programs, or culture. But the opposite is true. If we want stability, we must exert ministry agility in every area of our decision making, ministry processes, and relationship. It is from stability that our agility flows.
Think of an athlete. They make incredible plays on the court or field because they move from a position of stability. The best athletes have a game plan; they have long term experience; they have an understanding of the play; they have an understanding of their position. Using all of these stable elements, they are able to exert agility to make incredible plays and win games. How much more important than winning games is the ministry of the church? We must develop ministry agility to better lead our people, shape our culture, and make disciples who make disciple-makers. As we begin to look at how we can increase our ministry agility over the next several weeks, take a moment and reflect how this attribute p[lays a role in your leadership