Complexity clogs discipleship pathways. We have good news, but we may still miss out on the kingdom impact that only comes with focus.
By Daryl Crouch
“Put every hook in the water you can, and you will catch more fish.”
That was the church growth advice I heard from a local pastor and tried to apply in my own church until I discovered every hook takes time, money, volunteers, and a lot of emotional energy. We had the hooks. We just didn’t have enough rods, reels, or anything else necessary to keep the hooks in the water.
The analogy breaks down, but it illustrates that without a clear focus on our gospel mission, churches move toward complexity. We add more and more programs hoping to reach more people. Sometimes it works. More often, it clutters our calendars and spreads our resources far too thin.
Before looking at solutions, let’s consider three common reasons churches drift toward complexity.
We see what other churches are doing, and we want to do that too. It’s often called FOMO—Fear of Missing Out.
We should learn from others. But rather than learning principles of healthy ministry, we often attempt to apply specific practices of another church. And many times, our churches are simply unprepared for that.“Rather than learning principles of healthy ministry, we often attempt to apply specific practices of another church. And many times, our churches are simply unprepared for that.” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
We also tend to compare our current season of ministry to a previous one or to the next one. What was effective in the past or what may be effective in the future is not necessarily best for this season.
Pastors, like all leaders in this era, are bombarded with messages every day. Everything seems both important and urgent, and it all asks for our immediate and full-orbed response. What are you doing about this theological drift? What about this cultural challenge? What about that community event? And what about the next crisis in the congregation?
Capable leaders find themselves dizzied by the scope of expectations placed upon them. We want to shepherd the flock well. We want to be responsive to our congregation and relevant in our context, but often we’re just reacting to the last headline, email, or direct message.
We have options. The invention of the automobile, for example, made it possible to travel farther and more frequently, so rather than walking to the market once a week, we can drive there multiple times each day. And we often do. Our capacity to travel with ease creates an expectation that we will.
But in the church, our capacity does not determine our calling. God does. Just because we can do something does not mean we should. When capacity directs our decisions, complexity soon drains our capacity."Our capacity does not determine our calling. God does. Just because we can do something does not mean we should.” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Moving from complexity to kingdom impact
While complexity clogs up our disciple-making pathway, simplicity clears the path for kingdom impact.
I once heard Tim Elmore, founder of Growing Leaders, share the principle of the river and the flood. Both a river and a flood have water, but the river produces great benefits to everyone because of its focus. The flood, on the other hand, is all over the place and creates damage and frustration.
Unfortunately, many churches are more like a flood than a river. We have good news and good resources to make Jesus known, but we lack meaningful impact because we lack focus.
So, let’s look at three simple characteristics that narrow a church’s focus while expanding its impact.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting several churches of various sizes and denominational backgrounds over the past two years. When I began these visits, churches were re-opening and finding their footing after the pandemic. Each church was filled with committed Christians led by capable pastors. But one consistent observation I left with each week was how hard the pastor was trying.
You could sense both fear and fatigue. The tone of voice. The cadence. The mannerisms. They all testified to maximum effort. It wasn’t despair, but it was an “I’ve got to make this work” kind of feeling.
We’ve all read reports of pastoral burnout. Like all reports, most data lags behind reality. If the latest survey says 1 in 5 pastors feel burnout, it’s probably more than that.
So, the first step to getting simpler and making a greater impact is for pastors to get healthier. Rather than leading from a posture of fear, we must renew our confidence that Jesus, not us, builds His church. Rather than grasping with exhausted hands for every new method that crosses our feed, healthy pastors abide in Jesus, trusting Him to produce lasting fruit.
Find your “why?” Attempting to lead without clarity of vision, mission, and values leads to frustration. But clarity of purpose creates the freedom to focus on only essential priorities.“Every yes to one thing is a no to many others. But it’s also true that a no to many things is a yes to the one thing that matters most.” — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Every yes to one thing is a no to many others. But it’s also true that a no to many things is a yes to the one thing that matters most. When we know our purpose and what it takes to accomplish that purpose, we are able to say no to the nonessential things that crowd our calendars, budgets, and volunteer resources.
Jesus came to earth to fulfill the will of the Father by offering Himself on the cross for our sins. Nothing distracted Him from proving His love for us. The apostle Paul told the Philippians he made every effort to lay hold of his calling (Philippians 3:12-14) so that the world would know Christ as he knew Christ.
In the same way, our focus is motivated by a love for the world. We do not do what we do to prove our worth or please our congregations. We do our one thing so that we may win the world to Christ. It’s sincere love that motivates our stubborn focus on the mission of God.
Our neighbors have many options for entertainment, education, dining, leisure, and even friendship. But they will only have the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel when the church declutters its calendar and makes making disciples of Jesus the singular focus of ministry.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Daryl Crouch is the executive director of Everyone’s Wilson, a network of gospel-loving churches working together for the good of the community. Prior to this role, he pastored churches in Texas and Tennessee for 28 years. He and his wife Deborah have four children.