Every organizational leader must mitigate the reality of pervasive, persistent upheaval in every sector of society, and the church is least immune. To make matters worse, college football continues to be in question, and my beloved LSU Tigers may not get the chance to defend their national championship. So, forgive me for restating the obvious, particularly with a tired cliche, but the only thing consistent in this COVID-19 season is inconsistency.
Yet, as the CEO and co-founder of Auxano, I still find myself remarkably encouraged and hopeful for the months and years ahead. I'm not just marketing optimism here; I genuinely believe that as hard as these days are, they are producing some of the most exciting innovation and thought leadership we have seen in the Church for generations.
As Auxano looks to a new season and church year, albeit a potentially football-less one, I'd like to share a heartfelt encouragement to leaders, through the lens of our calling at Auxano. In thinking about the future, for, and with church leaders, I believe these seven phrases will mark our work as a consulting organization and bring breakthrough clarity to each local church and ministry organization that God allows us to serve. There is also some encouragement for the local church pastor in each idea that I pray brings energy and perseverance.
Here are seven phrases, I like to call them guideposts, that will form the foundation of our collective future:
1. God works through prayerful processes, not quick fixes. We've been looking for the answer or product to bring some sanity to these last six months. Having led hundreds of churches through Auxano's process consulting work in the previous 17 years, I understand that sustained effort brings breakthrough and growth, not new products or plans. Peterson calls it long obedience in the same direction, and I'm excited to see churches sow the fruit of purposeful calling in the months and years ahead.
In this season of great discouragement, pastors remember that God is with you - He has not forgotten the call He gave you. Hang in there!
Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love. - 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (CSB)
2. God equips the people He calls. Youth ministry marked my early years on church staff, and I loved to build and release leaders, particularly the students. Every present-day pastoral coaching call with formerly-awkward and goofy teenagers reminds me that all of us have hidden potential in the Kingdom. There are leaders all around you, waiting to be asked and then developed to do more than fill a spreadsheet hole. I am convinced that Auxano's strategist training efforts are here to build and release leaders to create solutions for problems that do not exist yet.
Pastors, if nothing else, the past few months have revealed the need for leadership to be distributed to community-engaged households, rather than concentrated in building-dependent ministries. Your congregation profoundly desires to be formed, not just be busy. As we look toward a better future in 2021 and beyond, it's time to return to building the kingdom by developing leaders. Decentralizing leadership is not quick or easy, but remember, you've got what it takes!
You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. - 2 Timothy 2:1-2 (CSB)
3. God desires to do something locally specific. I am a learner (one of our core values at Auxano is carnivorous learning), but there is a massive difference between knowledge and implementation. No church, no matter their size or success, has been where you are right now. Despite all of the challenges, I cannot wait to see how every congregation will manifest a unique expression of a decentralized gospel mission these next few years. Auxano's tool making efforts equip every church to express and implement a specific disciple-making passion within their local context. Let's not rush back into a programmatic renaissance of church busyness, but instead meet great commission needs unique to your local predicament.
Pastors, there is something more to accomplish than just regathering, streaming, or making a budget. While those are important issues, don't lose sight of the Great Commission's impact in your community that sits at the heart of the gospel! You're right where God wants you!
Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds were all paying attention to what Philip said, as they listened and saw the signs he was performing… So there was great joy in that city. - Acts 8:5-6; 8 (CSB)
4. God does more than we can ask or imagine. We know this Pauline truth, but week-to-week survival often clouds a leader's ability to ask questions or voice dreams. One of my biggest challenges in organizational leadership rests carving out the time to work ON the organization called Auxano, not merely IN it. I've journeyed with enough senior pastors to know I am not alone in this reality. The most significant fuel for ministry is future casting toward a better day and time, knowing that God provides every Proverbs 16:9 next-step.
Pastors, there has never been more discouragement-among and demands-on the local church pastor than there are today. Take heart; God is still at work. For every story of struggle, I hear at least two other stories of clarity-fueled victory. The definition of "successful church" has changed over the last six months, but gospel transformation in people's lives will never change or get old. Great days are ahead!
Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us— to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. - Ephesians 3:20-21 (CSB)
5. The future of engagement is personally digital. Just as we will never return to a pre-COVID-19 world, we will never wholly abandon online viewing as a feasible worship opportunity for some believers. Even if you return to "normal" in-person worship services and stop streaming online, the availability - and quality - of digital worship will only increase. Your congregation will need personal engagement online, even if they are not in "the room" Sunday morning. Nothing will replace the gathering of believers in worship, but groups, training, and events must take a new, more-digital economy into account. Churches are already considering staff positions that focus on digital production and modern, creative online communication. Auxano will continue to develop and provide access to our world-class tools and processes through in-person facilitation and on-demand courses and training in the months ahead. I'm excited to roll out some great new tools for you in early 2021!
Pastors, you've done great with the almost-overnight pivot to Sunday streaming, small group ZOOMs, and even text-based offering collection! However, instead of moving away from online engagement, enlist some thinkers to consider how a new generation may connect more deeply with Christ and His Church through your willingness to live and participate digitally. There's never been a better time to close the generation gap in many churches; we just need to learn to use a new set of tools and technology!
Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said, "People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed, 'To an Unknown God.' Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. - Acts 17:22-23 (CSB)
6. The future for churches of every size remains positive. It is tempting to see larger congregations, with big buildings and even bigger budgets, as having a strategic advantage in outreach and impact in your city. What the last few months have revealed is that our smaller congregations have, in many ways, fared better through this pandemic. Higher numbers of the body can gather, and pastoral presence tends to reach a more significant portion of the church, keeping people connected and cared for. There are persistent challenges for sure, but many smaller congregations are already feeling a new momentum this fall and are poised to now ask the critical "what's next" question. Auxano is already engaging small churches with Vision Framing and Horizon Storyline tools through virtual cohorts and facilitated coaching. We are committed to bringing breakthrough clarity to church teams of every size!
Pastors, as you care for people and cast vision for the future, do not mistake what's next after COVID for what was in March 2020. Reaching people and seeing lives changed post-pandemic will not be about large gatherings and significant events. The daily influence of passionate followers of Jesus people, making disciples where they live, work, play, and study will mark the difference-making churches - not their worship attendance numbers. Your church sits ideally located for the task ahead!
But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or his stature because I have rejected him. Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7 (CSB)
7. The future leader will rely on insights, not anecdotes. We all love stories, and in church offices across the country, decisions are often made, or not made, based on a few anecdotal stories leaders know, or assumptions leaders make. As this new era of church ministry emerges, I believe great data and thoughtful analysis will be even more crucial in decisions significant, and small. Auxano believes that assessments and surveys are powerful leadership tools, not for making decisions necessarily, but for providing insight to lead well with every decision. It's hard to shepherd a flock you do not know, and I love helping churches with resources like our Real Time Congregational Survey tool and numerous other assessments we've developed over the last 17-plus years. No other consulting agency has been as intimately connected to local churches and surveyed them with the depth that we have.
Pastors, I understand the leadership temptation of blissful ignorance. There are some things we don't want to know sometimes. But we cannot be afraid to learn who our people are, where they are engaged, and what they think about our work. After all, you cannot fix what you cannot find. Asking meaningful questions is one of the most potent and Christ-like leadership tools you have.
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ's fullness. - Ephesians 4:11-13 (CSB)
It's safe to say that I'm excited about the challenges of today will shape life-change tomorrow. I hope that's been evident in the seven guideposts above. From coast-to-coast Auxano has deployed a skillful and passionate team of Lead Navigators committed to creating breakthrough clarity with church teams to realize their vision. We love this work we get to do, and we are just getting started!
Thanks again for your leadership in and for the local church. Keep up the great work and Geaux Tigers!
Auxano co-Founder and CEO