What have we learned these last two years? What are you learning? I remain hope-filled for us participating in Project Thrive. I am hopeful we will courageously follow new paths, innovate, and even change our minds as necessary about how we have always done things.

We have so many questions. Can the church come out of this with positive gain? What will a thriving church look like in my context? What does church success or health look like in the 21st century?

Here are a few things we are learning.  

  1. Leaders must cultivate genuine humility.

Much of our resistance to changing our minds about the church in general, people, or topics, specific issues, are rooted in an unhealthy pride—a virus that infects us all.

Reinhold Niebuhr had it right: our pride is at the heart of our resistance and rebellion against God’s desires and dreams for us. I grant that might sound a bit preachy.

Here’s what we know. Congregations comprised of individuals who are learning to confess their sins, rather than the sins of others, are most likely to be open to God’s unfolding revelation – most capable of moving forward collectively. It’s true for pastor leaders as well.

Brene Brown reminds us that effective leadership comes from those who practice a genuine humility. That often looks less like the “answer person” and more like “asking powerful questions.” Always having the “answer” is often nothing more than a cover for low self-esteem.

There is no need for leaders in the 21st-century church to dominate the conversation; instead, we should be leading collaboratively, drawing on the strengths of others as we build on our best selves collectively. We must start with our key leaders, staff, or lay leadership and then share this agency congregationally.

  1. We must more fully communicate church as a mission rather than simply a temple.

Part of the genius of Jesus’ leadership was to replace the early followers’ fixation upon a place with their devotion to a movement.

No doubt, Jesus spent his fair share of time in and around the temple. You probably noticed during Holy Week how Jesus taught in the temple every day in his last week. But as we read the gospels, we see how much more engaged and animated he was by individuals and the needs in the communities he encountered. It dumbfounded the religious authorities of his day, and it still does so today.

Our American insistence on the church as a location rather than a way of life is perhaps our saddest misstep. “Thriving churches” reverse this and reprioritize appropriately.

Please don’t hear me suggesting that the physical location and Sundays are unnecessary. They should be viewed as a means, more so than an end. 

  1. May I be so bold as to suggest that as leaders, we must maintain the posture of a learner?

Learners are open to the teachings and insights of others because we have recognized our limitations and blind spots.

It’s tempting to think we know a person, issue, theological point, church practice, or any topic of contention. When we do, we move from humble co-laborer and away from the posture of a learner.

What would it look like if, as leaders, we were to become one who is genuinely open to the gifts and imaginations of others? What if you and I practiced/modeled the basic idea of changing our minds? 

Here’s what this can look like as a leader.

When we ask others, “Can you help me with this? What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you willing to work on this with me?” we open the door to fresh ideas and unique perspectives.

We lead collaboratively, courageously, and positively which opens the door to curiosity and engagement. It engages the strengths of the body of Christ.

People want their church to be thriving, and when allowed to participate in decisions affecting them, they bring their best thinking and contribute fully. Through engagement, people develop a more profound understanding of the issues and goals and become more committed to implementing decisions. Inviting more people to the table to participate in decision-making creates more vital buy-in, builds leadership capabilities for the future, and increases their trust in each other and leadership.

Engagement fosters agency and fuels the kingdom of God. Most of us are now moving into our implementation stage. These days find us creating “objectives” that will guide us toward realizing our God-sized dreams. 

Remember, these OBJECTIVES are what we seek to achieve. By definition, they are significant, concrete, and action-oriented. They should be inspirational. Once adopted and implemented, they are a vaccine against fuzzy thinking and church apathy.

Remember, it will take all of us for God’s dream to become a reality. The church is best served when we carry what we are learning with us. Let’s not waste this opportunity.