It’s Monday morning, the sanctuary lights are out, the reports are coming in from the service(s) your church held yesterday, and you’re starting to weigh the pros and cons of resigning as you watch the sermon preached at the megachurch about the same scripture you preached from to 50 people yesterday.
I get it. Mondays can be brutal, even if everything went well yesterday, and even if you talk yourself into staying on for another week, the idea of maintaining at your current level can start to seem so appealing. But it’s not. Maintaining can never be a permanent solution any more than treading water can be the primary technique for swimming. Sure, it may be a way to rest and catch your breath, (How many are thankful for seasons of rest? Yes, I see that hand, and that hand, and those 2 in the back!) but it can never be a sustainable answer for ministry, especially when the kingdom of God is always advancing and His offensive team is the local church.
Let’s face it, God wants our churches to grow more than that conference speaker wants us to buy books.
In order to keep myself from getting lost in the weeds of all the “next steps” and “next level” information out there, I’ve developed a little acrostic for the word LEVEL that helps me remember what it takes personally and organizationally to level up.
A word before I share it: I don’t pastor a megachurch, nor do I have a book deal. The church I pastor – The Gathering – is in a small town in the south, just turned 6 years old, and over those 6 years, we’ve seen slow, steady growth from 20 to an average weekly attendance that fluctuates between 275-300. Sometimes we hear “next level” and think that it means an overnight jump from hundreds to thousands, but leveling up often happens by the tens, and these 5 things are required if you and I want to keep growing.
Someone has to go first, and that’s probably going to be you and me. If I’m asking my church to give more because we have a kingdom opportunity, then I’m going to need to up my giving game first. Leaders who say it but don’t do it are lecturers, and we all know how much people enjoy lectures.
If we’re going to get to the next level, we probably need to have some idea about what’s blocking our way. The churches and individuals I know who are always growing are also always examining themselves. They ask questions. They examine good systems because they want the best systems. Like a mountain climber, they study the next section in order to plan the best route to take. We don’t need to be afraid to poke the process a little in order to find the best path.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many leaders talk about wanting to go to the next level and yet they never surround themselves people who have been there. You cannot go to the next level if you haven’t seen it. We’ve got to have a vision of where we’re going if we have any hope of getting there. When I coached cross-country, I always told my teams to run uphill by looking uphill. See where you’re going and eventually, you’ll be where you’re going. Vision is powerful, and it’s our job as leaders to have it and cast it.
You’re willing to go first, you’ve examined the obstacles to get there, and you’ve even envisioned what it will look like at the top, but none of that matters if you never take a step. It’s easier to stay where you are, but the fruit is always higher and out on a limb, and it takes work to get there. How ridiculous would it be for football teams to huddle, call a play, pump each other up, and then never snap the ball? I hate to say it, but many church leaders are only good in the huddle, and that won’t take you to the next level. It will, though, keep everyone in the huddle.
I struggled with this last one, but it’s reality and so it needs to be included. There is a price to pay in order to level up. It will cost us, and until we’re willing to lose what we have now, we won’t be able to gain anything later. In our personal lives, there is a cost to grow. Maybe it’s less time sleeping for more time reading, or giving up a favorite Netflix show in order to take an online class. Maybe a friend won’t embrace your passion for self-improvement and stops texting. Organizationally, you and I may see people leave because they love the current level more than the one we’re pursuing. We don’t lose people because those people are bad; we lose them because not everyone desires the same climb. But no matter what level you’re pursuing, make no mistake: you have to give up in order to go up. As Jesus said, it’s better to count that cost before you even start, because quitting in the middle of a climb isn’t always the best option.
There you are. Five things that help me flesh out what it takes to get to the next level. Hopefully, they’ll benefit you, too, as you pursue higher ground.