There may not be anything more stressful to a pastor than a facility expansion. We have all heard stories of building programs destroying a church’s ministry and culture. One day the church is growing and the next day they are fighting about paint colors. What causes one ministry to flourish during a building program and another to struggle?
Working with hundreds of churches over the last 35 years, I have observed three common elements of successful building programs and all three are characteristics displayed by quality leaders. These strengths are so prevalent in the lives of the church leaders, they become engrained in the culture of their ministry. When the adversity of a building program strikes, these strengths emerge and allow a church to rise above the fray.
The book of Nehemiah provides us with a wonderful illustration of these strengths. As cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah was in a position of authority. One day he asked his brothers about Jerusalem and the Jews who escaped captivity. He learned Jerusalem’s wall was crumbled, its gates were burned, and the people were in great distress. Upon hearing the news, he wept, mourned, prayed, and fasted before God. Displaying great courage, he asked the king to allow him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall. To the glory of God, Nehemiah rebuilt the wall in 52 days and restored the city’s might and honor.
Strength 1: Spiritual Passion
Spiritual passion is created when a leader embraces a burden. Effective leaders naturally take on burdens and respond with action. When Nehemiah asked about the “Jews who had escaped”, we see clearly his passion for the people and their spiritual condition. Effective leaders have a burden for people and express it openly as part of their ministry. When it’s time to build a wall, the spiritual passion of a church and its leaders provides the energy and momentum necessary for success.
Building programs lacking spiritual passion become focused on “the wall” instead of the mission. These programs become obsessed with the cost, height, and color of the wall without connecting to the wall’s greater purpose. Unfortunately, for the church without true spiritual passion, building a wall has the potential to become a frustrating business transaction or divisive political event.
Components of Spiritual Passion:
- The glory of God is the main goal.
- Connecting the need for a physical wall to the goal of bringing glory to God.
- Genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of people.
- Courage to step out in faith.
“For Spiritual Passion to fuel a building program it must be engrained in the DNA of a church’s culture, not just the heart of the leader.”
Strength 2: Dependent Prayer
Prayer acknowledges our total dependence on God. Effective leaders know they desperately need God to show up. When Nehemiah heard Jerusalem’s wall was damaged and the people were in great distress, his heart was broken and he wept and mourned for days. Through prayer and fasting, God helped Nehemiah move from being overwhelmed by the problem to developing the solution.
Building programs marked by dependent prayer see and experience the power of God as people walk by faith. Opposition is expected and not feared. Each step is prayed for and celebrated as the congregation stretches their faith – knowing God has them right where He wants them, totally dependent on Him. It’s a beautiful thing to see the people of God walking and growing in their faith as they build the wall.
Far too many leaders underestimate the potential conflicts surrounding church building programs. These leaders work in their own strength and power. They offer token prayers, but no one truly believes God needs to show up. The physical nature of construction and finances distracts these leaders as they fill with pride and self reliance. The goal of bringing glory to God slowly fades and the focus shifts to trivial and tangible things.
Components of Dependent Prayer:
- Humble spirit.
- Knowledge of God’s promises.
- Persistent prayer and fasting.
- Praying when your enemies surround you.
“Dependent prayer moves our focus from the problem to the solution.” Proverbs 16:3 – Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established.
Strength 3: Strategic Planning
Planning drives passion and prayer into action. Successful strategic planning always begins with the selection of the right leader. As cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah was respected and had demonstrated his ability to lead. His passion was evident when the king asked him why he was sad.
When selecting a leader for a building program, finding a servant leader is critical to the outcome. I believe leadership trumps technical knowledge every time. Construction knowledge can be useful, but a lack of leadership ability can lead to disastrous results. Nehemiah was a servant leader, not a contractor.
Effective strategic planning requires leaders to discover the truth of their situation. Gathering pertinent information to develop a successful plan is a must. Poor or insufficient information leads to flawed conclusions and strategies. Nehemiah was able to accomplish the task of rebuilding the wall because he understood his situation – he knew letters from the king would be required to complete the work.
During the implementation of your plan, the selection of the right leadership really pays off. Like Nehemiah, effective leaders motivate and inspire people to rise above what they would normally be able to accomplish. In the heat of a construction project your congregation will need to know that God is in this and it is for His glory.
Components of Strategic Planning:
- Find a leader with a ministry focus and humble heart.
- Discover the truth of your situation.
- Plan with the goal in mind.
- Don’t lose heart during implementation.
“Quality communication is the hands and feet of vision, strategies, and tactics.”
The leadership strengths found in successful building programs today are the very same as Nehemiah displayed centuries ago when he restored the city of Jerusalem. Passion, Prayer, and Planning.