We didn’t know it until it was too late. In our defense, I don’t think we would have listened to or believed a warning that it was close. I’m talking about THE LINE. It’s the one that marks the boundary between a church that’s small enough, in terms of expectations and size, for just a few people to manage and a church that’s big enough to feel disorganized, chaotic, and schizophrenic unless the above mentioned people allow others to lead with them. It’s not a big leap across THE LINE, but it’s a leap that doesn’t allow for do-overs. Our church is still little by most standards. The size, though, isn’t what matters. Crossing THE LINE is most evident by one definitive measure - the pastor doesn’t know everyone who attends by name anymore.
We crossed over a few weeks ago. Now when I stand up on Sunday mornings, I can’t connect every single face that stares back at me with a particular story. Most churches (90% in America) never cross THE LINE because the leadership isn’t comfortable with the reality I just admitted. And this is ok, especially if crossing THE LINE isn’t necessary for a particular church to fulfill its mission. The house church movement is one example of a church model that can keep it real and small at the same time.
For many churches like ours though, fulfilling its local mission necessitates a certain number of people. And usually this number eclipses the upper limits of how many people one pastor can care for. So what do you do on the other side of THE LINE? You equip the saints to be the church and lead. The same people staring back at you are called out from their seats to lead the church.
On the back side of THE LINE, it was easy to profess that we couldn’t wait for the day when we shared leadership with others. But on this side of THE LINE, we’ve learned it is easier said than done. Giving away leadership (that’s a nice way of saying ownership) means living in the uncertainty that others might do it differently, at a different pace, and with a different voice. It means allowing others to fail, like you did. It means holding people accountable not because you’re a good project manager, but because the mission of the church depends on them following through.
Are we still having fun and basking in the light that glows from standing close to a vibrant congregation? Yes.
Will we keep giving the church away in order for others to claim a part? Yes.
Is it easier on this side of THE LINE? Not yet.