Hope Network Newsletter: Fresh Ammo for Troops in the Trenches (Jul-Aug 1997)

By Matt Dabbs

Coaching, Mentoring, and Equipping Visionary Spiritual Leaders

by Lynn Anderson
July – August, 1997

27
It is really not news that ministers and elders are struggling and many are dropping out.

Recently, “Tom,” one of the finest Christian men I know and the CEO of a multi-national company resigned as an elder of his church. And “Bill,” a bright and dedicated minister called, saying he had quit after 15 years in ministry and is now working as a sales rep for a chain of discount stores. Both men, from different congregations, had given up hope of doing the real work of the church in the way Jesus would do it. Tom confided that one hour of the weekly elders’ meeting was more stressful for him than 10 hours in his business. Bill indicated that attempting to meet the unrealistic expectations of everyone, including 13 “bosses” and their wives, was simply taking too much of a toll on him and his family. Neither Tom nor Bill felt they were making much positive difference.

Both men have discovered that leading a church is extremely tough in these days when values are vanishing, social norms are shifting, and families are falling apart. They have seen litigation lurking at the church doors, tensions between multiple cultural and ethnic groups, time-honored assumptions challenged, inconsistent giving patterns, and conflict between traditional and progressive elements in the church. Their churches and families live fast-paced urban lifestyles, which accelerate daily to keep pace with the information age and general “busyness.” They have also learned the hard way that individualistic and consumer-minded church members often measure church leaders by a variety of competing and unrealistic standards.

Most elders’ marketplace jobs require 50 to 70 hour work weeks. Then they must take time for their families who often feel they are viewed in a “fish bowl.” Elders also face those weekly elders meetings and their calendars bulge with church events, counseling, trouble shooting, refereeing disagreements among church members, teaching, and much more. Understandably, some elders throw in the towel.

On the other hand, potential fresh recruits feel reluctant to step into church leadership roles. Sue and Jerry, for example, are thirty-something and realize that if their church has a future, people like them will have to shoulder more of the responsibility. Besides, they feel God’s tug on their hearts. “However,” they said, “We would love to become genuine, spiritual leaders – but the only elders we have watched seemed distant, mostly meeting behind oak doors, emerging only occasionally to hand down another edict. How do we learn something better?”

Ministers, too, face overwhelming expectations while being hampered by unworkable systems. Some dash into the fray with lots of heart and too few skills – and get demolished. Others with the skills, but not the heart, leave behind them a trail of trouble. Still others, with both the heart and the skills, are hamstrung by elders functioning as controlling “boards of directors” that have clung to antiquated ministry methods and whose leadership styles are learned from their business careers and not patterned after Jesus’ leadership style. Consequently, too many good ministers burn out or give up. Some become adversarial, get fired, and wind up with broken spirits and broken churches. Others plod on, but with little hope.

Jim, for example, is two years into his second pulpit ministry. The first one didn’t last three years. He is gifted, charming, and definitely not lazy. But something isn’t working for him. He calls an old preacher he knew from college days: “In my heart I want to be a different kind of preacher, a tender servant. My people deserve something better than what I am giving them. But I spent six years preparing to minister in a world that no longer exists.”

Paradoxically, while some elders and ministers are giving up, everywhere we turn these days Christian people are crying out for spiritual leadership. This irony further underscores the fact that the preparation and training for today’s church leaders must be raised to another level. Twenty-first century elders and ministers simply must be equipped with stout hearts and new skills.

The Opportunity

However, leadership problems and voids like those sketched above are only a small part of the picture. The big scene is actually loaded with good news. In reality, unfolding possibilities far outstrip current problems. I meet far more really effective elders and ministers these days than at any time in my 60-year-old memory. What is more, right now, armies of fresh “leadership recruits,” sensing both the urgency of God’s mission and the rapidly changing terrain of the playing field, are rising up in hot pursuit of the heart and skills to lead their churches into the 21st century in the way Jesus would want them led.

I could not be more hopeful about the future and would not choose any other time in history to be living than right now. I love elders and ministers and have spent over 40 years working in concert with both. And I don’t want to miss out on the good things God is doing in the days ahead either. In fact, over the past 15 years, like a number of my age peers in ministry, I have been called on increasingly by scores of ministers and numerous churches – as they sought encouragement, resources, and counsel in the midst of the new challenges of church leadership. This side line has become a consuming passion. I am now committed full-time to serve and encourage Christian leaders.

Across the years God has given me a network of friends among the most capable Christian leaders both inside and outside of Church of Christ circles. At this point in my life, with a phone call or two, I can tap world-class Christian leadership resource persons from a wide range of expertise. I want to help ministers and elders “log on” to such a network.

Of course, through 42 years of ministry, I have failed often, have humiliated myself repeatedly, and have at times felt hurt and betrayed. But God has sustained and taught. So now I sense a calling from God to cry with hurting leaders and help them find laughter again.

All this has led me to the birthing of Hope Network Ministries.

Purpose

The Mission of Hope Network Ministries is to coach and mentor visionary spiritual leaders and equip them with the heart and the skills to lead God’s church effectively into the 21st century.

The Strategy

A very important part of good ministry training is best accomplished in academic settings. A number of excellent graduate schools and seminaries currently supply this vital educational ingredient. However, academic training is only one piece of the pie. Much if not most of the training necessary for successful ministry in today’s environment comes on the job and is best accomplished through coaching and mentoring and equipping. However, few sources of such hands-on equipping are currently available, especially in our fellowship of autonomous congregations. So, precisely at this point of critical need Hope Network seeks to help fill a critical leadership training void.

Scripture clearly maps out surprisingly simple and doable models for spiritual leadership: Shepherding, Mentoring, and Equipping. (I explore these at length in my book They Smell Like Sheep, just released by Howard Publishing Company.) And Jesus – our example in all things – demonstrated these principles in their purest form. He addressed thousands, gathered hundreds, and commissioned seventy. But when it came down to his core ministry training, Jesus’ plan was simply Recruit twelve, Graduate eleven, and Focus on three!

Hope Network Ministries will seek to follow the ministry style of Jesus as he coached, mentored, and equipped his original cadre of visionary spiritual leaders.

To shape this out a bit more, think of Jesus’ strategy as a target: a bull’s eye surrounded by expanding concentric circles.

First, the bull’s eye:
Jesus zeroed in on 12 persons as the core of his ministry, introducing a deeply personal level of trust and a dynamic very different from his contact with the larger groups. This intimate circle became his near constant companions as he built into them both heart and skills for his misaion. Until Calvary, this was Jesus’ most important work. Following Jesus’ example, Hope Network will focus on a small circle of ministers to mentor and coach. I will pour my soul into them. The limited circle will be the heart of the ministry. A number of such circles are beginning to form in various regions of the country, taking several different formats.

Second concentric circle:
Jesus also worked with somewhat larger groups on a less intimate level. Example the 72 he sent on a special mission (Luke 10:1). The relationships of Hope Network will also go beyond the bull’s eye, touching an expanded, but still somewhat limited circle – by coaching and equipping select elder groups. At this writing, such ongoing relationships are forming with several transitional congregations and some proposed church plantings.

Third concentric circle:
God didn’t intend for “the leaders” to do it all. Jesus also attracted “about a hundred and twenty … who shared in this ministry” (see Acts 1:15-17). On a similar level, Hope Network will sometimes teach whole congregations through strategic seminars and in-depth retreats. In addition we will network with our Hope Family via newsletter.

Fourth concentric circle:
On a few occasions, Jesus spoke to huge crowds, reaching into the thousands. Occasionally Hope Network will seek to encourage large audiences at lectureships and conferences as well as through the writing of books and journal articles. We are also developing a Web-site swap-shop of ministry resources and cutting-edge thinking.

However, in keeping with the style of Jesus’ ministry, the heartbeat of Hope Network will be the small circles of coaching, mentoring and equipping relationships which lie at the core of all forms of Christian nurture. Jesus’ method has changed many lives, including mine, and has helped change the face of more than a few churches. As biblical models of spiritual leadership are being rediscovered, the “divine alchemy” of the Spirit is turning thousands of sheep into shepherds. As a result, the shepherding capabilities of the body of Christ are expanding exponentially – and so is the joy among spiritual leaders.

Core Values

Hope Network Ministries holds the following core values:

  1. The Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.
  2. The Kingdom rule of God – across all boundaries.
  3. The Restoration heritage and its ongoing growth and refinement.
  4. The conviction that lost people matter to God and he wants his churches to grow: spiritually, relationally, and numerically.
  5. The conviction that Evangelism is a process, which includes bringing people to Christ, to maturity in Christ, and to full use of their gifts in the body of Christ.
  6. The local church as the heartbeat of God’s action: an organism, not an organization; a community that nurtures faith; a disciple-building system; a mobilization base for evangelism.
  7. The conviction that every Christian is a minister and each ministers through a God-given spiritual gift.
  8. The conviction that Jesus is the Divine pattern for ministry training: He trained through mentoring relationships and mandated spiritual leaders to follow him and to “equip the saints to do the work of the ministry ….”
  9. The conviction that God’s plan for Spiritual Leadership is a critical factor in accomplishing His Mission: Jesus the “chief shepherd,” and servant leaders in the church as Shepherds, mentors, and equippers.

The Organization

Hope Network Ministries was legally incorporated in December 1996 with the State of Texas and the IRS as a non-profit ministry and is now up and running. It is led by a managing board of six directors, an advisory board of 18 visible and respected Christian leaders from across the continent, and 12 spiritual advisors who shepherd me in my role as founder and president of Hope Network Ministries.

All officers and board members are to be visionary and thoroughly Christian persons who understand and share the purpose of Hope Network, and who are held in good standing in the Christian community.

For further information on the various mentoring formats for ministers, elders and other leaders or for a description of available Workshops and Seminars, contact:

Hope Network Ministries
5343 Ridgedale
Dallas, Texas 75206

Telephone 214-874-0857,
Fax 214-874-0419

E-mail at hopenet@dhc.net or lynn@dhc.net

Wineskins Magazine

Lynn Anderson

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About...

Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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