I attended a few weeks ago Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit at Wieuca Road Baptist Church, a satellite host site for the summit in Atlanta.
The unofficial motto of the summit is Bill Hybel’s repeated reminder that “everyone wins when a leader gets better.”
That’s the goal of the summit: to make leaders – and particularly Christian leaders – better at what they do.
This year’s theme was “A Grander Vision.” As the challenges we face get bigger and as the rate of change around us continues to accelerate, it takes big vision and big courage to keep up.
One of the things I wrestle with almost daily is how the church can adapt to rapidly changing cultural and social contexts.
What I sometimes forget, though, is that it’s not just the church that’s having to adapt.
Everyone – every institution and every individual from every walk of life – is having to adapt to the pace of change, too.
That means that all who attend our churches are consciously or unconsciously struggling to figure out how to best face a new reality that bears increasingly little resemblance to our collective pasts.
The church, in general, has been reluctant to embrace new vision at the speed necessary to keep up with the shifting culture, and we’re seeing rapid church decline as the inevitable result.
The church is, by its nature, rooted in tradition so it makes sense that we might have trouble with change, but that shouldn’t be the case.
The church was founded as a change-driven institution. Our job is to produce change on a grand scale.
We serve a God whose vision for what this world can become couldn’t be grander and whose ability to help us navigate the change required to turn that vision into reality is unrivaled.
At the summit last week, Hybels identified five qualities that will help our churches lead in the service of our God-given grander visions.
1. Churches need grit.
We need to be people willing to face challenges head on and stick with it until we’ve overcome them. Big dreams don’t get accomplished if we abandon them at the first sign of conflict or after the first attempt fails.
2. Churches need to be self-aware.
Congregations need to recognize how their communities perceive them and must work to overcome negative or inaccurate perceptions. We also need to work to improve when self-reflection reveals our shortcomings.
But, most important, self-awareness means recognizing that God has uniquely gifted the local church with the capacity to change the world.
3. Churches need resourcefulness.
We need to be able to work beyond the limitations that have become hallmark characteristics of the church today.
These congregations are strategic in their use of people power and financial resources and improvise when those resources fall short.
These churches are solution-oriented and thrive on their ability to live beyond excuses.
They remember that we have the power and promise of God on our side. When things look tough or even impossible, we should all remember that.
4. Congregations that are successfully embracing grander visions are characterized by self-sacrificing love – love for each other, love for the community and love for the mission.
These churches are made up of people who put the preferences of others ahead of their own and who put the needs of their communities ahead of their own comfort.
They understand that the church exists in service to a mission – a grander vision – and they make personal sacrifices to support that vision.
5. Churches that embrace grander visions do so out of a well-developed sense of meaning.
With a clear sense of purpose and a clear identity, churches are free to live fully into the vision God has given them.
Clarity of meaning and purpose are energizing forces. When that energy is combined with the energy of a God-sized vision for what the future looks like, then churches begin to approach the potential that Christ envisioned when he established the church as God’s kingdom-building institution more than 2,000 years ago.
Whatever challenges we face today, Christians must remember that the kingdom of God is at hand, and nothing can stop its progress.
Matt Sapp is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Fellowship in Canton, Georgia. A version of this article first appeared on Heritage’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @MattPSapp.
Matt Sapp is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia.