Tony: Your book identifies where the Church is stuck in the United States. What can leaders do to get unstuck?
John: (Admit) First, we have to admit we are stuck. This is counter-cultural. Americans do not often admit weakness. That includes church leaders. But God’s people have weaknesses in Scripture, and God’s people still have weaknesses today. Scripture promises: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Sadly, pride keeps many of us from getting unstuck.
Tony: The first half of your book documents where many ministries are stuck. After admitting we are flawed, what’s next?
John: (Embrace) We have to identify our weaknesses, and the book is a diagnostic tool for this. Sometimes our weakness is obvious—a budget shortfall or shrinking attendance. Other times it’s less obvious—failure at discipleship or personal apathy. When the Apostle Paul found himself at a tipping point of weakness, he didn’t just identify his weakness. He embraced it. Paul declared, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses…for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses.”
Tony: What does it look like to embrace weakness?
John: (Invite) It looks like inviting God’s strength to invade right into the wound. The brilliance of Paul’s ministry was not that he had no weakness (what so many of us attempt), but that Paul’s weakness became the conduit for God’s strength. Paul’s entire ministry upshifted when he believed Christ’s promise that “my power is made perfect in weakness.” From that moment on, Paul’s success did not come from Paul’s strength. It came from his weakness—a conduit for God’s strength.
Tony: Your book guides leaders through that heart change. Then it follows with practical strategies for getting unstuck. What are some strategies?
John: (Do Less) There’s an old riddle about an 18-wheeler that drove under a low bridge and got stuck. The solution is to let the air out of the tires–to get the truck unstuck. We need to let go of the impossible expectations of the recent American church. Only then will we have the time to follow Paul’s example. The book spends about 120 pages unpacking solutions for discipleship, funding, evangelism, shepherding and so forth. But most of us cannot act on a “solution” until we unburden ourselves from unrealistic expectations.
Tony: What things should ministry leaders let go of to get unstuck?
John: (Do Basics) The research in The Great Evangelical Recession revealed that most churches are failing at basic discipleship, shepherding, and evangelism. And yet, church leaders are busier and more strained than ever. To get unstuck we have to prune the branches that sap us, but don’t bear fruit. In Acts 6 the apostles realized the busyness of ministry was keeping them from their basics—the Word of God and prayer. After hundreds of hours of research for the book, the conclusion of the data was: we need to get back to the basics of making disciples and depending on God.