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How a Mighty Church Falls

What it takes to prevent congregational decline.

Soon after I finished my theological education, I was asked to become pastor of a congregation in Southern Illinois. This was my first great awakening to the realities of pastoral leadership, and it was an uncomfortable experience.

The skills (or gifts) that led the congregation to invite me to be their spiritual leader were probably my enthusiasm, my preaching, and my apparent ability, even as a young man, to reach out to people and make them feel cared for.

The position description called for me to report to a board of deacons who, while well-intentioned, were not highly experienced in organizational leadership. It also said that I was responsible to lead a staff that consisted of a secretary, a Christian education assistant, two day-school teachers, a part-time choir director, and a janitor.

What it didn't say was that the congregation was seriously divided and disillusioned due to an acrimonious split in which the previous pastor had persuaded a hundred people to join him in leaving the ...

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