In this episode, Stuart Kellogg and I discuss church leadership, my forthcoming book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, and even how church members can effectively talk to their pastor about some needed changes in their church. The episode is entitled Changing Focus: Measuring The Right Things and you can listen to it by clicking here. Stuart also provided a transcript of the entire interview—
Welcome to the post COVID church podcast with your host, Stuart Kellogg.
Stuart Kellogg 0:12
Thank you for joining us. You know, since The Post Covid Church project is all about helping churches…our mission statement is Helping the church share more of the good news in the face of hostility, persecution and disinterest….Well, that can’t be done unless we spend a lot of time talking about leadership. Today, you’ll hear from a leader who’s focusing on helping churches to quit focusing on numbers, and start focusing on what matters.
Craig T. Owens is a pastor of Calvary Assembly of God in Cedar Springs, Michigan, the northern part of that northern state. He’s also worked in a variety of leadership positions in the for profit and nonprofit worlds. It’s given him a great perspective on how to help The Post Covid Church regain its influence to, as we say, here, not just survive, but thrive. Craig is an accomplished blogger, podcaster and author. He’s also as I mentioned, a pastor. We’ll be talking about what he’s learned and shared in his book, Shepherd Leadership, The Metrics That Really Matter. Craig and his wife, Betsy have three children. Welcome, Craig to The Post Covid Church Podcast.
Craig T. Owens
Thanks, Stuart. It’s great to be here with you.
Let’s jump right into the tough stuff. You say way, way too many pastors are measuring the wrong things. Please explain.
Yeah, you know, where this really kind of I guess started for me was when I have some well-meaning friends that would ask me, “You know, how are things going in your church?” And almost before I can answer their follow up question that is in their mind, I guess gauging whether I’m actually doing well or not was, ‘How many are you running on Sunday morning?” And I used to just answer that question. But then after a while, I began to say, “Alright, well, what if I said, 300?” And I get see him get really excited. And then I say, “What if I said, 20.” And they began to look a little confused. And so I said, “Well, let me clarify, what if I said, 300 that only show up on Sunday morning? And that’s it? I don’t see anything else happening the rest of the week. But what if I said 20, that not only showed up on Sunday morning, but throughout the entire week, I see them engaged, living out their faith actively involved. So you know, which would you rather have?” And they’re like, “Well, the 20.” And so I said, “So then why are you asking me? How many is showing up on Sunday morning? That is that the number that really matters? So are we counting the right things that we measuring the right things?” And you know, I just don’t really see when we go through the New Testament, I don’t see like, you know, Paul saying to us, “Hey, your church will be successful. If you’re growing at 7.5% per year in your attendance.” That’s never been the biblical metric for success.
Well, is it because we’re in America, and that’s the American way, counting grow?
I think that’s part of it. And I think the other part and again, you know, when I wrote the book, I told my editor, I said, right up front, “Listen, check me on this, I don’t want to be on a soapbox sounding like I’m preaching at people, I want to help people.” And so I think a lot of this stuff, people were very well-intentioned. When we look at churches, and even parachurch nonprofit organizations, for the most part, the boards are made up of people from the corporate world. And so their natural mindset, the way that they think all of the time is in those quantifiable things that you can measure, they look at a bottom line, or they look at how many widgets or they look at, you know, they’re things that they can count. And so I think they’re well-intentioned, when they are then speaking to their pastor or the leader of their nonprofit organization and say, “Hey, show us what is how you’re being successful here.” And they’re almost forcing them to start counting things.
Well, to use your example, you’re still counting by saying we have 30 who are engaged. It’s just that you’re counting a different activity.
I use the words really, I’m looking for things that are more quality than I am quantity. I mean, quantity’s fine, but not by itself. You know, we could use the example of Philip in the book of Acts. He goes to Samaria and he is preaching there, people are getting saved. Demons are being cast out, people get healed. And then God takes him from there, out into the wilderness. And at first, it appears to Philip he doesn’t even have a mission. It’s just get on this road that goes to Gaza through the desert. If we’re in worldly standards, you know, we would say Philip looks like he really took a step backwards. He went from a church if you will a congregation of hundreds to go where? But perhaps it was that maybe Philip’s way of talking to that Ethiopian official was the one guy that was going to be able to help him connect.
Here’s what I’m reading in the Old Testament scripture and connect that to Jesus. And so we wouldn’t say that that was a step backwards. That was where God needed Philip to go. But, you know, I, I think that sometimes we just go, well, it’s got to it, things have to keep moving up. The dollars got to go up, the donors have to go up, the attendance has to go up. But toward what end? What are we trying to accomplish with that?
As the church re-gathers now, should leaders start by rethinking their mission, how to impact the culture and make disciples and from that, the numbers will follow?
Yes. So I think that, especially for leaders of churches, and this is why I called the book Shepherd Leadership, because when you think in terms of a shepherd and a flock, shepherds don’t reproduce more sheep. The role of the shepherd is to take the sheep to the place where there’s a healthy environment, help the sheep get healthy, so that they can reproduce. And so it’s not necessarily again about, “Okay, how many sheep do I have here?” Well, you might have a whole bunch of them, and they’re unhealthy. So it’s, how healthy are the sheep? If there’s, if there’s lots of them, great. I’m not, you know, again, I don’t mean to be preaching at somebody and saying, “You should never have a large church or a large organization.” That’s, that’s not it. I’m just saying we shouldn’t say I’m successful, because it’s big. We want it to be really God-honoring healthy sheep-producing sheep.
My guest, Craig T. Owens pastor, author, leadership, podcaster. And about to be published Shepherd Leadership, The Metrics That Really Matter.
George Barna, who has been studying the church for a generation plus, told me one big problem is that senior pastors get their jobs by being really good preachers and teachers, not because they’re great leaders. Do you agree? And if so, what should churches do?
Yeah, I totally agree. I’ve laughed with people about that before. I’m like, you know, we could spend like hours interviewing a potential pastor for a church. And really it comes down to how does he preach on Sunday? And so you’re like, “So you’re going to pick the way that he can speak publicly for 30 minutes?” Doesn’t necessarily, that’s not an indication of the the rest of the the week that he’s interacting with people.
You know, you had a previous guest on that was talking about in Ephesians, chapter four, that there are gifts that God gives to the church. And I paraphrase, so this will kind of dated but Dwight Eisenhower when he was President, he said, “If we ever think of the United States as one leader and 158 million followers, it wouldn’t be the United States.” I think the same thing in the church. If we think of it as just being one pastor, one minister, and then the rest of the congregation, t’s not really a healthy church.
I see myself as the shepherd. Yes, I minister to people, but my main goal, according to Ephesians, four, God, Jesus gave these gifts to the church to prepare the people to do the works of service, prepare them to minister. So really, my focus should be on, I want my whole congregation to be ministers. I don’t want them to just think of, “well, Craig Owens, is the minister here.” No, I’m not the minister. I’m one of the ministers. I might be the pastor the shepherd. But I’m not the only minister.
So that means giving up control, delegating and finding talent in the pews.
Absolutely. Because I, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do everything well. There are some things that the people say, you know, just stop doing that. It’s not very good. And so then there’s other people that God has equipped them and gifted them and say, “Boy, this is right in your strength zone.” This is how you’re going to be a key part of the body of Christ by using your gifts to minister this way.
How can lay leaders or members best take the initiative and help a pastor be a better shepherd leader if the pastor isn’t, or isn’t open to change?
Well, you know, that’s a tough one because I know that there are some pastors that have the mentality that they are the final authority in the church and they’re really not open to input from other people. So I have usually said to people, you know, they’re like, I think I need to leave my church or I want to help my pastor. Change something. And the bottom line is like for myself, I’m not going to change unless I want to change, if I’m open to wanting to change. And if I don’t have that kind of humility, or that posture, the words that other people speak aren’t going to do anything to me.
So I think that that has to be the first spot is that a senior pastor, any senior leader needs to be out among the people all the time and admit your mistakes, and let people know, “Hey, I was no good in this area. That’s why I’m reading this book, or why I’ve gotten a mentor.” Those kind of things will send the signals, “Hey, I’m teachable. I’m open, I’m willing to hear what other people have to say to me.” Or, as you mentioned, when a senior pastor gives up some of their authority when they take their hands off some things that sends a signal. So I’d say if somebody’s a leader, a lay leader in a church, and they’re not seeing those kind of things, I’d be really cautious about approaching because, you know, you might be stepping on some toes there. But if you hear those kind of statements coming from that pastor, that leader, then they probably are open to having further conversations.
What are some success stories you’ve seen at organizations you’ve consulted with?
Well, you know, I’ll tell you one of the organizations I just recently worked with, it was really eye-opening for me was, I was seeing it was a pregnancy Resource Center. And I saw this huge disconnect between the staff and the board. They were all friendly, they all got along, but you could just see that they weren’t on the same page. And as I just kind of sat back during one time, was just kind of observing. I realized that all of the board members, were all business owners.
And so I spoke to him like this. I said, “You know, in your business, if you made a $10,000 investment in your company to buy a new piece of equipment, or hire somebody or something like that, you would be looking at at the end of your fiscal year, at the bottom line financially, how did that affect us?” And you know, they all kind of agreed with that. So I said, “But now as a board member here, if you go out and raise $10,000, for this pregnancy Resource Center, they’re going to spend all $10,000 there’s not going to be any money left over at the end. But how many women that were abortion-minded? Might they have convinced to keep their child? What value would you put on that life that was saved?” And they just really kind of were all speechless. And so I said, “So that’s where I think that the disconnect is, is you guys are raising money. And then you’re expecting to see something that you can, like, ‘Oh, hey, look at the bottom line.’ And you might not see that, but you do see a life that was saved? And can you put a value on that? Of course, you can’t. It’s, it’s priceless.”
And, and that organization since that time, what’s been amazing, is that when the board went out and started their fundraising efforts, again, they were a now with this total mindset of saying to the staff, “What can we do as we raise this money, so that you can better get the message out to women who are in that crisis place.” And so it was just that little shift of thinking on their part. And then I watched Unity as that that staff in that board then got on the same page, and realize what it was that they were actually working for is not just you know, paying off a mortgage, or, you know, having nicer furniture in there, or that sort of thing. But it was creating a place where they could change people’s minds who were maybe leaning towards abortion to change the other way. So I think it’s never really been big changes. When I’ve consulted with people, it’s just dropping that one seed, how does it look? And then when people get it, because, as I said earlier, I think those board members, I think a lot of those people, everybody is well-intentioned. They just you just got to get maybe you’re speaking a slightly different accent. Let’s get everybody on the same page. And that’s what I love being able to do.
Well, would an analogy in the church be “Christ said the mission is making disciples. So everything we do should be focused on doing that. making disciples.”
Yeah, I think that, you know, like I joked with one church, they were like, “Hey, do you have any ideas how to grow the church?” And I said, “Well, define grow for me.” And they really couldn’t. So I said, I offered a very tongue-in-cheek suggestion I said, “You’re right here on the main road and you have a big marquee out front. So why don’t you put a sign up that says free $50 gift certificate for all first-time visitors, you should have the church packed on Sunday morning.” And they all were like, “No, no.” I said, “Oh, that’s not what you meant by grow. Okay, so now that we got that out of the way, you know, let’s focus: What does grow really mean?”
So even if it’s just one person, you know, can you move them to the next step in their leadership development, ultimately, having them become disciple makers themselves and raising up other disciple makers. That, that sounds like a better plan for grow than just, “let’s, you know, turn on the lights and do some really cool stuff that makes people come in and go, ooh, you have a lot of people there.” But are you moving them towards becoming disciple makers?
And a key part of what you’re talking about is communication.
Yes, absolutely. Yep.
Craig T. Owens has written Shepherd Leadership, The Metrics That Really Matter. Talk about how confident leaders can balance that confidence with humility.
I’ve really noticed that leaders tend to gravitate toward one pole or the other. The confident leader, you know, knows that God has a call on their life. I use a simple phrase, God chose me. So I would say, Okay, well, God’s the one who chose me. So I, I’m confident in that. But if that confidence is not balanced by humility, that leader can come across as so hard-charging, so focused on the goal that I think that sometimes people have a hard time approaching or getting around them for fear of, “Well, what if I get in the way am I am I going to get run over?” That would be I’d be the first to admit, that’s the way that I’m naturally wired. So I have to deliberately find ways to serve the servants, I have to find ways to do things that other people find distasteful. To do whatever that is, you know, certainly serving alongside the church custodians or, you know, you’re just you’re finding your ways to make sure that you’re sending again, that message to everybody else, “Hey, it’s not like I’ve arrived on some level. And these other tasks are beneath me.” Now, if Jesus, who in John chapter 13, it says that he knew that God had placed everything under his power. So John 13 opens with us seeing that Jesus is the most powerful person and he knew it, and his very next action is to stoop down and begin to wash feet.
Did he want to do that? I don’t, you know, that’s not a very pleasant task. But he delighted in being able to serve those people that were around him. And so I think that if you find yourself being that overly confident leader, you know that you tend towards that poll, you’re really going to have to make the extra effort to add humility, to your confidence.
You’re a blogger, podcaster writer, you’re also a pastor. What gives you the greatest joy as a senior pastor?
Well, that’s an easy one. I love when I can just sit back and just watch, especially like Sunday morning. I’ve often joked, like when we kind of have a greeting time, or whatever, and people are going around, even like, the start at the beginning, when people are arriving. If If I didn’t go up front, or send somebody up front and say, “Let’s start now”, they would just keep going all morning. And I just listen in, you know, here’s somebody over here talking about, yeah, I’ve got this medical concern. I’m not sure what’s going on. And a couple people say, well, let’s pray. You know, somebody said, I just got foot surgery coming up. Can we help get to the store to get groceries for you?
You know, I just those are the kinds of conversations that I overhear, or when we’re out in the community, just watching the way that, you know, totally on their own, I watched our youth group, organize a time where they all got garbage bags, and they just went around the school campus and just started picking up all the trash that was around the school campus. That’s the most thrilling thing for me as a pastor to just say, you know, there it is, in a real simple, tangible way. They’re exhibiting the love of Jesus. They’re saying, “This is our community. We didn’t make the mess. We’re more than happy to clean it up, clean it up.” You know, there’s somebody that’s in need, we don’t need to, you know, “Let’s call the church office and organize what we’re right here. Let’s just take care of it. We’ll get meals to that person. We’ll pray for him. We’ll take them to a doctor’s office.” You know what, whatever it is I that is the biggest thrill for me.
That sounds kind of biblical.
Yeah, just sounds like that Acts chapter 2, you know, when everybody’s together taking care of each other.
What a time for that to happen. Thanks for sharing. How can folks find out more about you your ministry and creative work?
craigtowens.com is my blog. Just about every day I’m blogging, devotional thoughts or books I’m reading or different things like that. There’s a separate page on there that talks about that book.
And then I’m more than happy to I love dialoguing with people. My email is real simple. It’s just email@example.com
The contact information will be in the transcript of this podcast. Just go to the website, www.thepostcovidchurch.com, click on the title, Changing Focus Measuring the Right Things. There it is. Thank you, Craig, for joining me today.
This is the 50th Post Covid Church episode. Thank you for taking part and listening. I’d love to hear from you. Ideas feedback, anything: firstname.lastname@example.org I mentioned the website www.thepostcovidchurch.com You can go there and find all the archive material from the last year. I so appreciate your support. I’m Stuart Kellogg.
Thank you for listening to The Post Covid Church Podcast. You can find much more at The Post Covid Church group on Facebook or on the website, http://www.thepostcovidchurch.com
“The proclamation that Jesus died for our sins so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life is not, in fact, what C.S. Lewis referred to as mere Christianity—Christianity at its most basic. Rather, I would say that this message, which offers as its primary hope forgiveness and eternal life, and which offers these to all who merely profess belief in Jesus—this gospel which is roundly proclaimed in perhaps the vast majority of churches throughout the land—should be referred to as near Christianity.
“The Good News that Jesus and the Apostles proclaimed is a message so comprehensive, so altogether new and radical, that it requires deep-seated, heart-felt repentance, complete surrender to the risen Christ, and whole-hearted belief leading to obedience in every area of life. It is the message of the Kingdom of God.
“Anything other than the Gospel of the Kingdom is not the Gospel at all, but a form of near Christianity that holds out promises germane to the Kingdom, prescribes means related to the Kingdom, but holds back on making the full vision and demands of the Kingdom clear to those who would enjoy the conditions of blessedness.
“Such a message obscures the magnitude of God’s grace, minimizes the scope of Christ’s achievement, fails to nurture believers in the full obligations of Kingdom citizenship, and holds out a lesser hope—mere forgiveness and eternal life, rather than the glory of the living God.
“Near Christianity, therefore, produces little in the way of Kingdom evidence in the lives and churches of those who embrace it.” —T.M. Moore, in The Gospel of the Kingdom
(Check out some other quotes from The Gospel of the Kingdom by clicking here.)
J. Oswald Sanders has given us a short but powerfully effective book for developing more Christlikeness in each and every Christian. Check out my full book review by clicking here.
“In a word, spiritual maturity is Christlikeness.”
“Christ set the standard in everything. He was never petulant, always calm; never rebellious, always obedient; never fearful, always courageous; never vacillating, always resolute; never pessimistic, always cheerful; never subtle, always sincere; never grasping, always generous; never acting from expediency, always from principle. He is the pattern of spiritual maturity.”
“So then our spiritual maturity or immaturity is seen in the manner in which we react to the changing circumstances of life. … It has to be learned. Is it not striking that it is recorded of Christ that ‘though He were a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation’ (Hebrews 5:8-9)? He alone was fully mature. The rest of us are ‘going on to maturity.’ In all of us there are some expressions of our personality in which we react immaturely instead of as mature men of God.”
“The highest manifestation of spiritual maturity is love. We are only as mature as we are mature in love.”
“God forbid that we should ever cease to love the gospel in its simplicity, but we must not be content to stay there. We must go on to appreciate increasingly the gospel in its profundity.”
“There is a place for a constructive contending for the faith. The church has degenerated sadly since Pentecostal days and the servant of the Lord has an important part to play in its revival.”
“It is possible to get to heaven without living a consecrated life, but the journey there will be barren and disappointing, since consecration is the doorway to undreamed-of joy. Neglect it, fail to seek it, and life will be greatly impoverished. Welcome it, and life becomes inexpressibly enriched.”
“When we dedicate our lives to God, He consecrate us to His service. We dedicate our lives to Him that He may work His will in us. He consecrates us to Himself that He might make us holy.”
“It has been suggested that in consecration we bring our lives to God as a blank sheet of paper with our names signed at the bottom. Confident of His love, we invite Him to fill in the details as He will.”
“It is a life separated to the glory of God. Inherent in the word ‘consecration’ is the idea of separateness. There must of necessity be separation from sin if there is to be separation to God. … The consecrated Christian hates evil, but he has a passion for the right and for the glory of God and Christ. He tests all his actions by the one standard, ‘Is this for the glory of God?’ He will do anything, suffer anything, if only God is glorified. Nothing is too costly to give to the Master.”
I’ve always enjoyed reading J. Oswald Sanders. Let me rephrase that: I enjoy the new insights on God’s Word that Sanders’ books have given me, but the confrontation of the Holy Spirit that comes while reading these books can be quite painful at times. Cultivation Of Christian Character is no exception!
In his opening words, Sanders explains the purpose of “this little volume” (as he calls it)—
“The genuine disciple of Christ earnestly desires a closer walk with God and a greater conformity to Christ. If these are absent, there is reason to doubt the genuineness of the discipleship. But many true lovers of the Lord are beset with a sense of inadequacy and failure in living the Christian life as it ought to be lived. They are very conscious with Paul that they have not already attained, neither are already perfect, but they yearn to know Christ better and to serve Him more worthily.”
There you have it in a nutshell: If you yearn to be more Christlike, and yet at the same time struggle with how far you still have to go to see the fruits of Christlikeness in your life, this is the book for you.
The chapters are short enough to read in just a few minutes. But the thought processes and the heart-searching that these short chapters will stimulate will undoubtedly take a long time to assimilate into your daily life. At least, this is the case for me.
None of J. Oswald Sanders’ books are long books, but all of his books live long inside of me. Dive into Cultivation of Christian Character with an attitude of ready submission to the Holy Spirit, and then watch the amazing fruitfulness and Christlikeness that will begin to blossom from your life.
I am a Moody Publishers book reviewer.
“It is the personal element that Christian discipleship needs to emphasize. ‘The gift without the Giver is bare.’ The call of this age is a call for a new discipleship, a new following of Jesus, more like the early, simple, apostolic Christianity when the disciples left all and literally followed the Master. Nothing but a discipleship of this kind can face the destructive selfishness of the age, with any hope of overcoming it. … But if our definition of being a Christian is simply to enjoy the privileges of worship, be generous at no expense to ourselves, have a good, easy time surrounded by pleasant friends and by comfortable things, live respectably, and at the same time avoid the world’s great stress of sin and trouble because it is too painful—if this is our definition of Christianity, then surely we are a long way from following the steps of Him who trod the way with tears of anguish for a lost humanity.” —Rev. Maxwell in Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps (emphasis mine)
This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.
Evidence Of Christian Maturity
One of the first evidences that anyone is a child of God is that he hates with a perfect hatred and seeks to live a holy, Christlike life. …
I bless God that I have learned to have very little respect for the vision of the man with the measuring line. When I see an angel with it, I am glad enough; but when I see a man with it, I tell him that he must give me a warrant from God and show me how he is to know the elect by any other method than that laid down by our Lord Jesus Christ: “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). …
He who truly grows in grace does not say, “Dear me! I can feel that I am growing; bless the Lord! Let’s sing a hymn. ‘I’m a-growing! I’m a-growing!’” I have often felt that I was growing smaller; I think that is very probable, and a good thing, too. If we are very great in our own estimation, it is because we have a number of cancers, or foul gatherings, that need to be lanced, so as to let out the bad matter that causes us to boast of our bigness.
From The Autobiography Of Charles Spurgeon
Some Dos and Don’ts for Christian growth:
This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.
“As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ So he arose and followed Him” [Matthew 9:9]. … I know another man, not named Matthew, but Charles, and the Lord said to him, “Follow Me,” and he also arose and followed Him. I do not know all that He saw when He looked upon me. I fear that He saw nothing in me but sin and evil and vanity, but I believe that He did say to Himself concerning me, “I see one to whom I can teach My truth, and who, when he gets ahold of it, will grip it fast and never let it go, and one who will not be afraid to speak it wherever he is.” So the Lord saw what use He could make of me. There is an adaptation in men, even while they are unconverted, that God has put into them for their future service. Luke was qualified to write his gospel because he had been a physician, and Matthew was qualified to write the particular gospel that he has left us because he had been a publican. There may be something about your habits of life, and about your constitution and your condition that will qualify you for some special niche in the church of God in the years to come. Oh, happy day, when Jesus shall look upon you and call you to follow Him! Happy day, when He did look upon some of us, and saw in us what His love meant to put there, that He might make of us vessels of mercy meet for the Master’s use!
From The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon
What was true of the apostle Matthew and Charles Spurgeon in past history is true of you today!
God has plans for you. He has implanted a combination of gifts, talents, and personality in you that is unique to anyone else on this planet. He did this because He foresaw how you could be of use in fulfilling His plans for His kingdom.
Listen! Do you hear Him calling? He is saying to YOU, “Follow Me.” Will you answer that call?
“‘And Jesus said unto them, strive to enter in at the straight gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able’ (Luke 13:24). Christ said His disciples were measuring by a wrong rule. ‘If following after sermons and testimonies and excitement were enough to save, heaven would already be full,’ He was saying. But do not sift the pure from the impure by such a coarse sieve. ‘Strive to enter—fight and wrestle, risk life and limb rather than fall short of heaven.’ … Almost anyone is willing to walk through heaven’s door if he never has to risk his pride in public or hazard his everyday interests by any inconvenience or opposition of the world.” —William Gurnall, in The Christian In Complete Armor