1. Overview. In a nutshell, tell us about your church. What was it like when you came? What is happening now?
Sherwood was a traditional, legalistic, Southern Baptist church that ministered primarily in the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods in Northwest Albany. We owned 6 acres of land on the main campus and another 8 at our Christian school. Today, we draw people from 30 surrounding communities and 13 nations, and we own 120 acres on three campuses.
2. Victories. What were 2 or 3 real moments of victory for you?
When we broke out of legalism. In fact, as I tell in my book Prepare for Rain we had a backdoor revival. Over the course of a few years, we had three major “exoduses” from Sherwood. We never had a church fight or a business meeting–folks just decided they didn’t like the changes. It wasn’t easy. The reality was, if we were going to stay a legalistic, lily white church in a community with the majority of residents African American, we were going to die.
Another breakthrough was when we started our annual ReFRESH Conference (www.refreshconference.org) and God began to bring winds of revival in our midst.
Obviously the movie ministry at Sherwood opened doors we would have never imagined.
3. Failures. We learn from these. Tell us what didn’t work.
One failure was taking too long to deal with staff that weren’t carrying their weight or living up to expectations. I let a couple of staff members stay around when their ministries were dying, they weren’t motivated, and they were pulling the rest of the team down. I learned it’s easier to cut the dog’s tail off one time than to keep trying to cut it an inch at a time. Not everyone is going to take the trip with you. Some staff left shooting over their shoulder, which always creates confusion. We survived it but it took a while.
4. Learnings. What have been some of your big ones. What you have learned along the way?
- Learning you can’t orchestrate the Holy Spirit. He will not be manipulated. Walking by faith means it’s not going to happen the way you want it to happen, but the way God wants it to happen.
- Trusting God with the invitation. It’s not my responsibility to get people to make decisions. It’s my responsibility to clearly teach the Word of God and call people to the altar. After that, if they refuse to repent or respond, it’s their responsibility.
- Calling staff and making sure their wives are on board. A staff wife can kill a man’s ministry and kill a church. They need to be fully engaged in prayerfully supporting their husband. It’s sad but true, 95% of my problems have been staff related, not laity or deacons. The great news is that we’ve had a stable, solid staff for ten years. Longevity is a key component to growing a church.
5. What most pastors need to know? What are the take aways? What can we learn from your story?
Preach the Word. We are trying to be too cute. The Bible is the most cutting edge book ever written. We are caught up, too often, in our technology – and trust me we use technology here – but it’s the Word, the Truth, that turns people’s hearts. What you reach them with, you keep them with.
Bathe the ministry in prayer. If a church doesn’t have a prayer ministry (I mean more than praying over those in the hospital on Wednesday nights), it’s not going to be pleasing to God or powerful. The ingredient I see lacking in the overwhelming majority of churches is a vibrant intercessory prayer ministry.
Promote your Sunday School. That’s where folks connect. I’ve served with pastors who only talked about worship. The church will have a lid on it if you don’t talk about the importance of getting connected in a small group or Sunday School class. That’s where they stick and find relationships that last. That’s where accountability comes in.
Don’t give up on Sunday nights. Make them powerful, not a rehash of Sunday morning. I’d rather preach Sunday night than Sunday morning. It’s where I can speak to the heart of the church. Our greatest services have been Sunday nights. We will have 60% of our Sunday morning crowd back at night. Why? We tell folks it’s important. Remember this, never move a fence until you find out why it’s there. Once you move it, it’s hard to put it back up. Once you cancel something, it will be almost impossible to start it up again.
Don’t be afraid to talk about money. Promote the offering. Take love offerings. Expect people to give. Show them you are giving by putting something in the plate every Sunday, even if it’s a couple of dollars.
Don’t be caught in the snare of the “fear of man.” Too many preachers and ministers are disobeying God because they are more worried about job security than pleasing God. The fear of man will take the joy out of your ministry and ultimately cause you to have no ministry. You’ll just be a hireling.