Scott Wilson, Steering through Chaos: Mapping a Clear Direction for Your Church in the Midst of Transition and Change (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010). $18.99, 224 pages.
By the time most churches choose to change, it is almost too late. They are in crisis and decline. They are experiencing opposition rather than momentum. Scott Wilson’s Steering through Chaos offers church leaders valuable insights about how to make changes while their churches are growing and experiencing momentum so that they experience greater levels of faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry.
Scott is a personal friend; senior pastor of The Oaks Fellowship in Dallas, Texas; and an ordained Assemblies of God minister. The insights he presents in this book are biblically grounded, organizationally savvy, field-tested, and passionately presented. I have read many books on church leadership and church growth. They apply best practices from the business world to the church world with real insight and effectiveness. Scott does so here as well, where appropriate. But he also offers this timely reminder:
Certainly, we can learn valuable lessons by looking at the way a business organization is operated and led, but ultimately we need to remember that Christ is the head of the universal church and of every local body of believers. The church doesn’t exist to make a pastor’s plans a reality; it exists to live out Christ’s vision for his body and for our community.
Scott’s big on a church carrying out Christ’s vision for the community. He writes, “Vision isn’t something I determine—it’s something I discover as I walk with God day after day.” Christ’s vision for the church keeps leaders from small-mindedness, but also from big-headedness. The problem is that pastors let their sight get focused on things other than the vision Christ has for their churches.
When pastors choose to focus on Christ’s vision for their churches, they are choosing to steer into chaos rather than out of it. Throughout this book, Scott reinforces the idea that choosing to make visionary changes in the way your church does things creates chaos, as people are required to change settled habits of doing things and embrace new strategies. This creates relational tension, which most pastors work hard to avoid, but which Scott counsels to embrace since they offer opportunities for growth and renewed commitment. Relationships are central to the ministry of the church. “People aren’t here to help me [the church’s leader] fulfill the vision. They are the vision!” Relational touch must be established before, during, and after chaos. And communication is central.
So is prayer. Scott’s book is one of the few books on church leadership I’ve read that includes an entire chapter on corporate prayer. But this practice flows directly from the belief that the church’s vision is Christ’s vision. It is through prayer that God inspires us to follow his vision for the church. And prayer is also helpful for bringing people together during times of relational tension. “Too often we avoid corporate prayer when we need it most: in times of tension and turmoil.” In both the chapter on prayer and the chapter on relationship, Scott teaches the concept of “cascades.” When we communicate, we ought to communicate with leadership, who communicate to followers in ever-widening circles of the organization. We should pray in the same way. Cascading communication and cascading prayer are two valuable tools Scott teaches.
I don’t want to do a chapter-by-chapter summary of Scott’s book, which has many excellent suggestions. But let me include two further items Scott writes about: celebration and coaching.
“Gratitude for what God has done and will do,” Scott writes, “should be a natural and normal part of our life and ministry.” Part of that gratitude is expressed in telling stories of what God is doing through the members of the church. Too often, church leaders don’t celebrate the small wins. Scott is leading The Oaks Fellowship toward creating a culture of storytelling in which testimonies and praise for others are a regular and important part of the church’s life.
Finally, coaching. Scott considers getting a life coach the most significant principle he teaches in the book. He writes: “Many pastors remain some of the most isolated and lonely people in the world.” As the former pastor of a small church, I myself know how those pastors feel. We also know what it’s like to be discouraged and to feel resourceless and burned out. A life coach can be, in Scott’s words: “an accurate mirror,” “a vision stretcher,” “a gifted strategist,” and “a trusted confidant.” No church leader, especially not the senior pastor, should be without a mentor. And those leaders in the church who are so gifted should be coaches.
I strongly recommend Steering through Chaos. It shows church leaders how to choose, communicate, and implement strategic change when momentum is at their backs rather than decline in their faces. And it does so by contextualizing good organizational practices in the framework of a vital spirituality.
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