Strengthening Churches: Building a Better Body
I feel like before I ask you to read my article, I should introduce myself. My name is Barry Cole, and I have the incredible privilege of pastoring Aviano Baptist Church in Aviano, Italy. Also, this past October, I was blessed to begin service as the Strengthening Churches Core Strategy Director. Gary Preston did an amazing job of getting this core strategy off the ground. He and his wife Suzanne are now retired and living back in Colorado. We’re grateful for their service and pray that the Lord continues to use them mightily in this new context.
One of my hobbies is fitness. I won’t say I’m a “fitness buff” because that sounds like I really know what I’m doing. I don’t. But I do enjoy working out. And I’ve noticed that some of the elements necessary for a strong, healthy body are also necessary for a strong, healthy church.
Vision. Before you begin a workout program, you have a vision of what you want to accomplish. In fact, that vision is why you start working out in the first place. That’s one of the things a good vision does — answers the question of why we do what we do. When we focus on the why, it not only drives the what and the how questions, but it pushes us to keep going. God is a vision-casting God. And when He casts the vision, it is always God-sized—nothing we can accomplish on our own. His vision for Abraham in Genesis 12 and His vision for the church in Acts 1:8 are just two examples.
These God-sized visions were what drove both Abraham and the early church through the successes and through the challenges. In his book Visioneering, Andy Stanley said, “It is amazing what can be accomplished when we wait on God to lead us out. It is equally amazing the mess we can make of things when we charge out on our own.” The process we use in the IBC to help churches get a renewed sense of God’s vision is called ReFresh. As the name implies, it’s a process to help your church leadership reorient yourselves on why you do what you do and where God is leading you. I’ll put my contact information at the end of this article so if you are interested in ReFreshing your sense of God’s vision, let me know how Strengthening Churches can help.
Care and Feeding. Now certainly if you are going to achieve any kind of success while working out, you have to have proper rest and proper nutrition. When I was younger, a friend and I decided we were going to hit the weights hard and really bulk up. If you know me, you would never have guessed that. Skinny and scrawny define me physically better than muscular and bulky. What happened? In my case, it was improper care and feeding. I pushed and pushed and didn’t rest enough, and my diet was atrocious. Not a good combination. Proper care and feeding is necessary for churches, too. God has called pastors to do that for the congregation (1 Peter 5:2). But who does it for the pastor? Most of us have heard the quote, “A healthy church begins with healthy church leaders.” That’s not a cliché—it’s reality. This year, we’ve formed a team of pastors to reach out to fellow IBC pastors to celebrate victories with you and pray with you for challenges. Pastor, if we haven’t contacted you yet, we will soon.
Help to come alongside. There’s another reason I didn’t make any progress in the gym all those years ago. It’s because I was a 21-year-old with a bunch of passion but no clue as to what I was doing. I imagine I might have been so much more effective if I’d just asked for help once in a while. I’m not suggesting that you don’t know what you’re doing in your ministry. But let me let you in on a little secret — everyone needs help now and again. And here’s another one — it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for it; it’s actually a sign of wisdom. Timothy had Paul to do this for him. Elisha had Elijah. Joshua had Moses. The role of Strengthening Churches is come alongside churches who need help with strategic planning or conflict management or who just need some encouragement. That’s a wide net to cast, but if you (church leader) or your church are struggling and you need someone to come alongside you, that’s what we’re here for.
I think we all recognize that God doesn’t need us to accomplish His mission. And that’s what makes it so special that He allows us to serve. The Strengthening Churches Core Strategy is here to help churches serve Him in the best way possible. I promised my contact info and here is it. If you want to start a conversation about how you can make your ministry stronger, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. God bless you and the work you do for His kingdom.
by Barry Cole
Director of Church Strengthening and Pastor, Aviano Baptist Church, Italy