Give Up to Go Up


"You have to give up to go up." I first heard John Maxwell say this in 1993 in a small leadership conference in Anderson, Indiana. Now 25 years later, I couldn’t agree more.

Many of you are pastors, the top dog in your church. You’ve either started the church from scratch, or you’ve come into an existing ministry. You want your church to grow. You may be looking for ideas to give your church a jumpstart.

Or perhaps you’ve implemented changes, and the church is starting to grow. Now you want to take it to the next level.

Here’s a startling fact: Many of the things you do to help a small church grow are the very things that will eventually kill the church if you continue doing them. That’s right. A senior pastor who wants nothing more than to see the church grow could, in fact, single-handedly kill its growth.

The entrepreneurial, challenge-driven, adrenaline-addicted personality of the start-up leader will sometimes drive away the very leaders he or she recruited after establishing and growing the organization. That’s because these kinds of leaders often won’t give up to go up. They hang on too tightly to the non-essentials.

For the past four years, I’ve worked with hundreds of church leaders around north America. I’ve met with leaders of churches in decline, and leaders of churches that have grown into the thousands in just a few short years. One thing I’ve noticed—the best leaders continually decide to give up stuff they love in order to release the church for growth. It’s not a “once and for all” decision. You have to decide this again and again, week after week, year after year. In my experience as an Executive Pastor, I also had to learn to give up to go up, as the church grew from 250 in one location to more than 5,000 with multiple locations and ministries.

Here are some of the things you’ll have to give up in order to release your church to grow:

Give up doing to go up to leading. When a church is starting, the pastor does everything. If a pastor continues to hang on to tasks and fails to empower others, growth will be stifled.

Give up meeting with everyone to go up to priority-based relationships. A pastor of a small church has time for everyone. As the church grows, the pastor must be more selective. When the church is very large, the pastor should be spending all of his or her time with staff and top volunteer leaders.

Give up going it alone to go up to team-based leadership. Doing tasks by yourself is usually easier. To give up a lone-ranger mentality, you have to believe in your heart that a team is stronger than the sum of its parts.

Give up pet projects to go up to valued-added ministry. A founding pastor may have gifts in graphic design and love to create the weekly bulletin. But as the church grows, he or she will have to give it up so they can focus on doing the things only they could do. When our church was small, I used to run the sound board. I did it well, and it fed my inner geek. But I eventually gave it up to focus on what only I could do.

Give up micro details to go up to the macro vision. If you focus on the logo for the middle school ministry, the font on the men’s ministry brochure, and the way the receptionist answers the phone, you’ll go crazy. Use your leadership to keep the church focused on the goal. Continually recast vision for the mission.

Give up tight control to go up to empowering your leaders. If you point out everything you don’t like, you’ll create a team of people who are afraid to make a move without running it by you first. Then you’ll have a bottle-necked organization that can’t possibly sustain growth for the long haul. Constantly ask yourself, “Is this mission critical?” If not, leave it alone.

Give up personal preferences to go up to sustainable ministry. You don’t have to like everyone on the team. You don’t have to personally endorse every method used in every ministry of the church. Getting stuck on the unessential nuances of every ministry will make you a negative, fault-finding individual, and people won’t want to be on your team. If you concentrate on the church’s values and finding leaders you trust, you’ll create a ministry that will outlast you.

Too many pastors can’t give up to go up. They hang on to too much, their people aren't making disciples, and they can’t figure out why. In other cases, pastors of big churches have hired staffs of automatons because the pastor still micromanages everything. Their churches continue to grow, but the growth won’t be sustainable when the leaders leave. These are not prevailing churches. They’re personality-driven inspiration stations.

I encourage you to give up to go up. Build a church around God’s purposes, not around your preferences or personality.

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