How to Lead Your Church When You Don’t Have All the Facts (Guest Blogger Donald E. Ross)

This is Dr. Donald E. Ross – one of Nelson’s Advanced Coaching Alumni, Renegade Pastor and Lead Pastor of Creekside Church in the Seattle, Washington Area – and I want to share with you some thoughts about an issue each of us faces in leadership… ambiguity:

Every leader wants clarity, and so do those following him when launching a new ministry initiative.  The truth is, nothing new ever starts out with complete clarity.  We all lead in ambiguity and confusion, at least initially.  New initiatives start out “formless” as you’ll read below.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light…”  Gen. 1:1-3

Even God’s initiatives start in ambiguity.  If God starts something new, and it’s formless, why would we think we could start a new ministry or outreach and have perfect clarity?

Everything new starts out messy, confusing and with high degrees of ambiguity. As a leader, we’re just going to have to get comfortable with that idea, or never start anything new.

I’m not saying we should leave a ministry in ambiguity or without direction, just that it starts that way.  We then need to do all we can to move from ambiguity to clarity, as God does in Genesis 1.

The reason being willing to start messy and without complete clarity is so important, is many leaders won’t launch an initiative without a precise process and outcome in mind.  This means nothing new happens, vision is not articulated and fear rules the day.

A follow up principle is that action forward will bring clarity.  Joshua 3 tells us the story of the priests carrying the ark and moving into the water of Jordan before it separated for Israel to cross.

Simply starting with your idea or initiative will give you some degree of precision.  Just get started and move forward and watch something new emerge as you solve problems and move towards your goal.

There is another kind of leader too, the kind who is always starting something new and moving forward without the fortitude to finish the process.  This leader leaves a host of unfinished projects in their wake, and other become reluctant to follow them.

That kind of leader is just as dangerous to a church as the kind who will never start anything new until every detail is worked out. Jesus talks to us in Luke 14 about counting the cost of a new project in advance, and deciding to follow through.

So there is a clear balance to leading a church into a new initiativePlan as much as you can, but don’t wait until every detail is clearly worked out.  Get the big picture and get comfortable with initial ambiguity; knowing clarity will come as you move forward.

Of course, all this presupposes you have actually talked with Jesus about your intuitive, so I guess the first question is simply, “Is this your idea or His?”  If you can’t answer that question, that’s a clue to the source of your lack of clarity… I’m just saying.

For information on the Turn-Around Church Coaching Network, see

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About Nelson Searcy

Nelson Searcy is an experienced church growth strategist, pastor, church planter and coach, consulting with churches around the world. As founder of Church Leader Insights and the Renegade Pastors Network, he has personally trained more than 3,500 church leaders in over 45 denominations through live events, seminars and monthly coaching. Nelson is also the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church, with locations across New York City and in Boca Raton, FL. Nelson and his church routinely appear on lists such as “The 50 Most Influential Churches” and “The 25 Most Innovative Leaders.” He is the author of over 100 church growth resources and 18+ books, including The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life, Ministry and The Difference Maker: Using Your Everyday Life for Eternal Impact, and At the Cross with the People Who Were There. He and his wife, Kelley, have one son, Alexander.

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