Stop Throwing Hail Marys


The American church is having a bit of an identity crisis. People want to be entertained, and they have a long list of expected religious goods and services. Pastors can find themselves caught up in having to create “cool plays” or throwing Hail Mary’s, hoping for the best — only to receive Monday-morning emails on how the church could “do better.” I watch so many pastors and church leaders fight hard for the kingdom, yet they are being pushed further and further back from the battle lines they started on.

It’s time to regroup. It’s time to get oriented. We need to strengthen leaders and churches. To be strong, we must be healthy. So what makes a healthy church?

  1. Clarity of vision. Most churches have vision and mission statements, but many are so generic that they prove useless. Why has God placed this church with this pastor in this part of this city or region at this time?
  2. Passionate service. Most churches treat tasks that need to be done as chores. Whether inside the church, community or internationally, service should set a fire of excitement.
  3. Systems that flow. I once had a plumber explain to me that my pool pump kept burning out because the pipes had too many twists and turns. It required 10 times the force to push the water through. If both hired and lay leaders don’t love their ministry, it is a sure-fire sign they will burn out over unnecessary structures.
  4. Humble leadership. Leaders who lead well ask not only tough questions of the organization, but tough questions of themselves. Additionally, these leaders not only love the vision God has called them to, they love the people God has given them even more.
  5. Truth and grace. Healthy church leaders have the tough conversations they need to have without fear. They don’t let potential negative feedback keep them from being courageous. At the same time, bold courage has to be born out of deep love and compassion. Healthy leaders don’t need to be liked or need to be viewed as right. They long for people to be healthy.

A healthy church, while enjoying what God is doing today, is actively advancing in preparation for what God is leading them to tomorrow. They are engaging in church planting and missions—both locally and globally—because they are more concerned about God’s kingdom than about what they gain. A healthy church is seeing people come to Christ on a regular basis and functioning according to its purpose and mission.

How does a church get healthy?

There are three things a church can do to become healthy and increase its ministry impact: Assessment, Coaching and Networking.

In order for your church to know where God wants it to go, the leadership must assess where the church is now. You can start by asking these four questions: What is working? What is stuck? What is missing? What is Confusing? The challenging part will be to come to grips with these answers and to have the courage to do something about it.

One of the most important ways a leader can be healthy is to find a coach. Coaching is biblical and seen throughout Scripture. From the beginning of Creation, God designed us to be in relationship, and coaching flows out of relationships. Ministry can be a lonely journey and each day brings new challenges. A coach can help you develop healthy rhythms in your life and help you succeed by providing spiritual guidance, accountability, skill development and prayer. I personally have benefited from having a coach in my life and have seen my ministry—and my church—stay healthy and grow over time because of it.

What about you? When was the last time you connected with other pastors? If it’s been a while, then it’s time to get connected with other leaders in ministry. To help accomplish this, every January pastors and church leaders gather at the Transform conference, designed to be a catalyst to encourage peer-to-peer relationships, learning and connections. Participants meet in small groups to discuss the topics that are important to them. I believe every leader needs a coach and every leader is a coach.

You have to start somewhere. I am confident that when you attend Transform, you will leave with practical tools and strong relationships enabling you to accomplish the mission God has called you to—with a group of experienced leaders behind you. You’ll be back on the battle lines, equipped to lead.


Bruce Hopler is the National Director of Church Strengthening for Converge, a movement of 1300 churches working to help people meet, know and follow Jesus by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. For over 165 years, Converge has helped churches bring life change to communities in the U.S. and around the world through church planting and multiplication, leadership training and global missions. Learn how you can join us.

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