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5 Unfair Criticisms People Levy at Strategic Church Leaders


If you’re a church leader who thinks strategically, you’re probably going to get criticized. Maybe even more than you ever dreamed.

For some reason, being strategic is often viewed as being unspiritual in the church. Why?

I mean, if you want the church to flounder, be unstrategic. Never use your mind, only use your heart. Never think, only feel.

Saying the church should never be strategic is like saying God wasn’t strategic when he designed the universe or even when he designed you. Everything was just random or emotional; God never invoked what we best understand as rational thought.

The truth is God showed incredible precision and unfathomable accuracy and detail when creating the galaxies.

If God created us to think, why do people criticize leaders who use their minds when leading?

It’s a real question. Talk to many Christians, and you’d think logic and strategy are the enemies of the faith. (Just read the comments scattered throughout the blog… you’ll see the mindset there.)

You know who pays the price for this?  Among others, the church. Because so often, churches are poorly led as a result.

To be fair, we’ve all probably met a few church leaders who were strategic but who showed little evidence of a profound and personal relationship with Jesus. That’s just wrong, and that’s not what this post is justifying.

You can be strategic and deeply devoted to Jesus. You can think and be faithful.

However, if you’re a strategic leader, get ready.

As soon as the conversation gets specific and detailed, some people start criticizing. Here’s what you need to be prepared to hear.

Just because these phrases sound spiritual doesn’t mean they’re always helpful. And just because they’re true doesn’t mean they should shut down intelligent, prayerful discussion.

But too often, they do, and the church pays a horrible price.

1. You’re not trusting God enough

So…  because I’m planning and thinking, I must not be trusting God?

Trusting God doesn’t mean “my half-baked idea is good enough for God.”

It doesn’t mean “let’s just do some ill-considered thing and hope it works out.”

Trust and strategy can be and should be inherently linked.

Trust isn’t blind, and strategy isn’t bullet-proof.

When they work together (like when Paul built the early church), incredible things can happen.

Will God do more than your strategy suggests he will? Absolutely.

When I look at everything God has done in my life and leadership, he’s out-delivered my strategy a thousand times over.  I’ve seen God work in me, through me and in spite of me again and again.

But I often find that leaders who have a (faithful, well-thought-out) strategy tend to do greater things in the Kingdom than leaders who don’t.

2. Just get back to the Gospel

Often when the conversation becomes highly strategic, someone around the table will say something like “Just get back to the Gospel.”

Should you get back to the Gospel?

Of course. In fact, root everything you do deeply in the Gospel and be faithful to it.

Strategy—when done well—is what gives flesh to the Gospel in your context.

I can hear the critics now… The Gospel doesn’t need flesh. It doesn’t need help. It doesn’t need anything. 

I get that…. but what are the critics really railing against?

I don’t think most can answer that.

And notice this: often the critics who speak the loudest are accomplishing little for the Gospel in their lives.

They’re not leading anyone. They may leave critical comments on a blog or write angry emails to church leaders, but who’s following them? (Other than maybe five people who write letters/leave comments with them?)

Who are they leading to Christ?

What are they building?

What seeds are they sowing other than seeds of dissension?

The spiritual gift of criticism is not a spiritual gift.

Do we need to get back to the Gospel? Absolutely. But the Gospel is as much about moving forward as it as about moving back.

So keep moving forward.

3. The scripture says….

Ah… scripture wars.

These are so hard.

When I was a young leader, I tried to justify all my actions with scripture.

But you know what? Often that’s exactly what people try to do when they keep quoting scripture verses: justify their actions.

And when you try to explain your position using a series of scripture verses, guess what someone who disagrees with you will do? The same thing.

And you end up with a scripture war.

I’m not sure that’s why God gave us the scriptures.

Again, every strategy you propose or adopt should be entirely consistent with Scripture and genuinely biblical, but too often Christians will try to use scriptural principles to attack preferences with which they disagree.

Often, strategy comes down to preference.

One person likes this kind of music; another prefers a different style.

Someone likes a more traditional architecture; someone else prefers something far more modern.

One group likes a church with programs running five nights a week; another prefers a simpler model.

I’m not sure scripture should be used to justify our preferences. Biblically, there is freedom on certain issues. And biblically, there is always love.

Sadly, too many strategic conversations go down in the flames of Scripture wars.

And when we do that, don’t we play right into the enemy’s hands? As shocking as it sounds, the scripture sometimes gets used as a weapon against God. (Satan tried this with Jesus.)

All we do as Christian leaders should be deeply biblical and scripturally sound.

It isn’t wise or helpful to use the Bible to beat each other up or shut down needed discussions.

4. The church is not a business, you know

You’re not a CEO, you know. And the church is not a business.

I’ve heard this many times.

Critics who say this are quite right—and very wrong.

The sentiment underneath this criticism suggests the church has nothing to learn from the business world.

Again, without getting into the scripture wars outlined above, you don’t have to read the scriptures very deeply before you encounter organizational leadership in the life of Moses (who couldn’t handle millions of people by himself), or David’s skillful building of a nation, or Jesus’ organization of his followers into a group of 70, 12, 3 and 1, or the early church’s reorganization after explosive initial growth.

As much as it makes some people wince, historical Christianity has always been about corporate strategy because it has always been corporate (from the Latin corpus as in body).  

Anyone who cares about people has to care about organizing people, reaching people and caring for people.

Sadly, the business world has become better at it in many cases than the church. Companies use advanced strategies to make something as shallow and fleeting as profit.

What if the church used that level of strategic thinking to reach people and make disciples?

Think about strategy when it comes to tackling one of the biggest obstacles facing churches today: breaking the 200 attendance mark. (I wrote about why 80% of churches never break that barrier here.)

Most churches fail to break the 200 attendance barrier but it has nothing to do with their…

DesireMost leaders I know want their church to reach more people.

A lack of prayerMany small church leaders are incredibly faithful in prayer.

LoveSome of the people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know.

Facility. Growth can start in the most unlikely places.

You know why most churches don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance?

You ready?

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

There’s a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket.

In a corner store, Mom and Pop run everything. Want to talk to the CEO? She’s stocking shelves. Want to see the director of marketing? He’s at the cash register.

Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you’re Mom and Pop and don’t want to grow.

But you can’t run a supermarket that way. You organize differently. You govern differently. There is a produce manager and there are people who only stock shelves. There’s a floor manager, shift manager, general manager and so much more.

That’s just one tiny example of how better thinking (things we can learn from the wider world) can transform the church’s mission today.

To say you don’t want to organize the body of Christ well is to say you don’t care about Christ’s body.

5. Just pray about it

We should absolutely pray about all of the decisions we make, organizationally and personally. I am full on for prayer.

But often in the context of a meeting, ‘just pray about it’ becomes the ultimate shut-down move.

“Just pray about it” translates to “let’s not make a decision.”

Or it means “let’s defer that… forever.”

Or, even worse, ‘just pray about it’ suggests that if you actually prayed about it, you would realize like all the spiritual people do that God would not approve.

Really? Just because something sounds spiritual doesn’t mean it’s from God. In fact, sometimes that’s the best way to shut down the mission of the church: make it sound spiritual, and then kill all forward momentum.

Should you pray about your decision? Absolutely.

But when you pray, remember that prayer and thought are not mutually incompatible.

In fact, they should go hand in hand. The best prayers bring your heart and your mind before God. They bring all of you and everything you’re dealing with before Christ.

So… by all means, pray about it. Pray about it deeply. Bring all of your plans before God.

But then act.

Don’t let people who say ‘just pray about it’ kill the mission of the very church God created.

Get Strategic About Yourself

Strategy in leadership is about more than just caring for the organization you lead. The real challenge is to care for yourself.

If you want practical help, my new book Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That Nobody Expects and Everyone Experiences  is tackles the seven core issues that take leaders out or cap their personal growth: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and the emptiness of success. The book provides strategies on how to combat each.

I wrote the book because no 18 year old sets out to be cynical, jaded and disconnected by age 35. Yet it happens all the time.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.


What Have You Heard?

I realize this post probably pushes the buttons of a lot of people in the church. I get that.

I’m just trying to move the needle on the church’s mission by pushing past some of the arguments that—as noble as they sound—aren’t actually helping anyone.

What are some objections to strategic thinking that you’ve heard?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

5 Unfair Criticisms People Levy at Strategic Church Leaders


  1. Mark Kohls on September 18, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    Carey, thanks for the thoughts. I probably fall into the category of the person who doesn’t have a following (or a few that show up in our little church) and I’d like to think of myself as having some strategic qualities, but I’ve been burned pretty good being on the wrong side of strategy. I’d love to see a blog post on how to employ strategy well (since you mention most leaders have this as a trait). Both the church and business have people as their greatest asset, but the church often fails treating people any different than business in the name of strategy. I wonder if there is a better way. I guess I’ll have to pray about that. 😉

  2. Samuel Fundiwa on September 16, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Am following all your leadership blog, and my life and the ministry am saving under is changing. For sure it is not all about prayer but also strategic planning. Profound and powerful teachings. Thank you so much Pastor.

  3. Susan Joy Daniel on September 16, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you Carey for an insightful post that challenges our thinking. We need to know what we do AND why we do it.

    If we are exalting & preaching Christ, using the gifs He has given then He will add the numbers. If He is going to add the numbers – we are going to need to ensure we have well trained shepherds (mentors, leaders) to ‘feed His sheep’. This requires strategic thinking & planning to ensure the shepherds are equipped to feed the new disciples well. We need to discern who has what gifts, given by God “to equip His people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12). Al if this means we honour Him when we use the gifts He gave us – for his ‘works of service’.

    Be blessed faithful pastors & leaders. Let’s do all we can to pursue unity, remembering we are His Bride. Remember to do all things: “With tender humility and quiet patience, always demonstrate gentleness and generous love toward one another, especially toward those who may try your patience.” Ephesians‬ ‭4:2‬ ‭TPT‬‬ Susan

  4. Jaiyeola Timothy on September 16, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you so much Carey. I have often find myself switching between becoming a strategic leader or just trusting that God will always show up.

    This blog has really helped a lot in stabilising me on a forward motion to becoming a strategic leader.

  5. Mike on September 16, 2018 at 7:38 am

    Hi Carey. Glad the book is doing so well. I have lost count how many times I have had the “the church is not a business” line thrown my way. For over fourteen years I led a church here is Australia where we did a four million dollar relocation and redevelopment project with no fundraising for the project by the congregation. Rather it was funded through an income stream that came from leasing land for commercial development. My motivation for driving such an idea was to ensure the focus of God’s people was the continuing ministry of Jesus.
    In Australia strategic thinkers are essential in the Chruch and they must be strong against those who have deep devotion to old ways that have stopped working long ago. In some cases congregations would rather have a lingering death than take up some radical idea brought by a creative strategist.
    I glad that despite the blindness and stubborn madness of some parts of the Church the work of God flows to other places where the ground is not so hard and barren.

  6. Elizabeth Wharton on April 7, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    Yes! Fantastically communicated, Carey. God is more brilliantly strategic than we can wrap our minds around.
    I love how you said, “Prayer and thought are not mutually incompatible.” We pray and allow God to guide our strategy. To neglect strategy would be to reject something in the very nature of God.
    Thank you for a great post on this.

  7. Sharyn White on April 4, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    I am participating in a leadership course here in Australia for emerging church leaders. As part of the course we have our leadership strengths identified through a survey. Of the 400+ students to complete the survey, only 9 have been identified as strong strategic thinkers/ implementers. It makes me wonder, did God simply create very few of us, or is church leadership not the place for us? I found your article very encouraging. Unfortunately, I went on to read the comments…

  8. PastorWayne on March 22, 2017 at 2:35 am

    You bring out some good points. However, some of your propositions have some fundamental flaws – partly because they don’t go deep enough and partly because they are not well enough founded on the truth of Scripture.
    For example, what is the purpose of businesses in this world? Their purpose, if they want to be successful, is to be profitable and make money. How do they make money? They market, they strategize, they cater to what their customers want, they design for growth to increase profits, etc.
    Is this really what the Church of Jesus Christ should be doing? I think Scripture reveals that the answer is, “No.”
    First, what is God’s definition of success? Is it more money, more people, larger buildings, programs which cater to people’s needs? No. God’s definition of success is to do His will (see Matthew 7:24-27). Now Christ is not only our supreme example, but anyone who is His disciple will be seeking to pattern his or her life after Christ, i.e. to do as He did. How did He implement God’s plan? He sought the Father’s will and NEVER DID ANYTHING OF HIS OWN INITIATIVE, but only what He was directed to do by His Father (John 5:20 – especially in the Amplified Bible; John 5:19; 6:38; 8:28; 12:49; 14:10). Indeed, He stated that there would be FEW, who actually enter through the narrow gate and travel the difficult way to eternal life (Matthew 7:13, 14).
    I have heard preachers and teachers, who point to the large increase to the Church in Acts 2 from 120 to 3,120. But this truly was only a few. It is estimated that there could have been as many as 3 million in Jerusalem at the time of the annual feasts at this time. This means that only 0.001 percent of the current population was added to the church. In my community of 27,000 that would be equivalent to 27 people being added to all the churches in the community, which would equal about 2 to 3 people per church.
    That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times of great growth within the Church of Jesus Christ. However, we must realize that there are times when, in God’s plan and working, there will be little to no growth within His Church in a particular geographical area or time slot. Isaiah 6 is a perfect example of this. Isaiah was cleansed by the coal from the altar and then heard God ask the question, “Who will go for us and who will we send?” Isaiah responded that he would go. Then he asked the Lord how long he was to preach and prophesy. The answer the Lord gave him was, “Until everything is destroyed and desolate in the land,” i.e. until His judgement was complete upon a rebellious people. In other words, no one was going to listen to Isaiah; no one was going to turn from their sins to the Lord. Talk about what people would consider unproductive, wasted effort. Had Isaiah employed the methods you espouse in this article, he might have gained more of a following, but been outside of God’s will, purpose, and design for those people at that time.
    What am I saying? Every community, nation, church, and individual is unique in its time period. Who knows better than God what is the best way to minister to that individual, community, church, or nation in a particular time period? No one, no matter how much they may strategize, etc.
    So, what is the methodology Christ’s Church is to use? Seek God until He speaks and/or directs as to what HIS WILL AND METHODOLOGY is, as Christ did from His Father. This means, not merely to pray, i.e. petition God, but also to wait upon Him until He speaks His will; pray, wait, knock, ask, and seek until He answers. I also do not mean that we do this with what to wear each day or what to eat (although He may direct some people in this way some of the time). We do not need to seek Him for what He’s already commanded us to do (live in the fruit of the Spirit, be witnesses of Christ, etc.). He has revealed how we are to live and minister in general principles in His Word. However, within one’s specific and unique situation, we should seek our Father’s direction. It has been my experience that often the Holy Spirit can speak the Father’s direction, in an instant, to my heart.
    Without getting into too much of a spiel on this, let me offer an example. At one church I pastored, they had no mid-week children’s program when I arrived. They asked for one to be implemented, so we went with a denominational program which had worked well in other communities and churches within the denomination. After 4 years, we had no more than 10-12 children in the program (now this was in a rural village of less than 1,000 where there were 16 churches in a 6 mile radius, The church in question never had more than 50 in Sunday morning attendance.). Our leaders were getting discouraged and asked me what to do (I also was one of the leaders). We shut the program down and spent the better part of a year seeking God and discussing what we were sensing as God’s direction. What resulted was an totally independent program at a different time, a different day, with what we had received from God regarding curriculum, program design, etc. The first year we had 35 children in attendance. By the third year we topped out and continued for years at about 75 (which was all the facilities could reasonably accommodate). God brought numerous leaders out of the woodwork, so that we had about 1 leader for every 6 – 8 children.
    What was the difference? Was it strategizing, marketing, or any of the other points made in the article above? No, it was seeking God for what only He knew and could give. This is what it means to be “workers together with God.”
    Even within the Church it is the HOLY SPIRIT who doles out the gifts AS HE WILLS (1 Corinthians 12:11) – not as we will or as we strategize.
    Does this mean that we don’t use the intelligence God gave us (which is one of the questions the author asks in the article above)? Once again, no. In the example I related above, there was a great deal of work once we received direction from the Lord for the quarterly curriculum. The leadership team brainstormed about which activities, crafts, programs, etc. we would employ to maximize the material we were teaching. Sometimes this resulted in a purposeful community service, such as cleaning the yard of a senior; or a special program put together for the parents to share what we’d learned; and dozens of other implementations of what God and His Word were teaching us – some only once, others several times.
    This was over 30 years ago and my wife and I still run into adults who were in the Bible Club as children and they speak of what it meant to them. There are at least two children from the ministry who went on to full time ministry, that I am aware of.
    God is the one with the plan; He is the CEO, if you like. Our part is to seek His direction until He gives it and then to do what He gives and directs. This often will require hard work, steps of faith for the impossible, and using the intelligence and wisdom He gives us. This, after a life-time of serving Him, is what I believe is the only way to do His work.
    While it requires a great deal of work and brain use, modeling after business models often is the wrong way to do things. While there may be visible results, are they the results God is wanting for your situation, community, or church? It has been my observation that much of what is touted as God’s blessing and growth is nothing more than man coming up with his own direction, philosophies, etc. and manipulating things to produce measurable results according to man’s measure of success.
    God’s work needs to be done God’s way – and He’s the only One who can direct it.
    Now, this does not preclude finding and using wisdom from the truths which the world may stumble across. For example, there have been studies on group dynamics and truths which have been discovered as to how large an effective group should be, how adding one more person to a group changes the dynamics, etc. and we can learn to use these truths in the furtherance of the work God gives us to do. But just because something worked or is working well in another community, church, or nation – or at another time in history – or works well in the industries of man, does not mean it will work where the Lord has placed us.
    May God help us to know and do His will where He places us. God bless.

    • Ben DiStefano on March 22, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Great reply. As I read it I actually think you may agree with Carey more than you think. One question — sincerely — I love the children’s ministry example, what did you do after you knew God was telling you to do something differently? How did you make your community aware, how did you pick the new day/time? How did you structure the format? How did you adjust staffing and building use for all the new people involved? That’s all strategy. First spirit led and then strategic in implementation. You were acting like the Men of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32). And you saw the fruit of it. You see, I’d use that as a great example of being strategic and spirit-led. That’s an awesome story.

      • PastorWayne on March 22, 2017 at 11:48 pm

        Thank you, Ben, for your input. As far as the questions you asked, we continued to look to God for direction for implementation. I felt led to get feedback from the parents of the children of the original group, thus leading us to change the day and time. The leadership sought God’s direction for format and we sensed an agreement or consensus from the Lord in the format – many of us having fairly extensive experience in children’s programs. The Lord brought in the staffing as we grew – about 1/3 to 1/2 from outside our congregation. The building use was decided at the beginning (don’t really remember how); we started with an open session of all the children in main sanctuary (which seated less than 100) where we sang which mostly tended to the theme of the story for the day/theme for the quarter; we then split with the older group going to the basement for crafts, games, etc. and the younger group remaining in the sanctuary for their Bible story and memory verse; we then switched groups for the activities. We had one leader to do the story and memory verse and another to lead the crafts or other activities in the basement (sometimes, especially for games, this was done outside on the lawn in nice weather). These main leaders were switched out periodically amongst those gifted for them. The rest of the leaders stayed with an assigned group of children throughout the program keeping discipline and helping with activities. I guess there was some stategizing, but we leaned very heavily upon the Lord and determined His will as we discussed and came to a consensus. As I recall, there rarely was any disagreement; one would suggest something and it would seem to be good to both the rest and the Spirit (as in Acts 13:1ff). It stands out to me as an example of how the church should work.
        So, yes, I can see some things which could be termed strategic – at least as much as we can see Christ and the Apostles being strategic in Scripture. But I emphasize again, that we actively sought for God’s leading, direction, and wisdom. Some of the “strategy” we were led to, without really recognizing the significance of such; some came out of previous experience we’d gained.
        In hindsight, as well as my decades of experience, ministry, and study of churches since, I still would say that I would rather err on the side of diligently seeking God for His strategy, than to rest upon my own resources, knowledge and experience to come up with what I think should be the best strategy. However, I am willing to concede that the Lord often can give strategy through experience and wisdom of living by the principles and truths found in Scripture. In other words, God’s will is given in His Word in general principles and also given in specific direction for our individual and unique situations. He has given us intellect to study, learn wisdom, and learn truth from other sources. I will concede that there are those, who through diligent study, have stumbled across truths (both found in Scripture and not in Scripture. For example, one principle I was taught in Bible College is that a student has not really learned until he/she has successfully done what was taught.).
        Thank you again for your input and a clarifying of the balance of being workers-together with God.

  9. Ben DiStefano on March 20, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Thanks Carey for your blog I think there are some really good insights here — reminds me of the men of Issachar “which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32)…”

    The scriptures are filled with examples of strategic leadership from both an OT and NT perspective. Leadership/staffing (Moses example, Jesus example, and Pauline instructions), strategic instructions for building the temple, going into battle, the taking of Jericho, Jesus sending out the 70, Jesus instructions in Luke/Acts pre-pentecost, and the church’s strategic blue print to assimilate and disciple 3,000+ new people (Acts 2:42ff).

    I do think it’s unfair to take modern day methodologies we don’t like and lay them upon the early church, using it as justification to disregard it for modern means. I don’t think there was a Christian rock band in the early church — but I think there were people who played their instruments with skill and did so in their modern context. I think Peter showed he could be a very motivational speaker, especially when empowered by the holy spirit. And so on, and so on.

    I don’t know … ahhh … why do we have to say hurtful things to each other about our different strategies. If you don’t like it … fine. Just don’t like it. But can we stop attacking each other and questioning each other’s motives? You don’t know me and I don’t know you. If your strategy is working for you — great, have at it. What do I care as long as Christ is preached. If you don’t like mine, fine, I don’t know you and I know I’m preaching Christ.

    But whatever … I liked the article Carey … thought provoking … and I liked the grocery store example because it makes think through management styles. How will I lead, what’s my vision for the way God created me to lead?

    So thanks, and if you’re ever coming through Erie, PA, I’ll get you another Starbucks gift card!
    -Ben DiStefano

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 20, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks Ben!

    • Rick Fulton on March 21, 2017 at 10:27 am


      If all you want is positive feedback when you post a blog or a comment then you should probably refrain from posting your opinions. Carey started out by saying criticism was going to happen. He called it unfair criticism, but I see it differently. After 30 years of doing it the way he suggests I realized I was not being true to my calling as a pastor. I was substituting my strategies for genuine disciple making principles laid out in God’s Word. The worst thing to happen to the western church was the adoption of the business model and implementation of business strategies. We have created a church that is a mile wide and a half inch deep. The examples you mentioned in your post were all Spirit led.

      Were they strategic? Absolutely. Were they of human origin? Not at all.

      Look at Gideon as an example. If he had acted strategically God’s power would never had been witnessed and a lot of Gideon’s soldiers would probably have been killed. Like I said in my original response, I apologize if I offended anyone, but I passionately believe the ideas promoted in this blog, however well intended, are completely wrong, and will not serve the church or God well in the long run.

      • Ben DiStefano on March 22, 2017 at 12:28 pm

        I never stated that all I wanted was positive feedback.

        But if you’re ever in the Erie, PA area I’d be glad to buy you lunch and discuss this further with you.

        • Rick Fulton on March 22, 2017 at 1:07 pm

          I can’t imagine ever travelling that far north again, but if perchance I should find myself in Erie, PA, I will definitely take you up on your offer.

      • PastorWayne on March 22, 2017 at 11:55 pm

        Thank you for stating in another form what I was attempting to say in my comments above. I’m glad the Lord led you out of the “normal” way of “doing church.” I am more in agreement with you, than with what’s presented in the blog. As I said earlier, Christ NEVER did anything from His own initiative, but relied upon His heavenly Father to reveal HIS strategy. If we are to be His disciples, then we are called to do the very same.

    • PastorWayne on March 22, 2017 at 11:50 pm

      I really like your reference to the men of Issachar. This is one of the most important things I think the church needs – to understand the times in which it lives. Thanks for the reminder.

      • Ben DiStefano on March 23, 2017 at 8:26 pm


    • Susan Shelko on March 23, 2017 at 5:35 am

      Quote: “What do I care as long as Christ is preached.”

      And what did Peter preach in Acts? Why he preached, “Find your happy. Do you want to be happy or do you want to be crappy? We think 50,000 thoughts each day, 80% of them negative. Change your thoughts, change your life. The choice is yours.” That’s from one mailing circular I received from a new church plant.

      Or maybe Peter preached, “It’s not you, really, it’s me …..”
      ….. but actually it is really you … passing the blame v. taking personal responsibility;
      ….. I’m a complete idiot … understanding the difference between confidence and cockiness;
      ….. and there is no we … knowing when it’s time to end a relationship;
      ….. I cannot commit … learning how to have growing committed relationships

      That’s right. Four inspirational Sundays. We can do relationships (or maybe not). Yep, I have the mailing circular for that church too. Or we can learn how to unclutter our lives. Awesome! Just what I need, HGTV tips. Or we can make analogies between types of candy and the Christian life. Very creative.

      Don’t forget to attach five scripture verses on Powerpoint from The Message (because that’s such an accurate and scholarly Bible. Not!) as window dressing — so we can pretend we are in church and speaking the gospel. When Christ returns, will he find faith on earth? I’m putting my money on, “No, he will not.”

      A remnant — that’s what Christ will find. Christ is preached? No, I don’t think so.

      • Rick Fulton on March 23, 2017 at 9:11 am

        To be fair, Ben did qualify his remarks with “as long as Christ is preached.” I have no doubt that this blog promotes preaching the Gospel, it is their strategies that I disagree with. I believe these strategies hamper true disciple-making and others believe they are just what is needed. Having been on both sides of that fence I believe they are dead wrong. However, I do not believe they are in favor of casting the Gospel aside.

        • Ben DiStefano on March 23, 2017 at 8:25 pm

          Bro … you had my back, haha. I’m definitely buying you a coffee here in Erie.

      • Ben DiStefano on March 23, 2017 at 8:25 pm

        The sentence you quoted from my reply I chose carefully because I was alluding to Philippians 1:18.

        You seem to have a very strong opinion about these types of churches. My personal practice is not to question their content (because I’m not in attendance) or their motives (I wasn’t in their planning meeting) but to be content knowing that I probably wouldn’t attend those churches either and let it be — hoping that they are at the least preaching Christ.

        I really liked your reference to Luke 18:8 “…However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” It’s one of my favorite verses. I don’t share your skepticism. I think Christ will find faith — perhaps not as abundant as we’d like. And the stories of Luke 18-19 show us the kind of faith he’s looking for.

        I’ll end by saying that I think it’s dangerous to judge from a distance (or a mailer) whether Christ is being preached. Let’s be in prayer for those churches we wouldn’t attend and pray the Spirit of God would move in the hearts of people and Christ would be lifted high.

        Thanks for your input.

  10. Susan Shelko on March 18, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Yep, I read in Acts that the first thing Peter and Paul and the other apostles did on the day of Pentecost was to rush out and hire the best Advertising and Marketing firm money could buy. (That would translate into today’s Growth Consultants.)

    Oh wait, never-mind …

    Yep, so on day one the fledgling Christians went from about 120 (a small group of fearful disciples) to 3000 plus (mega-church size) in a singe day because of (gulp) the Holy Spirit and Peter’s powerful preaching.

    And then many of these converts went on to die as martyrs for their beliefs …

    Where was the Christian rock band? Where was the motivational speaking/ life coach zany comedian pastor? Did I miss the Star Wars Apple watch give-away complete with Darth Vader and Princess Leigh at each service? (Seriously.)

    Can we spell “shallow” and “superficial” and “another gospel”? Of course we can.

    • PastorWayne on March 22, 2017 at 11:55 pm

      Well said, Susan.

  11. Ethan Noore on March 4, 2017 at 6:18 am

    I’m so over the slickly marketed churchy business/campus. Healthy natural Church growth is a paradox: Focus on discipleship, you’ll get numbers as a consequence. What you won’t get though is a huge church under a handful of guys at its top tiers. Discipleship raises leaders that usually break off and form their own fellowship that balances accountability, close relationships, and frees the Body of Christ to minister to itself and reach the lost as messengers, not lords over a massive laiety. Pastors who are focusing on ‘reaching as many people as possible’ –yet only for the fellowship they are directing, are treating the body as a kind of market good. They are not your numbers.

    • Rick Fulton on March 5, 2017 at 9:47 am

      Amen. I think it was Mike Breen who said, “If you make disciples you always get the church. If you make a church you don’t always get disciples.” Let’s focus on what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 28 and lose this obsession with marketing and selling the Gospel.

      • Ethan Noore on March 8, 2017 at 10:35 am

        A perfect epigram. Thanks for sharing Rick.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 5, 2017 at 10:43 am

      Ethan I hear your frustration, but I would encourage you to better study large churches. It’s rarely ever ‘one guy’ or a handful of top leaders. The depth of leadership and discipleship in many large churches is actually astounding when you probe deeper.

      • Ethan Noore on March 7, 2017 at 3:43 pm

        I have had quite a bit of exposure to large churches, 2 I have attended had over 10,000 each. My frustration is not an academic/exposure problem. This model is not anything like rare. Mars Hill, New Life Church Co Springs, Potter’s House, ect. This is what large church gov’t looks like. If Connexus is different, I’m interested to hear what your governance looks like. Your ‘about us’ lists 7 director-level positions for around 1200 people.

        • PastorWayne on March 23, 2017 at 12:00 am

          I would be interested in Carey responding to this request.

    • PastorWayne on March 22, 2017 at 11:59 pm

      Exactly, Ethan. The Church of Christ can only be built Christ’s way and the way He commanded His Apostles to do it – in the power and demonstration of the Spirit, as revealed in Scripture.

  12. Rick Fulton on February 22, 2017 at 10:40 am

    I have been a full time pastor for 39 years and I am a conservative, evangelical Christian. The last 7 years have been the most difficult of my ministry because I believed and was taught to believe the principles put forth in this blog. When I finally began to realize that all I was doing was perpetuating a broken and inadequate system of ministry I had to face a difficult choice. Should I go on trying to do ministry and teach others to do the same when I knew in my heart and mind that this is not what Jesus intended?

    These “unfair criticisms” you cite are nothing more than whining attempts to rationalize an incorrect way of doing things. I am especially appalled by #4. I would state without question or doubt that the church is not a business and that the church has NOTHING to learn from the business world, except what not to do.

    You should have spent more time explaining what the phrase “Strategic Church Leadership” means. You keep using that phrase. I don’t think it means what you think it means. And the words logic and strategic are not synonymous.

    We need to spend less time trying to strategize how to break the 200 barrier and more time being genuine Salt and Light in our communities. That will yield more lasting results and a healthier body.

    I wish I had known 40 years ago what I know today. That’s why blogs like this provoke such a passionate response in me. If my words offend, then please accept my apologies. I truly believe you are trying to do what’s best for the Kingdom, but I cannot agree with you. Not anymore.

    • George on February 24, 2017 at 10:33 am

      “We need to spend less time trying to strategize how to break the 200 barrier and more time being genuine Salt and Light in our communities. That will yield more lasting results and a healthier body.”


    • Evolution is a Hoax. on March 3, 2017 at 3:23 pm

      Its not either OR. I really liked the article being in Leadership on and off for the last 35 years myself in one capacity or another, its really a Hodge Podge of people trying to create a model that has a mass of people coming on Sunday.
      I think Ephesians 1 talks clearly as to the desire of God to make heaven and earth, male and female, Jew and gentile into one community where we will then marry God. The unifying of all things. Meaning we all have to get along,

      I don’t see what he said above as beating up the sheep but recognizing people will say things and have thought patterns to avoid change.

      As for the supermarket, I think to a degree people do come to a church to buy something or to obtain something and if you have no product or the place is unfit and the people treat you poorly, you will not come back. I have went to lots of supermarkets and ever returned. Nothing grabbed me. I still eat, I still buy clothes, I just don’t do it there.

      I trust that a person is showing some level of faith and desire when they enter the Church. So I should not beat them up or disrespect them. Why be rude to people. We should not behave rudely. Yet, a church can suffer because people leave if a few key people are morons. The Morons then stay and those who can easily find somewhere else to go Go.

      For example. Mens breakfast. I went, and the food was terrible. I brought the best part. Can a church actually say they are led by Christ if they serve crap? If the door of the church looks like a run down hostile OR the pastor doesn’t know to brush his teeth or has stomach problems and you have to stand a way from him, OR he is shy and doesn’t greet people, is unprepared so is doing last minute sermon prep, rather than loving the people in the very few minutes he will get with them each week. The list of dumb things going on easily make the experience uneventful or even distasteful. Love is about Strategy, working through problems, building community and making the place a place of Joy.

      I remember one time years back a board member said well, I am going to pray about it and then went off to the sanctuary after I told our district superintendent that the congregation treated our great pastor now retiring like garbage. We did not need to pray about it. We needed to act like christians and celebrate this mans long successful history as a pastor who was failing in health needing a break. But instead, there was no true love for people they got lazy and the carnal nature got the best of people. Sure maybe the pastor needed to engage people more to be more forgiving and kind, but he had only been there a couple few years, and some of those Jerks who where beating on him had been around for 30 years.

      So I do think we need to examine how we present, like a supermarket because we are selling something. In fact, Easter is around the corner, and its such a lovely event, but if those hired to organize, do nothing, and people don’t strategize and prepare, it will be uneventful. Way I see it Leaders lead, and cannot sit back and not organize. There is some sort of misconception that the church will magically have leadership and teachers etc. But it actually comes from hard work, building up others so they can become leaders, but most times stuff is thrown at someone, and the effort is Low. Its no wonder things fail.

      Unfortunately, this Easter, while I am preparing, i can see its going to be a wasted event. It could have been advertised, we could have Easter flowers for newcomers, even some special singing and all the bells and whistles to celebrate our Lord and what he has done for us. We could have had special invites, we could have done lots of things to make it a huge event. Why? because we should enjoy Christianity, and because we should celebrate and because we should invite others to hear the gospel on these sorts of days.

      Everyone is worried about putting in to much effort. Funny we studied those in the field, some worked all day and some only hrs and some only minutes but they all got the same reward. And some where upset.
      There is an enormous difference between a thousand and a million a million and a billion and a Billion and a trillion. Sort of like the difference between seconds of time and centuries. And Christ paid for our Salvation, and will be giving us Eternity, a span of time that is incomprehensible and yet we worry about what another gets paid. The fact remains, we will get paid, life for eternity, and the tiny bit any of us do will in no way pay even a portion of what we could owe for such a privilege. If our Churches are not taught to think about others, to be selfless and to treat others kindly, and to help dial it up a bit to get people in, which means thinking to some degree like a supermarket, presenting Love, Joy, Peace, Patience etc. as both the way to be and the way we are, then the people will not buy, and will go shopping somewhere else, where out of love someone painted the place, did the music greeted people at the door, pick them up from the nursing home, had good coffee etc. And when people see excellence because of Love for others, the church will grow. And that takes leadership and shepherding and Teaching and delegation and Love.

      Being others centered, will create a desire to build relationships, put up signs, make events to invite people too and magically the hamburgs will show up on the BBQ and there will be people to eat them. etc. etc. etc.

      • PastorWayne on March 23, 2017 at 12:19 am

        A good example of “people [coming] to a church to buy something” can be found in John, chapter 6. It starts with Jesus feeding the 5000. The middle finds these same people following Him to the other side of the sea. Christ then presents them with some difficult teaching they would not accept. It is followed by many disciples leaving Him and never following Him again (verse 66). The disciples left were so diminished, He asked the 12 apostles if they were going to leave as well. So much for offering people what they want.
        The truth of the matter is that NO ONE wants life in Christ, in and of themselves. Why would they? First it requires one to humble himself, fear God, cry out for mercy before a wrathful God, and turn from all they have loved in repentance; it requires one to die to himself (all he is and all he has), take up a cross, and follow Christ wherever He leads – even to suffering, persecution, and martyrdom.
        No one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him through the Word and the Spirit. No one can truly follow Christ unless he has been born-again according to John 3 – by the working of the Word and Spirit in bringing the person to true repentance, death to self, and faith in Christ.
        As far as behaving rudely, was it rude of Christ to turn to His right-hand disciple and call him, “Satan” and told him to get behind Him? Was it rude for Christ to call the Pharisees all kinds of names (vipers, hypocrites, etc.)?
        I suggest a careful reading and study of ALL of Scripture and not just the parts you like best or which appear to fit your philosophies.

        • Evolution is a Hoax. on March 23, 2017 at 12:34 am

          Christ did it, I agree. But I don’t know if he was as harsh to those interested as we might want to portray. Time and Time again we see Ministers being mouthy, not valuing people. That is not the character of Christ even if he was strait up about sins. A bruised read he would not break, and a smoking flax he would not quench. The fact is he washed peoples feet, was born in a barn and to those who betrayed and denied him and murdered him, He rose from the dead for them and then sought them out so he could reconcile with them and peter.

          If Jesus was totally caustic, no one would want him. Not even himself.
          Jesus the God who spans the heavens knowing all things had super power flow from him and he asked “who touched me” This shows that he had to speak so the crowd would be part of the narrative. The rudeness seen when Jesus said to those people, let the dead bury the deal was not a rude way, but part of a narrative bringing the light to a subject.

          Rude pastors empty churches.

    • PastorWayne on March 23, 2017 at 12:05 am

      Wow! It is comforting to me to see others that God has led into these truths. In the last 10 – 15 years, I have felt like I have been a lone prophet proclaiming these things. It is a reminder to me that Christ IS building HIS Church. I fully believe there is coming a day, when all these “strategies” will be swept away like a flood and the only thing left standing will be Christ’s Church doing it the way He designed and His Apostles implemented. Thanks for your contribution here.

  13. Mike on February 21, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    Great post Carey. Number 4 is definitely one I have leveled at the institution. Perhaps you can help with a question I’ve been mulling over the past several years.

    Is the church supposed to be different than the world? If so, how so?

    One thing I’ve sensed for a few years now is America’s obsession with busyness. Not sure if this is felt in Canada as well, but we Americans seem to have a hard time being quiet and still. We like big results. We like success.

    But what about just… being? Being a child of God. Being in relationship. Being in the moment just to enjoy the moment.

    One thing I’ve become a bit leary of in evangelicalism is the mission orientation. It seems to me that in evangelical churches the line of salvation is all that matters. That until a person says a “magic prayer” and confesses Jesus as savior they aren’t really a person. They’re just a project.

    But what if bringing the kingdom of God is different? What if just by letting the Christ’s living presence speak through my actions and character I am bringing the kingdom of God wherever I go and to whomever I meet? And to the degree that I can bring authenticity and transparency to a relationship that’s the degree the kingdom of God is experienced.

    I dunno. It could all be touchy-feely nonsense. I just know that from the deepest core of who I am I want to experience Jesus, not just read about him. And I’m not sure that an encounter with Jesus can be strategically planned.

  14. Marty Lewis on February 21, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Another awesome post, Carey. Lots to think about. Or should I say “go pray about” 😉

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