Leading by Example

by Rick Richardson

(Editor’s note: This is the 8th of a 9-post series on non-negotiables for authentically leading a church towards being more evangelistic.) 


Rick Richardson, leading with the gospel, Wheaton College, Christian leadershipWe have found TWO big ideas about how to help congregations grow in outreach:

  1. The senior leader needs to be growing in having spiritual conversations with unchurched people in his or her everyday life, and helping the leaders of the congregation do the same.
  2. Every leader in the church needs to integrate outreach into what they are leading, and not just leave outreach to some special group or committee in the congregation.

To help senior leaders grow in leading their congregations into outreach impact, we have established senior pastor cohorts that meet monthly for a year for 2 1/2 hours each time. These times have become precious and valuable to the leaders involved, and have given them a model for how to spread a passion for outreach through the whole congregation. As we have met, we have learned one final critical piece: people NEED inspiration, instruction, accountability, and coaching every 30 days to keep outreach central in their lives and leadership. Otherwise, it just slips to the the side.

Every 30 days people need a chance to check with somebody else, talk about how they are doing in their personal outreach and in their leadership of outreach, and tell their personal stories of spiritual conversations. That one simple practice of accountability every 30 days, when pursued over time (minimum three years) can change the culture of your congregation and lead to more people coming into the kingdom through your congregation.

I want to share what Reece Whitehead, lead pastor of Willow Creek DuPage, shared about his participation:

It’s been three years since I was invited to join a local pastors cohort that was designed to help foster relationships among local church pastors and help us live and lead outreach better in each of our churches. We started every regular gathering by sharing our personal outreach temperature. (On a scale of 1-10, 1 was cold and not doing any outreach and 10 was white hot with many ongoing spiritual conversations.)

For the first several months, I played it safe and placed myself somewhere in the middle of the temperature scale, then quickly shifted my contribution to information about an initiative going on at Willow. Occasionally, I threw in a reference to a spiritual conversation I’d had with my neighbors, but most of the time, I was more comfortable focusing on activities at Willow.

Meanwhile, every other pastor seemed to be having great personal outreach encounters and sharing powerful stories about how Holy Spirit was using them. It was becoming evident to me that if I wanted to fit in with this group, something had to change—in me. I had fallen into the professional Christian trap. I was a pastor who was being paid to lead others in their personal outreach efforts while my schedule struggled to be around anybody who was far from God.

A year ago something changed.

In the pastor cohort meetings, I began regularly sharing how I had prayed for someone, or answered “who is God” questions from someone else. Then, I was asked to lead this group of non-Christians in prayer for a critically-ill family member. Three times a week I spent an hour with ten people who were far from God. As they asked me spiritual questions, my outreach temperature soared.

I next joined a fitness team at the local gym where I came into contact with the same ten people at the same place three times a week, leading to many opportunities for spiritual conversations. This became an ‘ah ha’ moment for me. When my outreach temperature moved from a 4 or 5 to an 8 or 10, things also heated up with my staff. Someone on my team has started a neighborhood coffee club, a guy in one of my ministries joined a garage band, and another began a sports team—all for the purpose of deliberately surrounding themselves with unbelievers.

So what about you? What have you done to deliberately place yourself in an environment where you can reflect God’s light to people who don’t know Him? We can only lead others into what we are living ourselves…
rick-richardsonRick Richardson (@reimaginer) is evangelism fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, professor at Wheaton College, and director of the MA in Evangelism and Leadership and the MA in Missional Church Movements degrees. Rick consults widely with churches on evangelism and healing and reconciliation for the emerging generation and on contemporary missional churches and missional movements.