Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders’s Craig Groeschel on the risks and rewards of pastoral transparency.
Compiled by Sean Fowlds

Craig Groeschel has no secrets ... well, maybe a few. Groeschel founded in Edmond, Oklahoma in 1996 as one of the nation's first multi-campus churches. Today the ministry offers 40 weekly worship experiences at nine different locations. But, whereas many pastors of large churches become more secretive and inaccessible with success, Groeschel decided to reverse this trend (at least for himself) with his jarringly transparent Confessions of a Pastor.

A gifted and creative communicator, Groeschel bares his soul about personal and professional challenges. A mixture of Groeschel's confessions serve as the chapter headings of his book. Among his confessions: "I can't stand a lot of Christians," "I hate prayer meetings," "I worry almost all the time," and "Sometimes I doubt God."

We caught up with Groeschel amid a hectic schedule of media appearances related to, a confessional Web site launched in the summer.

Ministry Today: You write about being mentored by someone who advocated sustaining the "pastor's mystique." Isn't there something to be said for not airing all your issues lest your people lose respect for your calling?

Groeschel: Absolutely. You can share too much. One pastor confessed to his church his struggle with lust. In a sermon he actually told his listeners that he might even be having lustful thoughts about some of them at that very moment. Too much information! Church members need to see pastors as real people, struggling to surrender daily to Christ. By all means take risks, but take calculated ones. Ask yourself what your motivation is to share. Are you being selfish (for example, you want to relieve yourself of loneliness or guilt)? Or is what you're saying spiritually useful to those you serve?

Ministry Today: So, what are some of the practical implications of this?

Groeschel: I know many pastors who encourage small groups in their churches yet don't participate themselves. But Jesus spent "down-time" with the very people He was leading. Genuine relationships don't happen without transparency. And transparency means risk.

I'm not recommending that pastors should be saying everything we're thinking (if I did that, I'd probably lose my job). But without pouring our hearts into one another, we isolate ourselves and dry up spiritually. And we can end up on the slippery slope toward hypocrisy.

Ministry Today: Ministry seems to naturally cultivate the tendency toward inauthenticity. So, how do you "keep it real"—in spite of what your congregation may think?

Groeschel: No matter what I do, some people (maybe a lot of people) won't like me. For too many years, I lived to please people and meet their expectations, which of course is impossible. My goal—one I don't always achieve, by the way—is to be who God created me to be. Anything less is hypocrisy and compromises the integrity of my ministry.

Ministry Today: Can feelings of inadequacy actually enhance ministry?

Groeschel: I don't know any pastor (especially me) who is an adequate leader for our pastoral role. That's why we need to learn to depend completely on God. Fears of inadequacy are normal. Talking about them openly, with deliberate intention, can be powerful.

I regularly confess to our church that I get nervous before I speak, and that I feel completely inadequate to do this job. That humanizes me, both to them and to myself. I've experienced other times when I didn't know if I could continue in ministry.

This wasn't something I talked about while preaching. It would've been too much for the average church member to bear. Although we should invite people to know us as real people following Christ, we should also consciously avoid undermining their confidence in our ability to lead them to Him.

Ministry Today: You mention the importance of a personal accountability partner.

Groeschel: My accountability partner is someone I knew before I was deeply engaged in public ministry. This has been helpful because he knows me as regular Craig, not Pastor Craig.

To me, finding a true accountability partner ranks close to finding your spouse. It's a prayerful, intentional pursuit of a lifelong friendship, whose ongoing purpose is to make you more like Jesus. It's not a breakfast with three other people shooting the breeze. It's gut-level, here's-where-I-am, not-holding-anything-back transparency. It may be scary, but I've discovered that, for me, it's a matter of survival.

Ministry Today: What about the pitfalls of baring your soul to someone other than your spouse?

Groeschel: It is risky to bare your soul to someone besides your spouse—especially for a pastor. However, in my opinion, the dangers of isolating yourself, carrying your own burdens and secrets, are far greater.

Honestly, I didn't bare my soul in the early stages of my accountability friendship. In the past I had been significantly betrayed by someone I trusted completely. That experience inclined me never to trust again. Thankfully, I eventually overcame that pain and reached out again.

Ministry Today: has gotten a lot of media attention. But some questioned the benefit of anonymous confesssion.

Groeschel: Our intention has always been to encourage visitors to to approach others' confessions prayerfully, not use them as a voyeuristic experience. Also, we've never suggested that confessing anonymously to a computer has special powers.

Directing our confessions into a prayer toward God and His people is what changes lives. But think how many never go there. For them, writing a private confession for millions to read can be a first step—a huge one, as it turns out—and one they might never otherwise take.
Sean Fowlds

Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community
Authors: Ed Stetzer & David Putman
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
File Under: Evangelism
Executive Summary:
In their book, Breaking the Missional Code, Ed Stetzer and David Putman offer a strategy for today's churches to identify and accept their calling. Guiding leaders toward "breaking the code," they present practical strategies for entering the community outside the church walls.

Stetzer and Putman maintain that for the code to be broken leaders must recognize cultural and spiritual barriers that hinder God's plans from being accomplished. Breaking through is possible by following careful and courageous strategies of investigation and application.

The authors refuse to present one policy that fits every congregation. They argue in favor of identifying the true code for reaching a unique community. For them, breaking the code is necessary for any church committed to rethinking its mission and ministry.

Bikers and soldiers, the wealthy and the poor, the religious and the unaware—all need the gospel. If Christ's followers speak the languages of various tribes as they do mission work, can't such a strategy also reflect the efforts of local congregations? Why can't today's leaders reflect God's love in ways that their communities will see it as His love and not just a technique preferred by the leaders? Learning, according to Stetzer and Putman, leads to mission success in communities.

This book argues that code breaking begins by asking God, "Who have You called me to?" People groups, population segments and cultural environments are identified. Leaders can move forward as they study the community, test leadership skills, identify uniqueness and become willing to change to reach the community. Stetzer and Putman argue: "Churches should function differently from location to location. When it comes to the kingdom of God, uniformity is not a value …. God is most glorified when the churches that honor Him reflect the diversity of His vast kingdom."

Quote: "We have been sent to be on mission in our context, and we must accept that call, that directive to be on mission where God has placed us—not five, not fifty, not five hundred years ago and not thirty miles away, not three hundred miles away, not three thousand miles away. We are exhorted to be on mission where God has placed us now, and our job is to break the code wherever we are."

Ideal reader: Pastors and strategists who are seeking a greater grasp of their church's unique purpose.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5).Reviewer: Chris Maxwell

Overcoming Barriers to Growth: Proven Strategies for Taking Your Church to the Next Level
Author: Michael Fletcher
Publisher: Bethany House
File Under: Church Growth
Executive Summary:
Author Michael Fletcher is the senior pastor of Manna Church in Fayetteville, N.C., and has led the congregation's growth from 400 to 4,000 active members during his 20 years of pastoring the church. So, it is from personal experience that Fletcher speaks to the issue of church growth as he identifies the major barriers to growth and then outlines methods for breaking through them.

According to Fletcher: "On the road to 'mega' there are three key stages of leadership structures or configurations and two major transition points. If pastors and leaders properly anticipate these transitions and adjust appropriately, stress can be reduced and leadership teams can work together to experience growth instead of working against each other."

Fletcher suggests, and cites supporting research, that the two main barriers pastors face in trying to grow their churches numerically are the 100/200 barrier and the 700/800 barrier, with the former representing the transition from a small church to a medium church and the latter representing the transition from a medium church to a large church.

With his stated goal being to help church leaders change internal structures in order to grow, Fletcher offers readers what he considers to be reproducible methods for achieving church growth success. First and foremost on the list is the need for the senior pastor to find God's vision for the church he leads.

Fletcher describes the importance of what he calls "the threefold law of vision:" the Law of Articulation, the Law of Unification and the Law of Mobilization. Unless the pastor can articulate the vision, unify the people around it and then mobilize them to help carry it out, the vision of growth is doomed for failure.

One point on which Fletcher risks alienating readers is his suggestion that pastors must switch from a Shepherd Model to a Rancher Model in order for their churches to grow, which some may feel contradicts the model of Jesus as Chief Shepherd. With that point aside, wherever pastors are located on the church-growth continuum, Overcoming Barriers to Growth can help them take their church to the next level.

Quote: "To move from small to medium or from medium to large, some very important things will have to change! It is important, then, to understand the dynamics involved in a church at the next level in order to take a congregation to that place."

Ideal reader: Pastors, elders and other church leaders desiring to identify and break through the barriers to numerical growth.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (4); Theological Depth (3); Readability (5).
Reviewer: Sean Fowlds

Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders
Author: Earl Creps
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
File Under: Leadership
Executive Summary:
Consider combining pages from books on the debate about the emerging church, seeker-sensitive services and cultural trends with a collection of historical theories on spiritual disciplines. What would we have? Likely, a mixture of ancient and modern, theory and practice, success and failure, purpose-driven goals and spiritual formation traditions, blogs and coffee shops, written by a leader like Earl Creps. He has done that in Off-Road Disciplines.

Creps offers ideas to prepare leaders for future changes and hope for today's culture. To prove his argument that leaders must be open to change, Creps does more than record statistical sheets and theoretical propositions. He tells stories, taking us for visits to three congregations he has pastored, each one guiding us with lessons to be learned.

What are these lessons about? They challenge readers to be missional leaders. Much more than a visionary leader holding tight to a strategy, Creps guides missional leaders toward creative disciplines. The six personal disciplines and the six organizational disciplines all delve into deeper levels of attention toward gaining goals. Rather than focusing on strategy and performance, he guides readers toward attention and cultivation.

Lives and churches are arranged, according to Creps, by off-road disciplines that can allow leaders to guide each culture toward reality, whatever language or style is used. In hopes of fixing problems, leading congregations missionally and experiencing God's presence personally, those in charge must choose the off-road lifestyle.

Quote: "The Father did not send Jesus to redraw maps, or refine worldviews, or redeem music. He came for people, spiritual beings who sin and hurt and die."

Ideal reader: Leaders who want more than another addition to their large list of strategic guides for successful ministry. The readers of Off-Road Disciplines need to desire change enough to choose long-term development rather than a quick, but temporary, agenda.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (4); Readability (4).
Reviewer: Chris Maxwell

The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Church Conflict
Author: Alfred Poirier
Publisher: Baker Books
File Under: Church Discipline
Executive Summary:
Although they become well-trained in homiletics, theology and liturgy, pastors often do not leave seminary with a solid biblical framework for enduring conflict resolution.

Churches, therefore, have little direction on how to apply biblical concepts when dealing with quarrels, broken relationships and other manifestations of sin. Instead, congregations rely heavily upon secular models and ideologies that fail to get to the heart of brokenness—and the need for Holy Spirit-guided repentance, transformation and reconciliation.

Poirier grounds his text in the person and nature of God as Reconciler, and discusses how the progressive response of believers should be adoption and assimilation of God's redemptive disposition and behavior. He then delves into his own pastoral journey that led from painful confusion to clarity in the arena of biblical conflict resolution, and discusses the common paths of church conflict and its sin-drenched underpinnings.

The text discusses three mistaken assumptions about peacemaking that often are ingrained and applied within congregations. These include applying peacemaking as a tool of ministry rather than a habit of being, limiting peacemaking to a corrective device rather than a constructive teaching opportunity: and viewing peacemaking through the lens of various ideologies rather than that of Scripture.

Poirier then reconnects peacemaking to the personhood of the triune God, and spends several chapters delineating specific practices of peacemaking that include confession, forgiveness, negotiation, mediation, arbitration and church discipline.

The book's powerful chapter on forgiveness is worth its price alone—especially Poirier's exposition on the two stages of forgiveness that take believers from "dispositional forgiveness" to "transactional forgiveness." "These two stages of forgiveness rest upon the divine pattern," he writes. "Only when God grants us a new heart, and enables us to confess our sin and repent do we become involved in the transaction of forgiveness."

Quote: "Though orthodox in our confession of Christ, we function like Docetists (denying Christ's humanity). Thus we neglect to pattern our pastoral ministry in accord with the ministry of the great Pastor-Peacemaker himself."

Ideal Reader: Pastors and church leaders seeking a biblical framework for conflict resolution within their congregations.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (5); Readability (5).
Reviewer: John Michael DeMarco

Improve your life and ministry by learning something new. Our Ministry Leadership Bundle includes 3 Books: Amplified Leadership, Breaking Intimidation and The Power of Humility. View Offer!

Get our BEST DEAL on Ministry Today magazine. Get a full year for only $12! Yes-I want this deal.

Your Turn

Comment Guidelines
View/Add Comments
Use Desktop Layout
Ministry Today Magazine — Serving and empowering church leaders