Good pastoral leadership is not a "by the numbers" proposition. It is a matter of heart and soul, of devoting the whole self to the vision God gives for the congregation in which one serves. Yet neither is it purely intuitive; it requires hard, careful thinking about the directions and details of the path down which God calls. When Adam Hamilton became pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, its membership consisted of himself and his family. Ten years later the church averages between five and six thousand worshipers per weekend. Throughout this remarkable period, Hamilton learned many serious lessons about both the broad visions and the specific details of pastoral leadership.
Bringing a depth of analytical skills often lacking in visionary leaders, in this book he goes beyond simply telling the story of Church of the Resurrection. He shares the questions that he learned to ask about the largely unchurched population to which Church of the Resurrection has reached out. Further, he demonstrates what he learned by listening to the answers to these questions, and how doing so has made possible a number of strategically crucial decisions the church has made. One of those crucial decisions was to make more traditional forms of worship and praise the center of the congregation's life. The result is that the example of Church of the Resurrection offers pastors and church leaders (especially those in mainline denominations) the realization that they need not completely change their liturgical and theological identity in order to reach out to the unchurched.
Drawing on his own experience, as well as the detailed research on the characteristics of highly successful congregations he undertook during a sabbatical leave, Hamilton offers pastors and other church leaders solid, substantive thinking on steps that congregations can take to become centers of vibrant outreach and mission.
Reviewed by Jessica F. Moffatt, pastor, First United Methodist Church, Bixby, Oklahoma.
Leading Beyond the Walls: Creating Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched by Adam Hamilton
I first learned of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection when visiting friends in Kansas City who were (to use Adam Hamilton’s lingo) “nominal Christians.” Within minutes of my arrival in their home, the husband said to me, “You’ve got to see our church and meet our pastor!”
Five months earlier, during my previous visit with them, they had had no church and no pastor. They had spoken angrily of church hypocrites and said they would rather find God at the lake on weekends. I immediately wondered what church could have captured their attention and caused such enthusiasm. At 10:00 p.m., on this very dark night, Bob, Jenny and I drove circles around the Church of the Resurrection building while they talked on and on about what the church had done for them.
From skeptical to committed, “nominal” to integrated. What pastor and church member doesn’t wish for such a transformation in the hearts of those who visit our congregations!
How did it happen? The secrets are revealed in Adam Hamilton’s most recent book, Leading Beyond the Walls. Reading Adam’s book is like getting a backstage tour to see how the production was accomplished. We learn the why and how behind the church’s dramatic growth in worship from four people to six thousand people. We see the wires and props and costumes. We read the script and see how the effect is created. The book is a veritable encyclopedia for pastors and leaders. Need a way to get more visitors? The chapter on marketing gives the “ins and outs” of market research, brochures, and direct mail. What do visitors want in their first visit to a church? Chapters on visitor care and follow-up describe the careful balance between too much recognition and not enough. Want to keep the strength and tradition of your mainline denomination, yet keep pace with what’s new in reaching the millennials? Adam describes how it happens in his church.
The middle portion of the book focuses on the leadership qualities of the pastor as preacher, shepherd, and visionary. Adam reveals his preaching philosophy and preparations that result in sermons that transform the skeptical into the committed. He lays out for the reader a full year of sermon topics and the logic behind them.
One of the most valuable parts of the book is the chapter on the senior pastor’s leadership of the church staff. Ask any pastor of a multiple staff church what takes the most time, energy and attention, and most likely he or she will say staff issues - finding, keeping, training, supervising and motivating the team. Though Adam writes from the mega-church perspective, the staff principles are translatable to the multiple staff church of any size.
When I asked my Kansas City friends what appealed to them about their church, they didn’t speak of strategies and the logic behind church growth, they spoke of sermons being relevant, of coffee mugs being delivered to their home, and of feeling cared for in their area of need. Adam Hamilton offers polished plans to achieve such results.