By Luke Holmes
Major accidents are caused by minor things. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that every year 16,000 car crashes occur because of what they call “pedal errors.”
A pedal error occurs when a driver’s foot slips off the brake and presses the accelerator, when they hit the gas pedal by mistake, or when the driver accidentally steps on both the brake and gas at the same time. This happens more often to very young drivers or very old ones, but the truth is anyone is capable of a mistake like this.
When you hit the wrong pedal at the wrong time you risk running into something or someone. At the very least you might do significant damage to the vehicle you’re driving.
Leaders of churches and organizations often make these same kinds of mistakes. As the pastor or leader it’s our job to know when to hit the gas or when to hit the brakes, and choosing the wrong action can cause quite the spectacular crash.
There are too many stories of pastors who came into a church and tried to change too fast only for it to end in a wreckage of the church or their ministry. Hitting the wrong pedal at the wrong time in ministry can cause great damage to a pastor and the church.
In the same way there are many examples of pastors and churches who seem to love to ride the brake pedal. They’re unwilling to move forward in ways that honor God and help the church stay on the best path. Hitting the brakes too soon can cause mission drift or another ministry calamity.
Everyone knows a leader who leans toward the brake pedal, and everyone seems to know a leader who loves to hit the gas. How can we learn when it’s the right time to use those pedals and avoid the pedal error that ends in a catastrophe?
If you’re like most people who drive a car, you don’t actively think about which pedal to use and when to use it. It’s more of an instinct—something you’ve learned over thousands of hours spent behind the wheel. It’s hard to teach someone to drive as they have to learn to “feel the pedals.”
It’s the same with ministry leadership. It’s hard to set concrete rules about when to accelerate when leading a church because situations are so different. Every leader has to develop a feel for when to move forward, when to ride the brake, and when to shift gears to a higher speed.
Even though learning to hit the gas is sometimes a matter of feeling, there are principles that can help us drive safely no matter how nice, new, old, or broken down your vehicle might be. Each pedal is the right one to hit at different times in the church.
Every leader must learn to pay attention to the clues of the church culture, the time of year, the finances, the past problems, and the future possibilities in order to know when to accelerate change or slow it down.
The problem is that while living in the middle of a global pandemic it’s hard to know when to move forward and when to stand still. Every pastor I know right now has had to start and stop more times than they can count.
We’ve scheduled events only to have them canceled, we’ve rethought the way we do worship services, and we’ve had to recalibrate almost every aspect of our ministries.
It’s harder than ever to know when to hit the gas and the brakes in our ministries and churches. Here are some guidelines to ward off stagnation:
1. It’s time to hit the gas on sharing the hope of the gospel.
Now more than ever people need to know there’s hope in Jesus Christ. The world seems darker than ever at the moment, but that only means the light of the cross will be that much brighter.
Whatever is happening at your church, continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ. We can’t afford not to amplify this truth through our sermons, programming, and outreaches.
2. It’s time to hit the brakes on division and disagreement.
The world is more extremely divided right now. Politics and recent events have given room for people to argue and fight.
But the church needs to be the place that stands as a beacon of unity in a world of dissent. We can be sure that in the cross we have the truths that unite all of us, no matter our politics or beliefs.
3. It’s time to hit the gas on embracing change.
One bright side of the pandemic is that I haven’t heard, “that’s not the way we do it,” for six months or more. Now, more than ever, we need to embrace the fact that we’re able to adjust in ways we weren’t able to before.
We can try new things and experiment in different ways because the world is a different place than it’s ever been.
4. It’s time to hit the gas on staying on mission.
Just because the church isn’t able to do some of the things they could before doesn’t mean the mission of the church is on hold. The way we work as a church might change due to pandemics or time, but what we do as a church should never change. The how of our mission changes, but the why and what never do.
5. It’s time to hit the gas on working together.
It’s tempting to see churches as competing with one another, but now more than ever we need to work to support each other. We need to share resources, give support, and encourage one another as we work together in the kingdom of God.
It’s a confusing time, and it can be hard to know which pedal to step on. And as soon as we get it figured out it seems to change. Every leader and pastor I know needs wisdom. Instinct seems to have gone out the window when the pandemic hit, but we can be sure that the kingdom of God will always overcome.
LUKE HOLMES (@lukeholmes) is husband to Sara, father to three young girls, and pastor at First Baptist Church Tishomingo, Oklahoma, since 2011. He’s a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and can be found online at LukeAHolmes.com.