By Eddie Pipkin

I had a bizarre power outage in the house last week: one section of wall outlets went kaput without throwing any breakers.  I couldn’t figure it out, and I was on the verge of calling the electrician and saying “so long” to a few hundred bucks, but first, I decided to google some web pages and watch a few YouTube videos.  I don’t have a degree in physics (although I took physics in high school and college), and I don’t have a certification in advanced home wiring (although I’ve watched the HGTV network a few times), but I followed the trouble-shooting steps spelled out by the people who’ve seen it all before, and checking the wiring outlet by outlet, I found the culprit and restored the juice.  Regardless of our theoretical knowledge, we all need some straightforward practical guidance to get beneficial results.  That’s why Excellence in Ministry Coaching’s new “7 Dimensions” training is a lifeline for ministry professionals.

My wiring issue, it turned out, was within the capabilities of my skill set, I just needed some “hands on” help.  There are plenty of common ministry challenges that can be addressed with practical systems for solving problems, promoting institutional health, and stimulating growth.  The collected wisdom of “a great cloud of witnesses,” organized in a way that relates to the major imperatives that every ministry faces, and communicated in a straightforward and practical fashion can make the difference between frustration and fulfillment

When he is coaching ministry professionals through the practical challenges of the job, the phrase that Phil most often hears is, “They didn’t teach me that in seminary!”  It turns out that America’s finest institutions of theological and biblical training are excellent purveyors of spiritual philosophy, ecclesiastical history, and the intricacies of Greek and Hebrew, but they can have a light touch when it comes to best practices for managing the people and resources needed to actuate day-to-day ministry on the ground in contextually unique communities.

Phil has combined decades of experience and study to develop and refine this practical training for congregational life and distill it to these seven operational themes.  Here’s the experience: multiple postings as a local church leader, time as a denominational trainer in church health and growth initiatives, work as a consultant and coach with conferences and individual congregations across the United States, constant collaboration with other experts in healthy church strategies, and extensive research in discipleship systems and church health and growth programs as the path to authoring several books and extensive training curriculum.  Combine all that together, then distill it back down into the essentials, organizing it into a practical, applicable format, and here’s what you get: “The 7 Dimensions: A Practical Approach to Congregational Development”:

Discernment:  The Church and its people are continually discerning God’s purpose, call, and will for their journey.

Visioning:  The congregation has a clear sense of purpose that is grounded in a deep understanding of the surrounding community.

Gathering / Hospitality:  Relationships are the mainstay of congregational life.  Building a culture of relationships that matter (inside and outside the church) is the key to being the church.

Discipling:  Supporting the growth of maturing disciples of Jesus Christ is the mission of every congregation.  This requires a clear pathway with supporting relationships, training, and accountability.

Worshiping:  Worship is about a lifestyle supported by corporate and personal worship that brings glory and honor to God.

Maturing:  Healthy congregations put systems in place for the ministries of administration, and they provide a process for recruiting, training, supporting, and deploying leaders.

Multiplying:  Healthy churches multiply disciples, leaders, small groups, ministries, worship services, and congregations.

Each of these dimensions is a hallmark of a healthy local church.  Generally speaking, each local church is very good at one or more of these dimensions.  But it is the rarest of gems to find a church which is good at all of them.  That’s because we tend to lean into the things for which we’re naturally gifted for or already doing well at and give less attention to the things that are more difficult or a less natural fit.  That’s why we have churches with amazing hospitality, but no organized plan for discipleship.  Or amazing worship but broken administrative systems.  Or a spiritually mature and productive congregation which is content to do what it’s doing with the people who are currently doing it, without any thought of multiplying new leaders or enabling new initiatives to carry the Gospel forward.

That’s where a systematic approach comes in, one that thoughtfully focuses on all the dimensions.  Otherwise, it’s like going to the gym and only ever doing “arm day.”  Sure, your arms look great, but there they are, perched on a big-bellied torso held up by skinny bird legs.  A complete workout focuses on all the muscle areas. It’s careful, structured, methodical, organized, well-ordered . . . guided.  It’s that last part that really gets leaders over the hump, the difference between information and application.  Having someone to walk you through the systems is akin to having a personal trainer to customize and constantly tweak your workout.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be exploring each of the individual dimensions in this space.  It will be a thoughtful review that you and your team can use to evaluate how you are doing (or have opportunities to do better) with systematic approaches in your own local setting.

And as for you individuals who read the blog who aren’t clergy members or professional ministry people – those of you who read it for your personal edification – fear not!  The “7 Dimensions” thinking has direct applications for those who are committed to personal growth.

  • Discernment:  We are constantly engaged in the work of discerning God’s will for our lives, and some of us feel more comfortable and confident in this work than others.
  • Visioning:  We should be clear in the intentionality of our goals for the months and years ahead.  Life shouldn’t be happening by accident.  We should have a clear destination (or destinations) in mind towards which we are working.
  • Gathering / Hospitality:  If it is true that relationships are key, what are we doing to promote relationships, to actively welcome others into our lives?
  • Discipling:  What is our plan for spiritual growth?  Are we going deeper by employing an organized approach to learning more?  Are we challenging ourselves and actively seeking wisdom and applying that newfound wisdom to our lives?
  • Worshiping:  Do we embrace worship as a lifestyle, seeking opportunities to honor God moment by moment?  Do we find tangible ways to celebrate gratitude, show mercy, demonstrate generosity, and speak joy, peace, and praise into the world?  Do we honor God by paying homage to God and by living out God’s values in our interactions with the world?
  • Maturing:  Do we have organized systems in place for managing our lives?  Do we have a plan / system / organized approach for managing our household, our work, our time, and our money or do we let the latest crisis dictate our attention?  In short, are we acting as good stewards of the gifts and resources we have been given?
  • Multiplying:  Are we people who think about the legacy we are leaving?  Are we looking beyond the gratifications of the day to invest ourselves in people and causes which will outlive us?  Are we actively promoting our values in the world so they can be carried on and amplified?

See!  The values and approaches that order the lives of institutions are the values and approaches that order the lives of individuals.  And/or vice versa.  Either way (or even better, both ways), we’ll have plenty to explore over the next several summer weeks together.

When you think about the “7 Dimensions” introduced in this blog, do you reflexively pat yourself on the back for your fidelity to some, while you cringe at the mention of others?  Is this true for your individual approach to life’s challenges as well as your local church’s approach?  If we break down the individual dimensions in the coming weeks, which of the dimensions are you most interested in learning more about?  We look forward to continuing the discussion with you!  As always, explore the Excellence in Ministry Coaching website for more resources.