By Stan Sheridan
If you could get behind the curtain¬—so to speak¬—of one of the fastest growing churches in America, what would you see? What is the key to their success?
I personally love to study churches, to see what lies behind their success or lack of success. I have been a worship pastor and very passionate about worship for a couple of decades. I have led crowds of a few to crowds of thousands. But in the last couple of years, I have been making a transition from being a “player” to being a “coach”. Eventually all of us should, at some level, make this transition. It’s God’s design. Look at any team: the coach may not be able to play as well as the players (sports, music, debate¬—any team), yet the coach is still crucial to the success or failure of the program. The coach sees things that the players never can. They are the ones that will lead the players to victory or defeat.
As a coach, I love seeing those who have “done well”; as a worship leader, I also love seeing worshipers who have done well. And, of course, I want to know why.
Recently, I was at a conference at one of the largest churches in America: Church of the Highlands, in Birmingham, Alabama. To be honest, I didn’t even want to be at the conference. I had another ministry opportunity that I did not want to miss. I went into the three day event with hesitations about being at another “trendy, American church”. Highlands has been one of the fastest growing churches in America since it’s start in 2001. They have averaged over 2000 new people every year. Today they are over 27,000 strong. Weekly. Not every year; or every decade; but every week. And they keep growing….
Walking into Highlands, I was expecting an incredible “show”; I knew that the teaching, as well as the worship, would be entertaining and inspirational. What I didn’t expect was the heart behind it all. The heart of David¬—and, of course, the heart of Jesus.
The Highlands Worship Department is led by John Larson, and I had the privilege of spending a few minutes talking with him about the success of Highlands.
“You have to be open to new people, and allow them to succeed¬—even if they end up taking your position. Its all about others! We are successful, not because we had a good “show” this morning, but because we are reproducing people. We have all seen the older leader with the slick hair and shiny shoes, that’s still living in his decade. He may be good at what he does, but he’s not open to new people.”
I was feeling a little uncomfortable. Was I one of those leaders? I had black shoes on that morning; and my hair was pretty slick. Was I still living in my decade of ministry, totally out of touch with the generation around me? Great question to ask.
John went on, “According to Ephesians 4:12, our job as leaders is to equip the saints¬—not to perform well, but to equip well. If we are not equipping and raising others up, we are not successful.” He went on to say, “My pastor grades my success when I am raising others up and equipping them for works of ministry. The Holy Spirit is always ‘making things new’ (Revelation 21:5). God is a creative being and He is with us today. Things AND people have to change. God is making all things new.”
Personally, as a worship leader and pastor, I knew that I was called to raise others up, but I also struggled with wanting to do it myself. I enjoyed being used by God. I loved seeing others taken to the Throne of God, and being a direct part of it all (from the stage, of course). It’s often hard for leaders to raise others up, because we so enjoy the “game” ourselves. But, back to being a coach, this is our job. It’s not about us. It’s always, always, always about others.
“It’s tough,” Larson states, “for all of us. I still struggle with that one. But I also know that we are called to develop others¬—which only takes place as we give up ‘our spot’. According to Phillipians 2, we are to do nothing out of selfish ambition. It’s never about us. It’s all about others¬—developing them to be all that they are called to be. And creating opportunities for them to shine. We are called to give ministry away.”
As I was walking away, I couldn’t help but feel convicted. The heart behind Church of the Highlands was so obvious. They’ve got the look. They’ve got the gifts and the talents. But that’s not the reason behind their success.
According to II Chronicles 16:9, “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” God will always elevate a pure heart, over a cool look. I want the cool look, honestly; but so much more than that, I want the heart that pleases God.
Stan Sheridan helps churches and leaders develop successful worship departments through the Exodus Group. He also oversees the Genesis School of Music and Worship Arts. For more info, stansheridan.com.