My Journey Into Church Consulting

My Journey

I first felt the Lord’s nudging towards church consultation during the later part of my second decade of pastoral ministry. At that time I didn’t know that such a ministry existed nor did I have the term for it. After about 30 years of pastoral ministry, in 2014, I took the first step to make the transition. I had little knowledge about what I was doing. As you can imagine, I was happy for the training I received from Jim Barber and the Society for Church Consulting in 2018. It was extremely helpful.

While pastoring I had read many books including Peter Wagner’s works on church growth, Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church, Christian Schwarz’s Natural Church Development, Thom Rainer’s and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church, Gary McIntosh’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All and Aubrey Malphurs’ Advanced Strategic Planning. They were instrumental in shaping my philosophy of church ministry. The way I led the churches under my care reflected my convictions. I had come to the conclusion that it was critically important for churches to be healthy so that they can grow. On hindsight, the Lord was already preparing me for a ministry of church consultation with a focus on church health.

Secondly, my interactions with other pastors showed me that many of them needed help with developing their churches. I was so glad when I said something or shared something that I had done in my own church which helped them, or when I introduced a book to them that addressed their need. All I wanted was for the Lord to use me to empower others, especially other pastors, on how to do church.

The organiser in me had planned for a long and orderly transition from pastoral ministry to church consulting. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in my last church and I was thrusted into consulting much sooner than I had planned. I was ill prepared. I also felt that my credibility would be questioned. I had imagined that with success stories of turnaround churches I would be seen as a probable good church consultant. Nonetheless, I have learnt to accept the different outcomes in the two churches I pastored, and to draw from the experiences when I consult churches.

My Challenges

My engagements in church consultation so far have been intermittent. Most of them have been one-off. A few required return visits. Most of them concerned a specific area of ministry like leadership, church structure, small groups or a discipleship program. A few opportunities arose for a church health analysis.

The work of church consultation in Malaysia faces a number of challenges.

  1. Church consultation is a totally new concept among pastors and churches in Malaysia. When I tell people what I do, it will almost always draw a surprised or confused look.
  2. Pastors cannot imagine why they would need the services of a church consultant. They may also be fearful about what a church consultant may uncover in their church.
  3. Pastors don’t understand the importance of church health and the need for a church health analysis.
  4. Church leaders are not willing to pay for the use of church health analysis instruments.
  5. There is none or little follow through with the recommendations. The consultant or other specialists are not engaged to provide guidance, training and assistance in the implementation of the recommendations.

My Dream

Despite the challenges, my dream is to see church consultation teams being formed for every denomination or groups of churches in Malaysia and for every language group under their respective umbrella (Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English).

I believe that church consultants have a role—to come alongside pastors and leaders to help them develop their churches (especially to be healthy growing churches that fulfil the Great Commission). It’s exciting to be a pioneer in this area of ministry in Malaysia, though I do not pretend that it’s going to be an easy journey.

My Philosophy of Church Consulting (Part 2)

Apart from what I wrote in Part 1, which would form the basic framework of my philosophy of church consulting, the following, I believe, are also necessary elements for effective consulting:

Long Term. Consulting a church may be a one-off engagement. However, a long term engagement is not only more helpful, it is, I believe, necessary.  The leaders and executors need guidance from a trained consultant to help them carry out the recommendations, which includes planning, strategizing and execution. I would make myself available to the implementation team; to provide assistance in the areas where I have the gift-set. At the very least that would include guidance vis-à-vis the big picture needs of the church.

Driver. I do not believe that any attempts to implement the recommendations will work if there isn’t a clear driver from within the church. If it is something that concerns the whole church then the driver must be from among the top leadership; better still, if it was the pastor himself. If it concerns a particular ministry then the ministry leader must be the driver. The consultant cannot be the driver; it must be someone from the church. That person must have a clear sense of ownership of the church or ministry, and the issue. He must be passionate for the Lord, the church and what needs to be done. He must also have godly wisdom and good leadership skills.

Leadership Unity. Unity among the key leaders of the church is critical to the success of the consultation process. They must agree on the issues that need to be addressed, decisions about what to do (recommendations), their priority and the steps to take to implement the solutions. If any key leader is not in agreement it is very likely that it will fail. It is not good enough for a key leader to stand passively by the side and watch. It is spiritually damning as much as it is organisationally divisive. The attempted remedy may result in something worse than the original problem!

Similar to the item on Driver it is critical to secure the commitment of the whole leadership team–that they are united in their desire to deal with the issues of their church. That commitment is to be reiterated and affirmed at each phase of the consultation.

Authority. I believe that a church consultant must at all times work under the spiritual authority of the church leadership that has invited him, and in particular to the recognised team leader, such as the pastor. Care must be taken that he does not undermine the authority of the leadership nor diminish their esteem in the eyes of the members. As the goal of church consultation is to build up the church the consultant must do everything to help realise it and not do anything that may bring a reverse consequence.

Remuneration. It is very uncommon in Malaysia for invited speakers and itinerant preachers to state their speaking fees or even ask for an honorarium. This is usually left to the inviting church.  Secondly, church consulting is a totally unknown ministry in Malaysia. However, I have observed that once I have explained what I do, people immediately identify me as a “consultant”. Eventually they get round to ask about my fees. Still, I feel that it is premature to speak about fees as church consulting is not something that people in Malaysia, leaders included, appreciate nor understand.

My philosophy is to ask the inviting church to cover all my expenses, such as: travel, meals and accommodation. As for honorarium, it is best left to the discretion of the church. To help the church gauge what might be a reasonable amount I will append in my report an explanation of the work I’ve done and the man-hours taken to do it.

My Philosophy of Church Consulting (Part 1)

I believe that Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church, wants all His churches to do well, and fulfil His mission, aka the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). However, the sad reality is that many churches are unhealthy, and hence, ineffective. I do not believe that churches should remain in this state. Something can be done and must be done. I believe church consultants can point pastors and church leaders in the right direction. This is why I am stepping into the work of church consulting; apart from, what I believe is the Lord’s calling for me in this final lap of my ministry journey.

The work of church consulting (what) is simply and primarily coming alongside pastors and leaders to help them with the development of their churches. It may involve studying the church, providing solutions and assisting the executors in the implementation of those solutions. During this time there might also be a need for the consultant to offer coaching, training and ministry to the leaders and the implementation team in particular, and to the church in general, so that they are empowered to lead the change. I call this the Empowering Process, as shown in Diagram 1 above.

When it comes to helping or consulting a church there is no one size fits all. There is no one solution that will solve the problems of all churches. Every church is different. Each one has its own particular problems that are to be identified through prayer and discernment in the Spirit, and from a studied analysis of the church.  This is then followed up with wise custom-made solutions.

If a church has not done a comprehensive church health analysis, it would be a good first step to take. Such an analysis will help to objectively identify the real issues of the church. Notwithstanding, the leadership may determine the area of consultation they require.

Diagram 2 below sets out the Empowering Analytical Process to determine the what and how of the consultation.

The flowchart also details the methodology showing how a study of a church might be done. The first step is always to gather extensive and accurate information. This is done through asking for church data, conducting surveys, audits and  interviews, and from personal on-site observations. The information is then studied and analysed, conclusions drawn, and recommendations made to help the church become healthier or, to resolve the defined issue.

(Click on the link to Part 2 below on other aspects of my philosophy of church consulting.)