One of the biggest temptations leaders of successful organizations and ministries face is to stop thinking with big vision. Here is what happens to us: After a taste of success, even the best and brightest leaders become complacent. They suddenly start to think complacently. We see this in the church with momentum. When a church gets on a roll and the momentum is building, they see God move in a mighty way. The church can begin to see new people join, baptisms increase, giving go up, lots of new Sunday guests, and higher participation. Unfortunately, what often happens without warning is a general sense of complacency and satisfaction overtakes the momentum and growth. What we do is we relax, take a breath, and slow our efforts. Why? Where in the Bible do we ever see this? Jesus told us His mission in Luke 19:10, when He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Jesus did not add, “for a short time” or “until I got bored.”
We see this sense of complacency take place after church revivals, attendance or giving campaigns, or mission endeavors. It could even be said that some church leaders get overwhelmed by the changes and the growth, so they tighten up and start playing it safe. They were inspired weeks early to think big thoughts, implement a big vision, make sacrifices, and to participate at a higher level. Leaders who follow a great vision and who think big thoughts have people who follow them. This is when the momentum starts to build and things get really exciting, but too often the leaders shrink back just on the edge of major breakthroughs.
This temptation is a reality with a lot of sports teams. How many times have we seen teams lose their momentum and then lose the game because instead of playing to win, they began to play not to lose? They get ahead, but then they pull back and stop playing with the intensity that earned them the lead. This is also why in sports it is rare to see teams repeat a championship because they relax, become complacent the next year, and the stop working as hard as they once did.
In the 2013 National Championship game the Auburn Tigers were administering a pretty sound beating of the Florida State Seminoles. At the half, Auburn was winning 21-10, but the score did not indicate the dominance the Auburn team had in the first half. In the second half, it all changed. The Auburn coaching staff made a critical leadership mistake. Rather than playing to win, they started playing not to lose. The big, risk-taking, visionary game plan that had built a dominant half-time lead was scrapped for a more conservative, small minded, incremental second half game plan. What happened? The momentum shifted, and with only 13 seconds left, Florida State beat Auburn to win the national championship.
The leadership lesson for all of us, including churches, is this: When things are on a roll, don't sit on the ball—run up the score! In other words, when you've got momentum going for you, put the pedal to the metal. Take off! Ignite your momentum and build on it. Ride the wave of momentum and continue to cast the vision. In church and in the work of God’s Kingdom, there is never a time to be complacent or to slow up.
Right now, at the church where I am pastor (First Baptist Church, Lexington, TN), God is moving in a mighty way. We have seen many people give their life to Jesus. We have been overwhelmed with Sunday guests and new people. Giving is growing each month so that new ministries can be started. The mindset and the attitude of God’s people are turning to an outward focus on the community and the world. We have adopted a new mission statement to “take the gospel of Jesus Christ across the street, across the states, and across the seas.” The BIG MO is on our side right now and my greatest fear as pastor is the complacency of people. Complacency is an unwelcome attitude at FBC Lexington, TN. We need to continue moving forward. We are not going to take our foot of the pedal. We are going to continue to challenge ourselves, make changes, and move forward!
When leaders stop thinking big and dwell upon protecting past successes, the progress will slow and then stop. New ground will not be taken. Opportunities of a lifetime will be lost. God will not be honored and complacency will invade like an enemy streaming over the walls of the city. We must not forget that if we are not careful, the big thoughts and the big vision that gave us a big year can be replaced by complacency, boredom, and conservative thoughts which will give us a mediocre year or bad year. Let’s be challenged by the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”