10 Church Leadership Axioms From Aubrey Malphurs Beyond Advanced Strategic Planning

No matter where I go, I get questions about Dr. Aubrey Malphurs due to my role at the Malphurs Group. I don’t mind it. I see it as an opportunity to thank Aubrey for all the ways he has invested in myself and countless others involved in church leadership throughout the years. Let me explain the background and the details of these 10 church leadership axioms.

Years ago I attended Dallas Theological Seminary (some of you are about to close your browser and others are excited to read on…don’t judge a book by its cover). I believe I was fairly similar to many other seminary students who knew very little theology, weren’t sure where to go for additional training, and found themselves a little overwhelmed with what seminary to choose and how it would impact their future. I think most seminaries are likely doing many things well and doing their best to further the cause of Christ in our world.

10 church leadership axioms from Aubrey Malphurs beyond Advanced Strategic Planning

But after finding myself at DTS and uncertain about what would occur in the days ahead, I decided to immerse myself in learning what I could and hopefully stay above water long enough to complete my education, stay involved in ministry, and also get a diploma at some point. What I found at DTS was a treasure trove of humble people committed to serving those entrusted to them for their theological education. I thank God for the people he put in my life there not only in the seminary context but also in the local church context where I was given far more opportunities than I deserved to serve others.

However, one of the things that stands out about my time in Dallas, TX, among many others, is the opportunity to shadow Dr. Aubrey Malphurs as he consulted with churches and pastors. I have frequently told the story of how I asked around about who would be the best person to talk to about lay leadership development. Little did I know that an industry leader was on the campus and that he had far more knowledge on the topic than I would ever have. But rather than ignoring a young and immature pastor, Dr. Malphurs took the time to better understand my ministry goals and then took it a step further by allowing me to not only get involved in outside church strategy consulting but to also shadow him and learn from him as he served others.

At that time, I had served in various congregations previously but I never connected the dots about the operational structures required to lead a church, cast vision, develop strategy, and multiply leaders through discipleship and a leadership pipeline. I had church leadership experience but I didn’t have the experience of someone looking in from the outside assessing, coaching, and consulting ministry teams towards increased effectiveness. Looking back on it, it is painful to think about how unaware I was at the time of how much more I needed to learn in order to effectively serve churches and their leadership teams in a consulting capacity.

Fast forward nearly 10 years to today, it is surreal to see how God used those formative years to obliterate some black/white thinking in my head, to create new categories of thinking, and to teach me the value of learning from those with far more experience than most everyone in the industry. Pretty much anyone can launch a new church consulting firm and begin telling others what to do.

You may have thought that. You may even be a successful pastor with many years of experience serving in the local church.

I thought I knew more than I did. You probably know more than I did/do.

But I can confidently say that apprenticing under another outside church consultant is priceless. You get a chance to see things without the pressure of being the one see things differently than when you are the one “behind the pulpit” or “leading the session/board.” You could probably apply this to many different contexts because serving as an apprentice is often a very good approach to get experience without all the responsibility all at once.

Although Dr. Malphurs is known for his seminal work Advanced Strategic Planning, a guide for pastors and other church leaders who want to clarify a churchwide vision, get serious about an operational roadmap and strategic plan for the church, and develop a leadership pipeline that builds leaders at all levels of the church, he also has taught me and others many other things about church leadership, life, church consulting, church strategy, vision clarity, etc.

10 Church Leadership Axioms From Aubrey Malphurs Beyond Advanced Strategic Planning

1. Be Intentional

You are already doing this one right? If not, why not take a second to identify some area of your life that needs a more intentional focus this week. If you fail to be intentional then you will succeed at leading a chaotic life.

2. Take Time To Listen To Those Older Than You

If you are a younger leader, this one obviously applies to you. But it applies to you as well if you are older and have years of experience. You may be like the 90+ year old man I recently spoke to who began describing the people older than him who were teaching him new things.

You and I may not ever have more experience in ministry than Dr. Malphurs but we certainly can take the time to learn from people like him and others who have served God faithfully for 4-5 decades. Just think about all that Aubrey and others have experienced in their lives. If you look back at all the wars, presidents, transitions in our society, shifts in the church, technological changes, and many others, it is striking to see how much you and I can learn from the experience of those who have gone before us.

Do you know who you are learning from? How many people older than you do you learn from regularly? If you have recently focused on reading books by younger writers, why not take some time to read a book or two by older writers whose faithfulness has preceded yours?

3. Vision Is Worthless Without Strategy

You could easily make an argument that vision is more important than strategy. You could also flip that argument on its head and say that vision would never get realized without a clear strategic plan for your local church.

So which is it? Does strategy come first or do you think it is vision? It likely won’t change your life to come to a dramatic conclusion about this one.

But at the end of the day, one of the things that Dr. Malphurs has taught you, myself, thousands of others at Dallas Theological Seminary, and as well as leaders in Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Charismatic Denominations) is that a church with a vision won’t go very far unless it has taken the time to articulate and implement a strong churchwide strategic plan.

Sometimes I find it sad and almost humorous how much the term “strategic plan” gets criticized in books, blog posts, other teaching venues. But anyone who fails to define their strategy is not only foolish but also demonstrating poor management of the time, talents, and treasure of their church or other organization. The operational roadmap for your church is not only helpful for your team to know what to do, it is essential if you want to ever see the vision start to flesh itself out in the lives of your church members and in your community.

4. Getting Things Done Requires Focus and Determination

You probably haven’t met Aubrey Malphurs. If you have or if you have read any of his books, you will likely understand very quickly why I included this point. Dr. Malphurs is one of the most focused and determined people I’ve ever met. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him go from writing hundreds of words on a forthcoming book to taking care of his grandchildren as they climbed all over him.

If you were in the room, you probably would have thought something similar to what ran through my mind.

“How in the world did Aubrey just go from laser focused writing that addressed theological foundations for vision and church leadership to being fully engaged with his grandkids?”

What you don’t get a chance to see by reading this is that he has trained himself (God may have very well designed him this way) to utilize his time in the most efficient way possible to create 20+ books for church leaders all over the world. You don’t accomplish all that without staying focused on what is most important. It doesn’t happen by doing whatever comes to your mind and spending all your time having fun. It comes from making very intentional decisions to manage one’s time in such a way that you make the most significant contribution possible to the work of Christ and His church around the world.

5. Development of Leaders is More Important Than Communication of Content

If you have ever read anything written by Dr. Malphurs, you know that he values leadership development in the local church. Whether you read Building Leaders (a book he co-wrote with Will Mancini of Auxano), Leading Leaders, or Being Leaders, you know that the church’s development of leaders and churchwide leadership pipelines are important to Dr. Malphurs.

You may be wondering why. You may even strongly disagree with Dr. Malphurs. You may have heard some of the criticisms that Dr. Malphurs and others receive when they emphasize the development of leaders in the local church such as:

  • Criticism #1: Why are we developing leaders instead of preaching the truth of God’s word? (But why in the world would anyone make those two things mutually exclusive. They aren’t!)
  • Criticism #2: Isn’t discipleship more important than leadership development in the local church? (It depends on how you define the two terms in light of what you read in Scripture. But suffice it to say that both are important for your ministry and you can’t be a distinctively Christian leader without first growing as a disciple.)
  • Criticism #3: People need to study God’s word more than they develop leaders. (Yet again, these two are not mutually exclusive. If you are studying God’s word AND applying it to your life, you should be developing leaders and developing as a leader yourself.)

6. Strategic Planning in Churches Is Vital

As our team serves churches around the country, it is clear that intentional planning isn’t occurring in the overwhelming majority of churches. Whether you call it strategic planning, creating a vision pathway, strategic operations, or whatever else isn’t the most important thing (although the words you use do matter and help create a certain culture within your church). Dr. Malphurs has always and probably will continually argue that strategic planning in the church is vital to the viability of the ministry.

You might be a little annoyed with that statement. I get that. But I would encourage you to note that I never said that church strategy should trump God’s word. You should know that I believe that Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit should always receive priority over worshipping a strategic plan. You also would be wise to be careful to not throw out you strategy on a whim because “the Spirit told you to” as they could be you following your preferences over what the Holy Spirit previously led you and your leaders to decide when you created your church’s operational roadmap and strategic plan.

7. A Transformational Church Usually Has A Visionary Leader

If you were to have been a fly on the wall as I served Dr. Malphurs and Dr. Gordon Penfold during the research and writing of their book Re:Vision: The Key To Transforming Your Church, you would have noticed that any transformational church has a visionary leader either as the lead pastor or in a significant position of leadership in the church. The reality is that someone has to begin to communicate a vision that is bigger or somehow different than the one you have focused on in the past. Whether everyone agrees or not, you need fresh vision to help people to see that a new future could occur if you did different things or did what you are doing differently.

You would have also seen that the stats on this topic don’t lie. If you are involved in a transformational church, you are probably 10 times more likely to have a visionary leader at the top. Your people will follow a clear vision. Your people will give to vision. Your people will be inspired by a big, yet clear vision that captures their imagination by how much you will all have to depend on God if you are going to see this vision occur.

8. Without A Culture of Leadership Development, A Church Will Plateau

Your church may have reached a plateau already. You may be trying to figure out what to do next. You may wonder whether changing the services in some way, changing the facility, or changing your preaching will yield greater results.

You should stop and ask what would happen if you were to create a culture of leadership development and multiplication in your church. What would it look like for you to have a culture of multiplying leaders? What type of coaching training would you need to provide to some of your more mature leaders? How would a culture of leadership development help get your church off the plateau and into more of a growth and transformation mode.

9. Research Opens Our Eyes To New Insights and Practices

You might hate research. You might hate compiling the data behind research projects. You may actually enjoy the results of research but hate the creation of a new research project.

But you can’t deny that research matters. You can’t deny that research opens our eyes to new insights and practices. When you research something well, you often learn new things that will shape your thoughts and behaviors in the future.

When you read Dr. Malphurs books and other resources you quickly begin to see that his books aren’t collections of thoughts and ideas where he pontificates about whatever is on his mind. You notice that they are full of research, theology, and practical tools that help the reader to not only take action but understand the data behind the action you should take.

10. Preparation Is Key to Everything

Before going to Nashville, Tennessee to collaborate with Dr. Malphurs, Todd Adkins, Ministry Grid, and LifeWay Christian Resources on a series of videos about strategic planning in the local church, you would have been amazed to see the level of preparation by Dr. Malphurs. At his age, Dr. Malphurs could have easily shown up and spoken about random topics that people would have recorded and enjoyed. He could have given LifeWay some of the brilliant nuggets of wisdom that he had gleaned while teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary, collaborating with the Howard Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership, or writing yet another book for Baker Book House.

But he didn’t. He didn’t deliver a canned message. He didn’t rest on his knowledge and lazily show up “half-prepared” for the ministry opportunity.

He took what looked like a huge number of hours planning what he would say in each video. He spent time working through each of the subjects he would discuss, how he would contextualize it for the audience at LifeWay and church leaders in general, and also made sure that our team gave him input before walking in and presenting off of his ideas and insights alone. In short, he prepared well in order to best serve those God had given him a chance to serve.

What about you? Do you put a large amount of time into your sermons on a weekly basis? What about leadership development? Do you intentionally develop leaders at your church each week in a way that gives them a chance to grow beyond where they have been? What about your own leadership development?

You are probably like me and realize that you have significant room for improvement in the area of preparation.

You probably wonder how you would ever have enough time.

You may even pessimistically think that if only you were a professor at a seminary getting paid to research, write, and teach, you could actually complete that book you have been wanting to write for so long. In some ways, I agree that it might help you but being a professor doesn’t magically make your books get written. What will help you get more done and do them better is for you to spend hours focused on preparation and clarity so that you can achieve the things that God has called you and your church to achieve.

Bottom line: If you remember Dr. Aubrey Malphurs solely based on his transformational church leadership book Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st-Century Model for Church and Ministry Leadersyou have missed many of the powerful lessons that Dr. Malphurs has taught those around him for years through his words and actions. But if you choose to take the challenge of not only growing from his written resources but also these 10 Church Leadership Axioms from Aubrey Malphurs beyond Advanced Strategic Planning, you will potentially see the results of your ministry improve in both quality and quantity.