We’ve all heard the term, ‘addition by subtraction’. As a church leader there are times when the best way you can lead your organization to the “next level” is to remove a few variables. Most notably, to ask some people to leave. This is true, and also NOT the topic of this entry. But be ye not dismayed I say…for “Subtraction” makes an even more prominent and darker appearance in the musical of leadership than that of Addition by Subtraction. In this act, subtraction comes at the most surprising of moments, when you expect it least and I call it Subtraction by Multiplication (in case you had not read the title of this article).

Subtraction by Multiplication is, in my estimation, one of the key factors keeping churches in America from multiplying and being all God intended them to be in their efforts to reach unreached people groups and those far from God. “out with it already!” You exclaim. Alright, alright, enough suspense. It’s pretty simple really, which is maybe why we don’t talk about it much. You are a leader who believes that momentum is powerful, so you recognize that Multiplication is the key indicator of positive momentum (read this if you’re fuzzy).

So dilligently you work to get new folks involved in the mission. To invite those who are new to play a part, just like those who rallied around Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild Jerusalem. You work to replace yourself in areas that can easily be taken over by others so you are free to focus on doing what only YOU can do. Excellent. great. Awesome.

Then the meeting comes. You know it well.

“pastor”, they say–as if it’s a question. “We’d like to come meet with you at your earliest convenience”. You agree, hoping and trusting that they’re excited about all that’s going on and want to get more involved. To your surprise, you find out they are not happy at all. And even more surprising, it’s not what you think. They’re not frustrated with music, angry about your ‘I hate cats’ joke or concerned about your theology. No, it’s far more difficult than any of those. They’re essentially unhappy with you because they like you too much. WHAT!? read on Daniel Son…

They hate when you have your associate speak.
They liked their small group better when you led the discussion.
They believe people are leaving the church because you are letting the Youth Pastor do announcements again.

You’re flattered that they love your preaching, teaching and leading so much, but, no problem you think. They just don’t understand that you’re all about multiplication and just as soon as they see these in proper perspective, you think, they will be on board fully. So you excitedly explain that you understand their concerns but the only reason those folks are doing those things is because you are multiplying yourself for greater impact and effectiveness. You tell what you perceive as a touching anecdotal story about that “unruly kid whose youth pastor gave a chance” and went on to become a pastor himself. You are sure that after uncovering the truth about that “unruly kid” being you, surely they will come around.

This is when the conversation turns dark. It’s the point of no return. You realize, in this poignant moment, they are not here to see more people reached, expand impact or even touch the hurting. They are here for themselves. They came because you preached so well. They stayed because you always ask about how granny is doing. They give because you intro the offering with such grace. They don’t need, ANOTHER leader: they have you. They only need ONE of you, so why expand?

This is the moment of no return because you have arrived at a fork in the road. Ahead there are two paths, the easy path which, you know is total garbage but as the words come out of your mouth you can’t believe what you hear yourself saying, and it goes something like this: “yeah, he/she really is not cutting it, I plan to start doing that again myself because people have been telling me how much they miss me…” They walk out smiling, you feel great and needed. But you suck, and you know it.

The proverbial ‘road less traveled’ is that of a complex revisit of vision and values. It’s a conversation about the call to raise up new and emerging leaders and never stop in your tireless pursuit of giving new people a chance to lead, teach, direct or dream. In reality no matter how long or short this rousing speech is all these people will ever remember (and often repeat to their new pastor), is how you did not care to love or shepherd them and that they just didn’t feel fed at your church. You starved them out.

Subtraction by Multiplication is tough for a lot of reasons, partly because it touches on several key areas of momentum, plus it massages your ego. And we all know you have an ego, Mr. “I’ve got my own fan page website on facebook.” So ask yourself a few questions before you pull the Youth Pastor off announcements or stop giving your associate days to preach…

  • Am I putting too much weight on people liking me, and not trusting enough in vision and values?
  • Does my church know that part of our mission from God is to prepare & set apart high level leaders for God’s work? -Acts 13:2
  • Am I questioning vision and value just because I am flattered? Would I be questioning it the same if it were ME they did not like?

Be sure to multiply your own leadership early and often. Be sure your leaders are all working to multiply themselves. Ask your staff regularly who they have been training recently to take over areas for them to reach maximum effectiveness and impact. If ever there was an area in which to be accused of micro-managing, it is this one. And for those for whom this multiplication stuff does not come easy or natural, you are a “do it yourselfer’, try this checklist:

  • Meet weekly with someone you are training to take over an area of high-level leadership.
  • Speak monthly to your church about the ways that high-level leaders are being multiplied at your church.
  • Get away quarterly for a week and have a trusted #2 lead things for you.
  • Review all ministry descriptions annually to be sure all leaders have a multiplication expectation in their description.

We weren’t called to simply lead our one ministry or our one church for 20 years, then die and hope some ambitous young-en takes the reigns and figures it out by themselves like we did. We were called to multiply. From the beginning of time God’s story has been, Be Fruitful and Multiply. His call in the Gospels was to learn the ways of Jesus and ignite an entire culture. His example in the Acts was to set apart the best leaders and send them out. And that call remains on us today. Don’t get trapped in the black hole of your own world, but look to how your work of multiplication could change the world. I believe these are helpful tools to keep you multiplying without subtracting in the process. And if you must subtract, just be sure you don’t send them to me.