In the opening days of the American Revolution, General George Washington made the decision that the British garrison stationed in the colonial city of Boston needed to go. In an incredible maneuver, Washington built a fortified position and stationed artillery on Dorchester Heights, which overlooked the entire city of Boston and included the harbor housing the British ships. It was the decisive action that pushed the British out of the city with almost no bloodshed.
If you’re a church leader who is working to revitalize a church, you’re going to have some fights ahead of you. Some of these fights are with people, while others are against a culture. So here are a few things we can learn about revitalizing churches from the Siege of Boston:
Know The Land – Before the maneuver, Washington had surveyed the area surrounding Boston dozens of times. More than that, he had home field advantage, and was surrounded by people who knew the lay of the land in the colonies better than any Brit. This gave him an incredible strategic advantage. He knew exactly where to position his artillery to threaten the British forces.
As a church leader, you need to know the “lay of the land”, which in this case is the culture of the congregation and community. And if you’re like me (an itinerant Methodist pastor), you’re at a bit of a disadvantage since you’re not from the area originally. Take advantage of the leaders in your congregation and community when planning events or ministry. Ask for their input, and most importantly, listen to it. Washington had advisors who helped point him to Dorchester Heights. Your leaders know the land.
Once you start to get a handle on the area, you can begin to see the ‘high ground’ you can use to your advantage. Maybe it’s using the local fire department because they have a great relationship with the community. Maybe it’s partnering with a local restaurant for a fundraiser.
Count The Cost – From the moment he took the high ground, Washington had the advantage over the British. He could have marched on Boston and dealt a serious blow to their army, and taken a lot of supplies and soldiers captive. It also would have caused an incredible amount of destruction to the city of Boston, and the civilian population. Instead, he chose to allow the British to leave peacefully, and thus kept the collateral damage to a minimum.
As church leaders, we may be tempted to win big. If you started a ministry that had a vocal opponent and it turned into a success, we may be tempted to “casually” let that opponent know how successful its been. In doing that, you may not only hurt them, but their friends in the congregation. Some opponents are toxic and need to be removed, but most are not. If you treat every critic has a cancer that needs to be cut out, eventually you won’t have a congregation.
When you win, win graciously. Because you won’t always win, and you’ll want that same grace.
Fight Smart – This is probably my favorite part of the whole battle. Dorchester Heights (the high ground) was an open hill top that the British could clearly see and target with their own artillery. If Washington had tried to fortify the position gradually, his men and equipment would have been subject to British attack the entire time, provoking a fight Washington wouldn’t likely win. So instead of gradually building a fort and moving the canons one at a time, Washington’s army spent weeks building the fortifications in the woods they were camping out in and moved everything into position in one single night. It caught the British completely off guard, and ultimately led to the minimal casualties.
Every problem you face in your church has multiple solutions, and some are better than others. You have to take your time and figure out the best approach. I’m sure it would have been simpler to just start shooting at the British, but it wouldn’t have been as effective. Sometimes you have to do a lot of work on a creative solution to really pull out the win you need.
I want to remind you that not every fight you’re having in your church is with the people. It’s more likely you’re fighting a culture. That’s important because you may mistake a key leader for an enemy.
Revitalizing churches is time consuming work that is filled with hard battle battles. It’s not a single fight, it’s a whole campaign. But with prayerful conversations, you and your church leaders can pull it off.
Remember, I love y’all and there’s nothing you can do about it.