I began pastoring a local church as a senior in college at the age of 23. For the next 15 years I served consecutively as a solo pastor, youth pastor, assistant pastor, and lead pastor in a variety of contexts before joining the faculty of Wesley Seminary last year. As I reflect upon my years of pastoral ministry, it seems there are a few God-initiated, ministry-enhancing shifts I stumbled upon along the way. My perspective on pastoral ministry changed significantly since I was a 23 year old “wet behind the ears” pastor in that rural and loving congregation who gathered in a fly-infested, mildew-scented sanctuary. The following shifts fostered the kind of faithfulness that facilitated fruitfulness (alliteration almost always appears arrogantJ):
Methodology to Spirituality: The best way for parents to produce healthy kids is to cultivate a healthy marriage. The same principle applies to the pastor; the best way to produce healthy Christians is for pastoral leaders to cultivate a healthy, intimate relationship with God. Most pastors will respond to this with, “thanks Einstein!” However, many pastors seem more enamored with the work of the Lord than the Lord of the work. We can easily become more infatuated with ministry methodology than authentic spirituality. The people who have had the most positive and profound impact upon my development in Christ were not methodological storm-chasers, but spiritual God-chasers. Don’t get me wrong, we must explore and incorporate best ministry practices and methods into the life of the churches we lead. However, method-rich but Spirit-poor leaders don’t seem to build churches that build God’s kingdom. At some point I began reading more books to enhance my soul than I was reading to increase my effectiveness. Oddly enough, this made me more effective. Go figure!
Programmer to Architect: I used to focus entirely on programming the church. “Get the right programs for children, youth, and adults and you get the right church,” I assumed. The pastor is the programmer who picks from a menu of programming options that are working in other churches and incorporates them into his or her particular church. A good program may provide an immediate boost but rarely any lasting change. A decade into ministry I came to the conclusion that lasting change comes not from programming the church but architecting the culture of the church. I shifted from a focus on finding programs to facilitating a culture that aligns with the values of Christ. Once the church discerned and developed a Christ-aligned culture, which for us entailed significant ministry to the poor and addicted, we sought programs that reinforced that kind of culture. Pastors are called first to architect the culture before they program the church, or we end up putting the cart before the horse.
Church to Community: I used to think that God called me to pastor the people who attended the church. Most of my time, therefore, was spent on the church campus developing campus-based ministries that would bring people to our campus. Then, the incarnation of Christ began to “get under my skin” a bit. God didn’t sit back and wait for us to come to him. Instead, he came to us as one of us. He came to our campus, onto our turf. INCARNATION! I also began to dig into Wesleyan Christianity and discovered John Wesley left the “campus” of the Anglican Church to go onto the turf of the poor, drunk masses of England. He insisted “the world is my parish” and “there is no holiness but social holiness.” It suddenly clicked for me. So, the amount of time I spent outside of the church increased. I began meeting with community leaders on their turf to explore ways to “do good” together. We participated in community service projects. Our budget began to reflect care, not just for our campus, but for our community as we invested more money in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and helping the addicted. In time, some of our most persistent evangelists were unchurched people in the community who said “go to that church, they care about people, they will help you.”
Powerful to Empowering: For some reason I assumed that if anything good happened in the church I led, it would be because of my insight, giftedness, or power. Although I quoted Ephesians 4:12-13 annoyingly, usually arm-twisting people to serve in ministries I decided should be important to them, I wasn’t empowering “the saints” to do what God was calling and equipping them to do; I wasn’t giving them a “voice.” About a decade into ministry I became captivated by the concept of Trinitarian ministry, pastoral ministry that flows out of the implications of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What does it look like for me as a pastor to relate to my people like the Father who honors and elevates the Son, and the Son who submits to the Father, and the Spirit who reminds us of the Son? My role as a pastor is to elevate, honor, and submit to the members of my team. I got the impression that the church is at its best when all the people of God are empowered to do what God has designed and called us to do. And, it made my job a lot less stressful.
Which shifts have you already made? Which shifts do you need to make to more faithfully and fruitfully serve the purposes of God as pastor?