Lessons from Pastoring Two Churches

As many of you may already know, I have recently begun transitioning myself out of the two churches that I pastor. God has called us to take a step of faith and head up to Southern Washington for our next assignment. But I wanted to take some time and reflect on my experience of pastoring two churches. Experience is an awesome teacher.

To set the stage, (Calvary North Bay was planted in 2007 with one other family. CNB resides in Mill Valley, California which is one of the least churched (statistically) and most affluent communities in one of the most least churched and affluent counties in the country (Marin County). Marin County rests between San Francisco and the Napa Valley. Very quickly after we started the fellowship, we had people coming to the church from San Francisco. It was a short drive over the bridge to Mill Valley. They would often bring their friends for a visit. It was an almost universal, “We love this church. Too bad it isn’t in the city.” That began our process that culminated with the launching of Calvary San Francisco in July of 2010. We did a 9 am service in Mill Valley and then an 11:15 am service in the Marina district of San Francisco. Each church was it’s own corporation, with its own staff, resources and accounting. We did this primarily because we knew that, at some point, each church would need its own pastor.

So let’s get to the lessons. But before I do, I should say up front that in hindsight, the hand of God was all over this. I do not have a single regret about it. The Lord’s plan was to put new churches in both Mill Valley and San Francisco. I rejoice in that. But I learned a lot on the way.

1. Pastoring two churches is ecclesiastical polygamy

Very quickly into my time pastoring the two churches did I realize that it was like being married to two wives. Polygamy has a certain impact on a husband. It has other impact on the wives. For the husband, his attention and affection is divided. It is hard to try and navigate the needs of two different congregations. But for the wives it is the reality that you never have your husband for your own. There is always a ‘sharing’ involved. For the church in Mill Valley, they had been used to having me all to themselves so splitting me was a change for them. For the church in the city, they were never used to me alone, only to having me shared. They were used to the divided attention. From both angles, it was not something that was healthy long term.

2. Pastoring two churches should be seen as a sprint portion of a marathon of ministry

The apostle Paul spoke often of our Christian lives as a race. We need to run that race to win the prize. In that way, we are all marathon runners for the glory of God. In stepping out to plant the church in San Francisco, I realized very quickly that I was entering a ‘sprint’ portion of my race. Sprints are necessary parts of running any race. But in reality, you can only sprint for so long. If you watch short term sprint racers, you see that they are going very fast and at the end of the race, they are winded. You can sprint for a short time only. Too many ministers (including me) fail to realize that ministry is a marathon. There will be seasons of sprinting. But it can only be a season.

3. Multi-siting is more strategic than pastoring two distinct churches

I know that there is a lot of hub-bub about multi-siting churches, with both strong advocates and detractors. Rather than weigh in on that fracas, I did learn that it is way more strategic to multi-site than to pastor two churches. If you multi-site, there is one cohesive vision, staff, direction and congregation (although meeting in multiple places). The pastor can do one midweek service rather than two. The pastor has only one set of volunteers and staff to pour into. You can do more things together. Plus there is one church identity with a multi-site church as opposed to two identities. When we did things together as churches, there was always a negotiation of where to hold something. So, in my mind, the unity of one church in multiple locations (an oxymoron, I know) is more strategic then two churches in two locations.

4. We need to continue to raise up pastors and leaders

Finally, I had a strong reinforcement of the need to continue to raise up pastors, leaders and church planters. There are such needs for rigorously biblical, Spirit filled, saint loving pastors all over the world. We have always said that we would love to see ten new churches in Marin and thirty new churches in San Francisco. That’s forty pastors needed (and just in about a 20 mile radius)! We need to continue to pour into the next generation and sent these folks out into God’s harvest field. The field is ripe for harvest and still the laborers are few!

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