I’m in the midst of discipling, mentoring, and preparing another young man for ministry as a senior pastor. I’ve done this with a handful of guys over the years both in the U.S. and abroad and I totally enjoy the process. Whether I’m training a pioneer church planter or someone to step into the role as the senior pastor of an existing church that is making a transition to a new pastor, there are a few foundational principles that I believe are extremely valuable to pass on to them.
Over the past few weeks both in Phoenix and in my recent trip to the San Diego area to teach the Perspectives course, I have met with quite a few pastors and other people who are in various forms of full-time ministry or who are missionaries. The subject of the “church” always seems to come up and we inevitably begin sharing our views of what “doing church” looks like now and how it may need to be radically altered in the not so distant future. And as you know if you read this blog at all, these are the kinds of issues that are regular topics on this blog.
It does seem to me that what all of us acknowledge and are mostly in agreement with is the reality that technology and the unlimited availability anyone has to access great bible teaching 24 hours a day, is probably going to be more and more of a game changer in the way we “do” church.
In the “old days” the local church pastor’s ability to teach and preach God’s Word was the primary magnet for drawing in and then keeping new people. In many ways, if the average person wanted to hear God’s Word proclaimed in a relevant way to where they were living, the pulpit ministry of the local church was really the only place to find that. At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, the strength of the magnet that the pulpit was in times past has probably lessened to some degree and will probably continue to do so.
Because of this new paradigm we’re in, a paradigm that I believe will continue and thus require greater and greater consideration by the leadership of local churches, the Lord has shown me that a couple of the key principles that He taught me and that I’ve passed on to men preparing for pastoral work are more relevant than ever. Here’s a summary of two of those principles:
1. When you’re new to the role of the being a senior pastor, (or the regular guy in the pulpit), you’re ability to teach God’s Word will NOT be what draws people in or what keeps people in the church. Honestly, most new guys just aren’t that good at teaching God’s Word! Looking back on my own pulpit history, it’s painfully clear that my ability to communicate God’s Word wasn’t the primary tool God used to build the churches I pioneered.
What does God use to draw and keep the people?
2. You’re willingness to engage people in real relationship. When you take the initiative to spend time with individuals and families in their homes and of course, while they’re at church, and transparently share your story and genuinely probe them to find out their stories, people respond. When they know that your desire is not just to feed them from the pulpit, (which you aren’t that good at right now anyway), but to sincerely tend them, (John 21:15-17), they are more likely to choose to be a part of what God is calling you to lead.
The people will hang with you because they are known and loved by someone who is also willing to be known and loved–while your teaching skills increase. In other words, your relationships with them will give you the slack you need in order to develop your teaching gift.
With where things are at now and where they are headed in our culture, these two points are even more important. Because the local church is no longer the primary place or source to obtain solid bible teaching and because of the priority that personal relationships and “community” seem to have among younger people, it’s probably time to concentrate on increasing the strength of another magnet. We must certainly maintain and keep strong the pulpit magnet because the competition is incredible. But the times seem to indicate that if we neglect the magnet of real relationship and community and are unwilling to take that magnet out of the walls of our church buildings, rust and less useful to God may be ahead.