Magnets — The pulpit AND the people skills of the pastor.

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.


4 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Jeff – yes, with the internet, etc., quality teaching is available 24/7. I have a couple of responses to your interesting article.

    #1 For the most part, I (and I can only speak for me) would rather listen to a mediocre live sermon than a quality canned one. There is something about truth coming through a man in whose presence I am that I don’t experience via other media. Though the insight and depth of learning I might desire is missing, solid truth coming through a passionate man moves me. Passion covers a multitude of pulpit sins. But, on the other hand, if the man isn’t passionate and moved, I would rather listen to sermons through other media.

    #2 The more salient point I would like to make is that your analysis still leaves the church pastor-centric. If it’s not his great preaching that draws the people, it is his relational skills that cement the fellowship together. I think I know exactly what you mean, and that is a great beginning point, but it can’t be the end point. The end point is a group of people whose hearts have been knit together in the love of Christ and whose fellowship and relationship can survive the coming and going of many pastors.

    For many churches, the glue is not the pastor – his pulpit ability or his relatability – it is agape within the congregation that holds it together. You find this in older, more established churches more than in newer and younger ones. When the consumer mentality prevails, the coming and going of a pastor sends major shock waves and there is a reorganization of the membership of the church. When the hearts of the congregation are knit together in the love of Christ, the coming and going of a pastor is more a ripple than a tsunami.

    CCs have a very pastor-centric model – in some it almost seems like a cult of personality. As a CC pastor, I am seeing God do a gratifying work of agape in the church I pastor. There are many groups, so much fellowship outside the four walls of the church, so much relationship that the Holy Spirit has given birth to. I might be the first person they relate to as they come into the church, but there is a depth of agape that receives those who come to the church. I have no doubt that the church I pastor would survive my going just fine! I think (I hope) the people love and appreciate their pastor, but I don’t think that CC Fremont is pastor-centric.

    What do you think?

  2. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:


    Very thought provoking article. I am mega-challenged by what you’re saying.

    To be honest, I’m frustrated by these realities. I want to be able to feed hungry sheep. Tending and feeding the flock are the primary duties of Christ’s shepherds. But when the sheep don’t seem to be very hungry, it lessens my motivation to relate to them. I am not excusing myself, it’s just a reality I struggle with. I have to exercise obedience, by faith, to step out into people’s lives.

    For these reasons, I’ve often thought about life at a Bible College as a better option for me, rather than pastoring a church.

    Having said that, my pulpit ministry serves as the open door for relationships with the people in the body. Because of the ministry of the word, I have authority or at least presence in people’s lives. They return my calls. They agree to meet with me. So what I need to do is take better advantage of this open door.

    After more than 30 years in the ministry, I am still battling to flesh these things out in my own life.

    Thanks for the challenge. I appreciate it.

    • Jeff Jackson
      Jeff Jackson says:

      Tim and Bill,

      TIM–Thanks for the feedback. Tim, you’re absolutely right. Due to time limitations I wasn’t able to flesh out the result of the relational aspect of pastoral care–the opportunity it provides for connecting people with each other and actually de-centralizing and inoculating people from the “cult of personality” and pastor-centric model that is on display in so many churches. Again, with time, I could have fleshed that out, (and I think I will in my next post in a few weeks).

      BILL–I know by experience the frustration you feel, and in my own ministry, I’ve found that my deeper engagement with individual members will many times stir up the hunger for the Word that my teaching apparently isn’t. I know I’m a bit strange, but I view my relational ministry as the open door for my pulpit ministry, and not the other way around. And, I was able to teach at CCBC for 4 years while pastoring and I definitely understand how being a bible college teacher might be a much better fit for certain guys with teaching gifts but who struggle with the whole relational aspect of tending the sheep. I’ve seen a few guys make that transition–from pastoring a local church to teaching at a bible college full time….and their joy and impact increased substantially.

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