I encounter so many struggling pastors. And unfortunately, I know so many who used to be pastors but no longer hold the position.
It may be through a blatant sin or a casual drifting from doing what they knew to be right, but it landed them in disaster. A pastor friend of mine said recently, “We need healthy churches and we need healthy pastors.”
Amen. Agreed. We must stand guard.
What are we guarding against?
No single post would be perfect. Obviously sin, but I can’t address everything that gets in the way of a healthy pastor. I can only list some that are more common in my experience.
Here are 10 dangerous distractions for a pastor:
Neglecting your soul. One of my mentors reminded me recently. “Ron, don’t forget to feed your own soul.” It was subtle. Almost given as a sidebar to our discussion. But it was gold. One of the biggest dangers for a pastor is when we begin to operate out of stored up knowledge of and experience with God. We need fresh encounters with truth and His glory.
Sacrificing family. Families learn to resent the ministry when it always trumps the family. Ministry families get accustomed to interruptions. They are part of the job as they are part of many vocations. But the family will hopefully be there when no one else is around. Ministry locations change but the family does not — so we must not neglect them. I’ve sat with men who lost the respect of their family. I know countless pastors who’s adult children no longer want anything to do with the church. Apparently, there’s not much that hurts anymore than that.
Playing the numbers game. Whenever we put the emphasis on numbers we are always disappointed. They will never be high enough. God is in charge of the numbers. We are in charge of what He has put us in charge of — but it’s not the numbers. We must be careful to concentrate on making disciples and the numbers will take care of themselves.
Comparing ministries. There will always be a “bigger” ministry. Someone will always write a better tweet — or a better book — or a better blog post — preach a better sermon. When we begin to compare it distracts us from the ministry we’ve been God-appointed to lead.
Finding affirmation among the rebels. This is the one that gets me in trouble among the rebels when I point it out to pastors. But we must be careful not to get distracted by people who would complain regardless of the decision we make. Yes, it stings the way some people talk to a pastor. And, it’s certainly not always godly how some people express themselves in the church. But, what if Joshua had listened to the naysayers? What if Nehemiah had? What if Moses had given up every time the complainers were louder than the people who are willing to follow? Okay, he probably was willing to give up a couple of times but he held the course. If you are leading there will always be someone that is not happy with the decisions you made. People bent on pleasing others — more even than pleasing God — have a very hard time finding peace and joy in ministry.
Sacrificing truth for popularity. It’s easy to preach the easy stuff. Grace messages are pleasant to share and popular to receive. And, we need them. Where sin increases — grace should increase all the more. But, we need truth. Even when it is unpopular. Making disciples becomes impossible when we sacrifice either one — truth or grace.
Stealing glory. My mama used to say “that boy got too big for his britches”. Sadly that can happen in ministry also. Many pastors struggle with ego problems. God is never honored in that. Pastors are in a God-glorifying position. Actually, everyone yes, but it is written into our job description.
Poor boundaries. In an effort to “minister” to people, I know too many pastors who fell into a trap because they didn’t have proper boundaries in place. The enemy enjoys a door of opportunity.
Neglecting friendships. Most pastors struggle knowing who to trust, but because of that they have few people really get to know them. Therefore they often have no one who can speak into the dark places of their life. And, pastors have them too. So, they put on a good front — but inside, they struggle alone. It’s dangerous.
Abusing power. The pastor holds a certain amount of power just because of position. It has been said, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” One of the more dangerous things I see churches doing these days is giving a pastor too much power, without enough built-in personal accountability. (That’s coming from a church planter’s heart — and one who is prone to lead strong.) BTW, I’m not for controlling the pastor or forced relational accountability — and I haven’t discovered the perfect system here — but there needs to be one that balances truth and grace equally. Again, I don’t know how to systematize that, but it is a dangerous distraction. My challenge would be to the pastor or ministry leader to build this system into his or her own life absent a system within the ministry.
Those are some that I have seen. These distractions are displayed in a number of ways — and all of them are not fatal thankfully — but all of them are real. And all of them are dangerous.
In my recent post I contend that…
To be a kingdom building pastor you MUST be a community building pastor.
I admit that “must” is a strong word — and there are few things that I’m emphatic about unless they are Biblical, but I do believe that in order for us to reach people today we have to get outside the walls of our church buildings. And, that means we MUST do something intentional to make that happen. The community has to know — and believe — that we really do care for them. For me, being a community builder makes sense — and seems most effective.
And, we do love our community already, don’t we?
I certainly hope so. We believe we have the hope for the world as our central teaching. The Gospel is not to be a hidden truth but the light in the city on the highest hill. That means we must take our light into the world.
So the fair question to follow a post like that is how do you do it? How can a pastor — or ministry leader — be a community builder?
I don’t have all the ideas, but I have some suggestions.
Here are 7 ways to be a community-minded pastor:
Know key leaders – I think you should know who the leaders in the community are and know as many of them personally as possible. You may not be able to know the mayor of your city, depending on the city’s size, but could you know your local council representative? Could you know a school board member? You’ll be surprised how receptive many politicians are when constituents contact them — especially a leader who has an audience with a significant number of people. (And, anything over an average household can be considered significant.) Let me be clear that I never endorse candidates in my official capacity, but I do vote and it’s amazing when you’re active in the community how many people in your church want to know who you support.
Listen to concerns – Wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do in the community — whether at city hall, a school meeting or the grocery store or barbershop, listen to hear the things people are talking about around you. If you hear repeated themes you can almost guess that’s an issue on people’s minds. And, if you aren’t hearing anything — ask. Actually, ask anyway. And, don’t hear for what you want to do or where your church is already serving. Listen with an open mind to the real concerns of people. You may have different answers than they’ve thought of before. You know how to organize people. You represent people you can organize. That’s a powerful combination when addressing community needs.
Love what they love – I’ll get disagreement to this one, but I think it’s one of the more effective ways to be a community builder. I’m specifically talking about loving the culture of the city. I’ve seen pastors bash their community online. That’s foolish in my opinion. You can talk against community concerns in a way to rally support for a cause without bashing the community. People often feel about where they live — especially if they grew up there — the way they feel about their family. They can say bad things about them, but you better not. But, here’s where I’ll get the most disagreement — to me, this also includes loving the traditions they love — including their local sports teams. I was visiting a church recently and the pastor joked about the local college team. He referred to the fans as “sinners”. The crowd gave a rousing disapproval — and they laughed. It was funny. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, how much more effective he could have been endearing people to his leadership if he was “on their side” rather than always blatantly rooting for an opponent. It must be genuine of course, and I’m not suggesting you drop loyalties to other teams, but ask what cause are you more loyal to supporting and how supporting it will be most effective. I’m in the heart of the University of Kentucky Big Blue tradition. I get criticized repeatedly by my Tennessee fans as a “traitor”, but I’m telling you people like me better — and listen more — when I’m wearing Kentucky blue. God has called me to reach people in this community and I’ve discovered they love that I’m learning their unique culture and exploring and enjoying the uniqueness that is Kentucky. When I was in a military town, the more knowledge and support I could demonstrate about military service the more our soldiers and their families seemed to endear themselves to my leadership. And, don’t misunderstand, it is absolutely genuine for me. I am intentionally trying to love the people to whom God has placed me to minister — and part of that — as I would do for any family member — is learning to love the things they love.
Learn the community – One of the best things I did when I moved to Lexington two years ago is go through the Leadership Lexington program. The following year I went through Leadership Central Kentucky. I quickly learned things I might never have known about the community. It’s amazing now how I can answer questions about things we offer in the community that people can’t answer who have lived here for years. Most communities have something like this. Often they are found connected somehow to the local Chamber of Commerce or equivalent. You can also sign up for any local tours that the community offers. If the town is too small for anything like this, make appointments with people who are known in the community for their years of service to the community. Go prepared with questions and pick their brains about the community. Cheryl and I recently started volunteering at the city’s visitor center. We are doing this to give back, but also to get even more familiar with the city and what it has to offer.
Build your community network – You never know when you’re going to need it. Plus, there will always be people you may not know but people in your network will know them. I’m consistently asking people to connect me with people I should know in the community. And, that’s in all sectors of the community. Don’t limit your network to those society considers influential. I recently had one homeless person tell me of another homeless person I needed to know, because he is an influence in that segment of the community.
Serve somewhere in the community, besides your church – I think this is critical in community building, but also simply the right thing to do. As pastors, we expect people from the community to serve in the church. It’s only fair for us to give back to the community that is giving to us. Plus, we need to lead the way so that others in the church will serve in the community also. Finally, it’s the best way to meet people who need the hope that we have to share.
Lead your church to be community builders – This begins with a general desire to see the people of the church investing in the community. But it won’t happen by accident. It takes the intentionality of teaching and serving by example. And, most of all it takes consistency. This isn’t something we do in a campaign once a year. This must be a lifestyle — getting the church into the community — being community builders — so we can eventually be Kingdom builders.
What other suggestions do you have to be a community builder?
I love this picture.
I saw it on Mark Jobe’s Facebook page. Mark is a pastor of a church I greatly admire in Chicago. Actually, as a church planter and revitalizer, I’ve probably referred people to New Life (and a video of their work I keep bookmarked) as much as any other church.
New Life is doing what I believe is some of the best, hardest and most needed work in church growth today. They come along side an older, declining, established church and breathe “new life” into them helping them reach the community again. There are many other churches doing similar work, but I have been to New Life and had the opportunity to talk with Mark a few times, so he’s one doing this type ministry I’m familiar with most. I don’t know Mark well — but we are close enough to be Facebook friends
In this picture, Pastor Mark is walking with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. According to the caption, Mark was “Discussing the challenges of providing a safer environment and better role models for Chicago school children with the Mayor”
I love it!
Yea Mark! Yea New Life! Yea God!
The thought that struck me with this picture is that it provides further proof of something I’ve believed for some time. Something I’ve been living and preaching.
It’s how I’m trying to do church growth today.
To be a kingdom building pastor you MUST be a community building pastor.
You simply have to be! I’m convinced.
Okay, maybe must is too strong a word. Sometimes I use titles to get you to read — because I am making a point I believe is important. And, let me be clear there are many other effective models of doing ministry than Mark’s and certainly mine. But, being a community builder seems to be at least one of the more effective ways I’m seeing churches grow these days.
People aren’t coming to our big buildings anymore — or our small buildings. We must go to them.
Shortly after I arrived in Lexington I ran past a historical marker for the oldest home in our city. It was built for a Presbyterian pastor. The marker explains what a difference that pastor had on the city — not just as a pastor — but as a community leader. That’s because — years ago — pastors used to be at the center of everything in a community.
Pastors were community leaders — game changers in the community. They garnered respect through visibility and activity. People listened to them and wanted their opinion — mostly because people knew them well enough to respect them. They weren’t just faces on a raised platform on Sunday — they were faces seen in the community during the week. They were friends. Town folk.
One of my mentors, a pastor now in his mid-90’s, helped start a small business almost 70 years ago that is still thriving today in the community where his first pastorate was located. How? He walked the man desiring to open a business over to the bank and told the community banker to “give this young man a chance”. He got the loan. The pastor got a generous church donor. (Funny how that works.)
He could march over to the bank with a prospective loan because he was respected by the banker.
Now, things have changed. Banks don’t operate like that anymore. I’m not saying they ever will again. Most likely not.
But, not everything has to change.
The fact is, we didn’t just stop influencing the bankers — we stopped influencing our communities. Many times we left public square to hide behind our pulpits. And, I get it. For so long they came to us. We would build it — buildings and parking lots and programs — and they would fill them. We may need to wait for some tragic or life-altering events to occur in thie life, but they’d come.
But it doesn’t always work anymore — at least not as easily.
I’m convinced, many times they don’t trust us as much because they don’t know us as much.
I haven’t been in full-time vocational ministry long. I came out of the business world where I was very involved in community functions. Frankly, in my experience, the pastors who were active in community efforts weren’t respected because of the way they went about trying to make a difference. I know because I heard my friends who weren’t Christians talk about it. (That experience has greatly shaped my approach to doing ministry. Leading in the community — hoping to be a Kingdom builder.)
You knew what they were against, but you didn’t know what they were for. You knew what they didn’t like about the community, but you didn’t know what they liked about the community. You knew they took resources from the community to operate their programs — but you didn’t know how they gave anything back. Honestly, they were seen more as antagonistic than helpful in changing the community for good.
The community won’t stand for it anymore.
And, while much of that is perception more than reality — most pastors and churches do love their community, even if it’s not always visible. If the church does it’s job of making disciples of those who attend it should be helping the community by giving back citizens who have more joy, patience, love, etc. Who doesn’t want that? (I’ll let someone else decide if a particular church is actually producing Christ-like disciples.)
But wasn’t Jesus visible, known and well-liked in the community? Sure, they eventually rejected Him, but that was part of the plan — and He knew it was coming — and that didn’t deter Him from loving the people outside the walls of the synagogue. Jesus proved you could be in the world without being shaped by the world.
And, by being in the world, we stand a far better chance of helping to shape it.
Frankly, if all the community knows is the perceptions they see — and, they are more against a community than for it — I don’t blame them for rejecting our message.
And, so, I contend again…
To be a kingdom building pastor you have to be a community building pastor.
So, we need to be involved in our schools.
We need to be involved in addressing the greatest needs of our community.
We need to know our school and city leaders and help them understand we are here to be part of the solution — not to add to the stress of their jobs.
We need to earn the respect of people in the community — some who will never enter the doors of our churches — so we can help build our communities.
Only then, in my opinion, can we most effectively build the Kingdom today. And, in my honest opinion, it’s the right thing to do even if the church never grows another member from it.
So, let me ask some sobering questions.
Pastor, how are you investing in your community?
How are you becoming a community leader/influencer?
Does the community know you — as more than just a name on a sign outside your building?
If so, do they like who they are getting to know?
Jesus had an inner circle of leadership.
It sounds exclusive. And it was.
But you should have one too.
Matthew 15:32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
It’s a leadership principle we can learn from and should implement also.
Consistently throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see Him responding to situations in a similar fashion.
Jesus didn’t simply announce His plans.
Instead, He repeatedly called His inner circle together. He prepared His team. Then He announced His plans.
The inner circle of Jesus (His disciples) were continually being shaped for leadership and ministry.
He built loyal followers by personally investing in them.
He gained His team’s confidence by sharing insider information with them.
He expanded His ministry 12-fold by delegating to them.
And, do you think Jesus knew a few things about leading people — people He created?
I think so.
Leader, your largest goal in leadership development should be to develop an inner circle of leaders around you.
When you invest in them — when you allow them to lead — you develop loyal followers who will follow you anywhere and help you accomplish the vision God has given you.
Great leaders — like Jesus — develop their inner circle of leaders first.
I can anticipate the detractors of this post, so let me address you now.
It’s not that you are being exclusive in your leadership development. Everyone can be developed. But rather you are being effective.
It’s impossible to lead too many direct reports in leadership.
That’s why some pastors burn out.
For me, I find I’m less effective when more than 4 or 5 people report directly to me.
Jesus could handle 12 — but He’s Jesus. But even then, it appears Jesus was even more intentional with Peter, James and John. And He consistently tried to slip away from the crowd.
“Follow Me” – Jesus said.
Leaders — do you have an inner circle of leaders you are developing?
I’ve never used this blog for this purpose but I decided to give it a try.
We are looking for a worship leader.
The job title is actually Associate Worship Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church.
But, who needs titles anyway? (Okay, some do)
But, this is so much more than a title. And, we are so much more than just the name of a church. We are experiencing a movement of God upon our city. And, it’s a great time to be a part of things here.
The primary role of this job — regardless of the title — is to partner with our worship pastor — who’s a really great guy (you’ll like him) — to build an incredible team — to encourage incredible worship opportunities.
This position leads in our largest gathering on Sundays — a modern, contemporary service — and has lots of other potential for leading in other areas — and participating in the life of the entire church. In fact, this position is being created because the previous associate left for a lead position, but this gives us an opportunity to reshape the position. And much of that will depend on the person who lands in the job.
Here are a few highlights of the position:
- A full-time opportunity.
- A healthy team environment. (And, hopefully continuing to get healthier. It’s kind of a value we have as a team.)
- A healthy and growing church. (We aren’t battling here. We are unified around a mission.)
- A position where you can grow and develop even more. (You should be good, but you don’t need to know it all. In fact, that wouldn’t be good if you thought you did. This is a great position to begin to develop as a leader.)
- A position where the only lid placed upon you will be the one you set. (How involved do you want to be?)
Immanuel is a 105 year old, established, intergenerational church. We are in a period of revitalization and fast growth. Outreach Magazine has featured us as one of the fastest growing churches in America. We are staff-led church, with a very healthy team environment. It’s a great place to work. We are family friendly and enjoy doing ministry with each other. We hire for culture and chemistry fit as much as any other characteristic.
Lexington is a jewel of a city. You won’t find anyone who doesn’t enjoy living here. We excel in the entertainment and the arts, recreation, and culinary excellence. Our locally owned restaurants will keep you busy exploring the first few years you are here. The beauty of horse country surrounds us, yet we have a thriving downtown with something going on every evening. We have ice-skating downtown in the winter and water parks and minor league baseball in the summer. This is a college town – and even though UK dominates – we have a broad range of educators. We are the 6th highest per capita in people with advanced degrees. We are on the Broadway play tour and we have an award winning opera program. The symphony is here. The town has Southern charm and urban professionalism. It’s a great place to live. Read my post about Lexington HERE and watch this cool video about our city.
Interested? This is not meant to be a job posting, but more to stir interest. If you’re serious, I can send you more information.
Send me a confidential email to email@example.com
And, will you say a prayer for us in this search and as a church? We believe God is blessing us for such a time as this — and we don’t want to miss anything He has for us to do.
I’ve worked with a lot of church plants. And, I’ve been involved in two — as a planter. Every planter goes into the process hoping to see lives changed with the Gospel. Hoping to grow. Some work. Some don’t.
Why is that?
Well, of course, there are spiritual factors at work. Some sow seeds and others reap harvest. Sometimes God uses the plant in a unique way — that doesn’t produce huge numbers of attendees. And, frankly, sometimes the planter had no business planting. It was never really what they were called to do. It looked “exciting” from the outside — all the “cool” people are doing it, but God had a different plan for the planter’s life.
But, speaking specifically about strategic type of reasons a church plant doesn’t grow, I’ve observed a few things.
Here are 8 reasons a church plant may not grow.
You live by someone else’s rules. I’ve seen it so many times. A church plant has the rules of the denomination or an association and they simply don’t work where they are located. The plant doesn’t contextualize the structure to the culture and community around them. The exact same model won’t always work in two different church plants — even across town from each other. Principles are often transferable, but not necessarily practices.
You try to be like everyone else. This is similar to number one but has to do more with the planter. The planter has a vision but it’s someone else’s vision. They have a desire to look just like someone else they admire. Every plant needs it’s own vision birth by God in the heart of its own planter. The truth presented should be the same as every other church plant, but the style of deliverance will have some uniqueness to the planter.
You depend too much on outside funding. Rather than developing givers and volunteers from with inside the plant, the plant waits for the outside checks to come. The problem with outside funding is that it eventually disappears. It is rarely sustainable long-term. And, if not careful, the planter becomes dependent on these resources. Obviously there are exceptions. Some plants may never be able to fully fund themselves. But, in my experience, many times this problem exists because the planter has not discipled the people attending in the area of giving.
You build programs over relationships. This is a common problem I’ve seen too. A church planter enters an area, implements a few programs, and believes that people will naturally acclimate to those programs. And they may for a short time. But in the end programs will not sustain people. Relationships will.
You worry too much about structure. You’ll get there. And you need structure. But, especially in the initial days, focus more on loving a community. Then building structure. My advice, is to have some basic structure in place, but not have that structure so rigid or controlling that you can’t adapt quickly to the needs of the community. Then spend your greatest energy loving people.
You waited for them to come to you. You thought “new” would be enough. Build it they will come works in the movies. But, that doesn’t even work in established churches anymore, why would it work in church plants? The future attendees in any church are usually outside somewhere waiting to be asked. And, sometimes they don’t even know it. It’s our job to go find them.
You didn’t protect yourself and your family. We can’t count the number of church plants that never really accomplished all that they could have because the planter wasn’t healthy enough to see it through. It could be a moral failure, burnout, or a family that is falling apart under the stress of the plant. (Let me speak specifically into this one. Every planter needs mentoring, discipline and accountability. From the start. Not after the need is discovered.)
You held too tightly to your way. Church plants can recruit entrepreneurial leaders. It’s a natural attraction. Given the authority to actually lead this can be one of the most powerful benefits of the church plant. When the planter ignores this and keeps people from feeling empowered, growth is limited to the church planter’s abilities. The planter should certainly control — or maybe the word is protect — the theological foundation, but implementation of vision should be shared with others.
Those are just a few observations. As with the purpose of this blog, they are meant to be helpful. If God has called you to a church plant — plant well. I’m pulling for you.
Recently I wrote “20 Things God Might Say”. It was a popular post. All were designed to be easily tweeted with a simple copy and paste.
I thought there might be a companion post. I believe, based on Scripture, that we can trust God not to say some things — especially in these days of grace.
Here are 25 things you’ll never hear God say:
“Oh yea. I forgot about her.” #ThingsYoullNeverHearGodSay
“Well I don’t know what to do now.”
“I’m so worried.”
“I just don’t understand him.”
“Don’t call me again until you turn your life around.”
“This one’s too big for me.”
“That’ll make me love you less.”
“What did you say your name was?”
“Forgive me. I made a mistake.”
“I just need a vacation.”
“I’m so tired of being interrupted.”
“This one’s beyond me.”
“I can’t take it anymore!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t take your call right now, but if you’ll leave your name and number…”
“That little sin won’t matter.”
“I give up!”
“Since the world is changing so fast, I’m thinking about changing my ways.”
“I wish I had thought of that!”
“I need your help to make it happen.”
“I’m so confused.”
“I’m all tapped out for this month.”
“Don’t blame yourself. That one was my fault.”
“I didn’t know anything about that.”
“I’m a little behind the times.”
Any you’d add?