If we were to rank the most important parts to a pastor's job description, preaching would be far and away the top. It's the primary aspect of ministry in Acts 6:4, and the only skill in the pastoral qualifications is the ability to teach. But for some, that's where they stop. I get that, in some churches the polity lends itself to a teaching pastor role, or the size of the staff means the lead pastor is less hands-on with the day to day administration. But the reason I think a lot of pastors stop at preaching is they don't fully understand what it means to shepherd.
Over the last 3 years as a lead pastor this has become gradually more apparent, and yesterday hit like a ton of bricks. I'd preached on suffering for the Christian, and after the service held the arm of a lady going through months of trial without any relief. And like a fullback opening the hole, I was hit with the emotion of the moment. Since then I've tried to process the moment and the best I can figure is that there are 4 ways that preaching is the beginning.
Pastoring begins with exegesis, but finishes with application - We can't take liberties with the text or try to justify our point with proof-texting. It's not faithful ministry if we rip a verse out of context and apply it in a way that clicks with people. We have a responsibility to "rightly divide the word of truth" and that begins with the hard work of exegesis, interpretation, study, prayer, thought, reflection, and a whole lot of backspace/eraser. But we can't finish there. We have to seek to apply what we're preaching. That's where we move from preacher to pastor. A pastor walks alongside the flock and guides them to godliness. They're not talked to and then left to fend for themselves. Pastoring doesn't just ask "what does it mean?" but "how does this change lives?"
Pastoring begins with theology, but finishes with love - Again, we should have right theology. Orthodoxy is kinda a big deal. Theology guides our worship, our devotion, our love, our polity, our marriages, our families. Everything is theological, but God has left His impression on everything. Of all the people concerned with theology in the New Testament (besides Jesus), Paul wrote compellingly about love. We can have all the right theology, but if we don't love we've missed the point. A robust theological prism will drive us to love: a love for God and a love for our neighbor. That's the point. We can begin with a solid orthodoxy, but if it's not rooted and expressed in love, we've missed the point. Love as a pastor involves a couple things that I want to draw attention to:
Pastoring begins with the pulpit, but finishes with the chair - Our most visible form of ministry is the pulpit. Everyone is watching. The greatest number of people we'll impact are there. But pastoring doesn't stop there. It finishes with the chair. The living room chair. The waiting room chair. The hospice chair. The wedding reception chair. The front porch chair. The kitchen chair. The coffee shop chair. The public ministry is the most visible, and it's the one most associated with our ministry (think about how we select pastors in most churches, it's after a "trial sermon"), but it's the lowest touch ministry. The highest touch comes from the chair.
Pastoring begins with the head, but finishes with the heart - As pastors, we should seek to know as much as possible as we can, get as much training as we can, read as much as we can, study as much as we can, and mine to the core every time we're in front of a text. And we should encourage the same in other people as well. We should recommend books, loan out books, provide opportunities for spiritual growth and Bible study, and get good resources in front of them. But we can't stop at the head. We have to finish with the heart. As pastors, our job and our joy isn't in getting approval or applause or recognition for being a great scholar or a great preacher. Our joy is from leading people to love Jesus more. If people in the church are more in love with Jesus and the things Jesus loves (the Word, the Church, the World, your Neighbor) than when you arrived, you've done well.
Churches can have a lot of questions of their pastors. Some of them can be theological (it's always fun to get asked eschatology questions), others can be ethical, or scheduling, or church direction, or any number of others. If you're lucky, you'll be asked to be a part of people's lives in those benchmark moments. If you're not, you'll be asked to bring a plunger and hurry.
You'll get asked questions and have questions asked about you. It's part of the job. At the core, I think churches have four questions of their pastors.
1. Does our pastor believe what he's preaching?
It's easy to talk theologically and to get in the language of Christianese. A good public speaker can learn enough about preaching to fill a pulpit. But it's completely different when a church knows its pastor is not only speaking about the Bible, but has been gripped by their firm conviction and steadfast belief in the Bible. A pastor who truly believes what they're saying will be shaped and driven by what the Bible says, not just knowledgeable enough to speak about it. A pastor who truly believes what they're saying won't just run through the motions or look at their work as mechanical. It'll be dynamic. Alive. Vibrant. And contagious.
2. Does our pastor care about our church?
I think at some point all of us have been asked, accused, or inferred that our current situation is a "stepping stone" for something "bigger and better." And while there may be some out there who do look at their position as a chance to jockey for another, the overwhelming majority of pastors are people who deeply care about where they've planted their lives and their families. I don't think longevity is a 1:1 correlation to care, but it certainly trends that way. Our churches want to know that we care about them, that we love where we are, and that we don't see our calling and assignment as a ladder to climb.
3. Does our pastor want God's best for our church & community?
The difference between a shepherd and a hireling is that a shepherd wants the best for the flock and for the community. The hireling looks to see what they can get from the flock and community. Churches want to know their pastor is looking for God's best for them and for their community. They want to know you care about evangelism and taking the Gospel to our community. They want to know you want to grow in unity and health as a church. They want to know you care about wise financial stewardship and healthy spending.
4. Does our pastor love me?
This is where the question gets personal. People want to know their pastor cares for and loves them. They want to know that to you, they're more than a project or giving units or cogs in a growth strategy. They want to know you ache when their spouse passes away, or that you are glad when their PET scan is clear. They want to know that you're genuinely glad to see them on Sunday. They want to know that when they call you that they'll be greeted warmly, lovingly, and graciously by their pastor. They want to know that they're not a distraction, but that you love them.
The other day I was walking in the grocery store and passed by a spill. Like one of those "cleanup on Aisle 2" spills. It was everywhere. And I overheard the staff talking about needing extra cones to keep people from walking through the spill. The reason? "If you don't put them up, they'll just walk right through it." That night, I made sure to fold the ironing board before vacuuming the floor. I didn't want the ironing board blocking where I was trying to clean.
Barriers have a positive and negative effect in ministry. Barriers have a positive effect in that they keep us on track and moving forward. But they have a negative effect when they stifle growth or ministry function. I want to give a couple advantages of barriers and a few problems (and solutions) for barriers.
Barriers help us determine priorities in resources, budget, staffing, and purpose - No church, no matter the size, can do everything. No car, no matter how well made it is, can drive through a construction site or jump an overpass (no matter how many times you saw the movie Speed). Barriers help us think about what's most important to us as a ministry, and to plan accordingly. If we know we can't go somewhere, it helps us identify and prioritize where we can go.
Barriers keep us grounded in our convictions - Hopefully your church has some form of a confessional statement or statement of belief. Those form barriers to keep your church in line with your conviction of the teaching of Scripture. We might have some disagreement on the particulars, but we can all agree that we should act in accordance with our stated beliefs. Those become a standard for membership, for leadership, and for guiding the church through doctrinal issues. But they also keep us grounded in the practice of our convictions. Those barriers determine the lines you have drawn: whether they be your schedule to ensure you're keeping your family as a priority, or your opinion on who and where you'll counsel, or how you determine access to your facility. Healthy barriers can lead to healthy practices.
Barriers can stymie growth - I have a love/hate relationship with tables. I like having one because I have a coffee cup attached to my hand most of the day, especially on Sundays. But I loathe tables because they limit how many people can be in a group. When we have physical limits, we're limited in what we can do. So we have to decide what we'll do with those limits. If you're limited in seating in a classroom, you can do one of two things: 1) You can multiply the group by forming a new one and allowing them both to grow, or 2) You can yank the tables. Same thing with worship seating. If you come up to the limit of your capacity, you can: 1) Build a new building, or 2) Go multiple services. However you decide to move, you need to take those barriers out of the equation.
Barriers can be clutter - Clutter in a church sends a message of carelessness. It tells visitors and members that we don't really care about our facility, so we don't care that there is clutter. Barriers form when you're not allowed to take "that picture" off the wall or remove the parlor and turn it into an open fellowship area. When we clutter our space, we limit the movement of people. And when we clutter, we let people know we're not really that interested in company. Remember your mom getting a call that Aunt Sally was coming over? You cleaned the house. You expected company. So take that copier that's sat in the corner for years and throw it out. Take the dusty prints off the wall and replace them with something more ascetically pleasing.
Barriers limit possibilities - When we put up barriers and don't take them down, we're limiting our possibilities. For some churches, it's a facility barrier (you build an area that has a single purpose). For others it's a staffing model (you've always had Minister of X). Still others it's a style or approach or methodology. Whatever your barrier is, it's limiting your possibility. As long as you think you still need the Minister of X, you'll never think about what could happen if you combined X with Y. Or that there is only one correct way to organize your worship service. If you don't believe that's an issue for churches, change things around and see how that goes! Instead of working with your barriers in place, adopt a mindset that it's not just ok to try but it's ok to fail. Not everything will work. But we shouldn't let that stop us from trying!
What other things would you say about barriers? Their good? Their bad? How can you fix them?
One of the best visuals for leadership in the local church is a piggybank. Like a piggybank, leadership make deposits in small amounts (unless the grandparents come visit). Deposits are made when we visit someone in the hospital, show up and faithfully preach each Sunday, visit during a crisis, counsel in difficult times, come to the funeral, and more. You know when you've made a deposit in your piggybank. Yesterday our children's ministry showed what they had been working on for weeks in memorizing a long chunk of Scripture. After the service I told our children's minister he had just made a nice deposit!
The piggybank is our leadership trust that people have in us. It's the resource we have to lead people and our churches & ministries forward. It takes a long time to build, and it can get spent quickly. Leaders always have an initial deposit that comes during the honeymoon period. But over time, our deposits need to far exceed our withdrawals. Withdrawals happen when you make a decision or a move that requires people to trust you. They will if you have a good reserve. They might even if you don't and extend a line of credit. But just like a credit card, you're on the hook for far more than you realize when you lead in debt.
But our piggybank extends beyond that to the people around us we directly work with and lead. If you're a youth pastor, this is your leadership team. If you're in music, this is your choir & musicians. For lead pastors, it's your staff & other key leaders. We have to make deposits not just in the general sense, but in a real specific sense with each of our leaders around us.
Which brings us to the issue of "loyalty" in a leadership circle. There is nothing more awkward in a leadership circle than being asked for loyalty. It feels like a Mafia scene, minus the cannoli. Loyalty and Security go together, along with the idea of the piggybank. To help understand it, look at the "Ministry Loyalty Piggybank" matrix:
Can I give 5 suggestions on how to improve here?
1. Get out of your office - For a lot of us, our office can feel like a sanctuary. It's filled with books, we can listen to our Spotify playlist, and it can be a place where we "get work done." But if we're not careful, our office can become a prison. We feel like we can never leave because "someone might need me." If we can get out of our office we can make investments in our leaders and our ministries by visiting homes, hospitals, and making connections in our community. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, if we have a cell phone and a laptop we can "get work done" almost anywhere.
2. Read more - Yes, I know I just said to get away from your introversion. But leaders are readers. And if you want to be a better leader, read more. Read leadership books, read biographies, read doctrinally (and devotionally), read outside your wheelhouse. You'll pick up nuggets all around and it will help you be a better conversationalist if you've read broadly.
3. Get over yourself - A lot of insecure leaders focus way too much on themselves. Get over it. You're not that important. The Barna Group has a whole emphasis on healthy transitions because when it comes down to it, we're all interims. Someone else will take our place. Things will move on without us. You're not indispensable. You're a vessel for King Jesus to do work. That means He doesn't need you to do it. We're invited into His work to join Him, but the security a leader in ministry has doesn't come from their talent or from their calling, but from their source. For more, read Ephesians 1.
4. Listen well - Leaders aren't just readers, they're listeners. Listening well means shutting your mouth. It means seeking to understand where someone is coming from. A lot of leaders with a debt in their piggybank listen to respond. If you want to make deposits, actually listen to the people around you. Ask questions. Get to know them beyond their formal or functional role. Find out what makes them tick. Get their sense in how they see things, even when it's not how you see them.
*Pro Tip - Everyone has a favorite Sonic or Starbucks drink
5. Seek out deposits and plan your spending - There's a reason the candy near the checkout is called the "Impulse Rack," the goal is to get you to buy something without thinking about it. As leaders, we have to be careful in how we plan our spending. Jesus talked about this when he said no one builds without first "counting the cost." For us, that means we make sure we've been prudent, prayerful, listened well to others, and sought buy-in from other leaders before making a "purchase" with our piggybank. Deposits are things we should seek out. The widow on the back row who is always alone? Go seek her out. The visiting couple who always come in late? Give them a call and do lunch. The faithful Sunday school teacher who shows up week after week, year after year? Recognize them in a service.
Much has been written about the recent news from Josh Harris. And I'm not going to go into it all here. It's something that we discussed on the Life & Ministry Podcast. For most, Harris' legacy is his since-repudiated book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (be honest, if you were a 90s youth group kid, you read it). But for me, his legacy and what has always stuck with me wasn't IKDG, it was another idea: Humble Orthodoxy.
After the news broke, I bought and read Harris' primer on pursuing a humble orthodoxy. It was refreshing to my soul. I'd come across that term from another of Harris' books, Dug Down Deep, and it was a total reorienting of how to handle truth. At the core of the approach to humble orthodoxy is a dilemma: we don't have a truth problem, we have a heart problem. It starts with Paul's last words to his protege Timothy:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. 2 Timothy 2:22-25
After all the reminders to guard the faith, protect the deposit, and entrust it to "faithful men," Paul gives Timothy a last admonition: don't be a jerk.
Harris contrasts two wrong perspectives: 1) Arrogant orthodoxy, and 2) Humble heterodoxy. In one, truth becomes a hammer to drive nails into heretic hearts. It becomes a tool of exclusion, and in most cases becomes focused on secondary, rather than primary issues. In two, truth is removed from the discussion in the name of not offending. Both are wrong, because both miss out on a central tenet of theology: Truth has eternal consequences.
While reading through Humble Orthodoxy, I couldn't help but think of times I'd not been humble. I'd been a jerk when humility was required. I put down trenches where God called for a table. I'd been impatient and careless as someone was processing books like The Shack or writers like Rob Bell - using orthodoxy as a hammer instead of showing "convictional kindness" and in doing so opening up confirmation bias for someone genuinely seeking wisdom. And now as a pastor, I want more than anything to be gracious in handling truth. I've been on the other side. I've seen the other side. And it doesn't drive to godliness, it drives despair.
It's not to say truth is irrelevant or doesn't matter. It does. It matters for eternity. Truth is the difference (literally) between Heaven and Hell. Truth was what Paul's treatises were rooted in, was the basis for God's self-revelation, and is what guards our minds today. Truth is important. Contending for truth is important. Loving our neighbor means being honest with them about things that matter.
But in our pursuit of humble orthodoxy, may I pose a few questions for us to consider?
1) Which is more important, proving a point or winning a person? Sometimes in our zeal for truth, we become like the Pharisees in Jesus' time. We focus so much on "being right" that we bomb bridges with our neighbors, family, coworkers, or even people in our church. Again, truth has eternal consequences. But as JD Greear has asked, do we love being right more than we love our neighbor?
2) What's offensive, the Gospel or me? The Gospel will divide. It tells people they're broken and need not just repair but death to self and life in Jesus. It tells people they are sinners but can find rescue in someone who they've never met who died for them. Jesus knew the Gospel would offend, His message got Him killed. But sometimes we miss the offense of the Gospel and we become the offensive one. We think it's because of Jesus, but really it's because we're jerks.
3) What has become to object of our affection, Right Theology or Jesus? I think it's totally possible for someone to love theology more than Jesus. They can love being right, being "orthodox," and being a walking systematic theology book.... but be completely dead on the inside. In a pursuit of humble orthodoxy, Jesus is the object of our devotion and love. From that flows orthodoxy. From that flows Truth, because what we know about Jesus and about God's redemptive plan is revealed to us in Scripture.
4) Is our orthodoxy matched by orthopathy and orthopraxy? In other words, is our devotion to doctrine met with a similar level of devotion to love and to action? Are our hearts and hands aligned with our heads? If our pursuit of Truth and Orthodoxy doesn't drive us to a greater Love (of God and of Neighbor - remember the Greatest Commandment?) and Action (serving God & Neighbor), then what good is our Orthodoxy?
5) Is our worship passionate or dry? Truth and Worship go hand in hand like love & marriage. Love drives a marriage, and marriage drives love. A humble orthodoxy still finds wonder and amazement in the presence of God. It still finds childlike joy in approaching the Throne. It doesn't parse every song for theological error (don't judge, we've all done it before) or argue over whether or not God's love can be "reckless." Humble orthodoxy can do this because it doesn't think it's all figured out. Worship stems from wonder. Humble orthodoxy sings What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus, and doesn't immediately go to a theology of substitutionary atonement. It begins with wonder that Jesus would shed His blood for me. And in concert with that it begins a robust understanding of propitiation.
Seriously though, ministry leaders, we have to stop airing our grievances like every Monday is Festivus. Ministry, especially pastoring, is for grown ups. There's a biblical command for maturity to be entrusted with leadership in the church, and part of the expectations for pastoral leadership is that they'll be well thought of by those outside the church. That last one is where I believe we can find a direct principle link to how we post and how we talk about our jobs.
I love how Josh calls pastoring a "great privilege and honor." It truly is. It's incredibly humbling to be able to week after week stand and preach. It's even more humbling to be invited into people's lives during their worst (and best) moments. It's an honor when people share about how you have impacted their lives. Those are memories over the years I've treasured, and in many cases kept the cards.
When we complain about our job or about the work/task of ministry, we're doing dishonor to the high calling we've been given. God called you to be a conduit of His ministry and work among His people. It's incredible that God would use any of us to accomplish His work. And work it is. It's hard work. It's time consuming. Sermons don't appear out of thin air. Meetings don't plan themselves. Administration doesn't just fall into place. And developing other people doesn't happen in a microwave. You'll work hard. At least you should. But it's good work because it's the exercise of God's gifting and calling in your life.
It can also build contempt among the church. Can you imagine being in a church where the ministry leaders think everyone is out to get them (and post about it), or who complain about how their ministry obligations keep them super busy? Those church members who hear that are working 40-50 hours a week, balancing family obligations, and on top of that committing to attend and serve in the church. (chances are they don't get Fridays off) On a more pragmatic level, when we complain about the church, not just publicly but privately, we're breeding contempt among the people whose generosity and sacrificial giving enable our livelihood.
Lazy pastors foster a complaining culture. When I was a teenager I worked for my dad off and on in a warehouse. During the summer it'd be 130 on the top floor and I'd leave every day drenched. The complainers were usually the ones putting in the least work. Same principle applies in ministry: busy pastors don't have time to complain. I love how Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 5:16 to make the best use of our time. We don't have long. And we can spend that producing fruit in our ministry, or complaining that we got apples instead of oranges.
Here's what has helped me be more grateful as a pastor: taking 15 minutes every Monday to write 2 thank you notes to someone in our church who helped make Sunday better. Postcards are cheap to send. And it helps me be more grateful for the incredible privilege and honor it is to be a pastor.
When I was a 23 year old doe-eyed seminary student, our pastor shared words that have stuck with me ever since:
There is no excuse for any able bodied church member to not be on the children's ministry volunteer rotation
Being a 23 year old doe-eyed seminary student who loved Jesus and loved our church and was naive and believed in what our pastor said, I walked to our children's ministry and volunteered. I filled out the background check and got the call for my assignment. Bed babies.
It was great. I got to be like the honorary funcle. I was a jungle gym, a reader, I'd play with the kids, and occasionally get peed on. And I'd hope that the parents wouldn't get too mad when they got home and their baby's diaper was on backwards (it wasn't until later I learned the picture goes on the front). Looking back on those Sundays, I'm so glad for the chance to serve.
Fast forward 16 years and I still firmly believe that. But I'd expand what Dr. Ewart said even further:
There is no excuse for any able bodied church member to not serve regularly.
Membership in the local church is more than attending. That's the starting point of assimilating. Merely attending isn't what God has gifted and called individual believers to do. Gravity has the chairs (or pews) covered. If that fails, the bolts will take over. Membership in the Body means participating in the life of the Body. That starts with attending, and extends into giving, praying, working, and serving.
Two things every member should ask themselves are:
1) Do I have a group to connect with? Groups form the relationship lifeline of a church. They keep people connected and in fellowship & accountability with one another.
2) Where can I serve with my gifts and experience? God has uniquely gifted every believer, and those gifts are meant to be used. Membership isn't about attending or taking. It's about giving and serving, it's producing something.
Serving produces indescribable joy. It really does. You get a front row seat to what God is doing throughout the ministries of a church. Our children's volunteers are amazed when they see the Bible verses our kids are treasuring and storing, and how they are developing a hunger for their friends to know about Jesus. You miss that when you don't serve.
Serving fosters deeper relationships. When you spend time laboring alongside other believers, it fosters a type of fellowship that can't be developed on its own.
Serving glorifies God by reflecting the work of Christ. Think about it for a minute, the King of the Universe for whom all was created said of Himself "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve...." Jesus lived a life of serving. Jesus washed feet. If Jesus were walking today, He'd be stacking chairs. When we refuse to serve, we're putting ourselves above what Jesus Himself was willing to do.
Pastors, if you're reading this, foster a climate of serving. Talk about it with new members. Reinforce it in your preaching. Celebrate faithful volunteers.
Church members, if you're reading this, jump on a rotation. You don't have to do everything. But you do need to do something.
Several years ago I sat down with an idea and a notepad. After hundreds of text messages, hours of writing and editing, a few chapters scrapped, and a lengthy process of proofing, I'd written a book.
It sold some copies. It's been used by a few churches and in a DMin seminar. I was pretty proud of it.
A couple weeks ago I got a note from my publisher that my books were transitioning. In other words, the shelf life had come and gone. I'm so thankful to Sam, Jess, and Art for taking the time and the risk to publish an unknown (twice) and to offer incredibly helpful feedback all along the way.
One thing that amazed me about the Rainer Publishing team was what followed in the note about the books transitioning. I was going to get the copyright back. That's practically unheard of. With that, I had full freedom and creative control over my work. It speaks of the humility and grace of the Rainer brothers to give back something like that.
So what does it mean? As of September 30, Dream Teams and Start Well will no longer be under the Rainer Publishing banner. They'll be re-released as self-published works.
I've wanted for some time to really do a significant revision to Dream Teams. One of its critiques was that it wasn't as clear how it could be used in smaller churches. I totally get that. When I wrote it, I was in a larger multi-staff church. Having pastored a smaller church for 3+ years now, I've seen how different the staff dynamics and relationships are. Every book, especially those written to be put into action, needs updating every now and then. I look forward to putting some time and thought into how Dream Teams can be better.
The original intent behind Start Well was to write something that could be handed to a ministry leader walking into a new assignment. But a theme I didn't feel like I did enough with was the idea of hitting reset in the middle of a ministry assignment. I still love the idea of the good start, but perhaps the better way to explore lifetime faithfulness will be more than the start.
Anyway, if I can ask the loyal readers for a couple favors, here you go:
1) Go check out the rest of the Rainer Publishing catalog. They have some great books out there. Buying those books helps support a publishing house committed to giving practical resources to the church.
2) Give some feedback. If you've read Dream Teams or Start Well, tell me what you liked and wished they had done better.
3) Buy a copy before they transition. I really believe in the message from both books. I wouldn't have written them if I didn't. So grab a copy. Learn how to build a strong team. Learn how to start a new assignment well. Until September 30, they'll be available in their original form.
If you bought a copy of one of the books, thank you. I hope they were helpful to you. My hope in writing wasn't to make money selling a bunch, but to share ideas that I couldn't stop talking about.
The Keurig in my office is running nonstop and I have a stick horse in my office. It can only mean one thing: it's VBS week. It's one of my favorite weeks of the year. I get to preach the Sunday before in a t-shirt, we see our volunteers step up in full force, our church campus is transformed into the theme, and we get the chance to welcome kids and families onto our campus.
Whatever your church does, whether it's VBS or a Sports Camp or Music Week or whatever during the summer, I think a healthy and fruitful ministry starts with you as the pastor. You can have an amazing children's ministry, but without the championing of the pastor, it's hard to succeed. Not every church or every pastor is able to be directly involved in the week. In a smaller church (like ours for example) you might need to jump in where you're needed. In a larger church, you may not need to be as directly involved, but you can still be the champion.
Show up - Your presence means you think this is important, and few things in the life cycle of a church are as important as the chance to connect with dozens of families who are in your community but not part of your church. You may not be the group leader for the preschoolers, but you have no idea what your presence holding a door open, greeting visitors, high-fiving kids, and being available for spiritual decisions will mean.
Use the pulpit - One thing we have as pastors is the pulpit, we have everyone's undivided attention for 30-45 minutes each Sunday. That is a sacred trust between a church, its pastor, and God. And with that comes the recognition that what you brag on and encourage will get people's attention. Recognize what's happening with VBS. Take time to pray in your service. Point out key volunteers and leaders who make it happen.
Be part of follow-up - We can have the most amazing program, the funniest skits, the best set design, and the most flawless execution of snack creation. But if we don't follow up with those who come, and especially with those who have a spiritual decision, we've missed the boat. Having visitors and guests on our campus, attending our activities, and filling out cards isn't the end. It's the beginning of a journey of discipleship, assimilation, and life transformation. Don't miss it pastor. Be involved.
Thank the volunteers - If your VBS is at night, some of your volunteers are trading a real dinner for fast food and leftover Teddy Grahams. If it's during the day, some are using vacation time from work to be there. Make sure you thank them. As awesome as your staff might be, and as supportive as you might be, VBS (and everything in the church) happens because of volunteers. Pro tip: Chick-Fil-A will do VBS certificates and volunteer appreciation cards. Nothing says "job well done" like Chicken Minis.
How have you as a pastor been involved in your church's VBS? How have you been its champion?
Digging through an old shed yesterday I came across a couple signs that I didn't know we ever had. It was the signage for designated pastor & staff parking. I'm not against designated parking in some situations. If your church has an older pastor who isn't as mobile, a closer parking spot is a blessing to someone who genuinely needs it. There may be some other reasons where a designated parking spot is valuable. That's the beauty of the church: there's not a one-size-fits-all approach.
But I'd like to ask you if you're in a leadership role in the church to dump your parking spot. You may not have a sign on it, but it's "your spot." It's close to the building. It's where you've parked for years. You get there early, so you claim the good ones. We've all been there. You're hauling in a trunk load of stuff for a Sunday so you get the close spot so you don't have to drag it through the rain. Or you've got young kids and you have to bring in the amount of gear normally reserved for summiting Everest.
God's pattern for leadership is upside down. Last go first, first go last. Influence comes through serving, not power. Authority is from God, not a position.
That's why I'm a big believer that it matters where and how we park. It communicates loudly. And it shows people in profound ways how we view our leadership and its stewardship. I ask our staff and our leadership, as they are able, to park as far from the building as they can. We do this for three groups of people:
1. Guests - When we let our guests have close spots (I'd even encourage you to have labeled parking for them) we're communicating that we're glad they're with us. It can be daunting to visit a church for the first time. You don't know which doors are open, signage can be confusing, and you can't find a bathroom. Parking close lets you also have people who can be helpful first impressions on everything from directions to times to helping connect with people.
2. Physically Limited - Every spot a leader parks further away from the building is a spot that much closer someone who isn't as physically strong can have. No matter how many ADA-compliant handicap spaces we might have, for most churches it's simply not enough. That's why it's important for not just leaders but those physically able to yield to their brothers & sisters who simply cannot. In doing so, we show deference and love to our senior saints and to those who struggle.
3. Young Families - Our young families arrive with strollers, car seats, diaper bags, and a nervous system held together by prayer and strong coffee. This is where I think signage can be a blessing. If your church is willing and able, designate spaces near your children's ministry area for families with young children. Make their journey easier. If you can't designate spaces, parking further away allows you to serve and bless. A church is only as healthy as its next generation ministry.
This Sunday, park a little further away. And as you walk toward the building, pray for those who'll be in the closer spots. For those guests, for those with physical limits, and for those young families.
And if you have your own parking spot sign, dump it.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.