Yesterday was a little bittersweet at the end of our service. We had learned that one of our key volunteers, someone who wears multiple hats in areas of the church, would be moving to be closer to family. It was a joyful time to know that she would be leaving to be near her loved ones and that she had already been looking for a church to plug into. But it was sad to see her leave. She was an ideal volunteer. Week after week she'd show up ready and prepared to teach children's Sunday School, even when there were no children attending. She never gave up. She plugged away. And yesterday the fruit of that was brought out when several kids, including both of mine, thanked her for telling them about Jesus.
No one in a church is a permanent fixture. All of us are on temporary assignment. That's the case for staff, members, and volunteers. The ministry continues after were gone. So what do we do when a key volunteer leaves?
We Celebrate - Someone who shows up faithfully, serves joyfully, and loves sacrificially should be celebrated as loud as you can. That's an honor they're due, not because they're seeking it but because it's right to recognize those who have finished well. You can recognize them in a service, give a gift, write thank you notes, and more. But cheer them on as they transition out. You champion what you celebrate, and if you want to build a culture of service, celebrate those who serve.
We Pray - It's good to pray for the volunteer who leaves. In a lot of ways it's a commissioning. You're sending them out from your church to another community, to another church, and hopefully to another ministry. But you also pray for the hole left behind, and for the right person to step into that key place of service.
We Move Forward - The thing about Sunday is it comes around every 7 days. When a volunteer leaves, we can't mope and dwell in the loss. Another Sunday is coming. Kids need to be taught, offering needs to be collected, sound needs to be monitored, and coffee needs to be made. You might need to iron out some kinks in the system until you can find the right fit, but things continue even after the key volunteer leaves.
We Recruit & Develop - I love the pipeline when it comes to volunteers and leadership in the church. The pipeline is the process where people are recruited and vetted for potential leadership or key places of service in the church. For us our men's ministry is a pipeline for identifying men who could serve as deacons, and our VBS is a way we identify people who could be long-term children's volunteers. That way, when someone has to step away from a key role, there is someone waiting in the wings to step in and carry the baton.
How have you handled this in your church? Leave a comment!
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.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.