It's no secret for many of us leading in the local church that we're dealing with taking our folks into uncharted waters. We've waded deep into a world that is almost exclusively digital. The way we get our news, pay our bills, watch movies, book our Disney trips, and more has passed from a person to a smartphone. A lot of us are serving in churches that have been slower to adapt to the changes and the influx of new tech. For every cutting-edge church with a digital campus and an app, there are hundreds who still own an overhead projector or a book of clip art.
The reality is two-fold: 1) We've been here before, and 2) We'll be here again. Slate has an article talking about the attitude shift that happens every time a major advancement happens. Radio was seen as mind-numbing, television was seen as a threat, even newspapers were feared because news would come from them rather than the pulpit. And all of this is before iPhones, Facebook, and cable television.
This is especially for those of us who are younger serving in a church. We fight an internal struggle between being frustrated with the slow pace and a desire to catch our churches up. I'll hear younger ministry leaders expressing frustration at older church members who refuse to adapt or who are slow to embrace a digital newsletter rather than a mailing.
Relax. Here's a few things you can do to lead wisely and lead well.
Don't Throw Too Much At Once - Whenever we want to introduce new tech or adapt emerging platforms in our worship or administration in the church, we can't expect everyone to jump on board immediately to everything. I've learned the hard way that things that happen slower and more intentional are more likely to succeed than things shoved down people's throats. One thing that's been helpful for me has been to list out the number of Presidents, the world history, the new things that have come that some of our senior saints have seen in their lifetime. They watched a man land on the moon. They saw JFK assassinated. They lived through the Cold War.
Don't Ridicule - This is an appeal more to our basic decency than anything else. Just because someone in your church, whether they're old or young, is unwilling to embrace some new tech or adapt a new platform is not reflective of their intelligence or walk with Jesus. Part of pastoring well is shepherding well, and we can't in one breath say we love our people and in the other make fun of them.
Coach and Guide - I'm 36 and I need to be coached often on new things from my 22 year old worship leader or from the teenagers in our church. Things that come naturally to them are different to this Xennial. If your church is building an app, walk people through it. If you're subscribing to something like RightNow Media, host an orientation. Take extra time to train your AV crew so they know how to work the new system. It's worth it. And you never know, you might get emoji texts from people you never expected.
Demonstrate Efficiency - Think about it, if your church has a monthly newsletter and you're sending it by mail to 150 homes, that's an annual cost of $882. What if that could be turned into $0 by doing a digital newsletter produced on Publisher or MailChimp or Constant Contact? That's nearly $1000 that can be reinvested in ministry. How much are you paying each year in checks? Would direct deposit be cheaper? If anything is consistent across churches, denominations, age brackets, and theology: we all like to save money and time. Point that out. Sell the advantage. Key in on the savings of both time and money for a ministry. Our church has started doing a lot of purchases on Amazon instead of tracking down stores. With Prime shipping, we're saving money over the course of the year getting needed supplies for our office.
Walk Slowly - Nothing will be transformed overnight. As a leader, you have to walk slowly on introducing new changes, new technology, and you have to be willing to eat a lot of pie. The people resistant to changes and adapting new tech aren't anti-technology, they've gotten through their entire life without this and they may not see the need for it now. I've seen this when churches talk about online bill payments. It's cheaper and easier to do electronic payments, but for some they lived with written checks and licking stamps. It's not bad, it's what they know.
How have you led to embracing new technology or adapting new platforms?
Last week a phenomenal research project was released by Pew, which laid out American views of religion on a typological spectrum. At one end are the die hard "Sunday Stalwarts," and at the other the "Solidly Secular." Most of the findings were unsurprising: Sunday Stalwarts were the ones who most frequently attended services and read Scripture, Solidly Secular tended to be more affluent and higher educated, a growing number of God and Country tended to skew more towards conservative and isolationist ideology as a religious identity, and that most people who identified as religious or Christian did not regularly attend worship.
Most of these categories have been around in one form or another for quite some time. And it's these categories that have helped us understand our communities and the places we minister. As church leaders, understanding religious spectrum, especially in a post-Christian world, are critical for us to faithfully shepherd people in their daily lives.
But one finding was surprising, and prompted several spinoff articles highlighting the unique finding. The Sunday Stalwarts, who exhibited the most traditional religious views in the spectrum, who are most faithful in attending services and reading Scripture, had some really divergent views on New Age belief. Of the Stalwarts, 29% believed in "energy in physical objects" (like crystals), 32% believed in the power of psychics, 19% believe in reincarnation, and 16% believe in astrology.
The implication is that many of the Sunday Stalwarts who sing classic hymns, attend Sunday School, and believe that their neighbors need to hear about Jesus are also willing to call a psychic, buy crystals, and hope they don't come back as a cockroach. For Pew, this was surprising because it went against the current of everything they had expected traditional religious belief to contain.
And for those of us who lead in churches, it should be surprising because it shows that we have a long way to go in helping shape a biblical worldview in our churches. We cannot simply assume that all the people who gather on Sunday morning have a consistent and biblically informed worldview. Or that those who actively pledge membership to our churches are aligned with what we believe.
As I read that, I was drawn to a phrase written on the mantle of my seminary alma mater's main building. It's a Greek inscription of 2 Timothy 1:15, "rightly divide the word of truth." It's a reminder that as Christian leaders, and certainly as pastors or teachers in the church, that we are in the business of truth. And that work requires that we not only highly view truth, but we rightly handle it. So how can we do that?
1. Faithfully Preach & Teach the Bible - Whenever we have an opportunity to teach or speak, teach or speak from the Word. When our pulpits become a place for us to wax on the good ol' days or where we cry against the ills of society, we're taking our people's eyes off what the preaching task is for: the proclaiming of what God has said in His Word. So whether you're an expository, book-by-book, verse-by-verse or a thematic or topical speaker, make sure you are faithfully in the Word.
2. Don't Avoid The Hard Parts - I firmly believe one of the issues behind the syncretism in the Pew research and in the rise of the "Nones" is that instead of dealing with the difficult parts of the Bible or the hard questions of our faith and ethics, we gloss over with pad answers or ignore it and move on. Whether it's sexual orientation, age of the earth, the role of faith in science, we've often reduced the Christian response to "You just have to have faith."
3. Call Spades - The other day I had a doctors appointment where I learned I had incredibly high blood numbers. My doctor wasn't a jerk about it, but he was very blunt and honest that I would need to make serious lifestyle, diet, and exercise changes in addition to medication to get those numbers under control. In Christian circles, we often set the goal at being nice, so we fail to say things are harmful because we don't want to not be nice. I'm not arguing for complete separation, but there are certain things Christians are to be set apart from, and as leaders we have a duty to set the boundary lines as a protection for people.
4. Graciously Take Questions - One thing I'm so thankful for over the years has been that mentors and leaders were willing to hear questions and thoughtfully answer them. Whether I was skeptical about something they taught on or was having trouble making connections between my faith and daily life, I was so glad they took time to answer them. We cannot blow off questions, those who ask them are seeking to know God and know Him better.
5. Pursue Humble Orthodoxy - I cannot encourage you enough as a church leader to read the book Humble Orthodoxy by Josh Harris. In it, we're reminded that our love for truth, our love for doctrine, should never outpace our love for God & Neighbor. So when we're dealing with people who have a crystal on their rear view mirror or who have gotten sucked into the latest Deepak Chopra book, we should never let our orthodoxy compromise our love and concern for them. If we do, we've missed the point of what truth means.
Do you have a story about this happening in your church? How did you handle difficult issues? Were you surprised by the Pew findings?
For the last few weeks our church has been going through an interesting crisis, Thermostatgate. We've had a rogue thermostat that keeps changing from cool air to heat at random times, without any explanation. The theories behind it are a short in the circuitry, a saboteur who adjusts it when no one is around, or maybe even Bigfoot. We've put tape on it and a note asking people to contact our office (apparently me, because I regulate the temperature?). There's also been talk about setting up a game camera. No word yet on night patrol, but we are drafting our 2019 Budget so nothing is beyond possible.
One of the things that comes up often in leading the local church is that you'll have moments that your seminary training couldn't prepare you for. I'm a huge fan of continuing education and getting prepared in seminary. It's the best years to prepare and learn exegesis, theology, history, hermeneutics, and to develop not only a strong mind but a pastoral heart. But even with all that, you'll find things you could never prepare for.
Be Mentored - I love seasoned pastors. There's nothing they haven't seen. They've been through battles and led significant changes and come out on the other side. Even though the way ministry is done has changed significantly over the generations, one thing that remains is that people are people. Whatever you're going through in ministry, someone has seen it before.
Don't Be Surprised - You will see, hear, smell, and experience things that you won't believe. I've watched the cops be called at a funeral, been shown surgical scars in the middle of a store, been scammed by a guy who forgot he gave me the same sob story a few months before, and walked in on a catheter being changed out. At no point could I ever think about a lecture or a book that prepared me for that.
Roll With It - One thing that I think happens to a lot of us when we finish seminary and we have a freshly printed Masters or Doctorate on the wall is that we're in some sense above things. But you very well as a pastor may be asked to clean a toilet, or to help with a workday (trimming palm trees has been my favorite so far), or find yourself in one day working as a crisis counselor, writer, and plumber. You have to roll with it. One of my previous stops had a staff motto of "Whatever it takes!"
Write It Down - I have a pastor friend who will occasionally text me pictures of the unusual things they find in long forgotten corridors of their church. You have to write these things down, if for nothing else than proof it really happened. Laugh with it, because you're in the front seat to some pretty eye opening things. And you never know when something that was never on your job description will be the moment where someone makes a life-altering decision to follow Jesus. And you were there, holding the plunger.
What has been your best "I wasn't taught this in seminary" moment?
Last year we waited anxiously for Hurricane Irma to make landfall, not knowing what the damage would be or how devastating the impact might be to our community. Luckily, the storm moved inland long before it got to the Tampa Bay Area and it was much weaker. But for our church, it was a wake-up call. We recognized we were completely unprotected in the event of a major hurricane. In fact, before the storm, I took some pictures of our facility in case we lost everything in the storm and needed proof for the insurance claim.
What we decided to do was purchase and install fabric hurricane shutters. Supposedly it can withstand major impact without damaging the window, but I'm too nervous to try it with a baseball. Hopefully the money we spent to have the shutters made and installed is wasted, that we never have to set them up in the anticipation of a major hurricane. But just in case, we wanted to be protected.
We can never assume our ministries and leadership is perfectly safe. We have to make sure that we have protection in place for not only the health of our churches but also our faithfulness to our calling. I want to suggest seven ways to protect your ministry:
1. Be Above Reproach Financially - I'll say this as nicely as I can, if you're a pastor, stay away from money. Don't take people's offerings for them. Don't monkey with the safe. Don't touch cash at the fundraiser dinner. Don't have access to the financial records. Do everything you can to make sure you're not touching church money. It's not yours. It's God's. Yes you should see giving reports, but never the name of the person giving. You should know your church's financial picture by reviewing reports and P&L statements, but you should never be seen taking church money. Turn in your credit card receipts and expense reports on time, accurately, and with full integrity.
2. Don't Steal Other People's Messages - Relevant Magazine surprised social media with a story about a church in Colorado openly advertising they want a pastor who preaches other people's sermons. Here's the thing, if you see what someone else said or read how another pastor or scholar interpreted a passage, you have not only a moral obligation but a professional responsibility to give credit where it's due. Sadly a friend of ours shared about confronting their pastor about lifting entire pages from a book in a sermon, and the pastor and church's response was ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. As a pastor, whenever you stand and teach you are giving the impression that you have adequately prepared, that the time the church has compensated you for has been spent in reflection and study. When we plagiarize, we are not only stealing from the original author but also from our church, and by proxy we're robbing God. Don't think it's a light issue. Give credit. Give a name. If you can't recall the name of who wrote it, Google it. If that doesn't work, simply say that you've read or heard elsewhere. Don't pass off someone else's words as your own.
3. Don't Sacrifice Your Family for Ministry - As a pastor, you have a primary obligation to your family. Your church can find another pastor. You are not irreplaceable there. You are irreplaceable at home. Your kids can't just bring in another Dad. Your wife can't bring in another husband. Protect your family time, not at the expense of your faithful ministry, but because that is your ministry. One lie we buy into often in ministry is that we are the center of everything, so we have to be at every meeting or attend every function. You don't. And you're not. Learn to say no on occasion. Make family meals and your children's activities and ball games a priority. Don't let your kids resent ministry because the church gets your best and they get (barely) leftovers. Don't let your wife feel like the church is your mistress.
4. Be Faithful with your Work Time - Protect your ministry by making sure that you are spending the time you need in order to faithfully fulfill your ministry. You don't need to be a workaholic who is distant and removed at home. But you also can't play golf all the time because you're "on call." I love the idea of scheduling your time so you can budget and block what's needed for sermon prep, counseling, administrative responsibilities, meetings, and other obligations. It helps if you're ever questioned about how your time is spent. It's also a matter of integrity. If you're being paid "full time" in ministry, you're expected to work at least 40 hours. Some seasons will be 60 hour weeks, others will be 40-45. But you can't shirk your work time and then expect volunteers to work a full job and then sacrifice their time at church. It's easy. Write it down on your calendar. Your computer & phone have one. Use it.
5. Protect Your Integrity - A lot of criticism has been levied recently about the "Billy Graham Rule" on how ministry leaders interact with the opposite sex. But it's important to make sure that you're above reproach. At the end of the day, what matters is that you've made sure you've not put yourself in a position where your integrity could be in question. However you do that is between you, your church, and your spouse. But you need to make sure you have protection in place.
6. Do Background Checks - Something far too many churches fail to do is run a basic background check on prospective volunteers. Unfortunately we no longer have the luxury of settling for someone being "known" to volunteer, especially when they have contact with minors. If cost is an issue, Lifeway has a great discount where you can have a strong check done for $10. It's money well spent. Don't let anyone, no matter who, volunteer with minors who hasn't completed a background check. Also, it's possible to search statewide sex offender databases along with the background check. We have a report generated when a sex offender moves into our area, in the event they visit our church so we can ensure our children & youth are safe but also for the offender to have the chance to worship without compromising his probation.
7. Staff Well - The final way to make sure that our ministries and leadership are protected is how we hire and staff our churches. Whether you want to admit it, whatever happens in the church will ultimately end up on your desk or in your face. Hiring the right people is critical, and I have a whole chapter devoted to that in Dream Teams. We have to make sure that we're bringing on board, and keeping on board, the right people in the right positions. Part of staffing well means not only hiring but evaluating, coaching, training, and equipping well. If your staff isn't adequately prepared to do what they have been asked to, that falls back on you. So make sure that you have clear expectations for the staff, that job descriptions are accurate and updated, that accountability measures are in place, that evaluations will not only be expected but welcomed, and that constructive feedback is a good thing.
What would you add?
One of the old adages in ministry is that the pastoral task is like a 3 legged milk stool. It's held up by three primary tasks: Preaching, Administration, and Counseling/Pastoral Care. I love this analogy. I've often used it to describe and categorize how we should understand the scope of our calling, identify our strengths & weaknesses, and how to shape a pastoral job description. It works.
But just because something "works" doesn't mean that we shouldn't evaluate it. One of the most dangerous phrases in leadership is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's fine on your car, but in a church or organization, just because something works doesn't mean it's healthy or best. Ideas and practices always have a shelf life, and when something cruises because it works we can often overlook our need to evaluate and possibly alter it.
That's where I think we are with the milk stool.
It's not that Preaching, Administration, and Pastoral Care aren't critical elements of a pastor's calling. They are. But the fourth thing that holds it all together is vision. The three milk stool legs are great. They help us shape our day. But they don't cover a key element, vision. If we're going to faithfully lead the congregations God has placed us in, we can't be content to do the tasks of ministry. We must lead with vision. We must point our people to the place God would have us go. We must chart the course, take the risk, and lead our churches towards what God has.
Vision is the stool itself.
Vision holds together our Preaching, our Administrating, and our Pastoral Care.
Our Preaching Points to Vision - Whenever we preach, we have the option to do a couple things. One is to faithfully preach the text. We may do it in series. We may do it in topical exposes of whatever is going on in culture. We may do it through one-off messages every week. The second though is to be both faithful to the text and preach it as it was written and capture vision. My desire as a pastor is for our people to be captured by the Gospel, shaped by the Word, have a biblical worldview, love their neighbors and the nations, and fall into worship. When we preach with our vision in mind, towards the place God wants us to go, we're not just telling people what the Bible says, we're pointing them towards a place to go.
Our Administration Supports the Vision - If Preaching is the public part of our ministry, Administration is the behind the scenes. This is the skeleton of our pastoral work. And it supports the vision if we seek to align our processes, our budget, our resources, our volunteers, etc. towards the vision. If your church has as its vision "we want to reach young families" but you're not dedicating budget resources, volunteer training, facility space, and staffing towards family ministry, you're not really serious about your vision. Administration is where we take the vision and we seek to align what our church does, what our money goes to, what our staffing looks like, and how we spend our time towards the vision.
Our Pastoral Care Reinforces the Vision - Pastoral Care is the time part of our pastoral ministry. And this is where we spend time with people one-on-one or in small groups. We're visiting and ministering toward the sick and hospitalized, we're working through family dysfunction and trauma to see redemption come as a fruit, we're helping walk people through the day-to-day of their Christian life. Pastoral Care reinforces the vision because it reinforces the one bringing the vision. If you're in pastoral ministry, your ability to lead and influence comes through the strength of relationships that you have. And you develop those relationships slowly over time when you're laboring in the trenches with people. If all people see of you is a talking head on Sunday and you don't love them enough to visit them in their distress or hold their hand after their spouse dies, you can't lead them. Pastoral Care is, as Maxwell says, walking slowly through the crowd.
Fire away with comments!
We're in a really unique, interesting, fun (depending on the day what word we use) with our dinnertime prayer. Both our boys love to do the prayer, and they each have a very unique way they go about it. Meanwhile Mommy & Daddy are hungry and want to thank God for provision and eat our supper before it gets cold, again.
So our 7 year old takes time to thank God for our food, for the day he had, for people in our family, for his friends who aren't in church, and occasionally a request we're able to go to Disney World. The 4 year old will ask God to "help daddy's eye feel better" (I had floaters one night before supper), to "help mommy's face" (still not sure what that's about), and that he can have a roll and dessert. There's also interludes of praying for every piece of food on his plate, for his special little potty, and more.
Parents, your prayer time at dinner is an incredible opportunity to be a part of your child's faith formation. Each dinner, each prayer, each awkward request, each time God is thanked for mashed potatoes, is a chance to help shepherd our children's hearts toward Jesus. I loved what my oldest's devotional said "Nothing is too big or too small for us to bring to God."
When we get frustrated at what our kids pray for, when we try to hurry them along, when we cut them off and say Amen! before they can finish (Guilty - and don't lie, you've done it before too), we're implicitly showing them and teaching them that there's some things we shouldn't bother God about. But God's not like us. We get frustrated when our kids constantly ask us to watch them, want to tell the same story over and over, or want to give a detailed commentary about the palm trees. We don't like to be bothered. But God does. When we cheer for our kids when they pray about the smallest thing, we're teaching them that God loves them enough that He wants to hear about the mashed potatoes or for daddy's eye to feel better.
Another thing we do is that we use the time before dinner to shape our children towards gratitude. Each time we sit down for a meal, even if it's Hamburger Helper, it's a reminder of God's provision for our family. We have the money to buy the groceries. We have the house to live in. We have the table to eat at. We have the gift of family. Is it always what everyone wants to have? Of course not. Your kids may be the same as mine, they could survive and be happy with a steady diet of Goldfish crackers and Chick-Fil-A. But even when it's not something we're thrilled about, we eat it with a grateful heart. Or we at least try it.
But finally, dinnertime prayer is an opportunity for us to shape our children's hearts through our own prayers for our kids, namely that they would come to treasure and trust Jesus. So while your children are making their way through the last few things they got in trouble for or what they want for dessert, take time to pray for them to trust Jesus. Pray their heart would love the Word. Pray they would be loved and encouraged by God's people.
Everyone in basketball hates the Warriors. Everyone in football hates the Patriots. Everyone in baseball hates the Yankees. Everyone in college sports hates Alabama, Duke, and Kentucky. The most common reason? "They win all the time." What's lurking below the surface is something more than fandom: resenting success. Think about it. Everyone in college football gets the same number of scholarships. Everyone in the SEC has the facilities, coaches, and fans. But Alabama still wins. Everyone in the NBA gets the same salary cap, draft picks work against good teams, and everyone gets the same TV money and exposure. But the Warriors keep winning. The NFL is designed for parity and punishes successful teams with scheduling. But the Patriots keep winning.
Maybe we all have a level of hater to us, where we just get mad and resent when someone else is doing better than us. Maybe it's jealousy because our favorite team languishes behind a more successful rival (I'm a lifelong Louisville fan, the Kentucky success is maddening).
But before we put ourselves spiritual and blameless, let's be honest. As pastors, we sometimes find ourselves in the same spot. The church down the road has money to take on a major building project while you're praying the AC units hold out. The pastor on your social media feed who gets a book deal and is speaking at a conference. The megachurch across town is bursting with young families and your median age are Civil War veterans.
Pastor, let me encourage you to be content in where God has placed you. He's the one who called you, who sustains you, and who has asked you to be faithful.
Celebrate Others' Success - It's really easy for us to get jealous or resent when someone else's church has a spectacular VBS or has a note-burning ceremony. But whenever great things happen to churches in our community, Jesus wins. It's not about us and our little kingdom, it's about His. So don't resent when others have great moments. Celebrate them. Text that church's pastor and encourage him. We're all in this together.
Don't Belittle Others' Failures - The flip side of the coin is for when we have a great moment or a really "successful" ministry to not be a jerk about it. Your church had a youth camp where a lot of kids got saved, and the church across town had to cancel theirs because no one signed up. Don't gloat. Your win today came because of God's grace to you.
Work Together - Churches that work together do more ministry than they could do apart from each other. Are you looking at launching a sports ministry? Maybe the church down the road with a big field could be where you host the games? At our church, we're hoping to partner with a neighbor congregation for Upward. They have a gym, we have a big field. We can do more work together than we could do apart from each other. And it doesn't matter who gets the visitors or prospects. Jesus wins, not us.
Cultivate a Heart of Gratitude - You may not be on the speaking circuit or have a book deal or pastor a church recognized in denominational news. But you're at a church that hopefully loves you and loves your family. You're at a church that God called you to. You're pastoring people God has called you to love and lead. You're paid to study the Bible, prepare messages, visit and care for people. No matter where God has placed you, you have a lot to be grateful for. And that starts with our hearts.
What have you done to celebrate another church's success in your area?
Last night my heart was grieved yet again as I read (yet again) another essay from an older SBC statesman lamenting that things "ain't what they used to be." With more straw men and mischaracterizations and a healthy dose of fear mongering, I was grieved not because of how the Convention is portrayed or how its trajectory is mislabeled.
I was grieved because again I found myself saying "Is this really how you want to go out?" Several years ago during our national meeting, one of the architects of what can only be described as the miraculous Conservative Resurgence took his final address and stomped his feet about the changes he didn't like being proposed. Earlier this year we watched a tragedy unfold as a denominational hero dug in his feet and stomped and kicked. AFA published a hit piece on the newly elected SBC president and stirred up a storm predicting that it won't be long before the SBC descends into cultural liberalism. SBC entities are put under fire and accused of being accomplices with Soros and his global takeover.
As a Millennial pastor, can I make a plea to our predecessors? Don't go out like this. Don't sacrifice an entire lifetime of faithful service and personal cost. Don't give up an entire generation of labor and honor, taking the high road and preserving biblical fidelity. Please.
We are not liberal - One of the accusations lobbed at the shift in SBC involvement and leadership is that it's "liberal," whether it's cultural or theological. Predecessors, we are not. We are committed to historic orthodoxy, the orthodoxy you taught us. We are committed to biblical inerrancy, the same inerrancy you worked to reclaim. We are committed to the exclusive salvation through Christ, the same you preached to us that we heard and responded to. We have been taught and trained under an entire generation of professors and pastors who affirm without reservation key fundamental documents and theological positions. What you labored for theologically is safe.
We are not social gospel - Unfortunately the GA Baptist article pushed a view that the SBC and its younger leadership is moving towards a social gospel. But we cannot divorce the evangelistic commands of Mark 16:15 to "preach the gospel to every creature" from the call of Micah to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God." We cannot separate John 3:16 from James 1:27. We cannot put into conflict Romans 10:13 and Matthew 25:40. The same Bible that tells us that we are to go to the ends of the earth on mission is the same Bible that tells us to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless. It's a legacy we inherited from you to do disaster relief, provide food pantries, collect for benevolence, to volunteer in schools, to do clothing drives, and to host Cub Scout packs.
We are not feminist - One of the central moves of the Conservative Resurgence was to return to a biblical model of pastoral ministry laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 - that the office of pastor is reserved for qualified men. The backlash to the effort among many in the SBC to try to find ways to engage women in leadership has prompted many to question if women should be pastors. None of us are saying that. None of us, not even the women who are providing a voice for inclusion, are saying this. We are applying the same hermeneutics you taught us, to let Scripture speak. And it does. Women have a function and role in the church: Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, and others did more than operate fellowships and walk around barefoot & pregnant. So when we recognize the giftedness and calling of women in the church, we recognize both what God has gifted them with and also the boundaries placed on the pastoral office.
You will not be cast aside - My fear is that many who hang on too tight or who go out kicking and screaming do so because they think they will be cast aside. Please don't feel this way. We want you, not just for your wisdom but for your friendship and impact on our lives. We want to learn how to be better pastors, better preachers, better counselors. And we need you more than you know. We learn a lot in seminary about exegesis, but it takes a seasoned mentor to show us how to hold a widow's hand as her husband of 60 years dies in front of us. It takes a seasoned mentor to help us navigate change in established churches. We need you. You will always have a place, you always have a seat at the table.
We love you. We're grateful for you. We cannot say enough how much we appreciate the hard work and sacrifice you made. We will take care of what you built. It won't look exactly like you built it, because each generation leaves its imprint on its legacy to pass down. But it will be cared for well, because we, like you, will stand before King Jesus and give an account for how we cared for His Bride.
So please, my dear brothers and sisters, don't go out like that.
Lay off grammar police, it's Monday.
But beyond the awful structure of that title, it's a helpful reminder of one of the most important words a leader can learn to say: no.
I get it, we don't like saying no. We like validating people's ideas and passions. We don't like conflict. We like seeing new things start. We don't like stifling creativity. But we can't say yes to everything. We can't jump at every opportunity, even if it's a great one.
Leaders have to say no when it doesn't fit the mission/vision/purpose/strategy - You cannot do everything you want to do. That's something you have to recognize quickly or else you'll burn out and overstretch yourself. Neither can your church. You don't have enough time, volunteers, money, facilities, or resources to do everything. So you have to funnel ideas and initiatives through the filters of mission, vision, purpose, and strategy. Does it fit with what you're called to? How you're doing it? Where you're going? What you're doing? If not, say no. Don't force a fit where it's not supposed to be.
Leaders have to say no when it requires more than you can give - Jesus told a parable about two builders, and the wise one was the one who counted the cost before beginning. Many times churches fall into "new puppy" syndrome with new ideas. Just like a kid promises to take of the puppy, new ideas spark short-term interest and excitement. But after that fades, mom is left picking up the chew toys, and the church is on the hook for a commitment they didn't really want or could handle. What are the short term (and long term) costs? What people needs are there? Do you have strong volunteers who can fill the gaps?
Leaders have to say no but try to find a yes - It's hard to say no, but when we do we should try to find a yes somewhere. Not every idea is a terrible one. You'll get those too. But most of what people bring to consider are good ideas from a good heart. The idea might not fit the filter, and it may be more than what you think the church can provide. The response then is to try to find a way to make a yes:
1. Existing - A lot of times we need to say no because it already exists. Is there something you can direct the person to that's already happening?
2. Redirect - Maybe there's a ton of zeal for door-to-door evangelism, but you live in an area with a lot of deed restricted communities that forbid soliciting. In something like that, redirect their focus towards one-on-one evangelistic training, towards equipping people to serve and share with their neighbors. Don't stifle their passion, but find a way to make it work if it fits the filter.
3. Accommodate - Accommodation isn't bad on its own. It becomes bad when it morphs into enabling bad behavior. But sometimes we need to accommodate an idea for it to work. It's possible that with some wiggling and adjusting, a new idea can spark existing ministries and provide a catalyst for impact.
Leaders have to say no, and hold their ground loosely - I don't think leaders have to put lines in the sand and not budge when they say no. When we die on our hills, we need to make sure they're worth dying for, and not anthills we've staked our flags on. It's hard to say no--you'll hurt people's feelings, you're going to disappoint them, and you might even face criticism or backlash for it. But leaders have to make those hard decisions. All that said, hold the ground loosely. Don't dig in unless you have to. Take a step back, pray, think, ask around, and don't be too proud to give back ground.
What do you do as a leader when you have to say no?
The social media outrage patrol turned its attention last week to a small church in Central Kentucky that had sent out letters to a large number of inactive members stating their removal from the membership roll. Once the Lexington Herald Leader got ahold of it, the headline became an over-sensationalized "Kentucky Church Kicks Out Members Over Common Transgressions." The article itself was a lesson in bad theology and sloppy reporting, which was called out by Hershael York of Buck Run Baptist in Frankfort.
Here's one of the realities of our denominational tribe in the Southern Baptist Convention: we have ridiculously inflated membership rolls. Take a look at this infograph from the SBC website which shows the number of members on our rolls vs. our average weekly attendance.
In any given Sunday, an average of nearly 10 million people who claim membership in an SBC church are absent. If we take into consideration a fairly conservative estimate that our weekly attendance is roughly 75% of our active membership (factor in vacation, kids sports, sickness, travel, work, and other factors that occasionally hamper church attendance) we're left with an "Active Membership" of roughly 7 million. Not even half.
We can discuss the causes of this another time, but what many of us in ministry are finding is that our church records are horribly inaccurate. We have members on our rolls who have moved away, who we've lost contact with, and in some cases who are already dead. What Cave City Church did was nothing more than update its roll sheet to accurately reflect its current involvement.
A lot has been said about those who are homebound or unable to attend because of illness or nursing home situations. If they have been removed from membership, then Cave City has an obligation to restore that. Our members who are homebound or unable to attend still are part of the family. Hopefully the leadership at Cave City is working to make sure those who have been removed have been removed for the right reasons.
That said, I defend what Cave City Baptist Church did. They're getting blasted for it, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Here are my 4 reasons why what they did was right.
Faithful Church Membership is Biblical - When we read Hebrews 10:24-25 we see that there is an expectation for corporate attendance because the exception are those who "neglect to meet together." In Acts 2:42-47 we see the regular (daily) gathering of Jesus' followers for worship, ministry, prayer, fellowship, the Lord's Supper, and pastoral care. Matt Chandler from Village Church has a great essay from 9Marks about the biblical argument for church membership. And Thabiti Anyabwile has a book on what a healthy church member looks like.
Pastors Have a Responsibility for Their Flock - One day I'll have to stand before the Lord and answer for how I as a pastor cared for those God has given to me. How do we know for whom we will give an account? Biblical church membership. Hebrews 13:7 talks about the hope for leaders to have joy about them as they lead and care for those entrusted to them. The only way to recognize the parameters of who is and who isn't part of the flock is through membership.
Church Membership is a Covenant Relationship - When we join a church, we're not just slapping our name on a list or being able to use the gym for free. We're joining together with a people for encouragement, love, fellowship, instruction, and edifying. Sometimes that edifying takes the form of correction, where our mistakes and shortcomings are lovingly handled through the teaching of the Word and the work of God's people. Sadly, so many people (and churches) treat membership without the level of covenant commitment it requires.
Restorative Church Discipline is Biblical, and Good - Whenever we see stories like this or others where people are "excommunicated" from a church, we immediately throw up our guard and get mad and say things like "Jesus would never be ok with this!" Well... He was. And He told us how to do it. Matthew 18 gives us a plan for restorative church discipline. It's important to emphasize the restorative part. It's not punitive. It's not being mean. It's restorative. It's restorative of the relationship between the person to God--if there has been unrepentant sin that has fractured the relationship between that person and God, the process of confrontation and repentance is healing. It's restorative of the relationship between that person and God's people. We were never meant to exist in a bubble, the people of God has always been a communal or corporate identity. So when we pledge our membership to a church, we're part of a body, or a family, and most powerfully the Bride of Christ. What a rich picture of joy. When someone falls away through sin or through constant inactivity, the body isn't whole. That's where the restorative process comes in, which ultimately leads to the removal of someone from what we would consider the membership roll. It's not to punish, it's to leave open the door for restoration.
The tough part of all this is that for all we know, Cave City and its leadership are trying to do the right thing by cleaning up their records. It's the honest thing to do. We can't keep reporting these giant inflated membership numbers that are inaccurate. Let's pray that good comes from this, and that for some who received that letter it spurs them to love Cave City Baptist Church, come back into fellowship, and see the mission of God expand from there.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.