Two Sundays ago, my church surprised me at the end of the service with a basket of cards and a new ESV Clarion Reference Black Goatskin Bible* in recognition of my fifth anniversary at ARBC. I told our congregation that I am not comfortable being the center of attention (which was clearly evident), but prefer Christ and His Word to be center. Our associate pastor and deacons stood up with me, with our worship leader standing behind, and I was overwhelmed at how much I appreciated each of these men.
Pastors and churches must work together in unity in order for Kingdom work to go in a Christ-honoring way. God has given churches His unchanging Word to show us how His redeemed church should function. Our priorities must be His priorities. Our structures must be His structures. And the interplay between pastors and churches is critical to the life and future of any church.
Churches and pastors can certainly help each other in such significant ways where both can find hope and joy in serving Jesus together.
- Be honest about expectations and internal ‘cultures’ both have.
Churches and pastors over the centuries have had, at times, tenuous relationships. Both have expectations of the other through which each must work. Senior/Lead Pastors now only last on average 3.6 years in a church. A myriad of reasons exist for why this happens, but I believe a major reason is the expectations each has on the other.
No one shows up at a church with a clean slate. We bring our experiences, our expectations, and our understandings of what a church should be. And pastors roll into a church that have already developed a particular culture and an understanding of what their pastor should be and do.
If pastors and churches do not recognize this, then both will be frustrated–and frustration is contagious. This doesn’t just apply to pastors and churches, but everyone in the church.
Eric Geiger writes an excellent article on this topic.
2. Both can help put the right people in the right lane.
Scott Morter II, our associate pastor, has been with us since he and his sweet family joined in 2012. He came on-staff as a part-time youth pastor in 2014. Through all the ups and downs, he hung in there and has become not just someone on staff, but a friend. He truly loves ARBC and it’s clearly evident that he loves the people, not just those in his direct area of ministry and supervision. And thankfully, our church was not caught up in experience or a polished academic background (this was his first full-time position, and was still pursuing his MDiv). Still, our church brought him on and we’ve been all the better for it.
But you will also serve with people who shouldn’t be in their capacity. They may serve due to a respect and honor they desire from others. They may simply have missed a calling, and thus are miserable where they serve–all because they are outside of their lane and are miserable inside. No amount of training or counseling will move them forward until they find their lane. Until then, they will be miserable, their colleagues will be discouraged, and the church will stay confused.
Our deacons have provided prayer, counsel, and a servant’s heart in making sure our members are cared for. In looking at spiritual gifts, pastoral qualifications, and general talents, churches need flexibility in getting people serving in their lane.
3. Measure twice, cut once–but do so deliberately.
This must stand as part of the search process. Another way to put it is, “Hire slow, fire fast.” But I add the caveat–do so deliberately, off the Autobahn but not glacially. And this is not just for the good of the church, it’s for the good of the candidate as well. Churches cannot simply think about themselves, and neither should candidates think about themselves. Trajectories of churches and lives are set. Churches and candidates move too fast and don’t do their homework. At least one or both should be willing to put on the brakes should the process go too quickly.
I heard of one church who brought on a pastor. The church that recommended him gave glowing reports. When the pastor arrive and began to display some tendencies, communication was re-established with the previous church, only to find out that that pastor’s previous church did not share the problems that pastor brought. How much heartache could have been saved? As a result, the church was hurt, the pastor was hurt–and both are struggling to recover.
Churches have responsibilities to not just take care of pastors, but pastoral candidates. (Need I go into detail about how churches just drop communication during a search process when they’ve ‘moved on’ to more desirable candidates? But that’s for another day.)
(As a rebuttal, this Forbes magazine article believes this is the worst advice ever given. You be the judge. I believe the hiring process should be deliberate as should the ‘letting go’ process, giving people plenty of time to get their act together.)
4. Be honest with your church regarding your joys and struggles.
Do you know why pastors are afraid to share struggles with their churches? Because they are afraid they will get fired. But the apostle Paul shared them in 2 Corinthians 11-12. There have been at least two times I’ve shared struggles, once in 2009, and the other in 2014. In 2009, my wife’s father died and my wife was diagnosed with lupus all within a matter of three weeks. So on July 12, 2009, I told my church to be patient with me.
In February 2014, one of my best friends who was also a pastor, committed suicide. After preaching his funeral, it took me about 2-3 months to get my bearing (well, I say that, but maybe I’m still recovering and processing). There were decisions at church that needed to be made, and I just wasn’t in the place to make them because I was in pain and did not want to deal with any confrontation or pain, and just wished it away. When a minister or pastor came struggling to me, I felt I had to give every ounce of my time to help that particular pastor ‘make it.’ In hindsight, it’s because I didn’t want any more calamities to happen with people in my circle of influence.
I had men in my church with whom I could share these issues, and also a church family that I could tell from the pulpit. They showed me how the one tragedy was affecting my judgment with other issues and decisions. But I had to tell someone. Pastors, you need people in your church with whom you can share. Not gripe. Not complain. Not run the church down. Share. Churches, provide your pastors with men that can lift up your pastor when the inevitable struggles come. I tried many times to help folks into the wee hours of the night, pastors and parishioners. Within a few months, I realized…
5. Pastors can’t mend everything, but they can show the One who does.
I used to think I could help anything and anyone, as long as I loved them enough and made time for them to sort through issues. Pastors want to help. But pastors need to help themselves in realizing that they are not always the resident experts on everything everywhere. Just because we go to school does not make us wise, just educated. Intellect does not equate to wisdom. We will not always get it right.
But we have the body of Christ with us. God gives churches everything they need to do everything He commands. Churches should never believe pastors have all the answers to all the problems. Each pastor has strengths and weakness, and should be in prayer about both!
Sam Rainer has an excellent article in this regard.