After sending you Seven Ways To Get On Offense last week, I sensed a need to get more specific and down to earth with my suggestions.
Our big, challenging subject is the need for pastors to be able to transition from a reactive, back-on-your heels type of ministry, to doing the kind of proactive, intentional leadership of a proactive, intentional, disciple-making church that so many pastors long to lead.
Having been the lead or solo pastor of ten congregations (seven of which were interim assignments), I have an intimate knowledge of this challenge.
“If I could just get on offense for a change, maybe we could get somewhere.”
Turning this situation around is very difficult, but it is not impossible.
I tried to be specific and practical last week, but today we get down to the nitty gritty:
(1) Implement a pastoral care system. There is no reason why one elder (the actual, New Testament name for this office) should be trying to do all the shepherding of all the sheep.
Even in a small church, pastoral care can be overwhelming. But churches employ several different systems for sharing this load: (a) All staff members and elders (council or board members) are care givers, without giving them actual assignments, (b) Each board-level leader is assigned a portion of the church to care for, (c) Each ministry leader cares for the persons he/she supervises, (d) Small group leaders and members care for those in their groups.
Yes, you’ll get some pushback, but if you teach team pastoral care from the Bible (Acts 20:28, 29; I Peter 5:1-4) and carefully explain that the goal is to have a better church, your people will accept this important change.
(2) Here’s a closely related suggestion: Recruit and empower a retired pastor to help you with pastoral care. Many retired pastors are suffering through the experience of being despised, overlooked and unwanted. Many of them are wonderful shepherds. You may have one in your community who is just waiting for some younger pastor to have the wisdom to ask him to become the caregiving pastor/counselor at his church.
(3) Teach the priesthood of the believer (I Peter 2:4-10) and practice it by equipping your people for meaningful, important ministries. In the Church, all believers are priests, all believers can become competent to counsel (Romans 15:14), all believers have spiritual gifts (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12), some believers have gifts of leadership and/or management (Romans 12:8), older believers are supposed to teach younger believers (Titus 2:1-8) and many believers are “faithful” men and women who can be taught how to teach others (II Timothy 2:1-2). God never, ever intended for one elder to be a one-man show; God always intended for paid elders (pastors) to be equippers (Ephesians 4:11-12).
(4) Share the pulpit. Most churches have someone besides the paid pastor who can do a good job teaching the Bible on Sunday morning, even if it’s only occasionally. Who’s going to teach them how to do this? You are. Somebody taught you how. You can teach others. Having somebody else do the sermon once a month can save you bucket-loads of time that you can put into catching up and getting ahead.
(5) Flee to the wilderness to plan your sermon series. I am so grateful that I learned this when I did (from an older, wiser pastor). Take a week or two per year to hide out at somebody’s cabin and work all week on that sermon series on worship or Isaiah or Philippians or whatever.
Studying the book or subject deductively (all at once) instead of just inductively (week by week) will increase your overall understanding of the material before you start preaching any of the sermons. It will reduce your preparation time, make your preaching better, and give you some wonderful times alone with God.
(6) Hire someone to do what you do poorly. Many small congregations are in no position right now to be hiring anyone; I understand that. But many actually have reserves that they’re afraid to tap into. Take the plunge, and don’t hire someone like yourself; hire someone who is strong where you are weak.
Other churches have gifted people who will volunteer to help pastors and boards with tasks that they just don’t have the wherewithal to do well. When God called you to be a pastor, He knew if you weren’t going to be good at details like communicating, writing or spelling. That means that He’s probably put somebody in your life who can help you in these areas. You don’t know that you don’t have such a person until you share the need and ask.
(7) Find a counselor in the community to refer to and start limiting your counseling availability. All pastors should probably do some counseling, but many are doing too much. The great teacher of pastors, Howard Hendricks, put it bluntly: “Counselees will EAT YOUR LUNCH!”
They will. They do. Some can be discipled and will grow into strong, wise, self-feeding Christians who can help others (Hebrews 5:11-14). Others have “problems on purpose.” They have an endless desire for counseling and they don’t want to be discipled. Try to find a good counselor in your community that you can refer them to. Have the church board (don’t do this yourself) limit your counseling hours, so that you’re available to do the proactive, intentional, people-equipping ministry that will enable you to