Many years ago, my wife and I observed that churches with new pastors frequently experience new excitement, new enthusiasm and new growth. At some point we coined the term, “new pastor revival.”
Of course, it’s not usually “revival” in the historic sense of a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit among a group of Christians leading to fervent prayer, repentance from sin and vibrant evangelism, but it’s a joy to see, nonetheless.
But it is something. New excitement, new enthusiasm and new growth in a church are wonderful developments!
Assuming that you agree with me that pastors shouldn’t periodically swap churches in order for us all to enjoy “new pastor revivals” (actually…a pretty common practice in some denominational tribes), are there some good things we can learn from this phenomenon? I think there are.
- The power of a new voice.
When Pat Riley, highly successful long-time coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, finally forsook California for New York, he remarked that “…sometimes they just get tired of hearing your voice.” I would hate to see pastors resign and find new churches for this reason alone, but there is some truth to this: People do tend to sit up and listen to a new voice coming from a new face.
Here’s how we can apply this to a church that is not ready to “swap out” its pastor for a new model: try to get some other voices into the pulpit. Bring in some outside speakers occasionally and/or groom some insiders for periodic, or even monthly preaching.
Additionally, old pastors can learn “new tricks,” as in, new ways of teaching the Scriptures. There’s an inverse relationship between predictability and effectiveness in teaching styles, so a great thing for the “old” pastor to focus on, while the young guy is preaching, would be some unpredictable ways of sharing the Word.
- The importance of fresh enthusiasm.
There’s no getting around the need for enthusiasm in the preaching and everyday interactions of a pastor. This can be hard to face for us older pastors who have become more blasé, sarcastic or even cynical than we realize.
If we admit to this at all, we confess it at pastor gatherings (I call them “pastor pow wows”) where the jokes and conversation can become shockingly jaded. Many pastors are glad that these get-togethers don’t end up recorded or online.
And if we think we’re successfully hiding our lack of joy and enthusiasm, we’re probably wrong. People do notice. Cynicism drips.
Is there a solution? Acting lessons might help but are decidedly not a good idea.
The only solutions I know of are those which involve our own personal revivals. David “found strength in the LORD his God” (I Samuel 30:6). Nehemiah discovered that “the joy of the LORD is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
My second and third lessons from “new pastor revivals” are a bit different from each other, but the solutions are the same, so I’m going to move right into my third point:
- The value of a faith-filled optimism
Enthusiasm is important, but among the young or the naïve it can come up wanting in the face of the hard realities of life.
In other words, it’s easy for the new pastor – especially the rookie pastor – to be enthusiastic about his new assignment when he hasn’t yet learned about the downsides of the church he has just begun to serve.
Ultimately, our enthusiasm and optimism must be fueled by a rock-solid, drilled-down deep faith in the power and plan and goodness of God.
Every pastor has to figure out for himself how to find the kind of faith that kept the Apostle Paul rejoicing (Philippians) while waiting in line to see the emperor Nero.
Every pastor has to discover on his own how to trust God in the face of relentless opposition, as did the indomitable leader Nehemiah.
My own journey involved almost despairing over the plight of small, declining, disappearing churches in rural areas. After digging down deep – very deep – in the unstoppable plan of God (Matthew 16:18) and the desire of Christ to have His Body within reach of every lost soul, I concluded that God has given us the resources IN CHRIST to have God-glorifying churches in every hamlet.
As a result of having reached this conclusion, after nineteen years of doing so, I’m still walking into troubled churches and announcing that “this can be a REALLY GREAT CHURCH!” And I mean it.
These are three pretty helpful lessons from the “new pastor revival” phenomenon don’t you think? Next week I’ll share four more.