In part one of “Never Too Old” we looked at evidence that a church “old in years and building” does not mean it has to be small and tired. Rather, old churches are “never too old to grow again” if people in those congregation engage in thinking “new,” if they live out Jesus’ words, “Look, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5, NET).
So have you slipped into thinking "too old"? What are some "old" versus "new" attitudes and behaviors? I visited with Pastor Bruce Young several weeks after their church's 150th anniversary celebration. He shared several significant ideas about "old" versus "new" thinking. Below are seven important places to replace old thinking with new thinking.
1. One vision and one leader is enough. “We don’t have enough ___(fill in the blank: people, money, energy, or)__.” “There isn’t enough” is really a misconception, especially when it comes to people or money. What we are really thinking when we say we don’t have enough money or people is “we don’t have enough vision.” The best ministries take few dollars; one leader plus one vision equals enough. Pastor Bruce said, “I’m pretty sure God cares enough to put one of each (vision and leader) in each church. Most all great movements have started with one person who had a vision." Conversely, there are churches that have money but no vision, and usually not much is happening there.
2. Generosity in the compensation and care of the pastor. Another "too old" thinking is to pay pastors as little as possible. It may come as a surprise but Pastor Bruce feels this is mostly the pastor's fault because it is their responsibility to advocate for honoring the office and ministry of the pastor. When pastors are squeamish about this topic, it has a ripple effect to other leaders and into the congregation. It is true there are some laypeople who encourage "pay-the-pastor-as-little-as-possible" thought and behavior. But that has less influence in a congregation where the pastor and key lay people are generous in honoring the ministry.
3. Children’s ministries staff are added first after the senior pastor. When it comes to adding staff of any kind, forward thinking says to bring on children's ministry staff, not a youth pastor. Children's ministry attract young families and adults; today's parents are seeking places where they can be involved WITH their children.
4 Having faith means actually taking risks. Risk-avoidant pastors, lay leaders and congregations thinking and behaving "old." Pastor Bruce understands the essence of Hebrews 11:6 to be about a faith whose core is stepping out and taking a risk: "without risk it is impossible to please God." God has arranged life in Christ for us this way. William Carey, Baptist missionary to India, said, "Expect great things of God. Attempt great things for God." Whether we look at Hebrews 11 or Carey's famous statement, taking a leap of faith is necessary. In other words, thinking young tries something. Old thinking tries nothing.
5. New people come and stay because they can make new relationships. "Old thinking" believes that having the perfect program or building will grow the church. While it is true that revamping a program or updating the building can give a congregation a short burst of energy, these will not sustain new life and new thinking. They only improve old wineskins. New people come and stay because there are new things happening that make it possible to establish new relationships. They don’t have to break into old patterns, mindsets and relationships that are cemented in place.
6. Preaching well requires committed preparation time. For pastors, another evidence of “old thinking” is “my preaching is good enough.” When preaching is one of the church’s primary avenues for sharing Christ, making the effort to preach well cannot be overstated. Pastor Bruce shared that keeping the passion for Christ alive in one’s own heart is absolutely necessary. Time needs to be set aside for sermon preparation. If Tuesdays (Thursday or whatever day it is) are for sermons, the appointment to meet with the Lord for that purpose needs to be honored by both the pastor and the congregation. Of course, emergencies will arise. But, serious emergencies requiring interruption of study are rare. Pastor Bruce added pastors need to also listen to other good messages as well as listen to recordings of their own, looking for ways to improve both the content and the delivery.
7. Evaluation and accountability are spiritual disciplines. Another related aspect of “old thinking” about sermons—and most other ministry work—is thinking evaluation and accountability is unspiritual. Said another way, “old thinking” sees critical questions that challenge the sermon as betrayal of the pastor. Rather than react emotionally, Pastor Bruce encourages pastors to seek out honest feedback from trusted people. Honest feedback means welcoming the positive affirmation along with critique of weak areas. Self-evaluation Evaluate if your thinking is “new” or “old”? Reflect on these questions based on Pastor Bruce’s insights.
- Our pastor receives ___________ as compensation and it is clearly on par with a middle school principal or high school teacher with a masters’ degree. Yes? No?
- One NEW thing I have tried in the past six months is _______________.
- There is room for a new person in my life on _______ day and/or in _________________ event, activity, etc.
- When someone offers a suggestion or disagrees with my idea, my reaction is to _________________.
- When it comes to time for sermon preparation, ____________ are the things that are legitimate interruptions.
As you end this year and begin thinking about the new one, consider adding one “new way of thinking” to your plans for this next year. In part two of this article (coming in January), you’ll have a chance to consider 6 more ways of “thinking new” based on thoughts from Pastor Bruce.