Patti Duckworth, Associate Executive Minister, ABC/Northwest

Each new year starts with New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are fine; in fact, we often need a place to draw a line and start again. But if we are going to have any success in our resolutions, it will mean first thinking “new” about those issues or tasks. In my previous article, I shared 7 ways of thinking ‘new’ instead of ‘old’ from Pastor Bruce Young at First Baptist Church of Boise, ID. I’d like to share 6 more “new” thinking patterns from Pastor Bruce.

1. Listen constructively to criticism.

The last two points of my previous article suggested getting good feedback on our sermons so we can improve. Getting feedback could feel like flinging the doors open to knit-pickers, grumblers, and critics. Indeed, whether it is about the sermon or some other part of church life, most pastors tend to avoid critics and criticism. However, Pastor Bruce pointed out it is precisely “old thinking” that causes us to avoid critics. Thinking “new” changes the focus; it get us to think about HOW we listen to criticism. He suggested taking a risk and ask a “critic to coffee” to hear why and how he/she sees things. In the end, it is possible the person is (unknowingly) testing us to see if the grace we preach about will also be the grace we live. In any case, it is essential to not react out of our insecurities and stop taking everything personally. 

Is that easy? Not at all. Pastor Bruce believes perhaps 80% of pastors are insecure, and so avoid and/or over-react to criticism. “Difficult” laypeople, some of whom may not even be Christians, do not help. But many laypeople have lost respect for all pastors because of the way a pastor deals with the person who makes a critical comment as well as the comment itself. His advice?  “Learn the art and the skill of leaning in to criticism, listening, and adjusting where needed. If you are right, but act wrongly, there is still a big problem.”

2. Mature, spiritual people make the best members and leaders.

Moving to church attendance and membership, “old thinking” says prominent citizens make the best members. The truth is mature, spiritual people make the best members and leaders. Perhaps that seems self-evident. But a good question for reflection is “what are the characteristics of ‘good’ church members and attenders?’  If our answers tend to be people of social and economic influence, the answers reflect ‘old’ thinking. “New” thinking about church members focuses on commitment to live daily like Christ and a teachable spirit, among others. 

3. Discipleship is the backbone of the church.

Thinking “New” says discipleship is the backbone of the church. “Old” thinking says “the women’s ministry (or some other ministry) is the backbone of our church.”  Even thinking Sunday worship is the backbone of the church is thinking “old.” People encouraging people to become followers of Jesus who live like Jesus in the world is the key. This development happens in small groups, mentoring or any regular interaction where people have opportunity to be in community, dealing with the real things of life. I heard the senior pastor at Door of Hope in Portland tell his congregation, “If you think coming to this service is church, you are wrong.  Getting into and committed to a small group is really where the church is.”

4. Sunday (or corporate) services are for connecting with God.

What is Sunday services for?  Pastor Bruce challenged “Sunday is for worship services” as thinking “old.”  Rather, thinking “New” embraces that Sunday services are for connecting with God. What people need to do when they come to church is connect with God. So those who lead worship need to be connecting to God as they lead. Worship is the result of connecting with God. The results of thinking “old” are people are talked to in a sermon. They are not expected to respond, and there is no real opportunity to pray during the prayer time. Thinking “New” results in people connecting to God in a way that leads to a response and provides real time for prayer.

5. Congregations encourage and insist pastors do what they are most gifted to do.

“Isn’t that how it works?” you may ask. Not necessarily. Instead, thinking “old” forces pastors to be and do what people in the church want rather than capitalizing on their God-given gifts. Thinking “New” sets pastors free to lead congregations by doing what they do best AND to bring other people into the ministry to compliment and add their gifts to the overall ministry. “Scripturally, pastors are called vocationally to the church to the office of pastor, that is, as leaders,” said Pastor Bruce, “but others in the congregation have the gifts of shepherding” like administration, care, mercy, encouragement, and helps (Romans 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:28). Thinking “New” works at asking pastors to lead and equip and asking others to engage in the work of ministry (Eph. 4: 11-13).

6. Pastors lead through collaboration and influence.

As the conversations among the region pastors and churches has moved to emphasize the leadership landmark, some have drawn the conclusion that being a pastor (or other leader) means things are done the pastor’s way, period. This is a mistaken conclusion. Pastor Bruce believes pastors who do this “use up their leadership chips way too fast and then find themselves in trouble.” Thinking “New” means building consensus. Consensus decision making is written into the governance documents for the leadership board at First Baptist Church. People talk about their concerns and disagreements. Each leadership board member is expected to have an opinion and name it honestly. Everyone has a voice. “God does give direction to the church through the senior pastor,” said Pastor Bruce, “but not always.”  Valuing consensus leadership builds accountability into everyone on the board. Each person knows they can can be challenged, too. What happens then?  “If after two meetings we do not have consensus, we vote, and we support the decision of that vote,” said Pastor Bruce. 

Again, are you thinking “New” or “Old”?  Here are a few more questions for your reflection in this new year based on Pastor Bruce’s insights above.

  • When I hear criticism, my first reactions are __________________.
  • When I think of people becoming members / attenders of my church, I hope they will be _______________ or I am hoping they will ______________________.
  • When people come to our worship services, I hope they will _________________.
  • For pastors: My gifts for ministry are ____________________________; I spend most of my energy on __________________________. (Do these come close to matching?)
  • For members/attenders:  My pastor’s gifts for ministry are __________________________; he/she spends most of his/her energy on ________________________. (Do these come close to matching?