Viewing entries tagged
Leadership

Questioning God (Part One)

Questioning God (Part One)

"Questioning God" (Part One)

As the joke goes, we catch ourselves talking out loud to ourselves in someone's hearing. We laugh and say we aren't too worried because we haven't started talking back to ourselves. At least, not yet.

Talking to ourselves is a reality, whether we are conscious of it or not. Much of what we say to ourselves comes through filters created by our past. It comes because we live in a time of information overload; there is a lot of "telling" going on. Instead of just talking to ourselves, are we asking any questions? More importantly, do we make room for questions?

When we intentionally ask ourselves questions, we make room for more than the same patterns of thought we easily fall into because they are comfortable or because they protect us from having to face our own flawed natures. Asking questions makes room for the Lord to get a word in edgewise.

So what kinds of questions should we ask ourselves before the Lord? What will open us up to more of the Lord's desires? There are questions that are concerned with personal needs and discipleship. Those should be asked. However, let me suggest here the first of several questions, which will sharpen an understanding of what the Lord wants for our ministry life as God's shepherd-leaders.

Question 1:  What am I striving for in the ministry God has given me? In other words, what do I hope will be the outcomes of my ministry?

This question is really much more difficult to answer than it seems. If the answer is an automatic "more people, more baptisms, more ministry funds," I would suggest we are giving a Sunday school answer and not a "God's dream in our heart" answer. True, seeing people transformed by Jesus is the goal. But the Lord has given every disciple and every church that mission. The "hoped for outcomes" deal with the specifics of what the goal looks like or feels like in our particular ministry.

Let me offer an example. Dwight Spencer came to Utah in 1881 as an ABHMS missionary among the Mormons. God's dream in Dwight's heart was preaching Jesus in such a way that, though suspicious, Mormons would send their children to the Baptist Sunday Schools and "day" or grade school, first in Odgen, and then in Salt Lake City. The more he worked at it, the more he realized the there weren't enough resources available among the people to do this work.

Dwight then worked to bring other missionary pastors and teachers to continue and expand the work started. In late 1886 and 1887, he then traveled back to the mid-west and the east to raise funds for home mission work in Utah and the west. He raised $100,000 (over $2.7 million in current dollars) so congregations could afford buildings for ministry. The money was not the dream; neither were church buildings. God's dream in Dwight's heart was that congregations would be Christ's vital witness in their communities and "not leave this darkness alone" (The Baptist Home Mission Monthly, February 1885).

Question 2: What is God's dream in your heart?

Please let me assure you I don't mean if you ask the question, you will have an instant answer. In fact, if the answer comes quickly, it may not be God's answer.

To explore what God's dream in your heart is, let me suggest this activity. Go to your church's sanctuary when it is quiet. Be still before the Lord. Sit in one place for a while. Move to another place for a while. If you are an active person or find sitting in one place a distraction in itself, you may want to move around. Listen to your memories of what has happened there. What do you see in your mind's eye? Don't dwell on the past too long, but move to considering the future. Ask in faith, "Lord, what could happen here? What would it look like? How would it sound? What would people experience?"

Additionally, you might want to walk through your church’s neighborhood, looking at the people, the places, and any activity. Again, ask, "Lord, what could happen here?" Please note: the question is what COULD happen, not what SHOULD happen. "Could" and "should" are two very different ideas, both of which are important. Be willing to concentrate on the "could" because that is where God's dream in your heart can emerge.

It is important to try to find a few words or an image to express this to yourself. From my own and others' experience, it is important to know several of these encounters may be needed before there is some clarity and something we have that confidently comes from the Lord.

What are the some of the results of engaging in this exercise? God's dream in our heart releases us from unfair standards and unrealistic expectations. It sets us free from ourselves and our tendencies toward self-absorbed dreams fellow Christians may chafe at. It brings stamina for the ministry and capacity to withstand the difficulties encountered. It keeps us accountable to God.

In part two, we'll look at questions that deal with both the freedom and accountability in these dreams.

What is God's dream in your heart? One of the God dreams I have is that we will have courage to talk together about the God dreams in our hearts because, in part, we will be strengthened in knowing these dreams are part of God's great whole and we are not alone in them.

Does Your Church Have a LLC? The Lost Art of Developing Church Leaders

Comment

Does Your Church Have a LLC? The Lost Art of Developing Church Leaders

Increasingly churches are discovering that the strength of their congregation is directly related to the skill and maturity of their leaders. Simply filling open slots from the membership list based on regular attendance is insufficient for producing good leadership.

Several churches are discovering the value of training future leaders by developing their own Leadership Learning Community (LLC). The idea is based on the region’s LLC ministry among pastors. Core church leadership concepts are taught through a monthly gathering of potential leaders. The invitation to participate may be opened to all who are interested in developing their leadership skills. The leader chooses a book, or curriculum, on an important church issue.

Everyone agrees to study the resource in advance. During the gathering the participants review the content, wrestle with questions that arise, and make concrete plans for applying the concepts learned. The local LLC serves as a pool from which ministry leaders and board members are recruited.

Recommended books for lay leader LLCs include these selections from 2016’s Reading List for pastors:

  • Organic Outreach for Churches: Infusing Evangelistic Passion Into Your Congregation by Kevin Harney
  • U-Turn Church: New Direction for Health and Growth by Kevin Harney and Bob Bouwer
  • Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton
  • Emotionally Healthy Leaders: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World by Peter Scazzero

More books and resources from previous years may be found at http://www.abcnw.org/llc. Click on the “Reading List” links.

 

Comment

The Rare Bird: Pastoral Leadership AND Authority in Baptist Congregations - Part Two

Charles Revis, Executive Minister ABCNW

In part one of this article I advocated for the “rare bird”, that combination of strong pastoral leadership and authority, which is foundational for congregational health and vitality. I ended part one recognizing there are common objections to pastoral authority, especially in the context of a Baptist congregation. Here are some examples: Is it biblical to give so much authority to the pastor? Doesn’t this reduce the authority of the congregation? Doesn’t authority lead to abuse, and therefore needs to be held in check?

I’ll take the last question first, and work backwards from there. No doubt we can all present stories of clergy abuse of authority. As we’ve raised the value of pastoral leadership in our Region we’ve had to caution a certain few pastors, “We are not encouraging pastoral dictatorships. You need to dial it back some.” Yet, such abuse, whether real or imagined, is no reason to desist from advocating for pastoral leadership. Establishing clear lines of accountability help to hold the line against such abuse. Honestly, abuse of authority is more rare than the opposite problem: a passive, hands-off abdication of leadership by pastors working within entrenched systems. Authority doesn’t automatically translate into abuse.

Since we are Baptists, what about the congregation’s authority? Is it reduced, even dissipated, when the pastor is given authority? Indeed, as Baptists we affirm that the local congregation will chart its own course, not from directives handed down from some hierarchy, but from it’s own unique sense of the Spirit’s direction. However, the locus of authority being lodged in the congregation doesn’t cancel out the need for leadership within the faith community. In fact, a good leader will clarify and give voice to the inchoate mission, originating from Christ Jesus and present within the congregation. Congregations assign authority to the minister, along with their elected officers, to lead. At the same time the congregation may rescind the pastor’s authority if his or her leadership is proven ineffective. All to say, that when a pastor exercises authority he isn’t negating the congregation’s authority. There shouldn’t be a limit to who may exercise authority. That is, it doesn’t have to be an either/or deal. Both congregational and pastoral authority can and should operate in a collaborative manner in a healthy church. Wisdom dictates that the congregation entrust the pastor with practical daily authority, otherwise the day-by-day expediency of church operations will grind to a halt.

We see this collaborative exercise of authority at work in the Scriptures. An excellent example is found in Acts 6. Here, the Apostles respond to complaints that the Greek widows were missing out on “the meals on wheels” widows ministry of the early church. They asked the church to consider “whom we may put in charge of this task” (NASB v.3c). This plan of action “found approval with the whole congregation, and they chose Stephan (and, six others)” (NASB v.4).

Note that the Apostles respond to the concern by initiating an action plan. The congregation agreed and then selected seven who would administer the feeding ministry. These seven were then encharged with the task. That is, they were given authority to expedite the ministry as they saw fit. This seems to be a reasonable pattern for how leadership and congregation work together and share authority. The exercise of authority by leadership is expected, and it’s neither the exclusive province of the pastor or the congregation.

Whenever, we talk about exercising authority, I believe it is important that we temper our assumptions regarding authority with Jesus’ instructions and counter balancing example. Jesus asserted that, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matt 28:18)  I take this to mean that any exercise of authority in the church is derivative. Ultimately it comes from Christ, who is the head of the church. The appropriate use of authority is subsumed under the authority of Jesus and should reflect how He used it. The employment of authority should also be in service to Jesus’ mission of redeeming the world.

Furthermore, Jesus turned authority and leadership upside down by saying that his disciples will not be like the “Gentiles who lord it over them.” Instead, the greatest among the disciples will be like one who serves. (Luke 22:25-26) Pastoral leadership exercised well serves first the mission of Jesus and others, not one’s self.

We may also note that the Apostle Paul eschews the abuse of authority. The often misinterpreted Ephesians 2:12 commands certain women in Ephesus to stop exercising “abusive authority”. The Greek word is authentein, and only appears here in the N.T.  It is linked in Greek literature to murder. In another text, 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul expresses his hope that the Corinthians will heed his instructions so that he may avoid employing his authority harshly. In the same passage he clarifies that it is the Lord who gave this authority. It is to be used for building up the Corinthians, not tearing them down. This appropriate use of authority mirrors the numerous times that Paul urges a lifestyle of gentleness and humility among leaders (Phil 4:5, etc.)

Yet, in other passages it is clear that Paul expects leaders to exercise authority, whether they are surrogate apostles such as Timothy and Titus, or, whether they are elders in the church. To Timothy, Paul urges, “Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” (1 Timothy 4:11,12) These admonitions call for the employment of self-confidence in combination with a certain level of assertiveness. Paul also urges Timothy to overcome his tendency to be timid. Instead he is to be a man of power, love, self-discipline and strength (2 Timothy 1:7, 2:1). Similarly, Titus is to “straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town” as he works with the church on Crete.

Paul asserts that elders, among whom the pastor would be the directional elder, are expected to “direct the affairs of the church well” (1 Timothy 5:17).  In fact, he says those who primarily teach and preach should receive “double honor” from the congregation. Some commentaries believe that Paul is saying, “Compensate these at twice the going rate.” Now, that would be a high form of pastoral appreciation! Pastors and teachers are gifts to the church who are tasked with equipping the church for works of service (Ephesians 4:11-12). The author of Hebrews admonishes believers to honor the authority of their leaders by obeying and submitting to them (Hebrews 13:17). The text goes on to say that this should be done willingly with joy so that the task of the leader doesn’t turn into a grievous burden. These examples, and more, demonstrate that it is appropriate for leaders to exercise authority, and to do so for the church’s edification, not their own.

I will close this with my favorite example of N.T. authoritative leadership. In Romans 16:1-2 Paul introduces Phoebe to the Roman believers. She is no ordinary woman. First, she is a “deacon”, perhaps a “minister”, of the church in Cenchrea. Most translations undersell her office with the tepid translation, “servant.” I dare say, that if she were a he, the translations would be stronger. Paul reveals that “she has been a great help to many people, including me.” Most likely, her help has been as a financial patronness for Paul and others. The Greek word here is quite specific in that it ordinarily references wealthy benefactors. Some commentators theorize that Phoebe is the leader of the band bringing Paul’s letter to the Romans. Perhaps this is why Paul takes such pains to introduce her.

The telling thing for me is Paul’s somewhat understated instructions, “I ask you…to give her any help that she may need from you.” (v. 2) That is, if she makes a request, honor it. Taken as a whole, Paul’s introduction of Phoebe to the Roman believers is intended to underscore her authority as the leader of this important apostolic expedition. In effect Paul says, “Receive Phoebe in the Lord. Respect her. She has helped so many including me. Now, she needs your help. She comes to you with a mission. Attend to her requests and do your best to fulfill them.” Note what Paul doesn’t say, “I commend to you, Phoebe. Now, form several committees, debate her requests and do your best to put her off.” Instead, the thrust of Paul’s admonition is quite the opposite. Phoebe has come with specific purposes in mind as a leader of an important mission. She is in charge, so Paul urges responsive to her leadership on behalf of the Christians in Rome.

Phoebe. What a great picture of a rare Christ-like minister, a leader with authority. The Kingdom needs pastors who lead with authority, the authority grounded in Christ’s mission and servant-heart. We need churches that honor and respect pastoral leaders. We need congregations and pastors working together, and in harmony, pressing ahead into mission for the advance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When this happens, the church will flourish. This is a rare bird worth pursuing!

The Rare Bird: Pastoral Leadership AND Authority in Baptist Congregations - Part One

Charles Revis, Executive Minister ABCNW

I’m not a birder. I know little about the pursuit. But, I do enjoy catching glimpses of colorful songbirds. I think I picked this up from my grandfather who birded as a casual hobby. I remember off hand comments he would make about a certain cardinal, maybe it was a Baltimore oriole, showing up around his house because the weather had turned warm. I do know that part of the excitement of birding is spotting rare species.

There is a rare bird in the ministry. It’s the pastor who ably combines leadership AND authority, executes ministry well, without a heavy hand, and with loads of grace and love that emanate from Jesus Christ. This article is about the importance of creating this rare bird. (Yes, it is created!)

First, let me start by stating a conviction I hold in regard to pastoral authority. It’s based on personal experience, observation and Scripture. Here’s my conviction: When the pastor of a local church is given both the responsibility and the authority to lead, and leads skillfully, there is a better than average chance the church will flourish.

I can state the conviction in another way: A key to a vibrant congregation is a pastor who is competent in exercising visionary leadership with gentle authority. Certainly, skilled leadership is not the only factor that makes for a healthy church. But it’s the primary common denominator in a growing church regardless of its size, culture or ministry context. The inverse of my conviction is also true: The absence of effective leadership results in a struggling congregation.

All too many American Baptist Churches fail to comprehend the strategic importance of this conviction. Many will give lip service to it. They will say they value the pastor as a leader. But, when it comes down to it, it’s often a hollow affirmation. Even if the pastor has the drive and the skill-set to lead, the church’s structure, culture and certain dominant individuals may work to counter a pastor’s leadership.

Consider how structure blocks a pastor’s leadership efforts. Many traditional church structures have redundant layers of management. The typical form of this is the multi-committee governance system common among ABC churches. In this system, initiatives and decisions must first pass through a gauntlet of committee approvals. In government we call this red tape. In church we call it “getting permission.” For the pastor who dares to lead, having to shepherd every decision through such a maze is ultimately defeating.

Another structural obstacle to pastoral leadership is the failure of the congregation to assign authority to the pastor. It’s a common assumption and expectation that the pastor should lead. That is, he or she is given the responsibility to get things done, but the authority to actually make decisions and take initiatives is withheld. The pastor must gain approval from a group or individual before taking action. This is like sending a boxer into the ring with his main weapon, his right hand, tied behind his back. Or, imagine how ludicrous it would be for the manager of a local Walgreens to have to call up a local oversight committee for permission each time she hires a new employee.

Responding to the fact that some structures stymie pastoral leadership, a significant number of churches in the ABC of the Northwest have changed their governance system. The more effective systems wed leadership responsibility with authority, giving both to the pastor. The most common form of such a structure is a single-board system. In our Region we encourage churches to use a modified version of John Carver’s accountable governance system. With this system the board governs through policies and budgetary guidelines established in collaboration with the pastor. Once these parameters are set the pastor is given freedom to play the entire field, as long as he or she stays within the boundaries. Certainly, it is advisable for the pastor to seek the wisdom of the board’s counsel in making major decisions, but it’s not required.

But, even if the structure is fixed, a more powerful obstacle to pastoral authority may be the church’s culture. If the culture is change-resistant, tradition-bound and self-serving then it will be impossible for the pastor to lead. In too many dying ABC churches the culture has calcified into traditions that perpetuate a form of ministry that was designed for 1961. Changes that would help the congregation engage our post-modern world are robustly resisted. Expectations, ingrained through years of tradition, insist that the pastor attend primarily to the needs of the members as their personal chaplain. Such tradition bound cultures turn pastoral leaders into paid hirelings, curators of religious museums. (The alternative is the pastor as cultural exegete, mission architect, visionary prophet and chief equipper of the body for ministry.)

Yet another undermining factor to pastoral leadership is the church controller or boss. This is the person who, over time, has become the dominant church patriarch, or matriarch. I was once told by such an individual, “You know, pastors come and go in churches, but our family will always be here.” The not-so-subtle threat in that declaration sent chills up my spine. Often these folks start out with good intentions. That is, they want to protect the church from harm. They may have held the church together during a period of conflict. Or, they were the major financial contributor during lean years. Having taken on the role of church protector they devolve over time into the church dictator. Such people have a difficult time allowing the pastor to lead, because they assume that role for themselves. They will undermine the pastor through underground resistance, or they may overtly block the pastor through power plays. Controllers pull the rug out from underneath pastoral leadership and authority.

What should be done so that the pastor is affirmed in leadership with authority? The answer to this question goes far beyond the scope of this article. However, one important step is for the congregation as a whole to elevate its value of pastoral leadership. That is, the role of pastor-leader must be esteemed and protected. Furthermore, shifting the church culture so that the congregation behaves as a learning, adaptive community that readily adopts new approaches to ministry is another critical step. Not only can the church learn to address these three obstacles that inhibit pastoral authority, it can reorganize itself in such a way that the pastor is given permission to lead with authority while being held accountable to reasonable boundary principles.

But…but…I can hear the push back, even at this distance! I’m quite aware of the objections. I encounter them all too often in churches. Here’s a sampling: But, is it Baptistic? Where does that leave the congregation’s authority? And, what about the pastor who abuses authority, doesn’t this open the floodgates to misuse of authority? What does the Bible say about pastoral authority? Well, the answers to these questions will be the subject of the second half of this article. Look for it next week!

Discussion Questions (for use with the leadership board and/or church staff):

1. Does your church wed responsibility and authority together so that the pastor can actually lead? Or, does it separate the two, or withhold one? Assess your church’s expectations and support for pastoral leadership.

2. What boundaries are in place that the pastor, or any other leader, must not transgress in the exercise of leadership in your congregation? Are they clear? Are they reasonable? Does the congregation understand them?

3. Which is more likely to block pastoral leadership in your church? Structure, culture or personalities? Discuss how these roadblocks might be reduced or eliminated in your congregation’s setting.

The Rare Bird - Part Two

When God Invades the Seams

Not long after coming to the northwest my wife encouraged me to take up fly fishing again. She’s a good wife. Actually, she thought our son would love this Northwest sport. Plus it would be something we could do together. She was right on both counts. Now he out fishes me on any day. (Proof of such can be found on my Facebook page.) As I was learning to think like a trout someone said, “You’ve got to fish the seams.” That was confusing advice at first, but I found it to be true...

Audacity for the Right Reasons

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

As I witness the transformations taking place in our churches I've noticed a common pattern. The pastors of these churches have stepped up to a higher level of leadership. They've become more focused, full of vision and bolder. You might say they've become "audacious". They are willing to go out on limbs like never before. Their churches are changing because their people are going out on those limbs with them.

Because of fear some people never go out on a limb. Their fear is understandable. There have been more than just a few limbs that have broken while the leader was standing out there all alone. Falling out of a tree hurts. On the other hand there are many instances when the limb has proven to be strong enough to bear the weight. It takes faith to crawl out on a limb, even when you are convinced it's the limb God is calling you to dance on. There is no guarantee the limb will hold. Faith, then, is the hallmark of the audacious.

But some would disagree. They would say that ego is the hallmark of the audacious. In some instances this may be true. We've all witnessed audacious people whose boldness stems from an overdose of narcissism, or even stupidity.

There is an audacity which is courage. On the negative side there is a courage which is impudence and temerity.

There is a short paragraph in the book The Radical Leap that distinguishes between the two.

The difference comes down to love versus ego. Love-inspired audacity is courageous and bold and filled with valor. It's the kind of audacity that's required to change the world for the better. Ego-inspired audacity is just a pain in the a**. In other words, some people are audacious just for the purpose of drawing attention to themselves; they're not concerned about anything other than their image.

As Jesus followers we are called to be audacious out of love for Christ and His Gospel. The Spirit of Christ leads us to be daring and courageous so that people's lives will be changed, the church will grow and the Kingdom will advance. Audacious leaders are finding success in church transformation because of their inspiring and courageous love, along with the daring leaps that are expressions of that love.

On the other hand, there is a type of church leader that pushes hard for church growth and change, because they want to be a success in the eyes of others. They strive for bragging rights. Seldom does such motivation lead to lasting church transformation or growth. We can all be prey to this temptation, and we should guard against it.

Temptation to be audacious out of wrong motives will dog leaders, but that is no reason NOT to nudge the audacious quotient up the scale in our leadership styles. Leadership by definition means getting out in front of the pack. In itself, that can be daunting for some pastors. Yet, when motivated by deep love, for people, for Jesus, for the Kingdom, we will find the courage to make some audacious moves. So, get out there and bust some Holy Spirit inspired moves for the Kingdom! Even if your feet get a little tangled up in the effort, you will make Jesus smile!

Originally published 2009 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest
[This article previously appeared on Dr. Revis’ blog, www.missionnorthwest.blogspot.com on June 12, 2009]

Raising Up Apostolic Leaders

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

In his book on leadership communities Revolution in Leadership, Reggie McNeal calls this new breed of leaders that churches need today “Apostolic Leaders”. (Reggie is the author of several outstanding leadership books, including A Work of Heart and The Present-Future.)

This emerging apostolic leader looks like the early church leaders we read about in the Scriptures. This leader will be a visionary, someone who gives his or her life in pursuit of a compelling vision of the kingdom of God. The apostolic leader is captured by the prospect of transforming their communities as they lead their churches to share the gospel. This leader will be missional, practicing an intentionality in their ministries that shows up in kingdom expansion. Such a leader refuses to let their congregation settle for maintenance ministry. This leader will seek to empower others through the development of other leaders in the church who will, in turn, launch new ministries. They release the ministry to others rather than reserving it for the “professionals.” This leader will be team-oriented and reproducing, developing a team of leaders that will guide and develop the ministries of the church.

Such a leader knows that to be a strong leader does not mean being the church’s dictator. The apostolic leader believes in shared leadership which is plural in its essence and expression. This leader will be entrepreneurial, developing creative approaches that help the church find success in connecting the gospel with people in the surrounding culture. The focus of such a leader will be more about ministry that happens outside church walls.

“Rather than dreaming up church programs and then trying to attract people to them, apostolic leaders begin with their insights into people’s needs and then design ministry efforts to meet them where they are.”

This leader will be  kingdom-conscious. Their focus is broader than the institution known as church; this leader will seek to expand God’s kingdom.

Traditional learning models have stressed the transfer of information from teacher to pupil. This form has dominated the church culture and academic training for ministry. The focus is on teaching, rather than learning. Most ministry challenges that we face today were never addressed in seminary. The learning model that will equip us for ministry today will be continuous, peer-to-peer, critically reflective and culturally relevant. One model that assists ministers in pursuing these values is the Learning Community.

A Learning Community is a group of colleagues in ministry who come together to continually explore and articulate an expanding base of knowledge for the purpose of ongoing preparation to meet the ever-changing challenges of leading today’s church. The spirit of this peer-to-peer group will be characterized by mutual respect, authenticity, learning and shared responsibility.

Reggie McNeal comments that a Learning Community is exactly what Jesus developed with his band of twelve.

“He called a group together to share a journey and to learn from him the most incredible truths ever revealed to humanity. The apostles watched and listened as Jesus worked and taught. They debriefed together the experiences they shared. Jesus sent them out on mission and unpacked their experiences when they returned. Along the way he challenged their notions about what God was up to in the world.”

This band maintained their learning community after Jesus left them. They continued to learn. They had no books or experts. But, they had each other, their experiences, the Holy Spirit, and a commitment to share the Good News as effectively as possible. The result? They changed the world!

The development of our own Leadership Learning Communities throughout the ABCNW is our own response to the challenge of raising up apostolic leaders for the church today. It is our dream that the many qualities of an apostolic leader as outlined by Reggie McNeal will become inculcated in the leaders within the churches of our Region. To the Glory of God.

© Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest

Preaching and Leadership

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

Every minister stands on the shoulders of others who have preceded us. These may include the former pastor of your present church, your junior high English teacher, or a spiritual mentor. One man who shaped my life, especially in the realm of theology and books, was Bob Cahill, an ABC pastor, who is now with our Lord.

Bob wrote sparely, with precision and grace. I treasure a small collection of his church newsletter articles. As I was reading through some of them, this one jumped out at me, because it reinforced some of my recent reflections on what the minister is to do first, if he or she strives to be effective, and faithful.

“Like lightning on a clear day or cold water on the face William Perkins always gets my attention with his pointed words ‘Thou are a minister of the Word: mind thy business.’ Departures and deflections from that determined course means death to the pastor/teacher. He may, and often does, remain the ‘talking brother’ for the congregation but that is all—talk. With wit he may stir some. With charm he may entertain others. But he feeds not. He heralds no News from ‘the outside.’ All his resources are mirrors and psychological exercises. He may urge self-renewal but not Redemption. He suggests an easy diagnosis without sensing ‘sickness unto death.’ His healing art prescribes a ‘pill for an earthquake and a poultice for a cancer’ as another Puritan has it. Without the Word he knows neither peril nor Judgment. He sails in raging seas without compass or map.

‘Mind thy business’ warns Perkins. But grace converts warnings to invitations. The ‘business’ is so demanding, exacting and rewarding that leaving it is simply unthinkable. It is like a stern invitation to a joyful feast.”

Paul reminds Timothy of the centrality of the Word, and the high priority of delivering it faithfully to the flock. “Preach the word.” He urges this all-important task with Christ as his authority, lending extra weight to his charge. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of season; correct rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1,2)

There are so many tasks that a minister must discharge. There are numerous voices each telling the pastor what must be done. There are many temptations to put our hopes for church transformation in techniques and programs.

It would be easy to overlook job number one: faithful, clear, convincing, proclamation of God’s Word through preaching and teaching. And, it is foundational to leading a church towards health and transformation.

The book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, by Thom Rainer, affirms this. In it he draws conclusion from research conducted among 353 formerly unchurched people. These folks reveal what drew them to faith, and the church. It’s an intriguing book with much to teach us. I highly recommend it.

One of the questions asked of the formerly unchurched was “What factors led you to choose this church?” This was an open-ended question with multiple responses possible.  There were numerous answers, and the pattern reveals that no one factor was determinative. However, 90% of the responders indicated that the “pastor’s preaching” was the most important determiner for choosing a church. The second largest grouping of  answers was “clear doctrine” with 88%. The third factor, which led responders to choose a church, was “friendliness” with 49%. “Worship style” ranked tenth with 11%.

High on every former unchurched person’s reasons for why they chose a particular church was strong biblical preaching that communicated truth in an accessible manner. Strong biblical exposition with application proves to be life-giving and life-transforming, and the unchurched are hungry for it.

I urge you in the midst of this busy world in which we live, to give of your best to your preaching. Through faithful proclamation of God’s Word you will lead seekers to the Savior, you will grow disciples,  and you will strengthen the church. Your 25 to 35 minutes on Sunday morning are the most important minutes of your week.

Originally published May 5, 2004 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest