I’m following up the previous blog to deal with the other side of the pulpit, so to speak. It has been a while since I’ve sat in a pew on a regular basis, but I have tried to maintain the mindset of the layperson as much as possible. I’ve been at this over a decade, hardly a lifetime of experience but hopefully enough to forge out a philosophy of ministry. Here are a few modest thoughts about what I think a pastor should do for the church.
First and foremost the pastor should preach the gospel, nothing more and nothing less. This is not as easy as it sounds. It takes a lifetime to learn about who Jesus is and what he has done for us and even then this reality is beyond comprehension. The Apostle Paul called it the “foolishness of preaching” and there are days when I wonder if anything is getting through to the people. It’s ironic that the days I don’t feel particularly good about a sermon, those are the times people respond to the Invitation for baptism or membership. The Holy Spirit really does draw people to Jesus Christ and I am only the vessel to get the message across.
I’ve been hearing about pastors, particularly of larger congregations, complaining about the lack of time for sermon preparation and the need to pull manuscripts off the internet. While certainly relating to the time demands, I could not download someone else’s sermon and claim it for my own. Plagarism still applies to pastors. Yes, there is vision-casting, visiting, counseling, administration, and public relations to consider and the time can get away from you. While not an avid W.A. Criswell fan, I do appreciate his emphasis on “giving the mornings to God” for sermon preparation. The greatest good for the greatest number of people can occur on Sunday morning.
The pastor should also love the people. Jesus said we are known as his disciples by this characteristic, and the sad reality is that the church doesn’t always do a good job at this. Sometimes the pastor doesn’t either, but it still up to him to set the tone as much as possible in this area. I wish it were true that this comes easily, and when dealing with most people it does. It becomes more difficult when people hurt you and those you love. Pastors are people too, and must deal with their emotions just like anybody else. Loving people is not only good for them but also good for the pastor too. And it is not optional. It’s important not to preach angry, and to check your temper at the door.
Part of loving the church also relates to being honest with them and “speaking the truth in love” as the Apostle Paul told Timothy. Sometimes folks confuse being loved with always being told what they want to hear. Pastors have a responsibility of challenging their people from the pulpit and also being there for them during joys and hardships. Both aspects are important. Members are more likely to listen to a pastor who shows concern for them on days other than Sunday. I may be idealistic, but would like to believe that most church members appreciate a pastor who cares enough about them to challenges to them to deeper walk with Christ. Loving folks who are lovable is not that difficult, it’s those other folks you have to work harder on.
Finally I would say that the pastors should lead the people. They are accountable before God for being good stewards of the opportunity to influence people for Christ. Leadership is not dictatorship, and for some reason this has been a problem in moderate churches in particular. Traditional Baptist churches who value the priesthood of believers distinctive sometimes rebel against a pastor who wants to assert himself. Leadership does not diminish the priesthood concept, as our Lord has placed certain individuals in the church for this very purpose. Pastors can become frustrated when they are restrained from using their gifts and abilities to the fullest. I am convinced that not every church wants a pastor to lead them. They may say they want a pastor, but this means someone closer to a chaplain who will take care of sick folks. This is important work but fails to acknowledge the church’s role as a headquarters for mission activity in their community.
I’m heard it said that a pastor who is leading his church when no one is following is only out for a walk. There is a mutual accountablity between pastors and their churches, and that is why I believe churches and pastors should listen to each other. It baffles me how many times a pastor will enter a new situation and attempt to make major changes. Sometimes this is needed, but usually it takes time to adapt to new people and earn the respect of the people. Mega-church pastors tend to attempt this shortly after their arrival, sometimes with catastrophic results. On the other hand, some churches resist any kind of leadership from the pastor and don’t want to do anything that might “rock the boat.” It takes a great deal of discernment to know how much to do and how soon to do, and pastors should take heed to the leadership of the Holy Spirit to set the agenda for their own lives and that of their congregations.
Regardless of what else pastors accomplish, they are responsible for being good role models and being the presence of Christ is their churches and communities. It is an awesome responsibility and privilege to stand before the people week after week, and pastors should take special care of their influence and relationships. It should go without saying that ministers should be above reproach and set a good example for their church families. I mention it because pastors have been known to experience “moral failure” with devastating effects to all those around them. Because of this reality, it’s important not to say “that will never happen to me” because pride does go before a fall. We pastors (and ministers as a whole) should pray regularly for the Lord to “keep us from evil.”