I was having a conversation yesterday with an old mentor, the man who ordained me into my first pastoral job almost 30 years ago. He left the pastorate a few years ago and, in trying to understand how things ended up so far from his expectations and dreams, he’s extended that analysis to the evangelical world as a whole. He’s embarked on an attempt to awaken pastors and churches to what he sees as significant flaws in the evangelical structure itself.
Many of the points he made are ones I’ve made on this blog before and are reasons we are doing church entirely differently at Focus. I indicated at one point that we might have some very similar views and he initially expressed skepticism on that point. Having not watched the videos yet, he may be right, but one thing he said specifically struck me.
“I don’t get into solutions at all. I come at it from a very macro level.”
I think at any point of major transition, like the one I suspect the American Church is undergoing, it’s probably healthy that we have people willing to raise questions with no answers and I suspect that is part of his role in this. I am not criticizing him for taking this thankless role in the slightest. But he’s right, it’ s not exactly where I am.
Because what struck me is that pastors in the thick of the battle don’t usually disagree with the macro points he was making.
There’s a great deal of talk about how evangelicalism is failing and I don’t meet many pastors who fundamentally disagree with that. Pastors, in general, are quick to believe they are failing at their job anyway. Other pastors may feel better about their role and work but still scratch their heads in perplexity as program after program fails to bring the fruit they are expecting. For them the macro message that things are wrong is not something they will argue with but begs the question, what now?
After five years watching, coaching and critiquing from the outside I decided to jump back into the fray, to return to pastoring, because I believe there is a “what now.” There is a next step. And I’m personally excited to be part of it’s unfolding.
Pastor, your ship may be taking water, but if you can cut some of the dead weight it doesn’t have to sink. (And I know your tendency is to think you are the dead weight and you need to just get out, but that’ s not it either.)
I acknowledge that the way we’ve been doing church no longer works and that pastors are feeling either desperate or hopeless but I want to do more than simply stand next to you and grieve with you over the losses. I want to do that too, but I want to do more. I want to help you right the ship or build a new one or whatever metaphor is most appropriate. But I want to tell you there is a next. There is a what now. There is a way forward as a pastor.
Let me leave you with four short nuggets and encourage you to chew on it. If I can help unpack these for you please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d love to come alongside and help you remember why you became a pastor in the first place.
- Sharpen your focus on discipleship, the mission of the church. Make it your mission to understand that mission. Give yourself (and your staff) permission to ignore the rest. Don’t be in such a hurry to move the ship forward that you end up traveling further away from your destination. Pull into port if you need. Take a breath and if you need a place to start I would say read and reread Ephesians until the mission takes on some clarity.
- Answer the right questions in the right order. Before asking “how” to disciple, do you understand why discipleship is God’s passion, or what discipleship is, or who is responsible for what? Answering these will leave you fewer options for how, which makes it easier to implement and communicate. Pastors are often surprised and delighted to learn that the right answers to these questions will likely relieve you of a lot of burden rather than add to it.
- Cut the dead weight of good things. All the good things which are not discipleship are pulling you down, causing you to forget why you became a pastor in the first place. The job of creating a discipling community is enough to keep you plenty busy without all the other stuff. It’s true that most of it happened in the name of discipleship anyway, I get that. But go back to point 2 and see what’s really necessary.
- Get help from someone outside your “box”. The pressures inside your “box”, from congregants, co pastors, directors and so on make it very difficult to see what has come from agendas other than the Great Commission. Find a friend, a pastor of a different church, a coach, someone wise and honest and gracious who can help you navigate righting the ship.
Pastor, you are not alone, and God is not failing you. Your job requires dependence and faith, but it is not impossible, nor should it be the source of depression and misery. If the words above seem intriguing please contact me and let me help you. There are answers to what now. Feel free to call me at (505) 393-LIFE. Let’s chat about next.
Going forward this blog will focus on the encouragement and training of pastors and those who love them. We will spend time exploring the “what now?” Although I believeit will be encouraging to all pastors we will specifically be aiming at pastors of what we tend to call small or medium sized churches, but are in fact the size the majority of pastors have in their flock. Truth is half of the churches in America are fewer than 80 people large. I suspect this isn’t a sign that we’re failing as much as it’s a sign that we need to reevaluate what makes a successful church.
Currently I am finishing up an online video course to allow any pastor to complete at their own pace which will walk through Ephesians to find the answers to the questions alluded to in the box above. And off course I am still available for personal coaching or training retreats for your leadership or small group leaders as well as whole church conferences to help reinforce your efforts to build a community of Grace and Discipleship. If you are interested in staying informed on these developments please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be put on the mailing list.
Smiling at the future,
David “pastormac” Megill