Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflections From Hundreds of Churches

One of the great parts of my job is that I have had the privilege of visiting hundreds of churches in several countries over the years.  I have had the chance to see all kinds of worship styles.  It is fun to see the creativity of God’s people.  Though not every style fits with my personal taste, I am hard pressed to find a style of worship that is wrong or unbiblical.

Another thing I get to see is different pastoral styles.  Like worship styles, different pastors have different ways of leading.  In some cases the differences are merely stylistic.  Yet in others, the pastors are leading their congregation in ways that are harmful to the Church.

I used the capital letter on the word Church on purpose.  I’m talking about harm done to the universal Church, not just to the local church.

A while back, I was talking to an elder from a church whose pastor will soon be stepping down.  The elder shared with me how they are making preparations for the pastor’s successor.  This got me thinking about what qualities I would look for when hiring a pastor.  Again, my perspective of having seen hundreds of churches came into play.  I thought of the good pastoral leadership I have seen, and I thought about some of the bad examples.  To a large extent, it seems there is one major discerning factor between a godly pastor and a worldly pastor.

Godly pastors love the Bride of Christ more than anything.  They would lay everything aside for the universal Church, even if it means a decreased ministry in their local churches.

I think of a pastor I knew back in Poland who sent the top twenty percent of his church across town to start a new church in a new neighborhood.  From a worldly perspective he made a big mistake.  His church shrunk 20% overnight.  Most of his best people were gone.  Yet over time both his local church and the one that his former parishioners planted grew, and as a result the body of Christ grew bigger and stronger.

I think of another pastor in Bulgaria who decided to make small groups the center of the church ministry.  The Sunday service would become a worship time, and a time to share stories from the weekly small groups.  He would only give a sermon if there were not enough testimonials from the week to fill the hour.  He met with lots of criticism.  People left his church in droves.  Yet when I visited his church last spring there was hardly enough room to sit.  Nearly everyone had a story about how lives were being changed through their personal ministries.  The Body was strong.  The Kingdom was expanding.  Yet the pastor seemed unimportant from a worldly perspective.

Worldly pastors, on the other hand, often place something else before the Bride.  They place their careers, their political authority, or the number of people coming to their church every Sunday above the universal Church.  They are easy to spot if you know the signs.  They are more concerned about building their empire than they are about building the kingdom.

If they are in a smaller church, they often talk about getting more people to come to their church.  Attendance numbers are a big deal to them.  They need a following.  Their biggest fear is that the church will close on their watch, because that would make them look like a bad leader.

If they are in a bigger church, they are careful to keep control centralized.  They are offended when they are not in the driver’s seat, and they expect you to be offended for them.

Worldly pastors will use gossip, slander, and lies to hold onto power.  They do not release people to start new ministries.  They do not risk.  They do not plant churches.

When a church selects a pastor, there will be great temptation to hire a worldly pastor.  He will come with promises of growth.  He will go to no ends to make his church great.  In the end he will have successfully built his church, not God’s Church.  He will leave a legacy that the world will respect, but that is spiritually a heap of garbage.

A godly pastor will give of himself for the Kingdom.  He will develop ministry workers and pass on leadership to others.  He will send his best people out to start new ministries.  He will empower believers even if it means he has less power.  He will risk closing the doors of his church if it means that the universal Church grows.  He will place the Bride of Christ before his own personal brand.  His legacy may go unnoticed by the world, but he will make an impact that lasts forever.

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