Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What really matters in ministry?

When a search committee is asked what the church wants in their next pastor one of the common answers is that they want someone with preaching skills.  Having heard my share of poorly constructed and delivered sermons I can understand those desires, but I would suggest that being great from the pulpit isn't the most important trait a pastor can have, especially if that pastor is bivocational serving a smaller church.  When that pastor leaves the church few people will remember many of the sermons he or she preached.  (Some won't remember the sermon from one week to the next!)  What people will remember is the relationship they had with the pastor.

In a church, and especially a smaller church, it is all about relationships.  I often run into pastors today who tell me they don't visit people in their churches, and I have had some tell search committees that if they are called to serve their church that they should not expect him or her to spend a lot of time in visitation.  My advice to such pastors is to either find a very large church that expects you to sit in an office all day and wait for people to make an appointment to visit you or find another line of work.  In the churches I serve most of them want, and expect, a relationship with the pastor.  In fact, if the pastor wants to have any influence in the congregation he or she better spend a lot of time up front developing those relationships.

A person called to pastor a church becomes the pastor when he or she becomes involved in the lives of the church members.  When I resigned from my church I told the congregation that I would not return to conduct funerals or weddings because that is how their new pastor will become their pastor.  Until the pastor is involved in people's lives in significant ways that person may fill the pulpit each week and hold the title of pastor, but he or she isn't yet the pastor.  In our twenty-first century CEO mindset we sometimes forget the biblical understanding of a pastor as a shepherd.  Can you imagine a shepherd who doesn't spend time with the sheep?  How would the sheep begin to recognize the voice of the shepherd if he spent no time with them?  How would the sheep know which shepherd to follow if they didn't recognize his voice?

Preaching is important, but I would argue that most congregations will appreciate an average preacher with great relational skills far more than they would a master in the pulpit who refused to spend time with them.

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