10 Keys To Pastoral Ministry
We finish strong this week with this article by my friend, Pastor Steve Wright. It’s not enough to point out the bad, we must facilitate the good. This list is both practical and priceless. I will be making it available in PDF and Word formats later today.
(While not an exact transcript, the following represents the substance of a one-hour talk given to a group of ministry students one week ago. Before the news of this week, Michael had suggested a written post summarizing the talk. I considered postponing its publishing, but Michael suggested it would be even more helpful today. Thus, it is not offered in response to the recent news, but I do not apologize for the timing either. – Steve Wright)
My salvation came after reading the Bible alone for many months, with a couple other Christian books. I did not have a Christian church, but once born again I found Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa – my first church home. This was 21 years ago. I worshipped and served there my first eight years as a believer, and was ordained in 1998. I have had a variety of ministry opportunity over the years, both inside and outside of Calvary Chapel circles, and presently pastor in Lake Elsinore, and have for the last six years. For brevity these ten areas are only summarized, and not meant to be exhaustive. They do reflect a personal philosophy of ministry that compliments the broader Calvary philosophies and retain the independence of the local church. They are offered by one with a passion for the Calvary Chapel movement, and a desire to see our churches grow in health and loving, faithful ministry to God’s people in the years to come.
1) ACCOUNTABILITY – I do not consider pastoral accountability to be having breakfast once a week with four other pastors. By accountability, I mean something in writing, publicly declared, that explains how the Senior Pastor can get fired. Our guidelines are on the website, and cover the different groups of church servants – pastors, employees, volunteer leaders and workers. This also provides protection for these individuals, especially to employees who also support their families through the church, so that they cannot be arbitrarily dismissed on the whim of the pastor.
2) CHILDREN/YOUTH – Churches must be vigilant to protect our children. Background checks must be secured for those working with minors, and I believe should be mandatory for all the workers of the church no matter the service. The expense is not a factor. The electric bill is expensive too, but nobody thinks of trying to run a church without electricity. We mandate a minimum of six months of attending the church before being eligible to serve in any capacity, which at least helps deter those who are seeking chaos and quick access to children. In addition there must be rigid rules that everyone is subject to, no matter how trusted. This is especially true for the teenage youth that typically have wider access and ministry opportunity with adults than the small children and infants. For example, no private, closed-door meetings, no personal car rides home after an event. Violations must be dealt with swiftly. No matter the laws of the state, every church should consider itself mandatory reporters when there is the possibility that physical or sexual child abuse has taken place. The church should not take for itself the role of trying to determine the truth of such accusations, but rather report the suspicion to the authorities who have the responsibility and resources to determine if a crime has been committed.
3) COMPENSATION – Once the church is large enough to provide a full time salary for the pastor, he should manage his finances like the congregation has to. People can’t approach the boss and ask for more money because an unexpected expense arrived. They have to budget, save, and manage the financial uncertainties of life. Why should the pastor be granted his financial request because of an unexpected house repair or medical bill? Does the entire church staff have that same privilege? Allowances for special items like books or gas are dangerous. Establish a salary that is sufficient to meet all those needs, plus other needs in life such as retirement, and healthcare. If the church is large enough to provide group benefits to all employees, that is different than the pastor alone getting lots of unique perks beyond his salary. The pastor should not expect the church to take care of him when he no longer can work, just because he failed to prepare for the future.
4) MESSAGES – Preparing and delivering Bible messages is a major part of the pastoral job description, especially within Calvary Chapel. It is (in part) what we are being paid for. Those messages belong to the church that employs us, not just ethically but most likely legally if someone actually went to court to fight over them. Any packaging and selling of previously recorded messages should result in income to the church, not the pastor. Of course, if the pastor has an outside project such as writing a book, those profits would properly be his. However, there the key term is “outside project.” It is not right to ignore church needs during the time normally spent with church activity, or to use church staff to edit, type, or otherwise assist in a work that is going to be the pastor’s sole financial benefit. Once more, the standard is what our congregation experiences. In the normal world it is quite rare for employees to use work time, equipment or supplies for personal projects to supplement the income.
5) LIMITATIONS – As an insurance agent I used to bristle when a client told me their plumber said their insurance is supposed to cover his bill. I jokingly would respond, “Would you trust your insurance agent to come and fix the plumbing?” A pastor may know some things about the law, taxes, investment, or medicine, but he is not a licensed, educated, professional in those fields. However, people may think, based on a pastor’s words, that he is an authority on anything to which he speaks, and not just the Scriptures. We also need to make sure others in the church leadership are not abusing their positions of authority in this area. A special word concerns counseling, as this is a legitimate role of the pastor in certain circumstances. However, here too, Christian counselors invest much in time and expense to properly become equipped to minister in this area. My seminary also has a significant counseling school at the graduate level – it is a different degree, different emphasis of study. Pastors and counselors are two different roles in the Body of Christ. We must know our limits when faced with a complicated and sensitive counseling issue and humbly admit we are out of our depths to help such a person. The loving and proper thing is to refer to one qualified, and not to waste the person’s time or even worse, to do additional damage because of our inexperience and incompetence.
6) DEPENDABILITY – This is more than just not being a flake, showing up on time, keeping promises etc. By dependability I mean that weekly faithfulness to bring the word of God to the people, without personal agendas of any sort. The pulpit is sacred ground, and the message is sacred time. To use them for partisan political rants, self-indulgent personal stories or complaints, or mocking of others for an easy laugh or amen from the majority is a dishonor to the office. Obviously a message can be illustrated with a current event or personal story, but only if it truly is an effective way of teaching the passage. The people need to know that they can bring their lost friends, and their pastor will not unnecessarily say things that are offensive or take the focus off Christ and Him crucified. The message of the cross is plenty offensive and will insult and drive away lots of visitors over time. However, that message also contains the power to save. Our personal rants or jokes do not.
7) AVAILABILITY – Be visible and available after service for as long as people would like to see you. Circulate among the people. With multiple services (and we have four) there is a time to break off small talk and get alone for a moment before the next service, but not at the expense of the people who really want to talk to you about a serious matter. Be available during the week too. We have a fairly large number of people that look to us as their home church and me as their pastor. In a healthy church, the people will be ministering to one another and not always looking to the pastor to do everything. Therefore, those who do specifically ask for the pastor can likely be accommodated. They should be. The requests will not overwhelm until the church grows to a very large size, and that likely will not happen to almost all pastors. Availability also applies to our families. I do not feel a need to participate in many of the church ministries, so that I can have that time with my family. Thus, the family also understands when there is a special need to go to the hospital, perform a funeral, or meet with someone in an emergency.
8) DELEGATION – In Calvary it is common to hear that we must forsake church growth programs and other human efforts, and trust the Lord to add to the church, as we faithfully serve and proclaim the word. I agree but I also believe the same is true for church health and unity within the local fellowship. The pastor can strive and set a bunch of rules, force everything through his approval process, every teaching subject to his personal notes, run out of the church those unwilling to get with his program…or he can trust the Lord. Delegate the work of the ministry to those we are equipping in the word each week. They have the same Holy Spirit to guide their service. Besides, why would God give me special insights about how to run the nursery or womens ministry? He is going to guide those who serve in these ministries. I want to use my position to facilitate, give them needed resources, make announcements as warranted, while empowering God’s people for their service. They serve Him, by serving the people of our church. They are not my servants, but co-laborers; different members with different gifts yet part of the one Body. If someone is teaching true heresy, or creating problems they cannot handle, I’ll find out about it and can deal with it then. But as a pastor, I have the pulpit twice a week. I do not need to fear a mutiny because someone has the freedom to teach a passage in one of the various ministries in a different way than I do. I choose to trust the Lord to produce and maintain a united, healthy, church environment.
9) DEFENSE – There is a difference between defending the flock of God entrusted to us as pastors, and defending ourselves. We need to know the difference. There may be a time when the church needs defending from the attacks of outsiders, and the pastor/shepherd must be on the front lines in that defense of God’s people. However, let the Lord defend you personally. Pastors are human and we may find certain people more difficult than others, but there is no justification to kick someone to the curb just because they disagree with the pastor. Develop thick skin. Sometimes conflict may be within the church. I am certainly going to give more credence to the testimony of someone I have known to be a humble servant in the church for years, versus someone who has been around for three weeks. However, this is why the accountability guidelines are necessary. People in the inner circle are not given preferential treatment by the pastor when there is a written, agreed-upon, method to handle accusations against leadership.
10) DISCUSS – I was at a pastors’ meeting and commented that I was a Calvary Chapel pastor because I believed Calvary Chapel was the “best thing out there.” Of course, if any of us find a better fit in personal doctrinal beliefs and ministry philosophy within another group or denomination, we would join that group. The Lutherans think they are “the best thing”, the Presbyterians the same and so forth. However, at that meeting my comment was responded to by one of the men in Calvary, with about 40 years compared to my 20 years. He said, “Steve, it is not just the best thing, it is the only thing out there.” There is a huge difference between my comment and his, and recognizing that difference will go a long way towards the future of Calvary Chapel. We must recognize the greater Body of Christ as the brothers and sisters they are. We must get outside our Calvary bubble and interact with others. And we must recognize that a lot of people have had bad experiences in Calvary Chapels, due to no fault of their own. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” and we are to be servants of Him, not the affiliation. Interact with the hurting, not as a Calvary apologist but as a servant of Christ. There may be a cost, especially in this internet era, but if our service to Jesus is not costly in some manner, it probably isn’t worth much.