Category Archives: Pastoral Ministry

Multi-Site Church Polity: Congregational or Episcopal?

Matthew Pinson

Recently my pastor and colleague at Welch College, Jesse Owens, texted me a tweet by the eminent Australian evangelical scholar Michael Bird, who tweeted the following about multi-site churches:

“Thesis: Multi-site churches are not congregational, they are episcopally governed, the senior minister is a de facto bishop, in fact, multisite churches are more centrally  controlled than any Catholic or Anglican diocese in church history.”

Bird also has written a blog post on this entitled, “Multi-Site Churches: An Evaluation” that is very insightful. While I have important disagreements with Bird on some basic issues of evangelical theology, I agree wholeheartedly with the statement above.

I first made an observation similar to his at an annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society many years ago. After a paper on Baptist-congregational church government, I remember standing in the hallway talking with Chad Owen Brand and Stan Norman saying basically the same thing: “Multi-site churches are a violation of the congregational church polity that is part and parcel of Baptist ecclesiology. They’re more like an episcopal diocese.”

There are many online resources that critique the multi-site movement from a Baptist perspective. Mark Dever and 9Marks have been at the forefront of raising awareness and concern over this development through a Baptist lens, from biblical, theological, historical, and practical vantage points. There is also an excellent treatment of the multi-site phenomenon by the president of Cedarville University, Thomas White, Franchising McChurch, which I discussed several years ago in ONE Magazine. Thus, I do not feel the need to give a full-orbed critique of the multi-site phenomenon here but only to focus on the very narrow question of whether it fits with historic Baptist polity.

I remember being on a panel discussion at Southern Seminary a few years ago with Orthodox Presbyterian pastor and professor Carl Trueman. He was surprised that the only other person on the panel who agreed with him on the ecclesiological problems with multi-site churches was an Arminian Baptist! Yet he and I agreed, on that panel, that a late-medieval phenomenon similar to the multi-site movement was responsible in large part for the anti-clerical fervor that led to the Protestant Reformation: pluralism and non-residency (i.e., congregations that had no preaching pastor [priest] to give them pastoral care, and priests that were assigned to more than one congregation). Trueman and I agreed that the multi-site thrust was a violation of both Presbyterian and Baptist-congregational polity.

This is a concern I have for our own Free Will Baptist Church. I frequently have ministers ask me what I think about having a Free Will Baptist multi-site church, from the vantage point of our faith and practice as Free Will Baptists. I always explain it in what I see as the only way one can explain it in terms of the Free Will Baptist Treastise of Faith and Practices, and that is in line with Bird’s comment above and people like Dever’s and Trueman’s approach: It is not in harmony with Free Will Baptist polity.

Now we must understand that Free Will Baptists have some important differences with the wider Baptist tradition of church government. We tend to give more power to the conference or association, e.g., the authority for presbyteries to examine and ordain ministers, so that churches in good standing with a Free Will Baptist conference or association cannot ordain their own ministers without the authority of the presbytery or ordaining council of a local conference or association.

However, on issues that touch this question of multi-site churches, we would be in agreement with Dever and other Baptists. Free Will Baptists have historically believed that local congregations should be self-governing. That means, among other things, that they must choose their own pastor(s) and deacons and their own officers and teachers, do their own discipline, have control of their own property, have the freedom to separate from one conference and unite with another, have control of their own finances, etc.

This self-governance principle has always opposed the episcopal and Presbyterian models of church government that give ecclesiastical bodies or individuals outside a local congregation control over the internal elements of governance of that congregation such as those things listed in the previous paragraph. So, whether it be a diocese or a bishop or a synod or a presbytery, these bodies/individuals cannot control the internal governance of a local congregation.

Again, historic Free Will Baptist polity, as I show in my pamphlet Free Will Baptists and Church Government, stipulates a stronger relationship between the conference or association and the local church than most Baptist polities. The conference or association has historically been responsible, for example, for the examination, ordination, and discipline of office bearers (ministers, and, the further back you go in our history, deacons). Furthermore, associations and conferences have the right to involve themselves in local church disputes, and often do so. But they have the right only to advise, never finally to arbitrate, in those disputes. Their ultimate recourse is only to remove fellowship from an erring congregation. So I do not wish to minimize the differences between historic Free Will Baptist polity and other Baptist polity.

However, all Baptists agree on the congregational governance of the local church: (1) It is the entire congregation, not the pastor(s) and deacons, who govern the local Baptist church; (2) It is the congregation, not a body outside that congregation, that governs the local Baptist church.

This is borne out in the Free Will Baptist Treatise, which places within the self-government of each local congregation “full authority to transact its business, choose its pastor and officers, receive, discipline, and dismiss members, hold free title to all its properties, and conduct all its internal affairs” (Part IV, Chapter I, Section I.B).

Sometimes ministers who’ve read a lot about multi-site churches and hope to experience growth in their ministries ask me, “Would there be a problem with me having a multi-site church?” I always tell them this: “If different congregations arise out of your church, and you can find a way to keep them together somehow without violating the Treatise (which Free Will Baptists believe is based on New Testament polity), then by all means do so!”

When they ask what this does and does not mean, I explain that each gathered body of believers needs to have the sole authority to do those things that lie within the power of the local church that are enumerated in the Treatise. So you need to ask the following eight questions:

  1. Will this gathered body of believers have sole authority to transact its own business?
  2. Will it have sole authority to elect, maintain, and dismiss its own preaching pastor(s) who leads, feeds, and cares for it (i.e., leadership, preaching, and pastoral care), and not be answerable to the preaching pastor of a higher authority or church outside itself, or any religious body outside itself?
  3. Will it have the sole authority to elect, maintain, and dismiss its own deacons chosen from within its own membership who serve it?
  4. Will it have the sole authority to receive its own members in the way it wishes to receive them, or will there be another higher authority outside it that determines how members are received or who is received?
  5. Will its pastor(s) and deacons have the sole authority to administer baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the washing of the saints’ feet, and other ordinances in the congregation?
  6. Will it have its own policy and process for disciplining, excommunicating, or dismissing members, administered solely by its own office bearers without control of an outside body?
  7. Will it have the sole authority to decide where to meet, and if it owns property, will it hold title to that property with full authority to sell it or to purchase additional property without permission from a higher authority outside itself?
  8. In short, will it have sole authority to conduct its own financial affairs and all other internal affairs, and not have a higher authority control the outcome of any of its internal affairs?

These are simply the eight questions that naturally arise from an examination of the Treatise. And, as I tell ministers who have asked me about this, if you can answer all these questions in the affirmative about the congregation of believers that you are spinning off from your main congregation, you will be in line with historic Free Will Baptist polity.

Yet an affirmative answer to the above eight questions is a direct violation of the whole point of the multi-site movement, as it is to other episcopal approaches to church government.

Then, often, a subsequent question comes up, “Well, President Pinson, if I have enough church growth to be able to spin off other congregations, is there anything I can do that would not be in violation of the Treatise and historic Free Will Baptist polity? My answer is always, “Yes! Plant churches!” This is the answer Jonathan Leeman gives in his 9Marks article “The Alternative: Why Don’t We Plant?”

That’s the answer that’s in line with New Testament polity and with historic Free Will Baptist polity as outlined in the Treatise: We plant churches! Of course, a church cedes power and control when it mothers a church and then encourages the church to go self-supporting, self-governing. But that is the New Testament model, and the model that fits our Free Will Baptist faith and practice.

Of course, there is a lot of room for variation in the church planting model. For example, just as Free Will Baptist North American Ministries often sponsors a mission for many years before it goes self-supporting and becomes its own self-governing church, so a local congregation that has the means to plant a church can do the same thing. A new local gathering can be a mission of the church that planted it for several years before it becomes self-supporting and self-governing. In these intervening years, there is room for differing models of control that still lie within the bounds of Free Will Baptist practice.

Another positive of planting a church is that it can be done with the advice, assistance, and accountability of a Church entity like Free Will Baptist North American Ministries (NAM)[1]. The church plant I am involved in currently, though a self-governing plant, is in cooperation with NAM. Its pastor, Jesse Owens, is an associate church planter who receives training, counsel, and prayer support from NAM, as well as the ability to raise non-salary financial support through NAM.

Furthermore, I have even had some ministers ask me, “Is there a way to have a network of these churches that grow out of my church?” I say, “Yes. That’s what we call an association or conference.” Of course, when at all possible, it’s healthy to unite with conferences or associations who can stretch us out of our comfort zone and help us experience the diversity of the body of Christ within our Free Will Baptist theological confines. So I encourage these ministers to be active in broader associations: We need Free Will Baptist conferences and associations, not cultural niche associations. We don’t need to divide ourselves up by our cultural preferences, where it’s almost like we’re in an association where everybody likes either sushi or fried chicken, or everybody likes either bluegrass or indie-folk, or everybody wears either skinny jeans or khakis to the ministers’ retreat.

However, that said, let’s pretend that a large Free Will Baptist church over a period of fifteen years planted ten successful Free Will Baptist congregations, and over an eight-to-ten-year period, each one of those churches became self-supporting and self-governing, and they all associated with the original church that planted them, meeting together for fellowship, encouragement, accountability, and other ministry, say, once a quarter. This would be much like what has happened throughout 400 years of Free Will Baptist and wider Baptist history. It’s called a conference or an association. But, in this concept, the original, larger congregation that planted all the other congregations would have no more power or sway over what happened in the association, or in the internal governance of each of the local planted congregations, than any of the planted congregations.

I think it is imperative that we Free Will Baptists be ourselves. This means drawing from our own rich biblical and historical resources of church polity rather than from trends that might seem successful at the moment, but really represent a departure from our Baptist faith and practice and an embrace of the faith and practice of non-Baptist religious bodies. And that is precisely what multi-site is: a move away from our historic Free Will Baptist and Baptist polity toward an embrace of episcopal church polity.

My prayer is that we will avoid this theological misstep and that we will do what we see in the New Testament and Free Will Baptist history and plant more New Testament churches!

________________

[1] Free Will Baptist North American Ministries is also sometimes still known as Free Will Baptist Home Missions.

Pastoral Theology and Change: Part 3

by Jackson Watts

Change is inherent to the nature of salvation; repentance itself implies real spiritual change. So it should be no surprise that the congregational life of saved persons also must undergo certain changes in its ministry sometimes in order to better foster growth, discipleship, worship, or evangelism. The challenge is to discern the right degree and type of trellises to support the vines, to use Marshall and Payne’s metaphor.[1]

So far we have established two important truisms concerning church change. First, change is often very difficult, frustrating, and sometimes elusive. It can lead to confusion, conflict, and unwanted departures of leaders and/or members. At its worst, it fractures a church, hindering its witness in the community.

Nevertheless, we’ve also established that not all change is the same. Change has many different faces, requiring different levels of reflection and effort to implement. Implicit in this is a conviction that I think most leaders share: Change doesn’t have to be a problem. It can be a healthy, exciting opportunity despite the challenges that come with it. Understanding the different types of change is an important first step for pastors and churches to work through transitions in a way which strengthens Christ’s church.

Change through Reform

The second type of change is innovation. While innovation is usually associated with a new invention, it doesn’t have to be something entirely new. Don’t think of it like the invention of electricity or the telephone. Innovation is more like going from the first light bulb to LED lighting. Light itself wasn’t invented. Rather, a better means to produce and diffuse light was. Moving from a landline phone to a cell phone would be an innovation within the field of electronic communication. Innovation then, as I am describing it, is the reformation of some aspect of the church’s life.

We know about “reformation” due to the tumultuous period known as the Protestant Reformation. Some would argue that the very nature of the faith was altered, or even recovered. But consider what remained: Churches, priests/pastors, the Lord’s Supper, belief in the Triune God, and other core aspects of Christianity.

Without question, much changed with both church teaching and practice! But I use this illustration to show that Christianity as a religion about Jesus Christ didn’t end or begin. However, significant innovations occurred that were thought of as reforms, returning the church to a pre-existing form (historians can debate the best terminology to be used).

Innovation is arguably the most common form of change, and thus most likely to be attempted. Changes within an existing church culture happen organically, in fact. Sometimes background checks on children’s ministry volunteers must be performed to satisfy the expectations of the church’s insurance company. It is a change, but largely accepted as unavoidable. People resign from ministries, and new people step into those leadership roles. Most members accept and understand that these changes happen, even if they don’t prefer them.

However, innovation happens whenever background checks lead to expectations of special training for children’s helpers. Innovation is when the church changes financial disclosure practices under a new treasurer, or when a new youth pastor stops taking students to a particular camp each year and instead goes to a different one. Financial stewardship and student ministry didn’t end. It isn’t a simple matter of addition or subtraction. Yet these ministries have been reformed in some way. To put it another way, the form (structure) of a ministry (substance) has been altered.

Tweaking or Tampering?  

Innovation and reformation are themselves contested terms. Depending on who you’re speaking to, these words summon different reactions. To Silicon Valley investors, innovation has an appealing ring to it. To those struggling to set up their voicemail, it doesn’t sound so good. Similarly, our Catholic friends may have something of a bitter taste in their mouths toward ‘reformation.’ To those with shelves full of Banner of Truth books, it just as well be ‘Gospel’!

This range of responses is also seen in the local church. Saying one is going to “tweak something” seems harmless enough. To others, it is heartless tampering designed to take control. Reform, in other words, doesn’t necessarily signal improvement, even if that is the goal. Healthy reform have growth in faithfulness as its ultimate aim, but it requires more than good intentions.

Thankfully, whenever leaders successfully improve an existing aspect of the ministry through some innovation, members usually appreciate it. In fact, it is quite rewarding whenever skeptics or even critical members become some of the most vocal supporters of a change once it has happened. The challenge is patiently waiting and praying for that reaction.

Naturally, leaders and lay members alike recognize that there is not just a range of feelings about changing certain features of the ministry. There is also a spectrum when it comes to the scope of the change. A church may have preaching in its worship service each week. But if in a week’s time, the pulpit has been replaced with a new one and the pastor has lost his necktie, this will likely be considered a significant innovation (fairly or unfairly!).

As a general rule, the degree of reflection, prayer, planning, communication, and implementation is proportionate to the extent of the reforms about to occur.[2] Bigger changes equal more preparation, in essence.

Innovation is not entirely unlike incorporation (change type #1). However, pastors usually learn that innovation and reform is most often easier to implement than actually introducing something new. With innovation, churches at least have the concept, structures, or other “raw materials” already in place. Being prepared to accept reforms then becomes the critical issue.

Leadership Insight

Why innovate? It has often been said that change for change-sake isn’t very healthy. People say this because they generally need to see a need for improvement in order to embrace change.

Ultimately, innovation is grounded in the conviction that God is calling his people to a deeper level of faithfulness. If the culture of a church is permeated by beliefs such as, “We are perfect,” “We are fine,” or “Everything is going well,” then any form of change will prove nearly impossible. However, whenever there is a growing sense that the church is imperfect or ineffective—as a whole, or in several areas—there is a greater openness for reform.

How does this awareness of imperfection or ineffectiveness occur? The primary means by which the church increases in awareness of the need for reform is 1) Preaching/teaching the doctrines of sin and sanctification, and 2) Regular observation and evaluation of the church’s ministry effectiveness.

The first of these is accomplished from the pulpit, the podium, the Sunday School classroom, and numerous other venues where believers intentionally meet for instruction. By learning that we are sinners as well as saints, they will be better able to connect the dots between their hearts and the ministry structures around them. In other words, if Christians still sometimes sin in thought, word, or deed—including inside the church—then this means that sometimes our ministries need sanctifying, so to speak.

Furthermore, the laws of physics tell us that things wear out: people, programs, buildings, etc. Sometimes a fresh coat of paint, new carpet, new chairs, and other tools are unavoidable if we are paying attention to this decaying world. Understanding the extent of the Fall helps us to see that every manmade thing won’t last.

When we take into account both the fallenness of our own natures, as well as the world itself, we know innovation will occasionally be needed as we address the flaws in our ministries. Naturally, this always begins with the heart, mind, and soul. But is an error to overlook the body, and thus the church’s material life. We are embodied souls who worship in places (e.g. buildings), in well-ordered ways (e.g. worship service times, order of services), with carefully-designed tools (e.g. curriculum). These trellises serve the vine best whenever innovation and reform is occasionally undertaken.

The second way to create a church culture that thinks in terms of improvement is to regularly inform members of the patterns of growth and decline of spiritual vitality over time. Church attendance is a valuable metric, but a very limited by itself. Church leaders must find biblical and practical means of observing, recording, and reporting how God is at work in the congregation. Some of these are easier to measure than others, but by developing multiple means of assessment of the church as a whole, and then specific areas of ministry, the congregation will be better positioned to understand what potential reforms may be needed.[3]

As a rule, this will be much more effective than saying, “We need to mix things up,” or “The church down the street is doing this, so let’s try it, too.” Members who are growing in maturity are doing so because they understand sin and sanctification, and they care deeply about the unfolding life of the church. It works it reverse as well: members being taught about sin and sanctification and who are helped to better see the ministry for what it is will grow in maturity. Such members become advocates of and partners in reform, not opponents.

_______________________________

[1] Cf. Colin Marshall & Tony Payne’s The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mindset that Changes Everything. See a brief summary of their proposal here.

[2] This is why my illustration about the Protestant Reformation is intentional. Some would argue that we see the whole gamut of changes in this event: incorporation, innovation, and interruption (see forthcoming Part 4). This illustrates another facet of my argument, which is that once you begin ‘innovating’ or generally changing many things, at some point you begin having several different types of change all at once, which is more apt to lead to conflict than multiple changes of a single type in a single area of ministry.

[3] The concerns about the proper use of numbers or data are well-expressed in Kevin Hester’s recent post.

Deus in Machina: Reading (and Studying) the Old, Old Story on your Tablet

(Part 1 of 2)

by Kevin Hester

As a non-digital native, whenever I think of Scripture I envision my first “real” Bible. It was a red-letter, leather-bound, Old Scofield Reference Bible. I still have it and I still use it from time to time though its condition is in need of an update. Since then, I have added concordances, commentaries, lexicons and other translations. All of these things are necessary for any serious student of God’s Word.

When personal computers became commercially available, it wasn’t long until technologically savvy Christians began to see the potential of these machines for making such tools of Biblical study readily available. Early versions offered little more than a searchable digital text, but it still proved helpful. Soon thereafter, however, there was an explosion of digital software and programs to aid in exegesis and study. I missed most of this. I was in seminary and a graduate program at the time. Surrounded by libraries that had all the familiar study tools to which I had grown accustomed, and being a bit of a Luddite, I contented myself with playing along the shores of what was becoming a vast ocean.

When I became a professor at Welch College I was often asked about the best Biblical study tools. I was comfortable talking about the bound volumes I had grown to love, but when they asked, “what about for my computer?” I was unable to offer any advice. I began to look into what was available, but quickly became overwhelmed. There were so many unfamiliar terms, price packages, and statements related to system requirements that I had almost decided that if parchment was good enough for Paul, it was likely good enough for me.

This is why I was so excited when Mr. Allan Crowson, Welch College’s Director of Online and Adult Studies, showed me his paper entitled, “Some Thoughts on Scripture Study Software.” I had never seen such a simple presentation of these terms, packages, and their capabilities before. I also knew that he wasn’t trying to sell me anything.

While I am sure that most of you who are reading this know more than I do about what is available in the market, I am sure that some of you are also like I was. You see the potential, but you don’t know where to begin. Mr. Crowson has happily given me permission to share his article with you. I would suggest that you begin here. https://welchlibrary.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/software-study-tools-2013-11-07.pdf

 

 

Pastoral Theology & Change

by Jackson Watts

One of the most frustrating aspects of Christian leadership—and pastoral ministry in particular—is the challenge of leading congregations through change. By change we mean either the 1) introduction of something new to the church’s life, 2) reformation of an existing aspect of a church’s ministry, or 3) removal or cessation of something that presently exists in the church. Any of these changes require different considerations. Of course, the specific object of change also carries its own unique baggage.

Whether leaders be pastors, deacons, teachers, and/or some other ordained or elected person, most recognize how unusually difficult change can be. It’s demanding because we deal not only with processes, policies, and procedures; we deal with people. Because people are an exceptional bundle of personality, heritage, hope, fear, giftedness, and brokenness, this only adds to the complexity of figuring out the mechanics required to implement any change effectively.

In a forthcoming series of posts, I will explore how any sound pastoral theology, and philosophy of Christian leadership in general, must incorporate the concept and practice of change. The genesis of these posts is a presentation I gave as an ENGAGE Leadership Seminar at the 2015 National Association meeting in Grand Rapids.

What’s in a Change?

For all the talk about change among evangelicals (including Free Will Baptists), we often don’t attend to the theological underpinnings to the subject. We tend to paper over these, operating purely on the level of the practical outcomes. We want change in the interest of things “going more smoothly” or “being more efficient.” This is understandable. After all, we want to pursue a “manner of life,” to use the New Testament’s language, which accords with the sound doctrine with which we’ve been entrusted. We want to see the spiritual fruit that follows faithful labor for the Lord. Yet this reasoning assumes a larger understanding about human nature and what God is doing among His people.

‘Change,’ properly conceived, begins with a biblical conviction about the necessity of repentance. Repentance (metanoéō) signals a change in mind. This change isn’t merely an intellectual move. It suggests a reorientation in spiritual direction. Perhaps the best way to put it is to see repentance as one side of the coin of conversion. One turns from their trust in self and all that is not Christ (repentance), and they turn to place their trust in Christ (saving faith). Thus, the apostolic preaching to “repent and believe the Gospel” is the key to conversion.

Repentance is not only part of the act of conversion, but it’s part of the way of life which the Gospel makes possible. Some people think of this in terms of sanctification. More commonly, we speak of spiritual growth or discipleship. Regardless of terms, we’re referring to the process of learning from God’s Word, walking in the Spirit, and being conformed more closely to the image of God’s Son. Change, then, is taking place throughout our lives as God’s Word and Spirit chisel away at who we once were, helping us to grow more fully into the new nature given to us in regeneration.

An analogy that may be useful is thinking of change with respect to physical development. Infants possess certain physical qualities that gradually change in the aging process. Jesus himself was said to “increase in wisdom, and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52). Stature here, I believe, is a reference to physical maturation. We recognize that there is a process taking place, under normal conditions, across a person’s life. When some changes don’t seem to be happening, we take note. When a 60-year old still has a full-head of hair, we marvel. When a six-month old hasn’t gained more than a few pounds since birth, the pediatrician intervenes. While genetics play a significant role in such instances, we have come to anticipate gradual physical change as being a normal part of life.

Similarly, a Christian understanding of change begins not with renovations to the church sanctuary or revising the By-laws. It begins with having a clear grasp of the renovation of the whole self that the Spirit brings. By extension, leaders must consider how effectively the church’s ministry is facilitating this spiritual change.

Vines & Trellises

Once one has a sufficient understanding of what Scripture says about change, we are then able to consider what we might call the “material or structural dimensions” of congregational life. This is difficult because the Bible appears rather silent about buildings, service times, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and much more.

The existence of such aspects in church experience doesn’t necessarily mean that they are unbiblical (contrary to biblical truth) simply because they’re extra-biblical (beyond Scriptural mention). God’s timeless truth takes on shape in historical and cultural contexts. When we move into life’s gray areas—areas where Scripture doesn’t specifically command something—we must determine how to live out our faith consistently with biblical principles, precedents, and patterns. The Bible says to preach the Word, but it doesn’t say how long precisely to preach each Sunday morning. Scripture commands husbands to love their wives, but it doesn’t say in what setting this instruction to love must always take place.

General revelation, historical precedents, and observing how people grow best helps fill in some of these gaps. If a congregation is used to hearing 15-minute sermons, it may become evident that this doesn’t translate into a sufficient engagement with the Word for the “Sunday-morning-only crowd” to grow. A gradual lengthening of the preaching component of worship may enhance the influence of the Word on a congregation. We may discover that setting aside a weekend a year for a couples retreat provides a nice break from the ordinary to challenge couples in a helpful way that passing remarks in a sermon do not.

Having grounded ourselves in Scripture’s commands, principles, and patterns, as well as supplementing that knowledge with a grasp of church history, the order of creation, and the starting points of our people, leaders are better able to consider what forms or structures best foster spiritual growth.

Another helpful illustration of these principles is the key metaphor offered by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne in The Trellis and the Vine (Matthias Media, 2009). The emphasis of New Testament ministry is the growth of the vines (individual believers) into the true vine (Christ). All that is essential for this task is God’s Spirit speaking through God’s Word. However, while we don’t technically need buildings, bulletins, or budgets to be a church, these serve a purpose in facilitating the growth of the vines. They function much like a trellis in guiding and ordering the growth of vines.

Buildings provide an established, secure, useful place to gather for worship, fellowship, and other ministry-related activity. They provide a visible reminder to the community of the presence of an assembly of believers. Bulletins, properly used, can help worship to be decent and orderly. They can communicate important happenings in the body from week to week. Budgets may engender intentional stewardship of God’s financial provisions. Certainly some qualifications attend the usage of all of these, but they are tools which have been developed in church history to facilitate the worship, service, and overall ministry of God’s people.

Leadership Insight*

Good leaders recognize that these tools don’t guarantee spiritual growth. In fact, if not careful, we may mistake the trellis for the vine. They are far easier to manage than vines which often seem to have a mind of their own (because they do!). However, with caution, prayer, and Scriptural reflection, sound pastoral theology requires consideration of the structures, tools, programs, and procedures that accord with sound doctrine, and thus support spiritual growth.

Leaders must try to identify the connections between the material aspects of the church’s life (structures, tools, policies, procedures, programs), and the spiritual development of God’s people (growth in holiness, fruitfulness, outreach efforts, healthy families). Much more could be said about why these connections exist, but I think we primarily have to become good observers of and listeners to those we serve in order to determine when and why change is needed, and then take steps to lead such change.

In the next post, we will consider the three different types of change, and the unique considerations that come with their implementation.

________________________

*At least one key leadership insight will be provided at the conclusion of each post.

Pastoral Care & Priorities

by W. Jackson Watts

One of the most important aspects of pastoral ministry is understanding how one’s “pulpit ministry” is connected to their “pew ministry.” By pulpit ministry, I mean the regular, weekly preaching and teaching of God’s Word. In what I’m calling “pew ministry,” I’m referring to the personal engagement of the pastor (or pastoral staff) with congregants through ministries like visitation, counseling, and simply being present in times of physical trials.

Pastors spend a significant portion of many of their weeks in hospitals and nursing homes–perhaps just as many hours as they spend invested in personal prayer and study of the Word at times. For myself (and I suspect many others), sometimes we wonder if we are actually being faithful to the theology of the pastorate found in Scripture and our ordination vows. Why is it so easy to allow our love for people and/or desire to meet their expectations to create imbalance in our pastoral work?”

These are not new concerns. In fact, Acts 6 narrates the circumstances which led to the institution of the diaconate, designed especially to share the physical burdens of the flock of God. There are other Scriptural admonitions given to entire congregations which seem to imply (at the very least) that pastoral care should sometimes by re-envisioned as “congregational care.” That is, with an “every-member ministry” mindset in which some believers have the gifts of mercy, the pastor(s) and his people ought to bump into one another regularly in the hospital waiting room to see another brother or sister.

There is a different angle on this dynamic of pastoral care that I was reminded of recently. I was reading one of the best books on ministry that I have ever read entitled Freedom for Ministry by Richard John Neuhaus. I regret that the book is so little-known among Free Will Baptists. However, it is written by a deceased Lutheran-turned-Catholic, which probably has something to do with that. Also, it was originally published in the late-1970s. Still, Neuhaus provides a stinging critique of the unhealthy shape of so much late 20th century church life, while also providing warm, godly encouragement and direction to pastors of many stripes.

In the following excerpt, Neuhaus narrates something of a common concern:

Perhaps every pastor has had the experience when visiting a [congregant] that a child answers the door and excitedly announces to the parent that ‘God is here.’ The adults share a chuckle and observe that soon enough, maybe too soon, the child will realize the pastor isn’t God [1].

This humorous anecdote starts to touch upon a larger issue. Sometimes we have anxiety about whether or not we are developing the impression within people that they haven’t truly been visited by a church family member until the pastor himself has done so. Neuhaus develops this anecdote by addressing this type of concern:

Yet the connection between the representative and the One represented is very strong, as is the connection between the Church and the ministry of the Church. All our talk about lay ministers and the ethos of democratization notwithstanding, the minister inescapably represents the Church. We are rightly disturbed when people speak of a local church as ‘Pastor Jones’s church.’ Pastor Jones is first to protest that it is Christ’s church; and the more he insists on the point, the more people admire his modesty and give that as yet another reason for being a member of Pastor Jones’s church [2].

Another way of pastors may experience this latter sensibility is when, as they greet members in the foyer departing the service, they hear the phrase, “Good service(s).” Not good sermon, but good service, which immediately begs the question, “Does this also mean I get all the blame when the music isn’t so great?” Nevertheless, let’s return to Neuhaus’ account of how the church’s ministry and pastoral presence are tied together:

As we go about our everyday tasks, our actions both shape and reflect our understanding of the models of the community’s ministry. A lovely fourteen-year-old girl dies shortly after a tonsillectomy because of the criminal carelessness of an anesthetist. One rushes to the home to join the relatives and neighbors in weeping and in raging at the wrongness of it all, and in offering up this outrage to him who judges justly and in mercy. One’s being there is in a powerful sense the ‘presence’ of the Church, and of Christ. Why is it so urgently, so pathetically, important that the pastor be there? Because he is the palpable sign of the supportive community and the community’s Lord. Of course Christ has preceded the pastor. Of course Christ’s presence is abidingly immediate to each believer. Of course, of course. But in such times of crisis these commonplaces are frighteningly distant and abstract [3].

Here I think Neuhaus calls our attention to how Christ’s incarnation, and ultimately the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, enables us to think about the importance of being physically present to people. God did not create disembodied souls; He created persons. Furthermore, He created complex creatures with thoughts, dreams, aspirations, and emotions. Of course, due to the Fall we also experience heartache, disappointment, anxiety, grief, and all manner of inner conflict prompted by the vicissitudes of life.

So although Jesus may be physically absent from this world, when we serve people in His name, we perform those acts as unto Him (Mt. 10:42; Col. 3:17, 23). And when pastors link hands with the ill in a moment of prayer, we need to make sure they understand they are linking hands with the community of faith.

Practically speaking, I think the best way of embodying such a perspective would be to begin by developing a clear understanding in the local church of God’s call to member care from the New Testament. Additionally, the tendency to prioritize personal contact in times of acute physical crises is a wise judgment. If people are looking death squarely in the eye, then not only is comfort a need, but preparation for the life to come. Even if pastors are reminding believers in these dire situations that God is with them, often there will be unbelieving family members, friends, and medical professionals nearby. We shouldn’t overlook these opportunities for member care and evangelism.

Finally, I think Neuhaus’ observations remind us about the need to communicate that when pastors or laymen minister in these types of circumstances, they should remember the need to let people know that, “We’re praying for you,” and “We love you,” as well as, “I love you, and I’m praying for you.”

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[1] Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 43.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.