Keep a clear head about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
-2 Timothy 4:5
The editor’s last question was “What would you do differently if you were going back into the pastorate today?”
After responding to his other seven questions at length, I felt this one needed more reflection and its own space. So this is my attempt to answer that good question….
Well, first, I’m highly tempted to say….
–I would wonder about that church. Why in the world does it want a 75-year-old has-been as its shepherd? They must be really hard up.
–I would have my head examined. (If my wife Margaret were still living, she might say, “And you’d have to find yourself another wife!” lol)
The question is, if I were to re-enter the pastorate today, what things would I do differently?
A lot would depend… It might depend on the size and demands of the congregation. As with any workman, the size and nature of the task would dictate the number and kinds of tools I brought to the job.
Nothing about what follows should be seen as a complete renunciation of what we did over fifty-plus years of ministry, serving six pastorates and the SBC churches of the New Orleans Association. I did a few things right, if I may say so. I loved the churches, I preached the Bible, and I have loved and honored other ministers. I stayed active physically, trying to take care of the body. After my body protested against jogging, I became a walker, and still am. That has made a world of difference.
Early in my ministry, I worked at learning to knock on doors and share the Gospel with people. I went visiting with guest preachers who excelled at this kind of evangelism and thus learned from the best, among them B. Gray Allison and Jack Stanton.
As a pastor, I visited thousands of homes and led a lot of people to Christ. Not enough, but many. So I would continue doing these things: preaching the Word, loving the people, knocking on doors, and rising early and prayer-walking my neighborhood.
And then, I would do this….
1) I would begin this pastorate intentionally and not reactively.
In most of my pastorates, I did not arrive with a plan in mind but took each day as it came. You could say I backed into each pastorate. After all, when a new pastor arrives on the field, he does not have a blank calendar which he can fill in with his favorite activities. Sermons have to be prepared each week, there are staff meetings to conduct, people in crises need to see their pastor, and committees wait for the input and direction of their new leader.
Ask any pastor. The daily grind soon takes over and you are swept along by the tide.
I would like to have had a different plan, a direction that would have allowed me to give creative thought and prayer to this church and God’s plans for it. For that, number 2 would be needed….
2) I would find someone to help take the popcorn from me.
A pastor friend said he felt he was being stoned to death by popcorn. I remember the feeling. The phone is ringing, the secretaries need decisions from you, a committee is meeting and wants you to attend, you have a funeral tomorrow and a wedding Friday night, you’d like to confer with the worship leader about the direction of Sunday’s services, there are letters to write, and fires to put out. In your previous churches, you did a good bit of home visitation, both of church members and prospects for your church, and because it was a smaller church, you led the youth activities yourself. But no longer. You see now if you are to have any time for your family at all, something’s got to go.
A church of any size should employ someone to work alongside the pastor and, under his direction, take a lot of this off of him.
My problem was letting go. And it was a problem, believe me. I wanted to do it all, to help everyone, and to be everywhere at once. And when my wife and children made me aware I had missed a child’s ball game or another event for which they needed me, the anguish was overwhelming.
There are no good solutions to this. “Pray the Lord of the harvest” for him to raise up someone to take the popcorn.
3) I would assemble a leadership team within the congregation.
An unofficial group of at least four people, men and women who know and love this church, would advise me on what I was doing, or was considering doing. They would not be elected and we would not publicize their existence. The membership of the group would be my choice, and they would meet only when I called them together. In addition, they would be charged to do the “friends thing” of Proverbs 27:6, and “wound me” if I ever get out of line.
Would a certain program be well received in this church? Is there anything I need to know about this program? If I invite a preacher of another race to fill our pulpit, will he be received well? If I invite a community leader to address a subject of local significance, would his being Jewish pose a problem for anyone? And if so, how could we do this and make it work?
The leadership team would have no authority to do anything, and certainly no say-so over the pastor. After meeting with them and sounding them out, the pastor would still have to do whatever he felt God wanted—but they would be a valuable resource for a successful ministry.
4) I would line up a mentor-group of at least three veteran pastors to advise me.
Pastor friends ask, “Where would I find mentors?” My answer is that you probably already have one or two older ministers who know you and whom you call from time to time. Before going to the new pastorate, I would have a sit-down with him (or them) and enlist their counsel. And I’d ask them to help me pray about a third or fourth member of our group.
I would keep in touch with them via e-mail and Facebook, and less frequently, by a phone call. It’s important to emphasize that I must not wait until my church is in trouble to contact them with the news. I need to keep them informed.
Gradually, after a year or two, the need for this group would be less urgent. I could send them gift cards to a favorite restaurant and write a formal thank-you, with a reminder at the end that I may still call on them from time to time.
5) I would compile an email network for notes from me on a regular basis.
This is so simple it’s amazing so few pastors take advantage of it. The church secretary can feed email addresses into your system. Then, sitting at your computer, you can send quick message to hundreds of your people in five minutes without it costing the cost of a postage stamp.
Now let me point out what this would not be. It would not be a weekly sermonette or Bible study. It would not be boring. It could be any or all of the following: Something great I saw on television last night that pertains to what we are attempting here at this church, something funny a kid said last Sunday, the big event coming up Thursday night for which we need everyone present, and a prayer request.
Vary it, pastor. At the end, as an addendum, tell who’s in the hospital, but do not let it be predictable. Or boring. Or dull. Or too long. Or too infrequent. I’d suggest every Monday.
6) I would want to marry again.
As difficult as pastoring is, it’s almost impossible without a wonderful help-mate alongside the minister. And since the Lord took my wife of nearly 53-years home to heaven last January–Margaret was a wonderful pastor’s wife, may I say!–I would ask if He has someone else for me now. Not as a replacement, but for the next segment of my ministry.
The pastor’s wife should be mature and godly, sweet-natured, and in love with her man. She will have her own perspective on how things are going at church and will pick up on trends and undercurrents the pastor misses. She will encourage him when he is down, call him back to earth when he is getting too haughty, and provide the kind of counsel and balance no one else on earth can give.
I cannot imagine pastoring a church without a godly wife alongside.
7) I would live on my knees.
I’ve always been a person of prayer, but sometimes more than others. Over the last few years, the Lord has shown me in a hundred ways how inadequate I am and how “we ought always to pray and not to quit” (lose heart, quit, fail). He is strong when I am weak, but He will not force His blessings on me. I am to ask. And believe me, I would be asking.
I know I would be asking because that’s how I begin every day now. I’m on my knees seeking His blessing, guidance, and counsel. Being called to a pastorate would only intensify the need.
The holiest of work requires the power and wisdom of God.
That’s enough. Although I can think of a lot more ideas….
I’d like to share my pulpit more with a minority pastor whom I know and trust. And give up the pulpit less for those I do not trust at all (or do not know).
I’d like to visit more in the homes. But as a friend on Facebook said, “I’d visit more and stay less.” Let the people know they have a pastor and I’m available, but I will not be intruding into your lives.
I want our people to laugh a lot, to rejoice in the Lord and to enjoy each other. The only reason I did not list this as something I would do differently is it’s not different. I did it before. In fact, some of my members did all in their power to take the laughter out of our services. Without success, let me add.
I love the church and rejoice with anyone God is calling to enter the pastorate. Or to re-enter it.
You are so blessed. Enjoy!