Pastoring a church is one of the most life-changing experiences one could ever face. Perhaps you planted a church, or maybe you took over a thriving church, or it could be that you are involved in a revitalization endeavor with a declining church, but whatever your case may be, by now, you must know that pastoring is more than preaching regularly. While preaching is indeed a critical part, there is more to it.
Pastoral ministry takes serious leadership. A pastor leads, envisions and directs his people. A pastor with no leadership is like a ship with no rudder—you will go astray in every direction, in no direction at all.
Therefore, a pastor or pastors need to realize that expectations in ministry are a vital component in their leadership structure. Leadership produces expectations—short and long-term expectations. Leadership envisions and drafts plans to move forward. Leadership aims at desired expectations. Leadership draws, redraws, imagines and reimagines expectations.
However, in the process of setting our ministry expectations, we must be careful not to confuse ministry leadership with corporate leadership—they are similar, but not the same. Ministry leadership revolves around spiritual goals, while corporate leadership is concerned with earthly ones. In the first, souls are the goal, while in the latter, growth is.
There is a movement in our pastoral circles that obsessively pushes for “church growth” as if that was the only visible prize. Social networks don’t help either. Scrolling through Facebook or Twitter on Sunday night, may be a painful thing to do. You will find pastors from around the country bragging (in a spiritual way of course) about their record attendance, number of baptisms and their stunning and seemingly unstoppable church growth.
You may then feel compelled to set high expectations in your own ministry. After all, if you set high expectations for your church, you will unavoidably go bigger, right? Wrong. Let me show you why.
Common Ministry Fallacies
1. Think bigger. Plan better. High expectations are tiring. Don’t get me wrong—high expectations are useful, sometimes even necessary for ongoing ministry. But a ministry that relies on a “bigger, better mentality” will unequivocally get tired, exhausted. Church staff is pushed to its limits; long hours are invested in programs, plans and ideas. The goal of the church is to always do more. More visitors, more renovations, more staff, more expansion, etc. The original priority of serving the spiritual needs of our people is still there, it’s just that it has been lowered to a lesser level of importance. Be careful with this. Thinking always bigger, is not always better.
2. Ministry pragmatism helps you. Pragmatism is great—especially in urgent situations where you just need things to work. But pragmatism as a tool to build a long-lasting ministry, may very well become the reason for your fall. Being pragmatic may help you to accomplish your goals, but it does little to supply your people’s needs. You need to understand this: every person that enters your church is a soul, not a product. We don’t work for people’s retention, we strive for people’s conversion—and that takes spiritual intervention, not human planning. Methods to measure visitor retention, visitor turnover rates, membership attendance or offerings, can’t measure their spiritual state. Being pragmatic may help you to build a super cool, conservative, moral, social gathering. But that is not a church—not even close. If all you are after is “people”, pragmatism will help you with that. But if you are after their souls, you will need more than that.
3. Change with culture because culture changes. Another ministry fallacy is that since culture changes, church must too. But again, while we are culturally surrounded, we are not culturally bound. Our message is not one that changes throughout the years. Our methods may change, but the changeless message remains the core of our ministry. That is why, message trumps methods every single time—it must. While it is true that culture changes, it is just an observation, not an indication that our message has to change too. For example, the fact that people dressed differently in the 50’s than they do today, does not mean that we have to get rid of clothes! Clothes, while they have drastically changed in style, remain as important as always. The same is true with the Gospel. Maybe we knocked on doors in the 90’s, while today we put up YouTube videos with the Gospel message—in either case, the Gospel, not the method, is at the center. Changing our message because our culture has changed, is a serious mistake.
So, now that we have covered a few ministry fallacies that will produce false expectations, please allow me to share with you a few biblical truths that will produce correct expectations.
1. True conversion. This is it. John 3:3 explains that, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is the main goal of the church. Guiding seeking souls to the seeking Savior. They must enter into the kingdom and the only way in which they can do that, is by being truly converted. Not with a cheap gospel, but with and by the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Messiah. Persons are not a product. Persons are souls. Needy, lost, corrupted and sinful souls. They desperately need a Savior, not a building. While buildings, screens, music and all other church elements are important, do not forget that people long for a personal relationship with the Lord—that’s the goal of church! If you think that marketing is more powerful than the Gospel, then by all means use it. But I argue that the best way to attract visitors, retain them, help them and assist them, is by unapologetically preaching sermons that are Gospel centered. Nothing more, nothing less.
2. Spiritual maturity. The job of the church is to help the members to grow in their spiritual maturity. Paul claims that God, “… gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”, (Eph. 4:11, 12). While kids programs, marriage retreats, big buildings and a long menu of weekly church activities is great, if those things don’t contribute to the goal of “perfecting the saints”, then we have to get rid of whatever it is that is distracting us from doing our job.
3. Love for God and for neighbor. That is exactly what Jesus said. When asked about the “greatest commandment”, He replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” Matthew 22:37—39. No one can distract us from that goal in ministry. We don’t work so that our people are loyal to us, or to our vision, or to our plans. We work towards helping our people understand that they must love God above anything and anyone else, including themselves. Our sermons, advice and words must be carefully crafted so that they reflect this goal. Many times, as long as offerings are high and visitors keep on coming, we think that the job is getting done. I am afraid it is not so. A profound love for God and for neighbor must be cultivated in their hearts through prayer, preaching and counseling.
Dear friend, methods are tools—use them wisely. Like medicine, it is helpful if used when needed. But you cannot do without a Gospel-centered mind that will in turn yield a Gospel-centered ministry. We need the Gospel, oh how much we need it!
Therefore, don’t shelve it away just because now you have people coming regularly and are involved in expansion projects, or programs, or whatever may be. God is giving you an immense responsibility every time a person walks into the building. Every time you see people sitting in front of you, please remember that they are not there for the chairs, for the music, for the screens, for you or for your great visionary skills. They are there because they are spiritually hungry. Give them the bread of life (Jn. 6:35), not the bread of man. They already get that every day, everywhere.