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Revolutionize Your Congregation by Doing What You Enjoy
Scripture does not require a pastor to wear "eight hats." Churches whose pastors function only in the area of their gifting, experience many benefits.


Pastors today are required to use a wide variety of skills if they are to minister effectively within an ordinary North American congregation. This is not necessarily new or unique to our culture, but it's reasonable to assert that the complexity of the calling is increasing with the evolution of society.

Most lead pastors regularly wear eight hats.

Several years ago a veteran pastor recalled how the nature of ministry had changed since he began in the 1940s. "When I started out all you were expected to do was preach, pray and visit," he said. "Now you have to be a good administrator, family counsellor and an expert in culture too."

While he delivered the point good-naturedly, there was little doubt that he meant what he said. The pastorate has changed, and it keeps on changing.

Most lead pastors regularly wear eight hats. They typically serve as teachers, preachers, leaders, administrators, counsellors, shepherds, evangelists and community ambassadors. Often they are expected to be competent in every area. However, pastors who come up short in any one of these areas will almost certainly hear about their shortcomings from someone.

Congregants may not expect their pastor to be "omni-competent," but if they go to him for counselling and find his manner and advice to be less than expected they will inevitably be disappointed. If they want to see the church forge fearlessly ahead with new initiatives, but the pastor is not particularly decisive and tends to place a high value on relationships over quick change, they become frustrated and disappointed in his leadership.

In either case, the pastor may have a splendid gift set. But inevitably one's weaknesses will show up. This can lead to tension, criticism, pain and ultimately destructive circumstances for both the pastor and church.

What must change?

Such things are unfortunate, but they are a real part of church life throughout North America. For many churches, it has become an ingrained pattern. Can anything be done about this widespread problem of unreasonable expectations?

Ephesians 4:11 in particular describes a unique set of "leadership" gifts …

Any real solution will require countless churchgoers to make huge adjustments to their understanding of the relationship between pastor and congregation. It will drastically affect the established system for recruiting pastors. Before this situation can improve, there will definitely need to be a change in thinking in the minds of all the key players—including pastors, elders, deacons and congregations.

Foundational to this change is a fresh appropriation of the New Testament teaching on spiritual gifts. Ephesians 4:11 in particular describes a unique set of "leadership" gifts Christ gives to His Church. They help to define particular callings and aptitudes that, when properly applied, lead the church to unity, knowledge and maturity.

The text itself, as with other passages in the epistles that deal with spiritual gifts, is quite clear that not everyone has all the gifts listed (note the word "some"). This basic New Testament teaching is crucial to the renewal of North American church life, particularly as it relates to pastor/board and pastor/congregation relationships.

It is essential that each of these three groups recognize and appreciate the unique gifting of each pastor. This begins with pastors' developing an understanding of which gift they primarily lead with.

Without taking too many liberties with Paul's words in Ephesians 4, the following seems generally true. Most pastors lead with one of the following gifts:

  • Leadership—they come across as strong, visionary and decisive.

  • Preaching/Teaching—they communicate well, study effectively and instruct in ways that enable people to understand.

  • Shepherding—they have a high capacity for people and are good counsellors.

  • Evangelism—they have a great passion for people who are indifferent to faith and good at reaching out to them.

  • Administration—they are good organizers, able to manage systems effectively.

While it may be true that most pastors are competent in several of these areas, each has a predominant gifting with which they lead most effectively. Understanding this and discerning one's primary leadership gift is elemental to any vocational pastor maximizing his or her impact in ministry.

The reality that pastors have a primary competency to exercise (and areas of lesser competence to accommodate) is faithful to the general witness of the New Testament and true to ecclesiastical experience. As Paul pointed out to the Ephesians, leaders (including vocational pastors) come in several shapes and sizes. None have all the gifts. Each has a unique gift.

If released to utilize that gift in concert with other gifts in the Body, the Church will benefit. In fact, within that paradigm, the Church will prosper.

What's the problem?

The problem, however, is that only a small minority of congregations actually practice this model in a meaningful way. Even with the renewed focus on building ministries based on gifts instead of filling roles, churches can by and large expect their pastors, especially lead pastors, to be competent at a wide variety of tasks.

Change will only occur as biblical teaching is taken more seriously …

Pastors normally go along with these often unspoken expectations. Perhaps they do not know any better, or they do not understand the Bible's teaching on gifts or how to apply that teaching to their context, or perhaps they are simply unable to bring about the change necessary to reposition their church and their role in it.

This can be very frustrating to all concerned, and frustration all-too-frequently leads to accusations, disillusionment and a cycle of short to mid-term pastorates. Change will only occur as biblical teaching is taken more seriously and unhelpful approaches jettisoned. This will involve change on at least two significant fronts.

First, pastors will increasingly need to understand themselves. Any who wish to serve effectively in vocational ministry should have a strong sense of who they are, how God has wired them and what their gifts are—especially their primary leadership gift.

Acquiring this awareness is a process that takes time and experience. Assessment tools are often helpful. The affirmation and evaluation of the body is crucial.

Most importantly, a few years of ministry experience will help clarify to attentive pastors what their best gifts are. It will enable them to know whether they are introverts or extroverts, whether they are task or people-driven. It will show them what gifting best describes their primary leadership style.

Once this is ascertained, it should be used to help determine future ministry choices. Job search and interview experiences must declare and explain these realities about the candidate. And pastors can teach and preach these things to their boards and congregations. Without such effort, no substantive change will take place.

Second, governing boards and congregations will need to understand and embrace a new paradigm. Professional clergy generally have access to information and ideas about ministry with the potential to positively revolutionize their church. Too often, however, those ideas never find their way into congregational life.

Good theory often goes unused because pastors do not understand how to implement necessary changes. Or they meet initial resistance and they back off. Or they meet ongoing resistance so they back off (or quit, or are fired). Or maybe they are just lazy and can't be bothered to initiate change. A debilitating status quo numbs effectiveness.

When it comes to adopting the biblical proposition that churches need to be led by people who spend the majority of their time functioning in their areas of giftedness, the "buy in" cannot be left at the level of the professionals. Churches, particularly elders or governing boards, have to believe that this is really the way God intends His Church to function.

Old models of the "pastor's job" must give way to models of ministry according to gifts

There are churches in which this philosophy would be roundly agreed upon for everyone but the pastor. In other words, the church will hold spiritual gift seminars, help people identify their gifts, and try and put them in ministries that are appropriate to their gifts. The pastor will preach on Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 and teach all the right principles.

Churches will come to enjoy higher levels of stability …

Slowly people come to see the wisdom and Scriptural soundness of this approach. Yet expectations of the pastor do not change; the role continues to be governed more by a prevailing view of what the pastor is "supposed" to do than by that particular pastor's primary gifting.

This is deemed "expedient" or the "way it has to be." Yet, it fails to take seriously what the inspired apostle wrote to the early churches he was endeavoring to nurture.

Genuine change will not occur until there is a deep reformation of understanding within the consciousness of churches all across North America. This change of consciousness must transcend traditional clergy/laity lines. It must become all encompassing so as to impact the actual life of churches.

The benefits of such change are enormous. Committed Christians, both clergy and lay, will be encouraged to contribute in their congregations in accord with their primary gifts. They will realize this is precisely where their ministry is most effective, fulfilling and dynamic.

Churches will come to enjoy higher levels of stability as pastors stay longer, boards and pastors understand each other better, trust more and develop depth in their relationships and ministries. More focused ministry will take place as vocational ministers are released to spend more hours serving the church as God has uniquely gifted them to do.

Team building will increase as people realize that all the gifts are needed, and that pastors must build teams around them, equip the saints and release believers for ministry.

Such benefits are substantial. The places where this model is already being employed seem to be thriving.

What will it take to broaden this kind of approach to church life? It will take leaders committed to teaching, modeling and consistency. It will take courageous leaders whose hearts will not settle for less than churches that reflect New Testament paradigms of ministry and who position themselves to meet the challenges of engaging their neighbours and our world right now.

Lee Beach is the associate teaching pastor at Community Alliance church in Scarborough, Ontario, and director of field education at McMaster Divinity College.

Originally published in ChristianWeek, September 16, 2005.

 

 

 
 
 
 

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