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3 Things Every Congregation Wants to Know About Its Pastor
By Roger Walter
My first district as a pastor had two churches that were only 13 miles apart. Before I arrived, I wondered why these two churches just didn’t combine forces and have one stronger congregation in the middle? I’ll never forget our first Sabbath there. My wife and I determined we would go to the Congregation A for Sabbath school, then hurry over to Congregation B for Church. During the Sabbath school program, I whispered to my wife, “This (Congregation A) is a small town.” We then hurried off to the other church and during the worship service there, I again whispered to my wife, “I was wrong, Congregation A is in a large city compared to this one.” I was shocked that two churches in two similar sized communities, only 13 miles apart, could be so vastly different.
Despite all their differences, needs and goals, they really had the same basic things they wanted from me. Ever wonder what your church really wants from its pastor? I mean besides the visitation, Bible studies, preaching, counseling, and the amazing amount of meetings you attend. Every congregation, whether it is large or small, or whether it has multiple pastors or shares their pastor with another congregation or two, wants to know three very basic things about its pastor. Three questions define best what a congregation wants to know about its pastor. These three things will define a ministry maybe more than anything else. They are: 1: Can we trust you? 2: Do you know where you are going? and 3:Can you get us there?
Can We Trust You?
The issue of trust is a big issue within our culture. This one makes sense because if you cannot be trusted, why would we want to let you lead us anywhere? Why would we listen to you on Sabbath mornings? Why would we want you helping to make strategic decisions?
Within the culture of Adventism, we tend to want to see this answered in two fundamental ways – The first one is through pastoral visitation. This is especially true in the small churches where personal relationships define so much of what we do. However, the church learns whether you are trustworthy by whether you are clearly loving, listening to, and supporting them. The relational bonds formed in these times come back to support us in times of need. Yet, in personal visitation, we see and define the needs of the congregation so we know how to shepherd them.
Secondly, trust in an Adventist context, is defined by doctrinal purity. Do you really believe in the distinctive truths of Adventism? Frankly, one of the best ways to answer that is when the pastor does his own evangelistic series. When you can preach with confidence these messages, they know you really believe them.
I once interned with a pastor that had been in the district for seven years. He finally did his own series of meetings, people were coming to me and saying, “We finally understand that Pastor R is 'really' an Adventist.”
Do You Know Where You Are Going?
This is the vision question. What they are asking is, do you have a compelling vision that will get us where we need to go? The congregation wants to know if they have a leader in front of them, or whether they have just someone biding her/his time until retirement. They want to know whether you have clarity of thought as to what you are trying to do and how it will come together. Does that clarity come by prayer and study, or from the culture?
If the vision is something generic like, “I'd like to see the church grow” or better yet, “I want to see 100% Sabbath School participation” it is unlikely you will get people to follow. You do not know where you are going. However, if the vision is something more specific and God-driven, the people will see that it is something God-sized and will want to follow. Take some time to read church mission statements and you will understand what I'm talking about.
Can You Get Us There?
So, you've answered the trust question and people trust you. You have answered the vision thing and people love the vision. Will they follow you? Not if they think you cannot get them there.
I once talked with a Conference President who told me about a church that was falling apart and people were transferring out. They were telling him, “We love Pastor Bill and we love what he's trying to do, but it's not for us.” They were really saying, “Pastor Bill cannot get us there.” He answered the trust question and the vision question, but now they are saying, we need someone more capable.
The reality of these questions is that people ask them all the time. They are asked in small ways in the interview. They are asked a bit larger as the years go on and sometimes they even get asked out of order. Yet, it is usually safest to answer them in the order presented here. Trust, Vision and Competence are crucial to a congregation's ability to follow its pastor.
So what about you? Have you been answering these things lately? Lyle Schaller once said that it only takes about 50-70% of a pastor's time to pay the rent (preach, administrate, visit, boards and committees). Some pastors prefer to use the rest of that time to play golf, travel, write, work on an advanced degree, etc. What we do with the rest of our time determines whether we will take our churches to the next level or not. Why not start by answering these questions in the “leftover” time? Determine to earn their trust, cast a compelling vision, and learn how to get people there.
Roger Walter is senior pastor for the Adventist Community Church of Vancouver, Washington