I was nine years old and attending Clear Lake Camp nestled in the Cascade Mountains of the Paci c Northwest. Sitting on a log positioned around a Friday evening campfire, I felt the heavy darkness of the nighttime mountains. It was decision-making time.
I don’t remember who the pastor was, but he talked on the crucifixion of Christ. In my mind, I saw Jesus suffer and die. Barabbas was running through the streets of Jerusalem yelling, “He died for me, He died for me!” It was a paralyzing moment.
Since then, I have sensed that the rest of time given to me on this earth was not mine to claim. Because He died for me, all I was, all I had belonged to Jesus.
That was more than 40 years ago. Today I look back at over a lifetime of pastoral ministry. A couple of things have surfaced that would help pastors who will take my place. ey are listed in no particular order: preaching, loving, growing, delegating, being an example, and very important, loyalty and entrusting.
People who come to church on Sunday morning do not want to know about the preacher’s rough week. They come reaching for hope in processing the issues the Lord has assigned them. It has been said that … “a pastor who preaches to broken hearts will never want for an audience.”
While in seminary my wife and I attended a pastor’s conference held at the Grace Brethren Church in Columbus, Ohio. There I heard, “Your people will forgive you for anything but your inability to preach.” I’ve worked hard to have my stuff together Sunday morning. I’ve never had an excuse for being unprepared for prime time. People hear God speak to them through the voice of their pastor.
Most people in the church who feel loved and respected will follow pastoral leadership. Effective, shared, and well-ordered ministry that impacts the lives of those in the church needs to be encouraged and affirmed. Everyone likes to know when they have done a good job. These kind words must be regularly expressed by the pastor.
Again, from that Columbus conference, another Ohio pastor told us, “People will forgive you for anything but your unwillingness to love them.” A leader should not assume those in the church feel loved. The leaders of your congregation, the men with whom you serve, should be willing to give you the honest truth about whether the charity message is communicated.
Reflecting on years of pastoral ministry, Joe McKeever wrote: “Bigness is overrated.” He is right. I’ve had the opportunity to serve in churches large and small. Both have special blessings both create unique challenges. Many young men feel their gifts are being untapped. They live with a longing for bigger challenges.
Remember, the sovereign God knows where we are. But He has never been impressed with numbers (Judges 7). Learning contentment is vital to a pastor. For sure a man will not be content in a large congregation if he has not learned it in a small one. Great churches are not defined by attendances and offerings.
Pastors who believe they are responsible for all the preaching, all the calling and all the counseling are foolish. Jethro made that clear to his son-in-law Moses that he didn’t have to do everything (Exodus 18). Pastors who try to do it all become victims of discouragement and depression. I know. I’ve been there. Sometimes pastors rob other gifted folks who want or need to serve. Pastors who try to do it all will find their effectiveness compromised.
Events and ministries that involve several people in the planning and execution produce greater excitement and reward.
Being an Example
It has been said that a pastor can’t take his congregation anywhere he is unwilling to go. Paul told Timothy: … “in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12b NASB).
God gives all His saints something to carry in this life. Each has their sad stories to tell. We have pain in marriage, family and outside relationships. We have sickness, sorrow, and disappointment. Pastors are not excluded. People in the church watch how we carry our thorns and thistles.
It is good if a man has a place to vent. It is good if a pastor can con de his struggles to a trusted friend. But know for certain, people in the church learn to manage the trials of life by what they learn from their pastor. We never forget we are “an example of those who believe.”
The overseers, the leaders, are the pastor’s eyes and ears in the church. Overseers need to understand they see and hear things the pastor will never get wind of. Each leader needs to guard the other’s back. I called the men on the board, my “Wingmen.” I needed their loyalty in those unanticipated carnal conversations in the lobby. I needed to know they would defend me. If it is not requested, it is not considered.
How many of us have heard, “A lot of people have come to me” … Why would a person say something like that? It is to make others believe this is a significant issue in the church. Pastors should always insist on names. More often than not, “A lot of people” amount to a man’s wife and his brother-in-law. Honesty in leadership breeds loyalty.
“Success without successors is failure,” writes Hans Finzel, former president and CEO of the international non-pro t WorldVenture. He says that a forward-looking pastor needs to be … “planning his departure the day he begins.”
I’ve been told that police involved in a pursuit need two sets of eyes. The eyes of the driver are looking at the immediate traffic obstacles. The eyes of his partner are looking far down the road, anticipating what is coming. It is called, “the high visual horizon.” The expression refers to the importance of keeping one’s focus on the goal.
Several years ago, I was riding my motorcycle with a group of friends. Just outside of Carmel, Calif., I tried to make my Harley do something it didn’t want to do. It bucked me off. After a short flight over the handlebars, I got an ambulance ride but experienced no serious injury. In hindsight, I remember the rider in front of me losing something o his bike and my eyes focused on that object. My attention was turned from looking ahead, and I became dangerously focused on an insignificant event in the immediate. I went down.
Pastors do this all the time. They are focused on the short-term and forget they are only temporary. When they retire or when they move on to another church, the congregation is left to fend for themselves. I did it once. I vowed by God’s grace to never do it again.
To Timothy, Paul wrote: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2 NASB).
When this great Apostle responded to his upward calling, Timothy and Titus were ready to take his place. Just like Moses, when taken to heaven he was replaced by Joshua. There are Elijah and Elisha. “Success without successors is failure.” — by John McIntosh
Editor’s Note: John McIntosh is senior pastor at Grace Church in Ripon, Calif. He has also served Grace Brethren congregations in Simi Valley, Calif., and Mabton, Wash.
This story first appeared in the Summer 2017 GraceConnect magazine. If you would like to have your personal copy delivered to you via U.S. Mail, click here for your free subscription.