Posts Tagged ‘pastoral duties’

Growing a church … especially in 2017 … can be very difficult indeed.

Maybe that’s why 80 to 85% of all churches are either stagnant or in decline.

The Lord permitted me to be the solo or senior pastor of four different churches … three in Silicon Valley, one across the bay from San Francisco.

All of the churches initially grew.

My second ministry grew and then shrank when we lost thirty people at once.  My last ministry grew slowly but steadily until we were the largest Protestant church in our city of 75,000 people.

So I’ve known a degree of success … but I’ve also known my share of heartache.

Many years ago, I came up with a theory about the kinds of pastors who grow churches.  I ran my theory by one of the world’s most brilliant church growth experts, and he told me that, in general, my theory was accurate.

Paul’s words about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:18 absolutely nail it:

“But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

We might say, “God has arranged the pastors in the body … just as he wanted them” as well.

Let’s break it down like this:

First, if a pastor’s primary gifting is in pastoring/shepherding, he will tend to pastor smaller churches.

I know someone who is a great pastor.  He really loves his people as individuals.  He becomes personally involved in their lives.  He counsels them and prays for them and hurts with them.

And I’d be surprised if his church has ever broken 150 people on a Sunday.

He’d like his church to grow, but knowing his people and their problems is far more important to him.

If a pastor wants to lead a growing ministry, he has to let others share the pastoring … but many pastors aren’t comfortable doing that.

The ratio in church growth circles is that one pastor can only care for 150 people.  If a church wants to grow beyond 150, they need to either hire another staff member or train more lay shepherds.

But if a pastor is dead set on being the church’s only shepherd … and many pastors are … then the church probably won’t grow past 150 … and may be considerably smaller.

The people who attend such a church often do so because they want the pastor’s attention.  They want to know him personally and have access to him whenever they need him.

So once the pastor tries to have others help with the pastoring, many sheep will resist.  They want their pastor!

Knowing this, I still struggled in this area in my last ministry.  As our church grew, I had less time to visit shut-ins, for example.  Even though I arranged for others to visit them, I kept telling myself, “Yes, but they want to see their pastor, too” … and I especially felt that way if they were seriously ill or near death’s door.

Sometimes, I just couldn’t let go … especially if I had already formed a bond with someone.

But the more I focused on pastoring people one-on-one, the more it drained me … and the more the church suffered.

Second, if a pastor’s primary gifting is in preaching/teaching, he will tend to pastor medium-sized churches.

My father-in-law once told me about two brothers who were both pastors.  One brother was a gifted teacher and pastored a church of several hundred people.  The other brother wasn’t as gifted a teacher but led a church of thousands … and was known all over Southern California.  (My father-in-law taught him in graduate school.)

Gifted teachers don’t necessarily pastor large churches.

They often try to lead through their teaching, but as insightful and practical as it may be, teaching alone usually isn’t enough to propel a church into becoming large.

If that pastor ends up on the radio … or his church has a Roku channel … or his church puts video of his sermon online … that can help the church to grow larger … at least for a while.

But gifted teachers want to spend their time studying and teaching as much as they can … and that won’t automatically grow a church.

Teaching was my primary gift.  My first church … which was very small … expected me to be a shepherd, so I was constantly frustrated.  I didn’t want to shoot the breeze with shut-ins every month.  (And the average age in that church was sixty.)

I was also expected to teach Sunday School … preach on Sunday mornings … preach on Sunday evenings … and teach on Wednesday nights.

And to do that well is nearly a full-time job.

When I was studying and teaching, I felt like I was doing what I was born to do.

When I was visiting shut-ins, I felt like I was wasting my time.

If the congregation had turned me loose to spend most of my time teaching, we might have grown … but some constantly griped, “He doesn’t visit enough.”

So I visited shut-ins during the day, visited newcomers at night … and resented it much of the time.

I’d handle things better if I had to do it over again, but at the time, all I wanted to do was study and teach.

And when I finally got into a situation where I had two full days a week to study … the church grew to the verge of becoming large.

Finally, if a pastor’s primary gifting is in leadership, he will tend to pastor a larger church.

I once heard Pastor Bill Hybels give a talk about ten kinds of leaders.

He said that the leaders who grow the large churches are great at putting together ministry teams.  The leader selects a team leader … gives him/her a charter … offers some training … and then turns the team loose.

Then the leader puts together another team … and another … and another.

While I sometimes did that, my wife … who was a staff member in my last church for many years … did that instinctively.  She just knew what to do.

Those who pastor larger churches also tend to be visionaries.  They know the direction they want the church to go in five and ten years.

That wasn’t me, either.

I usually knew the next thing to do, and with God’s help, the goal would become reality … eventually.

But five years out?  That was too fuzzy for me.

Teachers clearly see the past, and milk it for their illustrations and applications in preaching … but the future looks dim.

Leaders just as clearly see the future, and mobilize people and resources in that direction … but they’re not as great looking at the past.

There was once a famous pastor whose Sunday service was televised.  He wrote books and was involved in the culture wars.

I didn’t think he was all that great a preacher.  He preached in a robe … didn’t deal with issues in any depth … and didn’t say anything all that memorable.

But he must have been a great leader because he presided over a church that grew and grew.

Over the years, I’ve learned that most large congregations aren’t led by great teachers, but by great leaders.

The only time most of us see a pastor is when he is preaching a thirty to forty minute message on a Sunday.

What we don’t see is how they run the church all week long … and that’s what really determines the church’s growth.

Back in the late 1970s, Dr. Lloyd Oglivie was the senior pastor of Hollywood Presbyterian Church … yes, in Hollywood, California.

One of my best friends got married there one Saturday afternoon, and he invited me to be his best man.

During rehearsal time, I wandered backstage, and I saw a document I’ve never forgotten.

Dr. Oglivie took 115 church leaders on a retreat.  When the retreat was over, the leaders all signed their names to a covenant which spelled out the church’s direction.

That really impressed me.

The best church leaders get a vision from God … sell that vision to their staff, board, and key leaders … and then use those leaders to cast the vision to the rest of the church.

If you’d rather be shepherding the hurting … or teaching God’s Word … you might try and be a better leader, but eventually, you’ll revert to the way God made you to be.

God made me to be a teacher.

It energized me.  I worked hard at it, just as 1 Timothy 5:17-19 specifies.

But pastoring drained me … and leadership sometimes overwhelmed me.


Let me end this article with four thoughts about a pastor’s giftedness and conflict:

First, the greatest conflict a pastor experiences is inside his own spirit.

In my last ministry, I spent all day Thursday at home studying for my Sunday message.  I usually worked into the night, got up early on Friday (my day off), and finished just before noon.

Invariably, whenever someone from the church went into the hospital … or died … it was on Thursday or Friday.

I always went to visit the person or their family, but I’d be anxious to get back to my study.

Once I went into study mode, it was hard to switch to pastoring mode … and hard to switch back again.

But that’s the nature of church ministry.

Accept it, and you’ll do well.  Fight it … like I sometimes did … and it can take a toll on you.

Second, the pastors of growing churches have learned to focus on their primary giftedness and delegate the rest.

I took a class at Fuller Seminary where our professor told us that to be fulfilled in ministry, we needed to spend at least 70% of our time in the area of our giftedness.

We either needed to develop skills to do the other 30% of our job, or find gifted people and delegate assignments to them.

Back in the early 1990s, a well-known pastor suffered a breakdown.  He was spending half his time every week studying for messages, but his real gifting was in leadership and evangelism.

He persuaded his elders to let him rearrange his job description and his schedule so he could be who God made him to be.

The church did very well … that pastor is still there … and he’s influenced thousands of leaders for Christ since then.

The pastor needs to determine what he’s going to do, and then get the board to sign off on it.  It doesn’t mean the pastor is shirking his duties … it means he’s sharpening his focus.

And that’s when God can bless.

Third, church leaders need to be realistic about a pastor’s job description.

I recently read about a pastor who was contacted by a megachurch.  They sent him their job description, the pastor totaled up the hours … and they came to 82 hours a week.

And let me tell you … nearly every church expects their pastor to do many things that aren’t on the job description.

That’s a recipe for losing your marriage … turning off your kids to Christ … and heading for a breakdown or burnout.

Personally, I think a pastor should work 45 to 50 hours a week … and that’s counting all his work on Sunday.  (If it doesn’t count, why should the pastor show up?)

In my last ministry, I spent less than 50% of my time in the area of my giftedness … it drained me … and it eventually caught up with me.

Finally, pastors need to train and trust leaders before the pastor is ready for them to lead.

Here’s the stat that I learned:

A pastor needs to recruit and train leaders … and turn them loose when they’re 70% ready.

Not 100% … 70%.

But the more in control a pastor has to be, the harder it is for him to relinquish key ministry to someone else … especially if the pastor thinks he can do a better job.

Yes, some ministries will probably die using that idea, but many more will thrive because people like to own their ministries.

That’s why the pastor needs to focus on his primary giftedness before he does anything else.

What are your thoughts about what I’ve written?







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