By Mac Brunson and James Bryant
If a pastor wants to stay at a church, he should learn to practice servant leadership rather than raw pastoral authority, in spite of what many church growth publications suggest. The pastor who leads as a servant will gradually be given pastoral authority and is likely to stay a long time as pastor. The longer he stays, the more authority he will have.
The pastor who insists on pastoral authority may never be granted it by his people. Peter advised elders (another word for pastors), “Shepherd [Pastor] God’s flock among you, not overseeing [or bishoping, another word for pastoring] out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2–3).
One challenge that sometimes comes up in small churches that begin to grow is that a group of laypeople, who have been able to control the small church, begin to resist the pastor’s leadership. They cannot control the new members, and they feel they are losing control. New members tend to follow the pastor. The wise pastor, even though young and inexperienced, will find a way to challenge the people who have been in the church for many years to open their hearts and their circle of fellowship and service to the new members who join.
The Great Commission involves discipleship, not just evangelism. You cannot disciple people until you win them to Christ, but you do not fulfill the Great Commission just by winning souls. In fact, the command of Christ is not to win souls but to make disciples. As the pastor wins the hearts of his people and disciples them from the pulpit and in small groups, enlisting the members to help him in this discipleship process, they will automatically widen the circle of fellowship and leadership to include new members.
Jesus taught that the church’s credibility and even His credibility in the world is in the church’s unity: “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me” (John 17:20–21). Church unity is essential for church growth, and it is vital if a pastor is to stay at a church.
A pastor should never insist on his own way at all costs. He should never threaten to resign if the church doesn’t go along with his ideas. Nobody gets his own way all the time. It is better to back off and approach the matter at a later time in a different manner.
When a pastor does leave his first church, it should be a heartbreaking decision on his part. Hopefully, his leaving should be for a good reason, such as going to another church or furthering his theological education. It should not be because he is forced to leave. (We will deal with that problem in another chapter.) Stay with it. Wait for the words of Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!” (Matt. 25:23).
Some pastors grow so unhappy in their first assignment that they think they are going to die. It is not wrong to feel this way. You just need to remember that Paul said he experienced that; he died daily (1 Cor. 15:31). Many commentators think Paul was talking about dying to self, not physical threat. God has used many difficult churches in the lives of pastors to teach them how to be crucified with Christ and to stay on the cross like Jesus did. With the possible exception of the church at Philippi, all of Paul’s churches were difficult assignments. Jesus said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The promise of a crown gives richness to any pastor who suffers for Jesus. Galatians 2:20 is in the Bible for good reason. The default attitude for the pastor is to stay, not to leave.
Adapted from The New Guidebook for Pastors (B&H Publishing Group, 2007)