I’ve been in church for nearly thirty-seven years. My dad retired as a pastor of Southern Baptist Churches. My entire adult life has been spent on church-staff positions. Many of my close friends are in ministry positions at other churches. I’ve noticed some things in my thirty-seven years in church. In some churches, the pastor is not the leader. Some churches are not growing or reaching the community that surrounds them. And some churches are working diligently to fulfill their disciple-making mission. As a whole, it appears that the church is diminishing in North America.
The reasons for the current situation in North American churches are legion: shifting views on absolute truth, ineffective pastoral leadership, apathy, unregenerate or difficult church members, short pastor tenures, lack of evangelism—I could go on, and so could you. Some of the reasons for diminishing church presence in the wider culture are beyond our direct influence. However, there is one area that pastors can immediately affect: pastors can leverage their leadership credibility to prepare the church for change and kingdom influence.
You’ve met them, and so have I—the pastor who is coasting through the final years of his ministry. This pastor is a chaplain to his parish, not a leader. I’m not writing this post to beat up on pastors, but I implore you not to become that kind of pastor.
I have many pastors and mentors to thank who came before me at my current church and in previous churches. They led well and invested in positive change for the future of the church.
One of my great friends in ministry is the Minister of Music at my current church. He’s a few months away from retirement. Recently he helped us navigate a sanctuary renovation that shifted the location of our worship services for a number of months. He used his leadership credibility (being on staff for sixteen years) to smoothly transition our choir and praise team. Without his investment of leadership credibility, the process of renovation could have been disastrous.
Churches are living embodiments of Christ’s saving work on planet Earth. Churches matter deeply to her Groom—Christ himself. Churches should grow, should pursue kingdom influence in their respective communities, should adapt as necessary, should fulfill their mission by making disciples. But many do not. Pastors who have spent time in prayer, preaching, and personal ministry have built up significant leadership credibility. That credibility is priceless.
- That credibility could help a church see its necessary areas of change prior to another pastor arriving.
- That credibility could assist a church in addressing flaws in staffing or leadership before another leader is paralyzed by them.
- That credibility could inspire the church toward kingdom growth rather than self-centered inwardness.
- That credibility could release church members into community ministry that spreads the gospel.
If you see a church that’s moving forward, that’s fulfilling its mission, that’s adapting necessarily, then it’s safe to say that someone invested their credibility in the church. It’s not only the current leadership who does so. Many times—in fact in probably every case—the church could point to someone in the past that invested in the church for the future. Thom Rainer noted that all pastors are “interim” pastors. He’s right. We are all tasked with leading congregations during a transition, for a period of time. Whether we are at our churches for a few years or many, we will not be there forever. We are all tasked with preparing a church for its future. Pastor, please listen. Don’t be comfortable coasting. Use your leadership credibility wisely. Invest your credibility while you can. You may just prepare your church for a future you will never see.