At one point, it was all I could do to keep up with pastoral care needs. I was visiting the same handful of needy people regularly; I was doing a fair amount of counseling, too. Funerals, weddings and hospital visits filled up my calendar. I was struggling to have time to prepare well for preaching. In studying for a Disciple Bible Study we read Acts 6 where the Hellenistic Jews complained that their widows were being overlooked on the food distribution. The Twelve gathered the disciples together to discuss it and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” (vs. 2) I began wondering if in being consumed with pastoral care I was neglecting being the missional leader the congregation needed me as their pastor to be. I decided that my ministry was off balance.
A pastor’s job is complex and demanding. There are other tasks that could be mentioned, no doubt, but by allowing pastoral care to consume all of my time, there were at least three things, during that period, that I was not doing well as a missional leader (in addition to preparing well for preaching!).
Missional pastors help congregational leaders stay focused on fulfilling Christ’s mission, rather than their own personal preferences. This should be a recurring theme in preaching. Beyond the pulpit, a pastor’s greatest instrument in keeping leaders focused on the mission is by asking missional questions. Questions shape conversations without forcing answers. Leadership in today’s world is more often by example and through framing discussions by asking missional questions. The prototype missional question is: What is God up to and how can we help? To put a finer point on it, where are leaders discussing these mission focusing questions in your congregation?
· How can we extend God’s gracious love in Jesus Christ to our community and the next generation? (Radical Hospitality)
· How can we help our congregation learn to live with joyful expectancy in God’s presence and to respond obediently? (Passionate Worship)
· How can we assist our congregation to become more like Jesus? (Intentional Discipling)
· How can we encourage persons to invest their giftedness in joining Jesus serving others and God’s causes? (Salty Service)
· How can we enable our congregation to live on less in order to bless others more generously? (Extravagant Generosity)
Missional leaders help their congregation discern God’s visions for their ministry by repeatedly framing key discussions around missional questions.
Missional pastors help congregational leaders discover and take practical steps to live into God’s visions for their ministry. Several years ago, I worked with a congregation, whose leaders seemed incapable of making a decision, coming up with a plan for carrying out the decision and then implementing it. They would meet & talk, meet & talk, meet and talk – but nothing ever got done. The skills for accomplishing something different from what they were already doing seemed totally missing from their leadership – including their pastor. If their sanctuary caught on fire during the worship service, they would have had a difficult time getting people to leave the building until noon!
Missional pastors help congregations actually fulfill God’s visions for their ministries. They help leaders step into the future God desires for them. Getting things done involves a variety of skills like defining current reality, building ownership, helping teams develop plans, involving gifted persons, delegating, encouraging, and holding people accountable for follow through. Practicing these skills takes time and energy. At least during those periods when I allowed my time and energy to be totally consumed with pastoral care, I didn’t focus on helping the congregation identify where God was leading them in ministry, nor did I help them take the practical steps needed to fulfill God’s dreams for us. All my energy was aimed at maintaining what we had, rather than assisting our congregation improve and expand our ministry.
Missional pastors train and mentor other leaders. Jesus didn’t just preach to the masses and heal the sick. He also poured his life into a handful of persons who would carry on Jesus’ work. No congregation can grow beyond its leadership base. The pastor can’t teach all the classes, lead all the groups, chair all the committees, or care for all the people. Nor can the pastor bring about significant change in a congregation without the backing of a group of influential lay leaders. So if the pastor is so caught up in doing one-on-one caring that she or he is not taking time to develop their congregation’s leaders, then the congregation is not being equipped to live into the next chapter in their ministry to which God is calling them.
Pastors are called to more than preaching and pastoral care; they are called to missional leadership. In Romans 12:8, Paul challenged every congregational leader: “If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously.” How is missional leadership faring in the balance for your pastor? What steps can you take this week to improve that balance?
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Dr.Jeff Stiggins The Center for Congregational Excellence