A Successful Church

My congregation has begun an ongoing discussion about our Vision and Mission as a Church, and how we can better minister the gospel of Jesus Christ in our community.  In preparation for another meeting tonight, I came across some notes from a message I heard by Kent Hughes, pastor and author of many books, one of which is particularly relevant called, “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.”  I found his book to be incredibly encouraging, as was his lecture.
As we prepare to come together tonight for our conversation on how our Church can continue to move toward our vision and mission, I thought I would share the notes from Hughes’ message.  This message was geared more for Pastors, but much of what is said applies to the church as a whole.  I took the notes in outline form, so you may have to fill in some gaps.

How do you evaluate success from a biblical point of view?

  1. There is no calling to success, but a call to faithfulness. In 1 Cor 4:2 we are taught that  stewards are to be faithful.
    1. How does that work?  Look to Moses.  Numbers 20, Moses is told to speak to the rock, but Moses got angry and struck the rock.  He failed, he disregarded Gods command.  He failed to execute God’s word, so he could not enter the promised land.
    2. You can be hugely successful in ministry, and be an abysmal failure.  You can give the people exactly what they need, and be a failure.  It is possible to be a great success as a pastor and be a failure in God’s eyes because you are not faithful to God’s word.
    3. Success is found in knowing God’s Word and doing God’s Word.
    4. We cannot be influenced by that which we do not know.
    5. Success is faithfulness which manifests itself in hard working obedience to God.  There is no success apart from faithfulness.
  2. There can be no success apart from serving with a foot-washing heart
    1. If this is true of the greater (Christ), how much more for the lesser (his disciples).
  3. There is no success apart from loving God.
    1. We must love the Lord with all our heart.  This is from Christ, nothing is of greater importance.  This must be the north-star, the point of reproach and correction.
    2. It is possible to pastor a large church and not love God.
    3. It is possible to preach Christ exalting sermons and not love God.
    4. Love God above all things regardless of what is to come.  “Do you love me?”
  4. Hebrew 11:6 clearly teaches us that without faith you cannot please God.
    1. Believe that God exists.
    2. Believe that God rewards his people because he is equitable to his people.  There is no success apart from the smile of God
  5. You cannot be successful without dependent prayer
    1. You can do more than pray after you pray, but you cannot do more than pray if you haven’t prayed.
    2. Jesus could not carry on his ministry apart from dependent prayer.
  6. No unholy life can be considered a success
    1. God calls his people to be holy.
    2. Sexual purity is essential – When lust takes control, God loses all reality, satan does not fill us with hatefulness of god but forgetfulness.  When a man falls into sexual sin, he doesn’t fall very far, because that’s where he’s been in his soul.
  7. Attitude that cannot be successful
    1. Negativism – Having a positive attitude.  Attitude is more important that circumstances.  We have choices regarding our attitude.
    2. Jealousy – Strive to elevate others.
At our first discussion meeting, the Elders and Deacons composed their own list of what a successful church looks like, and it is very similar to what Hughes says.  They noted,

A Successful Church is one that is committed:

  • To raise spiritual champions
  • To be a people who love the Lord and loves and welcomes one another
  • To be a people who are faithful to the Word of God
  • To be a people of wisdom – applying the knowledge of Scripture to all of life.
  • To be a people who are immersed in the community, active in transforming the community, and speaking the Gospel to the community.

I am blessed to be called to serve a congregation that is committed to God’s Word, and to proclaiming the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Because of this commitment, I look forward to where these conversations will lead, and pray that God will give His Church success!

Grace and Peace!

Encouraging Your Pastor

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls,
as those who will have to give an account.”
                                                                        (Hebrews 13:17)

I want to begin this article by giving thanks to Memorial Presbyterian for the support and encouragement they have given me as their pastor.  There are days when my inadequacies for such a calling are manifest, and their prayers and kind words are an invaluable source of strength.  There have been ups and downs in ministry; times I’ve wanted to pack it all up and find “greener pastures,” and there have been times when I have been overwhelmed by the compassion, love, and trust I have been given.  Over these past 7 years, I have come into a richer and deeper understanding of what it means to be a pastor, and how I have been called to love and serve the Lord as I love and serve his church.  My greatest desire is that God would be glorified in my life, and likewise in the life of the church – that for me would be a successful ministry.

I recently finished reading Kent Hughes’ book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, an excellent book on how to redefine success in ministry from a biblical, rather than worldly, perspective.  At the end of the book, there is a great chapter on how the congregation can help encourage their pastor.  While reading through the chapter, I identified many of the things my own congregation does for me and for my family and I thought I would pass along a summary of Hughes’ concluding points to help you continue to encourage your pastor.

You can encourage your pastor by living biblically successful lives

There is little that will lift the pastoral heart more than people who are successes before God (faithful, serving, loving, believing, praying, holy, and positive), for this means that the fullness of Christ is active in the congregation and that the vision and burden of ministry is being shared.  It means that the pastor will have some people around him who are cheerful, hardworking, selfless, and supportive.  The heartening effect of this cannot be overestimated.

You can encourage your pastor by your personal commitment to help him know success

Commit yourself to freeing your pastor from a ministry of numbers.  While growing attendance and conversion is significant, it is not the only indication of success in ministry.  This does not mean that the Pastor shouldn’t be held accountable in matters of work habits, administration, creativity, preaching, and spiritual discipline.  Those are necessary.  But the church must also commit itself to creating an environment in which its pastors are encouraged to be men of God and to pursue biblically defined success.

Encourage your pastor by not expecting (or allowing) him to be involved in everything. 

Reject the ubiquitous pastor fallacy – that the good minister must be present and presiding at everything.  The leadership of the church should help the pastor understand which boards and committees he must regularly attend, and those which he should only infrequently visit, ensuring that the pastor has ample time for his devotional life, family, sermon preparation, exercise, and leisure.

Encourage your pastor by providing adequately for him and his family.

Salary – An excellent rule of thumb is that the pastor’s salary and benefits should be at a level that is near the median income of the congregation, ensuring that the pastor can support his family.

Study Time – These are not vacations.  They are for spiritual and intellectual renewal.

Vacation and Days Off – It is not uncommon, because of emergencies and special meetings, for a minister to go two or three weeks without taking one day off.  Help him by gently reminding him that his calling does not cancel his humanity.  Burn-out has become epidemic in the ministry.  The church can help forestall this by making wise provision for time away from work.

Encourage your pastor by loving his family

The fishbowl life of the pastoral ministry can take its toll – especially on the pastor’s family.  Not a few PKs have reacted to the feeling of being under the congregation’s microscope.  What can we do to minimize this effect?  Simply love his family.  By this we are not emphasizing a public display of compassion, but a quiet familylike love that recognizes that they are people in process like those in one’s own family.  This love does not demand more from them than from other children.  This love honors their individuality and gives them space to grow.  It refuses to gossip, believes the best, has a kind word, and prays for the pastor’s family.

Encourage your pastor by treating him with respect.

The pastorate is a divine office, and thus a minister should never have to earn his congregation’s respect unless he has done something to lose it.  Furthermore, he should be respected no matter how great or small, grand or humble his ministry is.  The church must dismiss the world’s rung-dropping, numbers-counting way of according respect.  True, your pastor is to lead by being a servant, but such a call is intrinsically honored.

When you have done these things you have done almost everything to encourage your pastor – except for the most important thing, which is to pray.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess 5:11)