David Prince and Jeremy Haskins on how to implement and sustain change in a local church WITHOUT blowing it up

Communications Staff — April 13, 2010

David Prince (left) and Jeremy Haskins minister at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., as pastor of preaching and vision and pastor of the mission, respectively. Photo by Devin Maddox
David Prince (left) and Jeremy Haskins minister at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., as pastor of preaching and vision and pastor of the mission, respectively. Photo by Devin Maddox

Picture this situation: you have served as pastor of a particular church for less than five years. The church is growing and you think it would be wise to construct a new building.

“Yes, the church was founded in 1916 and has met in the same building for 90 years,” you think. “Yes, members have seen their children profess faith in Christ, get baptized and married in this building.

“But wouldn’t it be great if the congregation could see the Kingdom advancement that would come, not just in building a new facility, but in building it and calling it a Great Commission Center? Wouldn’t it be great if we displayed this wording prominently on the front of the building? Wouldn’t it be great if we welcomed people from the community into this building with open arms?

“And wouldn’t it be great if we not only did this, but we did so with a unanimous vote of the congregation, not because everyone liked the idea, but because those who didn’t were willing to put aside their personal preferences for the sake of the Gospel?”

“Yeah, it would be great,” you think. “But who am I kidding? That only happens in dreams.”

Or does it?

For Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., that dream became reality over the past few years. Under the leadership of David Prince, pastor of preaching and vision, and Jeremy Haskins, pastor of the mission, the church unanimously approved the building of a new facility to be called a Great Commission Center. On March 2, 2008, Ashland Avenue held its first services there.

“When we voted to officially sell our old property and move to our new property, the vote was unanimous, but it was unanimous with a lot of people affirming the decision through tears,” Prince said. “There is hardly a church that has a more incredible history than Ashland Avenue and all in one particular location. If some people were asked, ‘Do you want to move?’ the answer would have been, ‘No, I don’t.’ But if they were asked, ‘For the sake of the Gospel, now and in the days ahead, would you affirm that this is what God has for us to be most strategic in these days?’ they would say, ‘Yes,’ even through tears.”

How did Prince and Haskins move Ashland Avenue to make the decision described above, in the manner described above? How do they lead this congregation?  How do you implement and sustain change in a local church?

Privilege, Word of God and Gospel

Prince and Haskins have served at Ashland Avenue for the past six years. Prior to that they ministered together at Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., for four years. What began as a mentoring relationship of Prince training Haskins has developed into a mutual friendship and partnership for the sake of the Gospel.

Prince said to introduce positive, healthy change into a church, leadership has to change its culture.

“I realized from the very beginning that it’s not just specific things that I am going after; we are going after an entire change of culture,” he said. “The strongest congregation still has ways in which its culture needs to change and you want change at the heart level, not mere external change that won’t last.”

Prince said such change begins with creating a culture of privilege.

“First and foremost, I have to be the guy who communicates the privilege of the Gospel,” he said. “Everything starts out with privilege. You see that in the New Testament again and again as church life is talked about: before issues are addressed, before the call to specific imperatives are given, there is almost always this lengthy indicative declaration of the Gospel, ‘You are a people of privilege.’

“So, I have to communicate what a privilege it is to serve the Lord Jesus Christ as a believer and the incredible privilege I have to serve as a pastor.”

As pastors establish their leadership, Prince said they must not get sidetracked — or build the church upon — secondary or tertiary issues, such as theological hobbyhorses, particular ministry programs or other preferential distinctives. Instead, the two pillars of Word of God and Gospel must drive and shape everything the church does.

“I don’t have some specific agenda, issue, programming or mechanism that I want to bring into the church that is going to revitalize the church,” Prince said. “No, I want to be seen as the man who is committed to the Word of God. Everything is about the Word of God. And the Word is about Christ and about the Gospel, so everything has to be shaped by Word and Gospel.”

Loving and leading in overdrive

Pastors must “love their congregation in overdrive,” but they must also lead in a similar manner, Prince said. While he said young pastors should certainly prioritize demonstrating a love for people, he does not think this has to negate making changes in the first few years of their ministry.

“I don’t agree with the advice, ‘Don’t change anything the first few years you are there. Just preach and love them,'” he said. “Now, don’t treat year one like you are in year 20. But you need to pick your spots and gain some ground each year, even year one.

“If you are loving the congregation in overdrive then you have the responsibility to lead. That is why God has placed you there. If you go the first year or two and you haven’t done anything to lead them toward change and transformation that more reflect the Word and the Gospel, then why are you there?”

At Ashland Avenue, as Prince leads publicly in change by casting vision and establishing direction, Haskins, as pastor of the mission, has the role of driving the vision home in tangible and specific ways.

“I have to be the first person in the congregation who is applying the vision, in my own life and in my ministry with the staff and with all the different people that I work with,” Haskins said. “I have to show how the vision applies to what we have been doing and what we are going to do.

“For example, if I am leading people on a mission trip, I want to ask ‘how do we serve on this mission trip with a sense of privilege?'”

Prince and Haskins agree that you must show every member that he or she has a vital part to play in changes.

“People talk about folks who are against change; when you give those folks responsibility in the change, their attitude changes drastically,” Haskins said. “A lot of people are opposed to change when you grab their ministry, take it away from them and say, ‘We are not doing it anymore.’ What have you given them to replace what they were doing or to be a part of changing what they were doing before?”

Not only do people embrace change as they play integral roles in it; Scripture makes it clear that pastors/shepherds are expected to equip the saints, Prince said.

“If we don’t equip the saints, we are failures,” he said. “Scripture does not allow pastors the notion to think that we can accomplish the ministry we seek to flesh out in the context of the church by ourselves.”

Practical outworkings of ecclesiology

Prince and Haskins function — along with Nate BeVier, pastor of music and community at Ashland Avenue — with equal authority as a plurality of pastors or elders. These pastors/elders lead the church under the structure of congregational rule.

“The congregation is the one that grants us the opportunity to serve as pastors and recognizes our ruling authority and has a responsibility to take that seriously,” Prince said. “But it is a dynamic relationship in the sense that the ultimate decision-maker in the life of the church is the congregation and we recognize that.”

The pastors also recognize that while they have the same level of authority, Prince has the most influence because he is the primary preaching pastor. Prince said the idea of same authority, different influence, in pastoral leadership matches the New Testament.

“In the New Testament, you see particular people identified as a leader of particular churches and yet, you find the same churches that are referred to as having a plurality of elders, or a plurality of pastors,” he said.

Loyalty

Prince said the key factor a senior pastor should have in mind when working with and hiring other pastors and staff is loyalty. Prince said he has never heard of a church split taking place where the pastors, deacons, and staff in the church were united. While competence can be taught and cultivated, loyalty is a must from the beginning, he said.

“You must surround yourself with people who have a sense of loyalty and commitment to a common biblical/theological vision,” Prince said. “A commitment to loyalty and a commitment to the same Gospel-oriented vision are essential, both with leaders cultivated from within the congregation and those that you hire from outside.”

If Haskins has a deacon, or other key leader in the church, come to him and complain about Pastor Prince, what does he do? How does he flesh out his loyalty?

“I act like he just used profanity. I treat it with that sense of weight,” Haskins said. “The attitude of grumbling is an attitude that you have to squash immediately.”

Haskins said he would ask the deacon if his concern was doctrinal or moral in nature and if not, he would then challenge him to change his attitude immediately.

“If his complaint is not on the level of pastor Prince acting unbiblically, then the deacon and I don’t even need to talk,” Haskins said. “I would say, ‘Not only do we not need to talk about it, you don’t need to repeat what you just said to anyone. This is sin and it has to stop. And I’m going to hold you accountable to that. I’m going to come back to you and ask you how you are doing in dealing with that.'”

Prince said such confrontation is the biblical way to deal with conflict in the church, a confrontation that should be carried out, and followed up, in love.

“We directly deal with conflict or complaint, confront it, get it out in the open and love that man,” he said. “And we don’t avoid him after the confrontation. The next time we see him, we walk right up to him, shake his hand and ask how things are going. This is loving and leading in overdrive.”

What about church programs?

When it comes to programs, Prince works under the idea of “shrink and expand.”

“We want to shrink the number of things that are going on because a lot of things that are going on may be good, but they are not the best to keep us focused on fulfilling the mission that we have,” he said. “But we want to do the things that we do better: we want to expand them. So, we want to have a Gospel-oriented commitment to excellence in everything we do.”

Ashland Avenue’s pastors view each program as a tool: if it accomplishes its purpose, then it will remain; if not, then they will either tweak it or do away with it and do something else. Each ministry must directly connect to the overall vision, and with each ministry the pastors seek to create a culture of every member involvement.

“A lot of people do ministry in a way that self-consciously segments the entire congregation,” Prince said. “What we try to do is never allow that. If these things matter to the congregation as a whole for the sake of the Gospel then we are all committed to them.

“For example, when we send a mission team out, we don’t say that we are sending a certain group of people out on a mission trip. We say, ‘Ashland Avenue Baptist Church is involved in this mission trip. Some people have involvement here and some have involvement there; the people there are our eyes, hands and mouths for the Gospel.'”

Stop complaining: ministry is a privilege

Prince said viewing ministry as a privilege is non-negotiable for all men in pastoral ministry.

“If you were to ask me, ‘What it is the one thing you would say if you just had a few minutes to say it?’ that one thing would be: ministry is a privilege,” he said. “If men can get that right and stop feeling sorry for themselves, stop whining about their situation and think, ‘It is okay even if my service here takes years off of my life,’ that will transform their ministry.”

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