Serve your church faithfully: don’t wish it was like someone else’s church

Communications Staff — April 22, 2010

By Bill Cook, professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary and senior pastor of Ninth & O Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

Churches and pastors are parting ways at an alarming rate. It would be easy to oversimplify the causes for this disaster and place the blame primarily on one side or the other. Sometimes it may very well be the result of a church body that is resistant to the truth and at other times an overzealous pastor who unwisely forces changes that he has not earned the right to make. We know from recent history that there are certain issues that are causing churches to explode in conflict. Some of this might be avoidable (though by no means all of it) if pastors demonstrated more wisdom in the implementation of change and a greater commitment to longevity at a place of service.

When beginning a ministry at a new church a pastor must come to grips with the church God has given him to serve and not the one he wished he had been given. For example, we might wish that God placed us in a suburban setting with many professionals but instead he has placed us in a rural setting. Therefore we must to come to grips with that fact and thank the Lord that He has given us the privilege of serving His people at all. The church we agree to serve is the church we agreed to serve with all of its strengths and weaknesses.

It takes time to understand where a church is so wisdom must be exercised early on in a pastorate. I would highly recommend that you begin by preaching the Bible, praying much and spending a good bit of time getting to know the people. We often become more patient and kind with those we serve when we get to know them better and understand their hopes and pain. We also get a better understand at how long it will take to make the kind of changes we desire to make.

Next, we must understand that change takes time. Just as our Lord is patient with us and changes us over time we must be as gracious to those we serve. We may not like the music but when we begin a new pastorate the music may be the least of our concerns. We often confuse music with worship and think that style is more important than substance.

We may have an agenda to change the church government when what we really need is to disciple men to become leaders. While there may need to be adjustments with the music and church government this should often take years rather than months to change. If I understand it right, Dr. John Piper took nine years to change the governmental structure of Bethlehem Baptist. These kinds of changes take wisdom and patience that younger men often lack. This means that we must have a long-range vision of what we believe God wants the church to become and then move cautiously toward that goal.

Finally you must ask occasionally what is driving you to make changes so quickly. Sometimes it is a zeal that lacks knowledge and at other times it is the subtle pressure for numerical success. The better approach is to take a long-range view of ministry.

As a shepherd you should lovingly and patiently guide the congregation God has given you to become more and more of a God-honoring church. Along the way you may even discover that some of the changes you felt so strongly about aren’t nearly as important to you as they once were.

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