Your first pastorate: An interview with Joshua Harris; the first issue of Towers

Communications Staff — August 17, 2009

A first time pastorate can be intimidating. Whether you are fresh out of seminary, switching vocations to go into pastoral ministry or called straight from a congregation to a pulpit, stepping into such a role can be a nerve racking and potentially discouraging experience.

But the role of pastor is worthy of pursuit (1 Tim 3:1). Pastors lead churches and Jesus Christ has made it clear that no one and nothing will prevail against the church, not even the gates of hell (Matt 16:18).

Christ has also made it clear that only faithful churches will be allowed to continue in the advancement of His Kingdom (Rev 2-3). To have faithful churches, you have must have faithful pastors.

The first issue of Towers for the 2009-10 academic year is themed your first pastorate. The goal of the issue is to help equip first time pastors, and all pastors, for their role. The entire issue can be accessed online here.

Update: You can also download a pdf of the first issue of Towers.

The issue features a story on Joshua Harris, senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md. Harris is the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” “Stop Dating the Church!” “Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship” and “Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World.” His newest book, “Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why it Matters?” is due in January 2010. will feature a three-part interview with Harris over the next three days, followed by the article on him. Other elements from this issue will be featured after the Harris interview and article.

Here is part 1 of the Q&A with Harris:

Question: What do you say to a guy who is entering his first senior pastorate in his late 20s?

Joshua Harris: Think about things in terms of the long haul, have a long-term perspective.

You can shoot out of the blocks trying to accomplish everything [quickly] and have a youthful zeal that is really more about making a name for yourself or making fireworks in some way to make everybody feel like something really great is happening. But if you really see it as you laying a foundation and building something for the long term, I think that perspective is going to influence how you teach, influence how you invest yourself in the people of the church.

And I also think it is so important to have mentors in your life, people that you are talking to and getting help from, an older pastor who you ask questions of. There are just so many things that other guys have walked through that you can learn from. If you don’t have to make all the mistakes and learn the lesson again, it would save you a lot of hassle.

So just the humility of saying, here are the questions I am asking and the challenges I am facing and those older pastors will just have so much life experience and be able to help you.

Q: What do you say to 20-something college graduates who may have had a negative experience in church and who are critical of the church?

JH: There are so many details that could be going on in people’s lives and that is where you just really have to be a pastor and you have to study them, know them, genuinely love them and care about them. It is going to involve understanding “Have they been genuinely converted themselves?” It is not surprising that they don’t love the church, if they don’t love Jesus.

I think it is also going to involve finding out how biblically informed they are about the church and I would say the majority of the time they are not going to be very biblically informed. They probably have never really taken the time to study what God’s Word has to say about the church or the priority of the church that is portrayed in Scripture.

So, taking the time to say, “Will you be willing to walk through this?” It might not be best handled in the teaching context of a Sunday morning. It might be more of a discipleship context where you say, “Let’s interact with the book of Ephesians. Let’s read through some of these great resources that talk about the role and importance of the church. Is that in God’s Word and what are you going to do with that?”

There might be other issues that are underlying the problems. Maybe they don’t have a high enough view of God’s Word. Maybe they aren’t reading God’s Word. You have to start with what Scripture says and really convince them from Scripture. Not just “Hey, your family was here and you should love this church and think of what we did for you in the youth group.” None of those things can sustain you. They have to be convinced themselves from the Word of God.

I think such young adults need to be challenged: basically the authority in their lives is their feelings. I am not discounting the bad experience they have had in all of those things, but what is going to rule in your life? Is it going to be your experience and your emotions and how you feel about things or is it going to be the Word of God?

Q: How should a chuch planter go about teaching active church membership and church involvement?

JH: I don’t know that there is a rule necessarily. I have never planted a church myself. Guys that I know have often times made a real priority of clarifying the Gospel really clearly. That might be taking a book like Galatians and teaching through that. Then the book of Ephesians is a great opportunity to not only talk about the glories of the Gospel, but then very specifically to talk about God’s plan for the church.

In the context of teaching through a book like that (Ephesians) that could be a great opportunity to talk about membership. Other guys I know have taken their whole church through a membership teaching or process after they have been there for six months.

I think it is a real priority to have a plan within the first year or so to really talk about the significance of participation, commitment and so on. You don’t have to do that in a way is overbearing or some sort of hard sell. It is just clearly teaching what it means, why we are here, what we are about, what the church plant is about and giving the long term vision of what the church can do in the life of believers there and then also in terms of the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to the community.

Q: What about an existing church where the minister senses the church members do not have a thriving sense of church membership?

JH: That’s where Mark Dever and 9Marks ministries are an incredible resource for somebody that is walking through that process. His book, “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” and “The Deliberate Church.”

“The Deliberate Church” is an incredible resource in talking through making church membership a priority. Dever talks about the process of doing reverse membership interviews where he is really going through and clearing out the membership roles and talking about the fact that if you are not in attendance and you are not believing the Gospel then you are not going to be a member of this church.

The clarity with which Dever has taught on membership has had an affect on our church. We have always had church membership and in many ways we are relatively strong in that area, but we cleaned up different things, learning from being challenged by what Mark has done and what he communicates through 9Marks.

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