Transforming Pastoral Leadership

Transforming Pastoral Leadership: What, Why, and How!

As I said in my first post, these reflections on pastoral ministry will be rolling out piecemeal.  With this installment, I am going to hit the pause button.  Really, the rewind button and take you back to 1995.

I married Melissa, my wife of nearly twenty-three years now, on July 29, 1995.  Within two weeks of our wedding day, we were invited to join a church and serve in a position of Associate Pastor of Youth and Children.

The church was Oak Grove Church of God in Tampa, Fl.

I’ve loved everywhere I’ve served.   I’ve even enjoyed the churches that weren’t so loving during the time of my service with them.

But Tampa was special.

Many of the kids who were a part of our first ministry are now grown with families of their own.  Some of the most enjoyable correspondence Melissa and I have is with these grown men and women with whom we began our first ministry assignment.

Just a couple of months before starting at Oak Grove, in May of 1995, I graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  As is the case with most seminary graduates, I left with the confident assurance that I was going to show a church how ministry should be done.

Answering Questions No One Is Asking

Also, of course, I was coming with all the answers in hand.

So, I – fresh out of seminary – launched a “thirteen-week series” (yes, that used to be a thing) on the “Person and Power of the Holy Spirit.”

I was so excited to share my knowledge!  Knowledge – particularly my knowledge – is what every teen needs, I thought.

I also thought that they were excited to listen to a thirty-minute talk based on notes from my seminary professor.

It wasn’t long before I realized that the answers I had in hand were answers to questions no one was asking.

I soon found myself making course corrections.

Course Corrections and Core Convictions

After that very first night that I led our youth group, I realized how little I knew about leading a ministry that could prayerfully, humbly, and faithfully lead others to the Savior.  It was a culturally diverse youth group made up of a combination of kids from every walk of life.  The one thing they all had in common was that they desperately needed someone with whom they could work out all of the difficulties life was throwing at them.

I came in answering questions they weren’t asking and offering advice they couldn’t use.

Talk about internal disruption!

Over time and through the encouraging love of my wife, the strong leadership and faithful mentoring of my Senior Pastor, and a group of kids who were unbelievably patient with me, I began to discover some pillars of ministry that, it turns out, are essential to any ministry.

These pillars have been (and are being) ‘honed’ in the crucible of ministry these past twenty-plus years.

These pillars are essential to any congregational ministry. I believe, if you study, you can find them throughout the history of God’s gathered people.

Five Pillars of Transforming Pastoral Ministry

They are:

  1. Pastoral and Congregational Calling
  2. Congregational Care
  3. Pastoral/Congregational Leadership
  4. Preaching/Teaching/Worship
  5. Discipleship and Soul-Care

These five areas, or pillars, are the what of pastoral ministry.  By that, I mean that these five areas are the principal areas of concern for pastors serving in ministry. I suggest that they are the what of any ministry; be it senior, children, youth, worship, mission, etc.

In fact, I can pretty much assure you that if you demonstrate some level of competency in three or more of these areas, you will likely have a successful ministry.

Success, however, is not what I am shooting for as I shepherd and lead a congregation.  We aim a bit higher at Pillar.  We aim for transformation.

Ministry that is praying for a transformative impact will also have to discover the why and how of ministry.  The why and how are, in fact, more important than the what.

I learned, through time and trial, that nestled within the what of pastoral ministry, are a host of assumptions and hopes that constitute the why of pastoral ministry.  Many of those whys were centered around me appearing successful, knowledgeable, or competent.

These false whys were subtle, but they were ever-lurking beneath the radar of what I was doing and shaping how I was going about what I was doing.

It took over a decade of working the what from a partial and faulty why before I discovered a way of ministry that’s transforming.  A way of doing ministry that is not only congregationally transforming but also personally transforming!

I’ve come a long way since the days of my first ministry assignment back in 1995.

I’ve still got a long way to go!

The image of Pillars came to me years ago during a brisk afternoon run in the hot Florida sunshine.

It was during a particularly trying season of ministry back in the years of 2003 – 2004.

It was a season filled with strife, conflict, anger, hurt, despair, etc.  The conflict I was experiencing then is, all too often, common within the walls of the church.  The symptoms of the conflict and pain became evident because the Elder board asked our long-tenured senior pastor to resign.

While he did submit his resignation, the forced nature of the resignation was difficult for many in our community to resolve.  The pastor himself struggled with the decision (imposition) for months.

At the time of his departure, I was the recently appointed Executive Pastor of the church.  I was in the post for about six months when the conflict began to make its waves.  About a year into my role was when the termination (forced resignation) came about.

“Carry, Mount, Knight,” No More!

Before my days as Executive Pastor, I served as the middle school pastor of the church.  As you can imagine, the pain and distress of hundreds of people was palpable.  I received many of the calls during this time.

My office was filled with people expressing deep emotion, often with anger, tears, contempt, elation, hope, fear, misunderstanding, etc.  You name the emotion and reaction; I can assure you, I saw it.

Oh, how I longed for the days of youth ministry games such as “Carry, Mount, Knight,” and “Chubby-Bunny.” Instead, those were exhausting days of being an executive pastor during one of the most difficult seasons of ministry the church had faced in over a decade.

While I sensed that I would not remain in that post for much longer, I knew that God was using me to help folks walk through the turmoil during that particularly grueling season.

Disciplines and Delight

The Spiritual Disciplines of fasting, prayer, journaling, date-night, and exercising (yes, that’s a Spiritual Discipline) became a vital lifeline that helped me get out of bed every morning and put one foot in front of the other!

My run on this afternoon was much swifter simply because of all the pent-up energy and emotion I was carrying in my body.  About halfway through the run, the Lord began to show me an image of His church as a Pillar within His community.  At the same time, He revealed to me how far from being a Pillar the church I was serving was, or would ever become.

I mourned for the church I was serving, but was equally relieved and elated by the vision Christ was sharing and the release He was providing.

My swift run became a sprint back to my house as I sat down with my journal and wrote pages of thoughts/images from the Lord regarding the type of Church that could be a Pillar in our community.

The Initial Vision: Pillar and Foundation

He also drew me to a passage of Scripture that became a foundation verse for Pillar Community Church.  The passage is I Timothy 3:15,

I write so you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God—which is the community of the living God, a pillar and foundation of truth.

Though we didn’t know it at the time, Melissa and I would spend the next six to ten years discovering the depth and width of this vision.

As you can see, it’s not too terribly hard to understand why I planted a church by the same name.  Yet, the metaphor of Pillar just makes more sense when thinking about or reflecting on establishing a ministry that is guided by Transforming Pastoral Leadership.

Transforming Pastoral Leadership is congregationally transforming because it’s coming from a pastor who is also and always being transformed.

What Every Minister MUST Do

The “Pillars” of Transforming Pastoral Ministry/Leadership (those things we all must do no matter where we serve) are:

  1. Pastoral and Congregational Calling
  2. Congregational Care
  3. Pastoral/Congregational Leadership
  4. Preaching/Teaching/Worship
  5. Discipleship and Spiritual Formation

They are, as I’ve noted, the what of pastoral ministry and leadership.  If you want to be successful (effective) then you must always be about these five things in some way or another.

We should be aiming for nothing less than ongoing, sustainable, life-transformation and spiritual formation; both for ourselves and for the sake of others.

Not Just “What” We Do But “How” We Do it!

So, from here on out (or until I change my mind), I will be reflecting not only on the Pillars of pastoral ministry and leadership, but also on the Rhythms or Practices which give the capacity to be transforming.

The Rhythms and Practices are the how that lead us to the why of Transforming Pastoral Ministry and Leadership.

The Rhythms and Practice are:

  1. Contemplation
  2. Companioning
  3. Co-Laboring
  4. Curating
  5. Cultivating

Again, these are Rhythms and Practices I have been discovering – and continue to discover – as I lead a ministry focused on spiritual formation and soul-care.

Perhaps this image will help you envision what I am trying to communicate.  As you reflect on the image, you’ll note the Five Pillars that form and shape any ministry.  Again, they constitute the basics of what every ministry demands.