I mentioned a couple of days ago that I would begin a series of posts on the ministry. Here’s my first entry. It’s really two posts – a little financial advice at the beginning and then the use of a bank metaphor for pastor credibility.
Before I make my point…
Okay, young preachers, listen to me! I’m going to give you two pieces of advice that you need to hear. They really have nothing to do with this piece, except in the most tangential way, but I’m going to say them anyway.
1) Debt will ruin your ministry. Student loans. Overbuying houses and cars. “Easy payments.” And those credit cards that come straight from the pit of hell. Debt is not sinful, but it is unwise. Manage it carefully. With compounding interest you can find yourself overwhelmed. Ministry is stressful enough without the added weight of a debt burden weighing you down. Take it from someone who has walked that road. DON’T!!!
2) Save for retirement! A week and a half ago, I was a young buck fresh out of the seminary who thought I would be young forever. Now, I’m an old codger who has saved inadequately for retirement. I wish I could go back and do it all over again! A small amount saved monthly when you are in your 20s has more value than the hundreds I’m putting in every month now.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, pretty please, with sugar on it, please young guys, will you take the advice of an old codger who has made a ton of mistakes and paid the price for them. Listen to me. Please. Stay out of debt and save a little bit for retirement. Just do it. Because I said so.
Now, on to the actual point of this post!
The First Security Bank of the Pastor’s Credibility and Authority
I am a pastor, yea verily a “Senior Pastor!” That title carries with it a certain amount of prestige, authority, and credibility – at least with some people. For others, it may engender hostility and suspicion. That will be a discussion for a different post. I’ve known pastors who seem to think that people should listen to them and do as they say simply because they hold the title of pastor. “I’m the pastor here. They should listen to me,” – as if the title ought to guarantee a certain level of power and authority in the church in and of itself. That works great in theory, but it doesn’t work very well in reality.
There is, in every church a Pastor’s Authority and Credibility Bank which contains the capital the pastor needs to lead the church – his pastoral authority, his credibility as a leader, his job security and his ability to cast a vision and set the direction of the church. Every day of his ministry the pastor makes deposits and withdrawals from the bank. The key to effective ministry is for the pastor to regularly and consistently make more deposits than he does withdrawals! (In essence, that is just another way of saying he is there to serve, not to be served.)
If you overdraw your account, you will likely be searching for a new place and a new bank account.
- NOTE: I believe ministry is a supernatural thing. Our primary job is to please God not to please people. In this post, I am necessarily focusing on the human aspects of ministry but please do not ignore the divine. It is God who sustains our ministry bank account with deposits of grace, power and his own authority. Remember when he made Moses’ staff bud as he was challenged by others who did not want to follow him? I never want to reduce ministry to psychological or human elements. It is spiritual effort, even warfare, and it is well to remember that even as I focus on the human.
Still, though ministry is a supernatural work, it is played out here on earth with real people in real places. Here’s how it goes.
Your Initial Deposit
The day you arrive on the job a deposit is made by your church into your account at the Pastor’s Authority Bank. Some churches, which have had a great experience with their previous pastors, make a large deposit. Other churches, having had contentious relationships with pastor after pastor, make a very small deposit. My dad went to a church that had run off six pastors in 16 years. At that church, the deposit was minuscule. (Dad stayed 12 years and the church was heartbroken when he left!)
You receive your initial deposit from the church when you walk through the door and sit behind the big chair in the office. You are the pastor and there’s a certain amount of credibility that attaches to that title. But from that moment on, all of your authority, credibility and leadership is earned. God gives grace but the authority and credibility you need to lead God’s people is won by your faithful service, your godly character, your perseverance and love. From the moment you expend that first small deposit of leadership capital, you must work for every bit of credibility and leadership you have in your church.
Your ministry will begin with that brief honeymoon period when you are spending the initial deposit. During this time you must begin to make deposits into your credibility account. The wise pastor works diligently and faithfully to build the balance in his Authority Bank account. Those first few months of a ministry are a key time in any pastorate. A wise pastor invests carefully during this time.
- He works hard to get to know his people and to let them get to know him.
- He proclaims the Word of God with clarity, boldness, and power.
- He prays consistently for his people.
- He gets to know the ministries of the church and understands how things work. Most churches have two sets of bylaws – the written bylaws and the unwritten ones. Get to know both! Study how the church operates, where the power lies, what the strengths and weaknesses of the church are, and where the ministry logjams and landmines are. Too many pastors forge ahead with trying to implement some agenda they’ve cooked up without figuring out the church and how it works. Suddenly, they break a rule which costs them a huge fine in the credibility bank, their account goes belly up and things are bad.
- He honors the past while also building a vision for the future.
Basically, the wise pastor comes in and is a diligent, faithful pastor to his church for the first two or three years of his ministry before he attempts to make huge changes or implement his own agenda in the church. YES! I said two or three years.
An Error that Tears Churches Apart
I read a book (I did that once a long time ago) by Lyle Schaller called “The Change Agent” and he said one of the biggest mistakes that pastors make is trying to make systemic and thorough changes in a church in the first two or three years one is there. A pastor must invest himself in a congregation for three, four, even five years before the people will trust him enough to let him begin to fully implement his own vision for the church.
It is a mistake that is at the root of many church splits. Within the first weeks or months of entering a new pastorate at an established church, the pastor begins to pressure the church to do things his way, to mold the church after his image. Lo and behold, he generally meets resistance, often severe. And so he lashes out at the rebellious and disobedient people who rebelled against the vision God had given him. The church goes through a traumatic time and either splits or loses a few people.
It did not have to happen. Hear me pastor. You have to EARN THE RIGHT to mold a church according to your vision and preferences. You don’t get to walk in the door of a church that has been in existence 10, 20, 50 or 100 years and expect them to immediately abandon the way they’ve done things and immediately do things your way. You need to invest yourself in those people for three years, four years, five years and THEN you can start trying to change the way they do things.
Here are some facts as I have come to see them.
- People will not follow you until they trust you.
- You have no right to demand that a church change its established direction until you have invested blood, sweat and tears into that church.
- If you are only going to stay three or four years at a church, it is hubris of the worst form to demand to mold that church in your image!
You don’t start a building project if you have no money in the bank. First, you save and prepare. Your first two or three years of ministry (three to five if your church has been through a split or some other huge issue) need to be devoted to simply building up your savings account in the Pastor’s Bank of Authority and Credibility. Then, when it comes time to make those changes that absolutely have to be made, the people will listen to you, follow you.
How to Make Deposits
Certain activities we do as pastors make deposits in our authority and credibility bank account.
- Praying for our people. Remember, ultimately it is God who makes our staffs bud. Don’t forget the divine aspect!
- Preaching solid, biblical, Christ-honoring, gospel-focused messages on a consistent basis. People love to be fed well. At Dallas, a prof gave us a piece of wisdom I’ve found to be true. When you feed your people well, they will tend to overlook some of your other faults (if they aren’t too awful). An underfed people will often be more prone to trouble.
- Being there for people in hard times and tragedies. Who is teaching some of these young preachers that visitation is not their job? Here is Iowa drop-in visitation is not a part of ministry, but when someone is in the hospital or when someone dies, we try to be there for them. Pastor, there is no better time to make deposits in your credibility account than by being there and ministering well in these times.
- When people sense that you are serving them and not asking them to serve you, the bucks go in the bank! Jesus came to serve, not to be served. Too many pastors today view the church as their personal fiefdom and the people as tools in the building of their “brand.”
- Endure hardships. Look at biblical history. Every person who followed God’s will in the Bible encountered horrible opposition and hardships. It was when they endured hardships in faith that God blessed and used them. But what happens in churches today when pastors encounter hard times? We log on to sbc.net/jobs and see if there is a church that has more cooperative (and godly) people who won’t resist “what God is doing.” But when a man of God walks through the fire, when he stands strong through hard times, through opposition, through insult, without becoming angry, arrogant, without striking back in vengeance, when he stands in humility and grace even when opposed – that raises his credibility dramatically. Strength through suffering!
Simply put – preach the Word and serve the people. Its not that hard. Be kind and compassionate. Practice what you preach. Be real. All of that. As you faithfully minister and serve over time, through good times and bad, and as you walk in the fullness of the Spirit daily, you will find your authority and credibility account balance growing!
When Withdrawals are Needed
Certain ministry activities require us to make withdrawals from our account. This list is, of course, not exhaustive at all.
- When you must confront sin in the life of a member, especially if that member is either powerful or well-connected.
- When there is some form of conflict in the ministries of the church and you must deal with those who are behaving badly, failing in their ministries or not following procedures.
- When the structure and ministries of the church need to change. People tend to resist change and if you begin a process of change, you better have quite a bit of a balance in your account (hence the admonition not to start change in your first year). Ever remodeled a house? It cost way more than you thought, right? Remodeling a church will be more expensive than you imagine it to be as well. Make sure it is needed, that you renovations are biblical and that you have the savings in your authority and credibility account to see the project through. Many a pastor started a church remodeling project with inadequate savings and ended up either looking for another church or another job!
- When conflicts arise between members, you will spend from your account. It doesn’t seem fair, but its true.
- When church discipline is engaged, you better have a healthy sum in your account. Christians agree with the concept of church discipline but the implementation of it is uniformly messy.
- When your sinful nature surfaces (and it will), and you say something or do something wrong, you will cost yourself credit from your account.
On and on it goes. Every difficult, challenging situation that you encounter in your church in which you deal with sinful people doing sinful things requires a withdrawal. Ministry is a matter of working in the power of God to build up the authority and credibility needed to have the resources to face the challenges of ministry.
Fines and Fees
As with any bank, there are fines and fees as well. Some sins cost us our jobs – and they should. But other sins may not get us fired, but they cost us all of our moral and spiritual authority, cost us credibility and make it tremendously difficult for us to
- When a pastor gets caught telling a lie, his account immediately goes to zero. Credibility and authority are drained by dishonesty.
- Any kind of mismanagement of money is a major fine as well. Follow the church’s policies and procedures. Stay within the rules. don’t stray into gray areas.
- And, of course, moral impurity brings heavy fines. If they find stuff on your computer that shouldn’t be there, an off-color joke, an inappropriate comment, a suggestive glance – these drain your account quickly.
I was only 20 when I started seminary and 23 when I graduated. I often think I’d have gotten more out of it if I’d gone a few years later. But I do remember these wise words from one of my professors.
Men, there are a lot of things that will hurt your ministry. There are two things that will cost you your ministry – money and women. Don’t mess around with either!
The Pastor’s Bank of Authority and Credibility levies severe fines against pastors who fail to maintain the highest levels of integrity in financial and moral matters!
Pastor, when you walk into your church, you have an account with a small balance of authority and credibility. It’s not going to sustain your for long. If you want to make a difference in your church, if you want to minister effectively, you have to faithfully serve God’s people, honor Christ, walk in humility and in wisdom. You have to build up the balance in your Pastor’s Authority Bank account before you attempt to go for major stuff.
You have as much authority and credibility in your church as you earn by faithfully serving Christ in the midst of his people.
So, my pastor friend, go thou and make deposits!