As most readers of this blog are aware, I haven’t posted in some time because I have been transitioning to the role of Senior Pastor at Lakeside Baptist Church in Birmingham. I’ve now had two full weeks in the office at Lakeside and will soon have my second Sunday in the pulpit as pastor, so I can at least breath a little bit and begin to feel like I have some kind of routine. The first two weeks have been a blur, but they have also been a joy.
Moving to a new church is exciting and filled with expectancy, but it is never easy to transition. However, many churches and pastors are in transition right now. Our Alabama Baptist State Convention tells us that on an average day, there are between 150-200 Alabama Baptist churches who are searching for a pastor. It’s not just me and Lakeside who are transitioning. Interestingly, literally at the very same time I was in the pulpit preaching in view of a call to Lakeside, my friend Allen Hays was preaching in view of a call to Calvary Baptist Church in Scottsboro. Just yesterday I received a call from a fellow pastor in the state who is considering a move to another place of ministry. It happens all the time. In light of this fact, I thought I would share a handful of truths that I have learned about churches and pastors…
(1) Every church is unique and has its own personality. Remember, there is a reason why the Bible refers to “the church in Sardis” and “the church at Ephesus” and so on. Every church is located in a geographical and cultural context, but every church also has a history and membership that is unique to the individual church. This is why it is imperative for a new pastor to get to know his new church. As a new pastor, you are joining a family of believers that you need to get to know and who need to get to know you. It takes time for relationships to bond and trust to develop. Years ago, I heard a wise pastor say, “You have to love what is and then envision what can be.”
(2) Every church has challenges. Certainly, a church that has been declining in attendance for years has many challenges, but so does a church that has been growing consistently. There are challenges if your church is in a rural area, and there are challenges if your church is located in a metropolitan area. There are challenges in being a small church with no staff, and there are challenges in being a larger church with many staff members. Don’t let the fact that your church faces challenges discourage you. Just know that your church is normal! Simply reading the New Testament will quickly prove that even the earliest churches had difficulties.
(3) Every church has been shaped by its leaders. Let’s face it; most churches have had multiple pastors in their history. Most Christians have had multiple pastors as they have attended church over the years. Every pastor has his own set of gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. Therefore, one pastor may have been especially loved by one group of members, while another pastor meant more to some other members. This is just human nature and shouldn’t surprise any of us. It only becomes a problem when it becomes a source of division in the church…
“For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:4–7, NKJV)
The truth is that any pastor is really only a “minister through whom you believed.” It’s God who saves. It is God who blesses. Our faith is in the Lord and never a man. At Lakeside Baptist, we have former pastors who are still members. Dr. Richard Trader has served the church as interim pastor twice in the last six years. Dr. Earl Tew served as pastor for over twenty years, and Dr. Mike McLemore pastored Lakeside for over twenty-five years. All of these men are still active members at Lakeside. I am not threatened by their presence, but rather I am blessed by their presence. The Lord has used each one of them greatly during key seasons of the church’s life. They are all personal friends and fellow pastors who have shaped and blessed Lakeside.
(4) Every church has hope. The hope of every church is the Lord of the church. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus told us that the church is His church and He is building it. If your church is going through a discouraging time, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a new pastor is the hope of your church. Fall on your knees and begin asking God to move in your church. I have seen the Lord breath new life into dead churches. Every church also has hope because every church can reach and disciple someone. Certainly, some churches may have more opportunities than others due to their location, but every church can touch the life of someone. The gospel works. Jesus saves. Get out into the harvest field and watch Him build His church!