A friend who worked in a mega-church shared with me that they lost over 1,000 people after a church crisis. “But we don’t know where they went,” he said, “or even most of their names.” They only knew they had lost 1,000 people who used to take up seats.
To be clear, I’m not criticizing mega-churches here. I presume several of them are exempt. I’m noting something about this kind of church, of any size. The kind that produces good programs, attracts large crowds, then mistakes it for discipleship..
We can never divorce discipleship from relationship. That means people who know each other’s names… and much more. This criticism isn’t limited to mega-churches. It’s the kind of church that plenty of 50- and 200- and 500-member churches are trying to be. If someone is a “regular attender” in a church, they need to have a pastor who knows them.[note]Note: This doesn’t have to be the “Senior” or “Lead” Pastor. It doesn’t even have to be someone on staff. The question: has someone with a recognized pastoral role in the community spent time across a table or a living room with that person?[/note]
The classical model of pastoral ministry comes in here.
“There’s really only time for two things in ministry. Lead a fine worship. Visit the people. The program, leave to volunteers and gung-ho seminarians.” That quote from Sam Stanley has guided me in ministry more than any other. I discussed “Lead a fine worship” in part I. See it here.
“Visit the people” is no novel idea. It’s the classical model of pastoring. You won’t find anything extraordinary below. In fact, that’s the point.
Slow, steady, deliberate
When I was in college, I researched and got excited about several get-rich-quick schemes.[note]We’re not discussing here the merits of my desperate desire to get rich. You can search for “money” to see plenty more on that.[/note] None of those paid off. Wise and experienced people usually advocate a less exciting approach: slow, steady, deliberate investing. The person who had invested $6 per day in the stock market over the last 40 years would have $1 million today. The one who chased after each get-rich-quick scheme likely went broke or burnt out.
The key to physical fitness? It’s probably not in that new fad diet or pill or workout video. You’re more likely to find it in the same things that have led to good health for… all of human existence. Good exercise, good nutrition, good sleep. Slow, steady, deliberate. Your results may not rival The Biggest Loser one month in, but they’ll look better 5 years from now.
In the church, we can chase after our own versions of get-rich-quick schemes and fad diets. I hear constant talk about churches “in transition.” Is the ongoing “transition” because we’re looking for the next magic bullet? Are we looking for the next program or strategy or staffing move that will change everything? Are we in “transition” because the last magic bullet failed to deliver?
“Visit the people” is the church antidote to magic bullets. It focuses on people rather than any grand strategy or exciting new program. It’s slow, steady, and deliberate. The results will be better measured in years than weeks.
Visit the people
I take “visit the people” to mean three things.
Visit the Pastors and Leaders
In a church of even 50 members, no lone pastor can offer the full congregation the pastoral care they need. Moreover, (s)he shouldn’t. That robs the rest of the congregation of their privilege and calling to be in ministry. So I don’t give regular pastoral attention to most of our people. That comes from our other pastors.[note]We distinguish pastors and leaders by role. Our pastors have charge over people. They and I know the names entrusted to them. Our leaders have charge over areas—things like hospitality and outreach.[/note]
My first responsibility is to care for and equip our other pastors and leaders. How are their souls? What problems are they dealing with? What do they have to celebrate together? How can I better equip and encourage and resource them?
When I invest in the primary pastors and leaders of our community, I’m doing my most important work. More than anyone––myself included––these people determine where we go. I’m not in charge of anything outside of our worship. I don’t lead any meetings; our leaders do that. I receive few direct phone calls about crises; our pastors receive most of those, then call me. We live and die on our volunteer leaders.[note]As always, this is penultimate to our total reliance on God[/note] So I try to spend a lot of time with each of them.
Visit the Congregation
Most people today take “pastoral visitation” to mean hospital visits. Those are a part of what I mean here. For a community of our size, it’s important that I show up in those crisis times, if possible.
This section also includes meeting with people for pastoral counseling and spiritual direction. Because of time limits and the nature of these needs, I’m usually only involved with one or two people at a time. That’s okay, as we have other good pastors who can offer the same.[note]Although I believe these two areas need the highest degree of special training and preparation.[/note] But it’s important for me to continue having some of these appointments. They keep me in touch with a few of our people going through crisis or seeking spiritual growth.
Mostly, “visit the congregation” is about meeting with people and families in non-crisis times. Those visits allow me to ask people some basic questions about the state of their lives and their souls. I hope to sit with everyone once a year––in their living rooms, at our family’s dinner table, or in a coffee shop. About half of those conversations reveal nothing major. They’re an enjoyable time where I get to learn a bit more about the person/family I was with. These help me at least know our people better, even if nothing significant seems to come from that time.
In another half of those conversations, I learn something immediately important. I’ve learned about marriages in trouble, people out of work, and a family on the verge of leaving the church. And we’ve identified some of our best leaders because of these kinds of conversations. We may not have found our Executive Pastor without a fortuitous Christmas party conversation. It’s in these casual conversations that we learn about people’s backgrounds, interests and abilities.
These visits help me avert a lot of crisis visits. So often, we learn about a problem only once it’s a full-blown crisis, a point of no return. The divorcing couple has made up their minds. The upset family is leaving the church. In several instances, living room conversations have allowed me to get involved pre-crisis. That has been a gift.
Visit the Community
This is my biggest growing edge. The old, classical pastor knew his parish––not just the people in his congregation, but the people in his district or territory.[note]Yes, it’s not gender inclusive. But it’s mostly accurate. When people talk about today’s pastors, I’m glad they’ll be talking about men and women.[/note]
To be a church that continues to invite new people into its life, we must go to them. And as the leader of my community, that begins with me. Though people have become skeptical of visiting door-to-door, I think there’s still much to commend it. If I can’t find another way to engage the community well, I don’t think this is a bad option.
Other options for this kind of pastoral presence include crisis counseling and officiating funerals. Both of these have given me a chance to connect with people disconnected from the church.
“There’s really only time for two things in ministry…” You can see how lead a fine worship and visit the people can be plenty to fill all of a pastor’s time. And they nearly should be. These should receive such priority that they squeeze out time for most other things. But we must make room for one more item––one that informs and enhances the way we lead worship and visit people. I’ll share more about that in the following post.
I’ll also consider two important questions: What about all the other things? And does this scale? I can do it with a small congregation. But what happens with even a medium-sized congregation of 200? Or a church of 1,000?
See also pt. I, Lead a fine worship and pt. III, Threats, an addition, and does it scale?
5 thoughts on “The Classical Pastor (pt. II, Visit the people)”
Thanks for these posts, Teddy. This second one is my growing edge as well, especially as I learn what it means to be a local pastor in a rural community. This is a good word!