Role of the Pastor 6: Training

Part of your role is training the sheep.  You will be loved for feeding them, and hated for training them.  You are responsible for training the sheep to embrace and understand the culture of your church, how to behave at church, and how to live the Christian life.  The worst pastors are the pastors that let anything go – their churches are not safe places to be.  Things will get out of line if you just leave them to their own devices.  That is a fact!

Paul asked the Christians in Corinth this pertinent question: “Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (2 Cor. 4.21).  Most of the time you come to the sheep in love and with meekness, but there are times you have to lay down the law.

You have to purge certain tendencies and ideas out of your church.  If your sheep think you are a weak leader, then you will be exploited by your church, and taken for a ride more than once.

Many years ago, I was at a church once where the pastor called a young man to the front of the church.  It was a mid-week meeting, and I didn’t really know the church.  I thought they were going to honour the guy in some way, and to be honest, the guy looked like he did too.  But the pastor said “This young man is a thief and a liar, he has conned several people in the church by doing this and that.  Look at him, and do not be conned by him.  He has seduced several ladies in the church and blackmailed them and stolen from them.”  I was stunned, but the church applauded – they knew people that had been hurt by this man, and who had lost property to his con.  There as a young man, I learned the power of strong leadership to protect the sheep. You cannot let people come to your church and just do whatever they want. 

I was once physically removing a young man from a youth meeting for continually making sexually offensive comments to the young ladies, I was the youth pastor in that church.  The senior pastor saw me doing it and told me to be a bit more gentle.  When I explained what the young man had done, the senior pastor told me to be a little more rough!

1 Cor. 5.6-7 is clear: Know ye not that a little leaven leaventh the whole lump?  Purge out therefore the old leaven.  This is so important – people will corrupt people.  Negative, whining, complaining people will infect people.  You need to train your people to reject gossip and reject whining, and reject negativity.  

To some people in your church you need to be strong, and tell them that their behaviour was disappointing, was destructive, that was not healthy behaviour.  You need to have a statement of culture that you can refer to and let people know “this is not how we do things around here”.  In doing this, you do not humiliate people.  You don’t tell people off in public unless their behaviour is destructive and they have been warned privately several times (as happened in both above illustrations) – you don’t humiliate people.  Sometimes you have to be hard with people, but you never have to be harsh.

“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out, yea, strife and reproach shall cease” (Proverbs 22.10).  Sometimes you have to correct people right out the church.  But when you do, strife and reproach stop and it is the greatest feeling on the planet.  Some people just need to leave the church, their presence is nothing but disruptive and unhelpful.  It is that simple sometimes!

But for most people, training is a much more positive experience.  Correction is one side of training, but discipleship is the other side. Three things your church should have to help train people:

1. An obvious path of training.

2. An obvious place of training.

3. An obvious reward to training.

An obvious path to training means that let’s say someone gets saved in your church, or comes from another church, they should know immediately what to do if they want to be discipled.  For us in the Tree, it’s join a small group.  We also have a 5 week course called Vision and Values where we explain our vision and values to people and that ends with us making sure that we open to door for people to be discipled.  For me, the three main areas of discipleship for new Christians or Christians that aren’t growing are: how to read the Bible yourself, how to flow in the gifts of the Spirit and how to relate to a local church – so we do training on all of that.  The courses are offered as often as we can – ideally I’d like to offer them about twice as much as we do, but that’s ongoing development of the church.

An obvious place of training is that people know where they can go if they need help.  Again at the Tree that’s our small groups – the Living Churches.  You go there and you are trained, and taught the Word and encouraged.  You can receive prayer if you need and you will grow.  Any problems and the elder running the group can help or get help.

Finally rewards for training – people like to be noticed and acknowledged, so we celebrate training, we have a pathway for becoming an elder and we have a way into serving and helping and significance in the church.  People need to feel that they are growing.

Keep a strong handle on the church, and make sure that you are making disciples.

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Role of the Pastor 5: Feeding the Sheep

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Shepherds have to feed the sheep.  That should be obvious, but there are a lot of pastors who are not feeding the sheep.  You cannot exaggerate how important it is for the pastors to feed the sheep.  You just cannot overestimate how important this is.  Your preaching to the gathering of the saints is so important – it is one of your primary roles, your key functions as a shepherd, to ensure the sheep are fed.

Earlier we discussed leading the sheep and how important that is, but you cannot lead people you do not feed.  Some people are trying to lead people they don’t feed, and they become controlling and harsh.  If you feed people, they will follow and your church will grow.  If you give people good food, your church will grow.  Some people might not like the food, some people aren’t sheep they are goats – let them go, but keep feeding the people and you will attract a flock.

Parents have authority over their children because they feed them.  When you leave home, get a job and feed yourself, your parents authority diminishes.  Feeding is so important for leading, so important for pastoring.  Jesus told Peter three times in a row: “Feed My Sheep”.  Feeding is vital.

Every pastor must be a preacher and your preaching is where you feed the sheep.  This is key. And we are living in the age Paul warns Pastor Timothy about:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Tim. 4.3-4)

People seem to rather go to a service where they are anointed with oil, where they are given a prophetic word, where there is gold dust and barking dogs, where they are taught about secular psychology and fables made up by men rather than listen to the Word.  The temptation to reduce the preaching of the Word and replace with entertainment.  Some pastors are preaching less than 6-10 minutes on a Sunday morning.  That is not feeding the sheep a meal, that is a bag of Doritos!  That is not a meal!  That will not give the sheep strength to receive healing, to advance the kingdom, to enjoy their career, to love their families.  You need to feed the sheep. You must preach the Word!

Here are three things I believe are vital to a successful feeding ministry:

1. Preparation. You must prepare what you are going to feed to ensure the sheep get a healthy, living and balanced diet.  You cannot just walk into the pulpit and say what you like.  There has been a move recently to see notes as fleshly, but taking the time to prepare is never fleshly – it’s godly.  I preach in months – each month has a theme that fits into the theme for the year.  I am all about building something into people’s minds.  Me just shouting about my hobby horse is not good enough.  You need to plan, research, prepare.  What Scriptures are you using, in what order, what is the point you are making.

2.  Keep to the point.  People like rabbit trails and side points occasionally.  Imagine they are like salt and pepper.  Just a little to give it flavour, but if you are continually going off point you haven’t prepared enough.  It takes me a whole day at least to prepare a message.  Lazy preachers and lazy pastors don’t prepare the food and don’t season it.  They are feeding their church Iceland frozen chicken nuggets and wonder why the church are spiritually malnourished. 

You are called to feed the sheep.  You are called to prepare the best for them.  Choose your points, meditate on your points, consider how the sermon is structured.  Introduce the sermon by telling the people what you preached last week and how it links to this week, tell the people what your points are and where you are going with the message – it’s a good habit to help you keep on track.  Then preach.  Then conclude well.  Prepare and plan how you are going to end.  Will you end with an appeal to change, will you end with an illustration that they are going to take away?  You need to decide before hand.

Of course, someone will tell you that planning is not spiritual, that you should just open your mouth and let it flow.  There are times when that is what to do.  There are occasions when the Lord will lead you a different way.  But mostly when people do that they ramble, they drift, they make no clear point, but rather a hundred different little points none of which impact anyone’s life for the better.  Here’s a revelation: the Holy Spirit can guide the planning!  Let your planning be Spirit-led and you find you don’t have to “go with the flow of the moment” in the pulpit so much any more!

I think some preachers need a big sign at the back of the church that says “WHAT IS THE POINT?” so when they are preaching they know they are making a point!

3.  Let the sheep feed from you.  Jesus said something that requires a lot of consideration: if you don’t eat my flesh you are not part of me.  Sheep need to feed on the shepherd.  What do I mean?  You need to let them see and let them hear that the Word works for you.  If you are teaching healing, talk about a time you laid hands on someone and they got healed.  Let the people see you are talking about what you know.  When you preach on loyalty and are calling for a commitment to the church, let the people know how committed you are.  You need to be careful doing this because your goal is to preach the gospel and teach the kingdom, but principles without practical application wash over people’s head.

At our summer conference once, we raised an offering and it was very low.  It was just under £300 which was very low for the amount of people in the room, and low compared to the costs we needed to pay.  In addition, I was the one who put in £200 into the offering.  So I got up and I told people that I believe in this conference and that if I could put in more money than the rest of the room put together there was a problem.  We received a second offering that came to a lot higher, and I have heard many testimonies of people who received a great return from that offering.  By showing people that I work the Word, I am encouraging – which literally means giving courage to – people to work the same principles.

Remember your examples are not the message: they are the encouragement to get the message.  You teach the Word, but in teaching the Word you have to show that you believe it’s integrity and you are not preaching what you do not practice, but rather you preach what you practice.

Role of the Pastor 4: Taking the Land

Part of being a pastor is taking the land.  God has given us a land of promises, but we have to take those promises and make the manifest in life.  Being a pastor means taking those promises and helping other people get into them and walk in them, it means killing the giants in their way, and clearing a path for them.

Listen to me, pastor, you have to train your sheep how to fight.  You have to show people how to have a dream and how to fight for that dream and make the right choices that mean they walk in that dream.  And you have to set an example.  When there were 20 people at Tree of Life, I was dreaming of 50.  When there were 50 people, I was dreaming of 100.  As we are just about to reach 150, I am dreaming of 250.  Dreaming of bigger!   Dreaming of more!  Dreaming of increase!  Then making the right choices to ensure that we walk in the dream.  It is the duty of every pastor on planet earth to take as much land as possible!  The church is not a social club, it isn’t a club – it’s an army that will take the land of promises and walk in the promises.

Moses told Joshua in Exodus 17 to choose men of war.  There are times where we need to put a backbone of steel in our people and get them to fight.  To fast, to pray, to believe, to study, to prepare, to push, to kick sickness, to punch poverty, to deny disunity.

You can’t get into the land of promises unless you fast and pray – are you showing your people how to do that? You cannot get into the land of promises unless you renew your mind – are you showing your people how to do that?  You cannot get into the land of promises unless you develop some emotional stability?  Are you showing your people how to do that?

Are you training your people how to fight?  Are you fulfilling your role as a land-taker?  

You see a lot of pastors see their role as inspirational, and that is true.  My entire life ministry is to provoke and inspire people to dream big.  But I learned very early that it’s not enough to get people to dream, you need to challenge people to live the dream.  You won’t live the dream sitting at home eating coco pops at midday and watching daytime TV.  You need to change your thinking, your perceptions, your actions, your choices, your everything.  That takes time, that takes prayer.  That takes an attitude of war.  That takes a take the land mentality, and a take the land kind of leader.

Are you taking the land?  Are you encouraging others to take the land?

How is Your Pastor Doing?

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This are chilling statistics.  I am glad that I am not in any of the negative categories.  Well, it still remains to see whether I quit in 10 years, but I am willing to bet anything you can raise that I won’t.  The question I have is this: what can we do about it?

Role of the Pastor 3: To Divide Seas

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Part of your ministry as a pastor is to lead the people to green pastures and still waters.  You need to take your people out of the wilderness and into the land flowing with milk and honey, a land of abundance and peace.  This is part of being a shepherd to your people.  If you don’t have a destination, you don’t have a destiny.  The word “destin-y” means the path to your “destin-ation”.  At the Tree of Life Church, we talk about dreams, schemes and themes.  Dreams are our destination – where we are going.  Schemes are our plan to get there, and themes are the plan to take the next step.  We can’t sit down and dream, we have to dream while we walk.

However, sometimes leading people somewhere is hard for them.  There are obstacles in their way – wild seas that they cannot cross. As a pastor, you are called to be like Moses: “But you, lift up thy rod and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14.15 and 16).

Part of your role is to ensure the path to the promised land is visible and tangible to the people.  A true shepherd loves the sheep and wants the sheep to have abundance and success, and so they find out from God what actions make a way for people to get into the promised land.

You must learn how to make a way for people where there seems to be no way.  This could cover all sorts of things – once a man in our church said he was going to leave our church and find another one.  I asked why, and was there anything I could do to change his mind.  He told me no because his house was too far from our church.  So the next day, in the evening I jumped in my car and drove to his house.  I knocked on the door and when it opened I said “it’s not that far”.  By making that journey, he saw the journey wasn’t that far.  As a pastor, I made a way where he couldn’t see a way.  If you can visit them, they cannot think that their house is too far for them to come to you!  If people realize they are not too far for you to visit, they will feel safer at the church.

You need to split the seas that stop people from getting married in your church.  Don’t just look at someone all sad when they complain about their singleness – teach them how to find a marriage partner.  Teach them what kind of person to look for.  Teach them the warning signs that show they are about to marry a loser.  Help people notice one another in the church as well!

Teach people that they can find good marriage partners within the church, it brings great stability when people marry in the church. I’m not saying play Cupid, I’m not saying force people to get married, I’m certainly not saying prophesy marriage, or even promise a happy marriage.  Marriage is hard work, and if you force people to get married they will hate you!  But seriously, make a way – part some seas.

You need to part seas when it comes to finding work for people.   Teach your people how to find work, how to work hard, how to succeed in a job.  You also need to help people find work – if someone in the church is an employer, then talk to them about a sheep that needs some employment.  Sometimes the person you recommend will embarrass you, but don’t let that get in the way of you being a sea-splitter!  It’s not enough for you to preach about crossing seas, you have to make a way!

You need to part the seas of attendance.  You might have to change a meeting time or a rehearsal time for one person.  We just changed the dates of our summer conference for just a handful of people – it’s called being a sea-splitter.  The year before the conference wasn’t during the school holidays of every London borough and so certain people could not attend, and I failed in my sea-splitting ministry.  At the end of the conference, I vowed not again – and now I am embracing making a way for people to attend.  Make things convenient for people.  In London you have to start meetings a bit later because some people work later.  That is a sea splitter!

If you struggle with this: try having less meetings.  Meet your people on Sunday.  They are there anyway, so have your leader’s meetings, your deacon’s meetings and your children’s workers meetings on a Sunday after church rather than make people come out another time in the week.  Don’t make someone travel twice when they could travel once.  It took a while for me to see this clearly, I will admit, but this is part of your ministry as a pastor: make a way.  

Listen – people always make excuses.  Deal with them:

“Your church service is too long” – “How long is your favourite film?”

“The church is too far from my house” – “How long is your daily commute to work?”

“I don’t have shoes” – “I will buy you some shoes”

You need to part seas when it comes to growing up.  Everyone in your church needs to know there is a pathway forward for them growing up.  Teach them how to read the Bible for themselves, give them a place where they can ask questions, point them in the direction of good articles, good teachers, good books.  I am always giving books to my leaders – because I want them to grow.  I want people to see a clear path.  How to flow in the gifts, how to behave in church.  It all needs to be made clear.

You need to part seas when it comes to a place of significance.  Everyone in your church needs to know there is a clear path for them to be a significant part of the church.  Encourage people to join small groups, to serve on the rota and to give generously to the church.  Explain that doing these things makes the people pillars in the church – people who the church cannot do without.  And whenever people get saved and healed – they made it happen!

You need to part the seas of ministry as well.  Don’t hold onto the ministry too tightly.  Delegate.  Have a short mini-preach before the sermon so people can get used to standing up in front of people, give people small groups to run, let people preach in the satellite churches (and lead worship) so they can get used to what they are doing.  Make a way for people to enter into their ministerial dreams. We have invested so much in ensuring Charis Bible College London happens for example, not just because it’s great to have a Charis on the doorstep (hence, being a sea splitter for people who want to go to college) but so that the people who run the college are now walking in their dreams, being a sea splitter for them.

If you are a pastor, you are a sea splitter. Get used to it, and get doing it!

Role of the Pastor 2: Comfort

Psalm 23 says “The Lord is my shepherd… your rod and your staff they comfort me”.  A shepherd is responsible for comforting the sheep.  I’ve heard pastors say “I’m not here to make you comfortable” which is true in one sense, but at the same time a pastor – a shepherd – is there to comfort people.  To bring comfort to the afflicted.

One of the key roles of a pastor is to comfort God’s people.  Every person should be able to say to their pastor “you comfort me”.  This is one of the key reasons why you should be part of a local church – a good pastor brings comfort to his people.

Some pastors are scratching their heads as to why their churches are not growing but it is because they don’t make their people comfortable – they don’t comfort their people.  A good shepherd needs to be there when people go through grief.  When people go through genuine hard times, a shepherd needs to be there.  A shepherd needs to be with the sheep when the sheep are in trouble.  If you are an elder, you need to make changes to your schedule to be with your flock in times of need and in times of joy.  If you are a pastor, your entire schedule should be based around being with the flock when they are discomforted.

A shepherd has to be a comforter.  The ministry of comfort starts with paying attention. Remembering birthdays, remembering exams, remembering names.  All of that matters – it makes people comfortable.  It’s amazing how a week or two after someone asks for prayer or tells you something just a simple “how is that” can bring so much comfort – hey, the shepherd knows my name, the shepherd cares, the shepherd is praying for me.  That really comforts people.

The major events must be marked and celebrated: the birth of a child, marriage, funerals.  God expects you to be there.  The shepherd should be there.

Attention is the first step of comforting the sheep.  The second step is empathy – what matters to the people must matter to you.  If you tell people you are a pastor, if you introduce yourself as Pastor Jim or Pastor Bob, if your business card says pastor: what are you doing to show love and comfort to the sheep?  If you cannot answer that question, maybe you should really consider what you are doing.  If what matters to people doesn’t matter to you, people will never truly hear your preaching.

Ezekiel 34.1-5 tells us that:

And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?  Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.  And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.

God wants shepherds to shepherd.  Strengthen the diseased.  Heal the sick.  Bound up the broken.  Look for the lost.  It’s hard work – it’s not easy.  Being a pastor is long hours, hard work and dealing with broken, sick, lost people.  Being a lay pastor is double difficulty!  But it is worth it.  It’s not enough to teach.  The Corinthians had many teachers but few fathers – how much more is that true of the Christian church today.  Lots of teachers who will happily fly into town for the right price, stimulate the church and hype everyone up, then fly off again.  If you are a pastor, you are not that person.  You are a father, a shepherd.  Comfort the sheep!

Love never fails.  The Bible never says preaching never fails or teaching never fails.  It says love never fails.  Comfort is doing love!  If you are a pastor, do some love today!

(Part I of this blog is available here: https://benjaminconway.net/2014/02/05/role-of-the-pastor-1-lead/)

Role of the Pastor 1: Lead

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Pastors are called to lead.  A lot of people don’t realize this – which is why their churches never go above about forty people.  A pastor has to learn how to lead, and be confident enough in their ministry and calling to lead.

Revelation 19.15 says that Jesus leads with a rod of iron.  Every pastor needs to have a backbone of iron and the strength to lead.  The traditional image of a pastor is soft, kind, compassionate, poor, always available and never complains.  Basically the human doormat. 

That’s not really the picture of a ruler, but the picture of someone ruled.  Many pastors are ruled, They are ruled by elders, ruled by the board of deacons, ruled by the fear of lack of finances, ruled by the easily offended, ruled by people who are threatening to leave, ruled by bullies who cannot pastor, cannot help people, but want the church to revolve around their needs, their wants and their hang ups.

Now I accept and believe a pastor should be kind, should be compassionate, and should be loving.  But his calling is to rule and to lead.  A pastor should be running a local church – and the head of any group must be the decision maker.  You must not let a foot or a stomach make decisions – the head must make the decisions.  The Bible says “The Lord is my Shepherd, He LEADETH me…” – part of being a shepherd is leading people.

A true shepherd leads sheep where they need to go, not where they want to go.  You cannot be a good leader if you are weak – if your voice is weak and your ability to make decisions is weak.  Every church needs a shepherd who has a strong voice that is confident and bold in the Lord.  The sheep are looking for someone with direction – someone who knows where good grass is, who knows where he is going.  A man with a plan!

A pastor must lead the church spiritually and set an example socially and as a family man.  WHen the church does not have a strong leader, it will malfunction.

It is bad for a church to have weak, spineless leadership.   Pastors must be like Jesus and speak with authority.  I am not talking about domination over people – I am not talking about controlling people.  I am talking about being a leader and leading sheep.  If you are the pastor, you have to lead people to green pastures and still waters.  You must lead – and you must have a strong voice.  You are the leader, so lead.  God has placed the church in your hands,  A leader who cannot make decisions is doomed to failure.  A good leader takes decisions when he knows what is going on.  Find out the facts, then act.  Even if the decision is painful, even if it is hard. If you the shepherd do not make difficult decisions then your church will fail.

Look around – you know that there are dead, lifeless, failing churches around you.  They are not what the first generation of pioneers who started that church and that denomination dreamed of.  What happened is death crept in – some people crept in and tried to make the church more comfortable to their carnal desires – and the pastors and leaders never confronted it and dealt with it.  Things get out of hand when leaders don’t lead.  

Often as senior leader, a hard place is when a leader you have appointed is not leading properly.  You need to deal with that – you need to ensure that the right changes are made that need to be change.

Never be afraid of change.  Other people might be, but you do not have that luxury – you are the leader.  If you only ever make little decisions, you will only have little change, so only have little results.  If you make big, large, confident decisions – you will have big, large, confident changes with big, large, confident results.  Be a strong leader.  Be a champion, and lead your people to green pastures.