I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Each Christian ministry is unique and unified around Jesus Christ. But when people in that ministry belong because of someone other than Christ, changes have to be made.
John and Helen
John had served as senior pastor at a congregation for 15 years. He loved serving people, both God’s people and people who had – yet – not known God.
He and his wife, Helen, have always been curious, always learning, always desiring to find new ways to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love for all people.
They both trained in pastoral leadership, he as a pastor and she as a pastor’s wife.
They also searched for ways to bring groups of people together under a shared set of gifts. They believed that God gives unique gifts to each congregation. Some have schools. Others have huge youth ministry. Some have vibrant missionary events.
Yes, all congregations have elements of each and many more gifts and passions. But John realized that each congregation has a specific combination of gifts that makes them unique.
John worked on this and at this for 15 years at the congregation he serves. God brought unique individuals to the congregation for the leadership roles – both laymen and professional church workers. They saw steady growth and tremendous blessings from God.
But John could feel himself getting tired. He needed a break. Not the kind of break that comes from three or four weeks of vacation time each year.
John needed a sabbatical. His congregation granted him six months. During that time John & Helen did some intense traveling and studying. John grew a big, bushy beard. He rested. And he wrote a book.
When he came back from his sabbatical to resume his role as pastor, he found that quite a number of families had left the congregation. He went to them to find out why.
They told him that if he wasn’t there, if he wasn’t going to be the pastor anymore, they were going to find a new place. And so they did.
John was devastated. He told me that he was ready to quite the pastoral ministry all together. If people were only going to be members of the congregation because of him he didn’t want to continue to mislead them.
A Congregation is a Ministry
He knew that the congregation of God must be a ministry. It must be a group of people who have come together with a common core of unique gifts of God and a shared mission of what God wants them to do with those gifts.
A congregation cannot be a cult of personality. So many congregations seem to thrive and grow under a specific leader, but when that leader leaves, the congregations falter and sometimes die altogether.
John didn’t want that for the congregation he served.
The happy ending of this story is that neither did the vast majority of the congregational members. They continued to want to work with John but knew that they could also carry on without him.
John has decided to stay, to continue to learn, and to continue to share this kind of ministry with others through the ministry of that congregation.
Your Church is a Ministry
Every church faces this kind of story. I encourage you to let your church be this kind of congregation.
There have been parents that have said that they have their children in a church school because of this or that teacher. There have been people that have said they belong to a certain church because of this or that pastor.
Let’s not let this happen! Let your church or school be a ministry of God not a cult of personality.
I will be honest with you – some people have told me that they come to the churches I have served because of me. I admit, it makes me feel good. But it isn’t good for me or for them!
What happens if I leave? Will they leave as well?
We Do Not Stay the Same
In reality, I have already left. Here’s what I mean.
I’m not the same pastor, preacher, person I was ten years ago. I continue to learn how to teach, how to preach, how to be a pastor among you.
If a person came to the church or school I serve because of me they have a dilemma and a question. Because I’m not that person anymore.
In the past five years or so, I have torn down all my preaching skills and have begun to build them back up.
At the seminary, I was taught how to preach a theologically sound sermon. The theology hasn’t changed, but how to preach certainly has. When I became a pastor, the internet was brand new. Since then it has become a cultural phenomenon that has changed how people hear messages, see messages, and communicate.
I continue to use the theological foundation for my sermons, but I’m learning new ways to communicate that theology – which is nothing more than the love of God that comes to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I’m not the same pastor I had been. None of us are the same people we were. But the mission and ministry hasn’t changed.
Let your church or school be made up of people that will use the unique gifts God has given you to carry out the mission of telling the Good New of Jesus Christ to the world.
Heavenly Father, thank you for making me unique. I pray that you will use me to grow your ministry. Keep me from ever thinking that the ministry is about me. I pray I will always and forever point others to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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