Church delegates around the world will gather at Battle Creek, Michigan in a few weeks for the General Conference Annual Council. Much attention has been given to these meetings in the North American Division because of a proposal for compliance towards unity and trust recommended by the General Conference Administrative Committee. As a ministerial leader and loyal church member removed from the administrative process and having no vote, I have questions and convictions about these issues. They are born out of the belief that whatever is done administratively in the name of unity and trust will bear fruit some way in local congregations.
As a pastor, your thoughts and feelings may range widely from “this has nothing to do with me and my congregation” to “my congregation and I have strong convictions and/or questions about the processes of compliance and the issues surrounding it.” If so, let me suggest a measure of redemption to a situation over which it seems, we have no control.
First, participate by being fully aware of the issues. Read the documents that share what the unity oversight committee is recommending. (See footnotes.) Ask questions of those who represent your voice at these meetings. Then share what you learned with your congregation. Second, sincerely pray for your union president and the NAD president, secretary, and treasurer as they participate with voice and vote. Also, claim the biblical promises: The Lord is with us always until the end. (Matt. 28:20) He will never leave or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6) The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. (Matt. 16:18). Third, without having all the answers, I write ten appeals for pastoral leadership in the spirit of optimism and wisdom from King Solomon, who said, “iron sharpens iron, so as one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 NIV.)
Ten Appeals for Pastoral Leadership
1-Don’t worship your church. As your church grows in membership, programs, education, facilities, and complexity, it is a temptation to believe the growth and health of the congregation is the end game. It is not. The church is only a tool for discipleship. Don’t yield to the temptation of thinking that the system is greater than our God and His call for us to reach humanity. When policies, procedures, and processes eclipse mission, organizational idolatry is either imminent or already present.
2-Surround yourself with passionate leaders who think differently than you. The church is a diverse living organization, not a monolith. It is strongest when people in the inner circles of leadership bring varied approaches and opinions to the table. While ‘group think’ may make you feel like the smartest person in the room your church is hamstrung by your limited wisdom. Instead, seek out those who are far more gifted than you, even if they may view things differently. Spiritual giftedness and competent talents will always outshine ideology.
3-Don’t be uncomfortable with dissent in your congregation. The collaborative approach to spiritual leadership works. Differences of opinion can bring spiritual growth to leadership teams. Seek out those who disagree with you and listen to their hearts. Dictatorial or autocratic actions in meetings only squash real feelings for a season. Transform your leadership meetings into safe places where people are free to speak without fear of retribution. Only then, can collaboration begin.
4-Remember that people are more important than policy. Policy is a collection of best practices on how to deal with certain situations. The best policy writers know that policy can’t accommodate the needs of all people in all situations, thus they provide for variances. Don’t equate policy with God’s Word. Pastoring requires a heart for people of all genres in life. Don’t be fearful to grant occasional exceptions when a policy just doesn’t fit.
5-Mission accomplishment is always the goal. At church meetings the things you discuss, and the time allotted to agenda items, as well as the places where most of the money is spent reflect your church’s true priorities. Your church meetings can easily degrade into a pessimistic conversation of process, procedures, and compliance, unless you create an optimistic mission driven culture. Let your leaders share stories of how mission is being fulfilled in their various areas of responsibility. Insure that every proposal is prefaced with the question, ‘how will this enhance our mission?’
6-Don’t beat a dead horse. Your leaders will grow weary if you keep bringing up the same failed proposals again and again and again. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try again until you figure out why the proposal failed. Was it the wording of the proposal? Was it the style of the proposal? Was it the way it was presented? Or was there something more substantive that your leaders are choking on. Don’t bring it up again until a real majority of your leaders are passionately on board.
7-Practice ministry with the spirit of optimism. The best pastors build bridges, not greater divides. The most effective pastors find common ground as a starting point to handle differences. The sought-after pastors are those who tend to lead biblically, principally and transparently with a we can “take possession of the land” (Numbers 13:30) missional attitude. To the contrary, if your church life is filled with pessimistic approaches to preaching, teaching and meeting, negative momentum will hinder mission. Deliver the spirit of optimism, with a “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) attitude.
8-Don’t confuse unity with uniformity. Forcing your members to obey never has, nor ever will work. Unity can never be the result of a policy that forces compliance. Attempted coercion can only lead to judgmentalism, hypocrisy, or rebellion. True unity occurs when a diverse congregation congeals over a shared mission. This unity allows unlimited expression of mission in infinite contexts.
9-Be informed or be silent. Be very prayerful about when to speak and when to be silent, but don’t be afraid to speak up for the right. History is replete with the silence of Godly people in moments of unjust laws and moral controversy. Speaking your convictions can yield an influencing fruitful outcome those who would do “justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.” (Micah 6:8) But do not speak with a zeal not according to knowledge. Be silent if you are not informed. Don’t rant on social media for the whole world including your congregation to read without any context. Be responsible, clear and concise in your communication with the understanding that your words will render great influence.
10-Be transparent in all you do. Transparency builds trust and allows actions to stand the test of time. This requires you to over communicate to your leaders and members, far in advance of meetings. Watch what happens when proposals have enough time to percolate throughout the whole congregation long before the representatives of the congregation come together at official meetings.
May these appeals help us lead with teachable hearts and the prayerful need for continual spiritual discernment. May God bless you as you fearlessly lead your congregation. May God bless our denominational leaders as they wrestle with serious issues that may help or hinder mission accomplishment.
For more on leadership and other core qualities of the effective pastor visit http://www.nadministerial.com/core-qualities-of-the-pastor/?rq=core%20qualities.
3 “the idea that one man’s mind and judgment can mold and direct important interests, and that he can be regarded as a voice for the people, is a great evil…God has not given to any one man all the wisdom, and wisdom will not die with him. Those placed in positions of trust should modestly regard the opinions of others as worthy of respect and likely to be correct as their own.” Ellen White, Manuscript 55, 1897.