The Best “Pastor’s Handbook”
I converse quite frequently with other ministers via the Internet, and sometimes I have a profound point or two to bring forth (but only by God’s grace). Many times I am also blessed by what my peers share with me, and I grow accordingly through the wisdom that God gives me through them. At other times, I am rather astounded at how utterly unbiblical some preachers’ ideas are about ministry and/or theology.
Yesterday, I found the following question posted within a pastor’s discussion group on LinkedIn, of which I am a member:
How do you know whether your church numbers are dwindling for the right reason? Is it such a bad thing to examine and how would you go about doing it?…What are some healthy ways you can examine why your church attendance is decreasing? I framed it this way because I have heard it said from time to time that we shouldn’t be concerned about the numbers. I was thinking that we should check or assess that in a healthy way and not ignore it. Sometimes we, as leaders, may be blind to things.
That is a valid question. I feel it is quite appropriate for a pastor to pose such queries to their peers, and to solicit feedback regarding issues that pertain to the proper tending to God’s “sheep.”
Shouldn’t a “shepherd” be concerned about the expansion of God’s Kingdom? Of course, they should. Well, then shouldn’t a pastor monitor issues such as congregation size, attendance, and both new memberships and departures? Of course, they should! What good shepherd in a pasture or hilly field would fail to pay attention to the numbers, to ensure that there is none missing from among the flock given to his care? Here is what Jesus said about such things:
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.“
(Matthew 18:12-13, NKJV, Words of Jesus in red)
Notice that the “normal” condition for a good pastor is to count the sheep, and to ensure that none is lost. That is godly, and certainly biblical for pastors of God’s people as well.
However, as I perused the responses from other pastors/ministers within the group, I was astounded by how few of them cited Scripture when answering the man’s question. The responses were generally in regards to modern church “management techniques” and uses of technology and “ministry teams” to keep people from leaving the church through the “back door.”
While many of those responses had merit, what concerns me was the lack of biblical focus and reference. After all, what is the best “pastor’s handbook” ever written? Shouldn’t it be the Bible itself? If so, then why do many modern pastors “default” to what they learned through seminars and reading other books rather than consulting the Scriptures themselves?
So I chimed into the discussion with the following three posts. I am doing a direct copy/paste (with typo repair being the only edits) so that you can see exactly what I submitted to those men and women to ponder:
Rich Vermillion • Post 1 of 3: There are some good practical suggestions within this thread from the perspective of modern church management. However, let me interject in here the idea that perhaps we need to turn to the Bible for two key points about church growth that are OFTEN overlooked by shepherds these days (all citations from the NKJV):
Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
The Great Commission applies to all believers, including pastors. When we look at the great men of the last few hundred years whose ministries grew and touched nations (e.g. Luther, Bunyan, Spurgeon, Wesley, etc.) we find that all these pastors were soul-winners, and knew how to properly present the Gospel in conjunction with the Law (i.e. to contextualize grace). These preachers filled their pews with new converts, and that produced TRUE growth (i.e. verses swapping members with other churches).
Note: I did not name anybody who was primarily an evangelist above (e.g Whitefield), but those who were shepherds. I would suggest that pastors reading this should become students of these men’s writings, and learn how to be soul-winners as well. Another great source for good teaching along those lines are the free videos and downloads at these two links:
Downloads (audio MP3s): http://wayofthemaster.com/freeduplication.shtml
The teaching within the latter is especially beneficial, as they are longer and more in-depth.
Now to my second post…
Rich Vermillion • Post 2 of 3: Picking up with my next point…
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;”
The primary purpose of pastors is to “feed the sheep” (note Psalm 23 as well). Thus, soul-winning is the first part: But discipline the converts into mature Christianity is the logical next step. As a general rule, if you are feeding the lambs and sheep a proper diet (i.e. not merely the “motivational” hype that teaches little useful doctrine) then people will stay to be fed, unless called out to serve elsewhere in the maturity you helped them to achieve.
Now let me leave you a challenge in post 3…
Rich Vermillion • Post 3 of 3:
Picking up from where I just left off with the above two points, here is my challenge to you all:
You cannot take people where YOU have not first been, nor can you lead others into an experience that you have not yourselves experienced. Good pastoring is the natural outflow of a solid Christian walk in the life of a shepherd. That is why Paul emphasized character (integrity) in the pastoral epistles as qualifications for ministry. (Note: These are not only pre-requisites, but ongoing requisites that qualify a minister for continued ministry. Should ANY minister begin to fail in maintaining such a high standard of Christian character, they should tend to their own lives and family as a priority…even if they have to step down…in order to ensure that their foundations meet biblical standards for continued ministry.)
So in this same vein, let me close by providing you folks with three outstanding downloads (which I have on my own website) for you to consider. Regardless of your theological background/bent, you will find it nearly impossible to argue with any point that these three men made within THESE particular pieces (though you might argue with one or more of these preachers with regard to some of their other writings):
“Ordination Text” (a sermon delivered by Charles G. Finney to 14 candidates for ministry, which admonitions challenge me every time I read them): http://richvermillion.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/OE1842.Ordination.Text-Finney.pdf
“The Burden of the Word of the Lord” by Charles Spurgeon: http://richvermillion.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/TheBurdenOfTheWordOfTheLord.pdf
“Unconverted Ministers” by George Whitefield (a short, but certainly sobering message to ponder): http://richvermillion.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Unconverted-Ministers.pdf
I hope my proverbial “two cents” herein helps, and proves to be a blessing.
Always in Jesus,
It is certainly my hope that I have given these “shepherds” something substantial to consider, and that they are “chewing” upon what I have shared. After all, I do not know those men and women personally, and thus, can only give them the benefit of the doubt that they are genuine Christians who are called by God to be pastors of His people.
Nevertheless, here is my unspoken, but overarching point within the three posts I shared with them: With such widespread apostasy today—and many wolves of various heretical “packs” roaming the Church landscape—one has to wonder if at least PART of the problem therewith is the fact that many modern pastors are turning toward makeshift resources for counsel about their ministries OTHER than the Bible itself.
What did Paul tell young Timothy to do in order to establish his own ministry and to ensure success as a pastor? Here are his words, by the Holy Spirit:
Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
(2 Timothy 2:15, KJV, modernized by me for website translation purposes, emphasis mine)
But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(2 Timothy 3:13-4:5, NKJV, emphasis mine)
May many that read that discussion thread (and this article of mine) ponder this point well: If we are called by God to care for His “lambs” and “sheep” for which He shed His Own Blood to purchase…then we need to keep HIS “Pastor’s Handbook” before our eyes continuously. We also need to evaluate all modern extra-biblical ministry methods according to those same righteous biblical standards. After all…He will have us give an account one day for our stewardship:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
(James 3:1, NKJV)
For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:
“As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
(Romans 14:10-12, NKJV)
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
(Hebrews 13:17, NKJV)
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.
(2 Corinthians 5:9-11, NKJV)
I am not in the least bit “throwing out the baby with the bath water” in regards to the use of modern technologies and management techniques. In fact, I am thrilled whenever Christians learn how to adapt new technologies in order to reach more people (as I endeavor to do with all our websites).
However, I am VERY concerned that people are so distracted with such “modern” things that they have forgotten to consult the Bible, and to do the “basics” of godly pastoral ministry:
- Win the lost to Christ through a proper presentation of the Gospel through all available means and at all available venues.
- Disciple new Christians into maturity in Christ, while training them to evangelize and disciple others as well.
In fact, how many pastors these days actually teach the core doctrines found within their statements of faith? That would seem to be very basic, would it not? Yet, too many “churches” fail to consistently win new converts to Jesus Christ…much less teach them the fundamentals of the faith.
Lastly (and most importantly), if you are not a Christian…or if you are not sure if you are one…or you think you are, but do not have the matching “fruit” that tells others that you are in fact born again—then let me please ask you to read and ponder the most important article I have ever written, The Supreme Value of Righteousness, right away. And may God bless its words, and bless you therewith as well.
Do you have any thoughts on these matters? Whether you are a pastor or minister yourself (or not), your comments are welcome below. Feel free to share this post with others as well, in order to get people thinking (including your own pastor).
Always in Jesus,