What are you doing differently in pastoring, preaching, leading, etc. than you did 10, 15, or 20 years ago? What prompted you to make these changes, and what results are you seeing from these adjustments?
In regard to preaching, after 38 years of being a pastor, I’ve realized that having people mature in the Word is of more value than having a church full of people that are still babies. I don’t preach what I think will bring them back, but what will take them deeper in their walk with God. Also, for me to be assured that my preaching is not successful because people like it, but because it’s based on the Word and it’s what I felt the Lord wanted me to share.
In regard to leading, it’s taken me a long time to come to the understanding that success is not based on what the world or even the “church” defines as success, but what God has told me to do. Leading is difficult because it involves people. Leading, as a pastor, is to lead the congregation to the Word and to share it in a way that lets them know that you care about their spiritual development, but then knowing that it’s up to them to carry it out. Be there to help, but the responsibility for them to put it into practice is not mine.
Putting these thing into practice, the best I can, has made pastoring more stress-free, and it’s allowed me to see the people that I pastor be more self-sufficient in their walk with God. Many have laid down their bottles and are now wearing pants, at least pull-ups, instead of diapers. :-)
There’s so much more I could share with this topic with it being something that is close to my heart, but let me say, especially, to the young pastors. DO NOT put the church before your family. It’s your relationship with God that’s first, your relationship with your family that’s second, and your ministry third. NEVER get those “out of whack.” All through your life, build memories with your family first. There will be a day that your family will be all that you have, should Jesus tarry. Also, don’t just build acquaintances; build friendships. Lester Sumrall once said at the closing of his life, “I have many acquaintances, but I only have 5 friends.”
Ministry can be a lonely occupation. Take time to build friendships.
What I am personally doing today differently than what I did 24 years ago is that I no longer micromanage our leadership and volunteers. I’ve discovered that this really suffocates them and prohibits them from allowing their gift and talent to shine forth in a genuine way. I’m also more patient with our congregation. Congregation members will always be imperfect, and my goal as a pastor is to preach and teach God’s Word and have faith in the Holy Spirit to do the work in the lives of the congregation and as a result, strive towards perfection.
I believe that as ministers, we need to grow and change as the Holy Spirit directs and learn new and better methods, i.e., learning how to communicate better, learning how to lead better. If we ever stop growing and learning, we will stop having influence in people’s lives. Something I put into practice in my 30+ plus years in the ministry is to keep a teachable attitude. So what am I doing differently than I was 2 years ago?
- I have shortened my messages. I used to preach for one hour or more. Than a wise man told me; “The mind can only take what the seat can endure.” (George Kibben—my dad) I have shortened my messages to 30 – 40 minutes.
- I began doing outlines for the congregation. We have a Power Point presentation and now the congregation can go to YouVersion and the sermon outline is downloaded there as well. I used to think doing this would hinder the Holy Spirit, but I have learned it can enhance what the people are receiving. I also have come to realize that there are three different types of learners (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic).
- I have learned to delegate more to staff and other leaders and to trust the giftings that God has put on the inside of them. If I lay out the vision of what I want done, then I need to trust not only them, but the Holy Spirit in them to carry out what I feel the Lord has given me.
- I have learned to empower those I lead—particularly other leaders. We have monthly staff enrichment meetings. We, as a staff, read through a book over a year’s time and then we discuss them at set staff meetings each month. These books are usually on leadership and how we can become better leaders.
- I have learned to have fun and not take ministry and life so seriously. When I first started out in the ministry, I was pretty somber and thought I had to be serious all the time. People looking at me probably thought I didn’t enjoy what I was doing. I have learned to laugh at myself, enjoy life and ministry, and not take myself so seriously.
- I have learned to draw more from my peers in the ministry, and even those on my staff. Again, I realize I can’t do everything. I have a gentleman on my staff that is excellent at conflict resolution, so I have had him sit in on sessions with others to help settle the conflict.
These are just a few things that I have changed and learned over the past 30+ years in ministry, and I said earlier, I am still learning how to be a better person first of all, and a better pastor secondly.
When it comes to changes in our church, we have made a lot over the years. Some are bigger and more significant than others; nevertheless, we continually look for ways to do what we do in a better way. Big changes, like major purchases, relocating, or adding ministries that will have to be maintained for a long time are fewer and usually require more time to count the cost and seek the Lord’s direction. Minor changes happen all the time. For example, tweaking the service order, communications, verbiage, staff roles, décor, and assimilation pathways.
Here are a couple changes we have made that have helped.
- A few years back, we had a Sunday morning service schedule of 9:00 and 11:00. The first service was generally half full, while the second was full. After a staff member suggested on multiple occasions that we move them both one half hour later, I finally considered it as a viable option. After we switched to 9:30 and 11:30, the services immediately, without asking anyone to move, evened out. Each service had that “full feeling” while there were still plenty of seats. This contributed to our growth.
- We used to have a set of classes that served as a pathway to involvement in the church. It took a few months to complete. Although the material was excellent and there were positive testimonies that came out of it, we found that many people didn’t complete the process and it wasn’t producing the results we wanted. We completely changed what we were offering and turned it into a three-part series that included lunch. Now people can quickly connect and join one of our teams. We offer some of the other material in separate optional classes and small groups. We think people can grow while serving in the church (leadership and teaching roles are hand-selected, anyway). This works better.
In order to answer this question properly, one would have to write a book or two, as we are always learning and growing in ministry, but I will attempt to take one example of change that has brought about great fruit.
In 2005, I was flipping through the TV channels on a Saturday morning when suddenly a woman reading tarot cards was on our local station. This angered me, as at that time in my country, it was impossible to even buy time for broadcasting as a Christian work.
As I began to pray, God spoke to my heart and said, “Prepare yourself. In the next year, you will be on this station proclaiming the Gospel.” As I thought about what he said (prepare yourself), I began to reexamine my preaching. I was not questioning my doctrine, but I began to really listen to how I was saying what I was saying.
The first thing I did was to begin to listen to my own messages. Most preachers shy away from doing this, but in all honesty, we expect our congregations to listen to us week for week.
I began to learn a lot about saying things in a way that was not only for “insiders,” but for those who know nothing about the New Testament. I believe this was one of the keys that made the ministry of Jesus so effective; He spoke to be understood.
In Matt. 13:19 Jesus said:
When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart.
Before this experience, I had understood this only from the perspective of the hearer (if he doesn’t want to understand, than the devil will steal the Word), but in my process of preparing for what was to come, I sensed the Lord impressing on my heart my responsibility to deliver the Word in a way which it can be understood by all who were hearing it and not only “the insiders.”
The Apostle Paul wrote to us concerning his own life and ministry:
1 Cor. 9: 19
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
I began to understand the importance of preaching to win (gain) people instead of just proclaiming truth. We can do both. One does not have to compromise truth in order to win people, but I also discovered I needed to work much harder on my preparation for my message so that I might minister to both the believer as well as the unbeliever.
This process changed the character of our services and the fruit has been wonderful. We began to ask ourselves with everything we do, whether it was the worship or the announcements or the preaching, was it understood by all? In our staff meetings, we began to openly talk about what we experienced in the service and help one another to become more effective. There is seldom a service where we do not have those who are coming to Christ and our church has a reputation in the community of being a place where everyone truly feels welcome and loved. In the country and culture where I live and minister, this is truly a miracle.
In conclusion, only nine months later, I was approached with the opportunity to begin broadcasting on that very same station and we have been broadcasting our services ever since then. In these last 13 years, we have never paid one cent to broadcast, as the broadcasting time is given to us by the government and each week we are speaking to thousands throughout the area. God is faithful.
Over the past 15-20 years, I have learned to communicate clearer and have designed my messages to more practical issues. This has helped my people to better understand my messages. As a result, I have had some great testimonies. Also, I no longer do any counseling. My assistant pastor does a great job [with counseling]. I enjoy special seminars on subjects of “leadership.”
The greatest help of all was increasing my time with Him. This has expanded my knowledge of the Word.
In response to these questions… wisdom comes with age!
1. BEFORE WE ARE MINISTERS, WE ARE CHRISTIANS. The most important factor is that before we are a minister, we are a Christian. Maintaining one’s own personal walk with God is the most obvious; however, it is easy to bypass what we know in the Word of God for others and live on stale manna ourselves. I have learned that no matter what may be calling my attention, time with God has to be first. Jesus never hurried into situations, and I have found living in a life of peace and not reacting to any given pressure (that can arise from nowhere) has to wait. My personal relationship with God is first from that all answers and sermons flow.
2. APPRECIATION. Appreciating the office to which God has you set in is very important. The Holy Spirit equips the office you are to fulfill. As time has gone on, I place my office before the Father regularly for spiritual health checks, possible transitions, and also corrections I may need to receive.
3. DIARY. Setting aside time to be updated with procedures that provide the church as a safe haven, and checking them more regularly for government updated laws that need to be complied with and communicating with leaders.
4. WHEN OTHERS GROW, DON’T HANG ON. In being mindful to raise up leaders, gifts in the church, traveling ministers, and those called to plant churches and letting them go, it’s very important that great relationships should remain with those moving on and away from the church you are pastoring. Help them recognize when it’s time for them to step out, and be there for them in personal support, finances, and materials to help them on their way; stay in relationship.
5. VERY IMPORTANT: In my opinion, if your season of ministry is changing, and you are currently pastoring a church, be careful not to move in the new anointing or next season’s equipment before the door is open to move into the new. The new equipment will not bless the church family. Each office has what it needs to supply to people.
6. WAITING. Waiting when you know change is imminent can be a challenge, but I’ve learned to enjoy change and appreciate the intricate workings of God whilst He communicates to us the place and people to which He is sending us. Focusing on His greatness keeps us celebrating just how big He is and our heart rejoices that we are part of His Body for His use—for whatever and whenever.
What are the results of the changes I have made? A very peaceful, content life in the ministry, and loving God and people more than ever.
I am not preaching more than 30 minutes on Sunday mornings. I teach in series so it is possible to be very accurate each week. This also leaves time for the Holy Spirit to minister to people. I have been spending more time with the men in our church and am see them rise up to lead others. I am also prompting others to teach on Wednesday evenings. Wow! They can teach!
During the early years of ministry, there was a push to build. Now there is a desire to ensure stability and to impart to the next generation.
The following are a few changes that I’ve made in my 34 years of pastoring:
The Lord instructed me to provide leadership training to those of our congregation to increase their effectiveness being a person of influence. Because of this training, we now have greater and highly developed leadership traits, qualities and character. I am glad I did it and would recommend leadership training to other pastors.
Law Enforcement Chaplaincy
The Lord opened doors for me in this arena. I have had many opportunities to minister to members of law enforcement, their families, and individuals in some of the hardest moments of their lives. I now train other chaplains as they serve and start law enforcement chaplaincies in their areas.
Time: I’m no longer doing the work for people. I give them an assignment or something they need to do, and when they do it I will spend more time with them. This change came as a result of my wife and I having a spirited discussion till 3 AM after a counseling session. I suddenly realized that we were up working hard on their marriage while they were sleeping. Unfortunately, the result of this change freed up our time but didn’t change many marriages. It’s been my experience that many people want you to do the work and pray for them.
Preaching: We are doing this series now. I realize that people only get a small percentage of what I preach. I spend hours searching the Scriptures and praying and eventually take 15 pages of notes and condense them down to one to preach for 35 minutes.
I remember being a young Christian and going to a church that was a Word of Faith church. Although the pastor preached on faith occasionally, I didn’t get enough of a foundation to know error. I started to listen to an anti-Faith preacher while going to a church that preached faith. I thought faith preachers were a cult. While playing baseball in Florida, I work for a gentleman that recorded Kenneth Copeland every morning and would listen to him every day at lunch. I would take my lunch and eat outside. One day I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked him why he listened to those ‘false teachers.’ He challenged me to listen to the teaching and said if there’s anything not in the Bible that he would stop listening to it. I agreed, and the first thing Brother Copeland said was about the preacher I was listening to. He told us what an awesome man of God he was and what an awesome work he was doing and encouraged us to pray for him. Then he went on to teach about speaking to the mountain. I was being taught that Brother Copeland was demanding God to do things. It was clear as I listened to this teaching that he was commanding the mountain to move and not commanding God. I realized two things: I wasn’t being told the truth, and the spirit behind what was being said from both people was polar opposites. I knew something about the love walk, and I watched Brother Copeland demonstrate it.
Leading (pray for me) – I speak to many pastors, and for the most part, it is the same all over: people aren’t as committed as they used to be. People aren’t as committed to the local church as they used to be. I live in the Northeast and people have to work many hours or two jobs to afford to live here and it doesn’t give them much time left over to serve the Lord. As I spoke to pastors in Florida, they said that people had a retirement mentality and were more concerned about leisure and vacation and he also had a hard time finding volunteers. I am still trying to figure out how to do all that God called me to do using volunteers. We had a soundman that worked from 6 AM to 6 PM delivering packages in apartment buildings in the Bronx with no elevators. He also had 3 young children. How much can I realistically expect from him?
One more adjustment I made deals with the issue of numbers. I know it is said often that it’s not about numbers, but it was to me. I am not satisfied if people aren’t coming into the kingdom and growing. I heard a preacher say something that really helped me. He was having a Friday night meeting and mentioned that there was a whole lot more people that God was leading to be at that meeting that didn’t value what was happening enough to come. I realized that I got credit for doing my part if I prepared the meal for all of the people that were supposed to be there. I get the credit as if they were there.
God didn’t call me to bring the increase just to be faithful.
I hope this helped and apologize if it seemed a little choppy. I spend time thinking about this while I am at work and use my break to type as fast as I can to get it done. Be blessed.
After 34+ years pastoring, the Lord has been very good to us over all of these years in every way. We have great faith in Him that He will continue. Fear and anxious times no longer affect us. We are comfortable in our own skins. We are not everything to everyone, but we are a born-again, Spirit-filled church and we know who we are in Jesus. What we teach and the moving of the Holy Spirit in the services helps the congregation grow and do well in life. People who visit, if they desire to grow, will learn about healing, the Holy Spirit, tongues, etc. We love everyone, and will minister to everyone, but we have protected the church with our bylaws concerning homosexuality, living together, etc.
Social media enables us to reach more people now. The website, Facebook, and emails open the door to many we had no access to. We write daily blogs that are well received. This too helps us to reach many more people. Wednesday night attendance has fallen off greatly. We will probably go to 3 classes on different topics to draw more people. I have prayed a great deal for and experience more and more a tangible healing anointing. We do one weekly healing service and are seeking the Lord if He would have us increase this.
I have more time now, as my son Adam is becoming the lead pastor in 2019. We will be in our new church by Christmas. The new church building is beautiful, visible from the interstate and will bring many new people (it took us 14 years to build this new facility). Things that they say turn off visitors—musty smells, old restrooms, etc.—will be eliminated. In the new church, there will be added security, including armed individuals. You do what you have to do to protect the congregation and the staff. Video screens, scriptures displayed, Bibles on cell phones, USB flash drives have changed how church info is disseminated. It seems to be for the better.
We have made a lot of changes in the last 20 years. The people we are trying to reach have changed. The demographics have changed. Everyone seems so busy today compared to 20 years ago.
- Pastoral Care: Twenty years ago, my wife and I tried to provide all of the pastoral care for our church members. That is just not possible. Today, the pastoral care is mainly provided through small groups. One of our mottos is, “We grow better in circles than in rows.” Small groups are part of the life of our church today. We tell them that we are not a church with small groups, rather, we are a church of small groups.
- Preaching: I think preaching is helped today by all of the resources available to us. Twenty years ago, I had to haul an entire library to the pulpit if I wanted to use different translations. Today, we just put them up on the screen. Using modern translations and video has been a great change in my preaching. I have also shortened my messages. Today, I only preach for 25-30 minutes. We conduct multiple services so the entire service is about 70 minutes from start to dismissal. I also preach in shorter series. Anything over 4-6 weeks is long.
- Leading: I am working hard to constantly improve my leadership. I do a lot better job today empowering leaders to make decisions. In other words, they don’t have to run everything by me. Along with our vision, I also see the importance of constantly communicating our church’s culture. I don’t think I understood that very well 20 years ago.
Results: The results are good. Thank God our church is healthy and continues to move forward.