How to find renewal during the busy months
With 80 percent of all Protestant congregations plateaued or declining, “business as usual” doesn’t work as well as in the past. St. Paul in Romans 12:2 challenges us to “be continually transformed.” How will the Lord remold you this summer?
I first saw the words “I’m your new pastor” when used by Bryant Kirkland, a longtime Minister of the Gospel at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City and later the president of the American Bible Society. During the summer months of Kirkland’s pastorate, his associates and famous preacher friends filled his pulpit. Returning each year for his first Sunday in the autumn he would announce, “I’m your new pastor.” He further explained that because of his reading, sermon preparation and prayerful discernment he was not the same person and would have some different intentionality.
This phrase was also ascribed to John A. Huffman, Jr. who chaired the board of Christianity Today and served a large Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California. Huffman had scheduled to lead a summertime tour of Bible lands and planned to run for moderator of his denomination’s yearly assembly when suddenly one of his daughters became afflicted with a virulent form of cancer. The finest physicians seemed helpless. Instead of this competent leader carrying the church, the church members carried on the ministry. During and after this ordeal Huffman became a “new pastor” to his congregation and his community.
Similar patterns in secular life
A school teacher in her first year hoped her students would accept and like her, but the students “walked all over her.” Discouraged she told her colleagues that she was quitting. “Ridiculous,” they replied. She was willing to be coached in classroom discipline techniques. From the first moment of the new school year, students realized that a different teacher had emerged.
Similarly, unruly students can mature over the summer just as a sports team can develop new chemistry and cohesion from one season to the next.
Busier summers for many pastors
While some “big steeple” or megachurch preachers can break away for weeks or months at a time, most pastors have very full schedules in the summer months. One pastor related that his summer schedule included normal activities in addition to hosting a week of Vacation Bible School. Then there was also leading a week at a Christian camp, accompanying teens and adults on a mission trip and playing on the church softball team. Besides that, he was also attending his children’s sporting activities, mowing the lawn in between rain showers and making time for family vacations. Whew!
Times of refocusing for Jesus
According to the Gospel of St. Mark, the Holy Spirit literally “threw” Jesus into a time of refocusing as Satan tested him in the wilderness. Henri Nouwen in his book In the Name of Jesus translates Satan’s temptations into questions such as these:
1. Will you be relevant in the world’s eyes and show results? (Change stones to bread)
2. Will you strive for spectacular victories and live for applause? (Leap from the pinnacle of the temple)
3. Will you be a powerful leader? (Follow Satan/mammon)
His second pastoral shift followed John the Baptist’s imprisonment when Jesus became even more intentional. The third is recorded in St. Luke 9:53 when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.
Helpful questions when entering another season
1. Whose are you? (Claimed by Jesus)
2. Who are you?
3. What are your gifts and strengths?
4. What are your joys and passions?
5. When are you being “you”?
6. What if you ...
Balance going forward
Louis M. Savary and Patricia H. Berne, the authors of Prayerways, advise making parallel lists on a page. In the left column compile a list of individuals, activities and situations which drain your energy. These might include physical, psychological and spiritual “drainers.” In the right column list a number of sources which restore your energy: a walk, a good cry, calling a friend, recalling successes. Achieving a balance can revitalize a new chapter in ministry.
Sense of urgency
At events such as reunions, one hears of tragic accidents and strange diseases which greatly alter lives. Both the “super bugs” and the Scriptures call for a sense of urgency. “Now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)
Most things won’t change
Likely pastors will continue to reflect St. Paul’s advice to Timothy as he oversaw his congregation: Live above reproach, be sensible and do not fall into the condemnation of the devil. (1Timothy 3:2-7) However, in this next season pastors will likely discern when to say “No” to a few tasks and be led to take on a few new ones.
The most important leader
While pastors play important roles in their churches and communities, surprisingly their own pursuit for renewal and refocusing is not the most important thing. According to Colossians 1:18 Jesus is the head of the church. We human leaders are servants appointed to cooperate with Him. The future is bright when church leaders and members focus on Jesus.
How will the Holy Spirit remold you and change you for the autumn season?
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A broadly-trained church consultant, Jim Farrer is the founder of Vital Signs Church Consulting and a member of the Society for Church Consulting. A veteran of ministry positions in Canada and the U.S., he has trained leaders from 18 denominations and led seminars and coaching sessions nationwide. His articles have been published in the Journal of Evangelism and Missions and the Great Commission Research Journal. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 814 629-5211.
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