1. There’s only one savior of the church, and it’s not your pastor.
Hoping the pastor will “fix” the problems in a church is not only unfair, it is also unreasonable. I’ve often heard church leaders say, “If we could ever get the right pastor here, this church would really grow.” Waiting for a Pastoral Messiah to come save your church is forgetting that Jesus the Messiah has already come - and the power of His Spirit already lives in the believers of the congregation.
From time to time pastors can, unfortunately, take the place of God in people’s lives. Either they’re angry at God and take it out on the pastor, or else they give credit to the pastor instead of God for the deepening of their spiritual lives. We shouldn’t be in either place. Pastors don’t have all the answers, and we’re certainly not saviors of local churches. We’re just there to coach and direct the work of the laity, guided by the Holy Spirit.
2. The local church exists not for the local church, but for the community.
The longer I’m in ministry the more I realize that local churches that exist for themselves rarely have significant ministries. It’s not “what” churches do that really matters, but “why.” When churches exist to support their own ministries, they become like the factory that produces oil because it needs oil to run the factory. Jesus calls us to live beyond ourselves. Christ in us should lead to Christ through us. As Dan Dick shares in his insightful book Vital Signs, the healthiest churches don’t care as much about how many people attend worship as they do about how many people will be affected by the people who attend worship.
3. Pastors need feedback, but not glowing praise or ridiculous criticism.
Sometimes a new pastor arrives, the church grows, and the congregation gives the pastor credit for revitalizing the congregation (and unfortunately, many pastors gladly receive that credit). Taking recognition for what God has done is stealing glory from God. Other times, pastors receive unfair criticism when churches are struggling. In one church I served, a church leader shook my hand and said, “See all these new people? Just look what you’ve done!” In another church, I was just as uncomfortable when someone said, “If you put water in the baptismal font one more time, I’m calling the bishop’s office.”
I don’t think pastors should receive unfair praise or unfair criticism. Thank us when you appreciate something we’ve done, and give us tips for how we can be more effective in the future.
4. The most stable local churches have the most committed members.
Churches that take membership vows seriously are the churches that are making the most significant differences in their communities. In The United Methodist Church, members vow to uphold the church by praying for the church, showing up more just than a couple of times a month, making regular, financial gifts, serving in ministries and in leadership positions, and sharing their faith with others. I’ve actually talked people out of joining a church because they were not ready to commit to all five of these membership vows. I didn’t want them to misrepresent themselves before God and the congregation. When people are excited about what God is doing in a local church, these membership vows become not burdens, but blessings.
5. Even though members may not always get along or agree, you're still a family.
What frustrates me the most about pastoral ministry is when a family has one disagreement with something the church is doing and they leave to find another congregation. There’s only one perfect church, and if you’re reading this, you haven’t arrived there yet. We have disagreements with members of our family from time to time, but we don’t leave our family. Why, then, do people leave churches so readily? We’re the family of God. We’re the Body of Christ. The only way for one part of our human body to leave the rest of the body is through extreme (and many times unnatural) measures. I wish it were that way in local churches. We’re stuck together, and that’s a great thing, even if we don’t always get along.
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts