A few weeks ago, our church leadership team went on retreat. It was an important time of refocusing on the essentials, the most important aspects of church life.
"Mission drift" is an ever-present temptation. We get distracted by so many things: pushy people, the demands of running programs, the desire to avoid conflict, financial pressures, new opportunities that are oh-so-attractive even if they're not at the heart of our calling.
All of them can tempt us to shift our focus to secondary matters just for the sake of expediency. As Peter Drucker puckishly put it: "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."
For leaders, the never-ending task is "to keep the main thing the main thing." And our church leaders benefited from refocusing on our core calling. It put everything else in proper perspective.
In this issue of Leadership Journal, we are doing that for all of us in congregational leadership. If "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing," what is the main thing in ministry? Over the last few months, we've been asking dozens of church leaders that question, and the responses have been thoughtful and illuminating.
As you will see in the theme section of this issue, the answers are varied and nuanced, as any description of a complex role will be. But we also found simplicity at the core of the complexity. Our contributors identified five core tasks of ministry, out of which all the other elements of congregational leadership emerge.
Feed the sheep
Jesus, of course, gave this command to Peter, but it also applies to congregational shepherds. God himself said, "I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. 3:15). John Ortberg unpacks what feeding means for pastors today.
Guard the flock
The apostle Paul instructed church leaders to "keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers …. savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock …. So be on your guard!" (Acts 20:28-31). Gordon MacDonald describes how protection takes place today.
Discern the will of God
An ongoing part of both individual and corporate life as Christians is to "not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Rom. 12:2). Discernment of what is God's will in various situations falls to the church's leadership. And Ruth Haley Barton offers a snapshot of how that process can be handled wisely and well.
Leadership can be lonely, but it's never solitaire. By definition it means involving others to strengthen the body and continue the mission. "The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Tim. 2:2). Michael Cheshire describes what it takes to build the team.
Lead by example
Leading isn't just pointing the way, vision casting, or organizing. Leaders, for better or worse, embody the mission. It's "follow me," and people imitate what's modeled. Paul put it: "Set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Tim. 2:12). Peter instructed, "Be shepherds of God's flock … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3). Tim Morey describes pastoring by example.
These are the core elements of ministry. We hope this fresh presentation of the "grand essentials" will help you keep the main thing the main thing.
Marshall Shelley editor-in-chief
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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