Show me a spiritually healthy church and I’ll show you a spiritually healthy pastor. Show me a spiritually unhealthy church and I’ll show you a spiritually unhealthy pastor.
If you’ve been the pastor of your church for five years or longer, it’s time to stop blaming your predecessors, your circumstances and your congregation.
Like it or not, after five years, your church looks like you.
That’s a paraphrase of a teaching I heard a few years ago from the late Norman Shawchuck.
Norm wasn’t being confrontational when he said it, but he was blunt.
Was he right?
I think so.
(UPDATE: After posting this, a couple readers wisely pointed out that, if you’re coming into a church with a long history, deep dysfunction or one in a small community with a strong, shared culture, this timeline could stretch out much longer. As much as 10-15 years. I agree, and I apologize for not taking that into account in my first draft of this post.)
In fact, the smaller the church is, the more it applies. Because, in a small church, there are fewer (or no) layers between the pastor and the other church members.
It also applies more to newer churches, since there’s less history for members to draw from – no “we used to do it this way under pastor so-and-so” to blame.
Does that scare you, or encourage you?
A Responsibility and a Relief
Like it or not, most churches follow Jesus the way their pastor follows Jesus.
That’s a massive responsibility. But it can also be a great relief.
On the responsibility side, if my church looks like me, my failures are multiplied into the lives of the people God has entrusted to my care. That has to be one of the reasons the writer of Hebrews encouraged us that leaders “must give an account” (13:17) for those we lead.
On the relief side, it removes the pressure of having to perform. If my church looks like the pastor, then the primary way of having a healthy church is to have a healthier pastor.
Sounds like a win-win.
As Old as the New Testament
This principle is not a newfangled church growth idea from a leadership guru. It’s straight from the Bible.
Take a look at the requirements for church leadership in the New Testament. How many of them are about academic degrees, fund-raising acumen, facility construction or oratory skill? Not one.
New Testament church leadership qualifications are about personal holiness, family harmony, stewardship, spiritual growth, textual integrity, faithfulness and other similar, very personal matters.
God is more concerned about the character of church leaders than our professional skill-set.
First, because God is always more concerned about character than skill, not just in pastors. Second, because the personal, moral and spiritual character of the pastor will be directly reflected in the lives of those we’re closest to. And in a small church, that tends to be very close.
Something like this had to be on Paul’s mind when he told the Corinthians to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ,” (1 Cor 11:1) don’t you think?
Check the Mirror
So, here’s an idea for the next time we’re tempted to complain about the congregation we pastor.
If we’ve been the pastor for five years or longer (23 and counting for me) we need to ask ourselves these questions:
I’m not happy with my church, could that be a reflection on how I feel about myself?
If so, what part of my own spiritual development do I need to work on first?
If we become like the people we’re closest to, let’s start by getting closer to Jesus.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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