Before my role as assistant to the Synod Executive at ECO, I spent three years a...
Passing on a piece of wisdom.
Bob Munger was a deeply loved mentor for many current West Coast Presbyterian pastors. He graced my life as a pastor to pastors at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church when I was a lowly intern, and then at Fuller Seminary in his core “Foundations for Ministry” course. Also a good friend of my wife’s family, he and Edie intersected our lives many times in their retirement years.
One of many pieces of wisdom from him I’ll never forget was his statement about the ongoing life of a congregation after a pastor retires.
“If, after I’ve retired from a church, the congregation begins to falter, then regrettably I’ll know my ministry was a failure.”
Bob taught us that successful ministry means reproducing ourselves in other disciples. In the life of the congregation we should be locating and nurturing those with various gifts for leadership and edification and helping to train and encourage them to take on greater responsibilities in shepherding the flock. The day we leave our role as “chief undershepherd,” there should be many who continue or even ramp up their existing roles in the congregation so that life among God’s people continues to flourish. In essence, looking long-term, pastors should be working themselves out of a job.
Ministry is only for the “experts.”
For a long time in the mainline church world, we have, unfortunately, adopted a model of professionalism that conveys the unspoken message, “Leave the ministry to the experts, who have been seminary-trained to ‘do this.’”
So, elders and deacons have carefully circumscribed roles that rarely prepare them for the robust ministry described in the New Testament, and other lay folk are relegated to ponying up the cash to bring in the professionals and watch them work.
Recently, two of my elders came to me saying,
“We would like to be trained to preach, and we think there are others interested as well.”
At first, I was taken aback. I interpreted their words as discontent with my ministry. Then the words of Bob Munger began to push through my fleshly response as I realized these were disciples asking me how they could be trained and nurtured to fulfill the stirrings in their heart. They didn’t want to head off to seminary; they wanted in-house training to expand the reach of our body through new opportunities. What a wonderful thing to celebrate!
Leaving our legacy as we build up new leaders.
One of the reasons I love ECO is that we have a growing pool of resources to help us train a new crop of leaders that God is raising up. We give this emphasis the title “leadership velocity” and are working to provide an array of avenues by which local churches can tap into training materials.
From the Elder Leadership Institute to “coach mentors” to the sharing of best practices among congregations linked together in Mission Affinity Groups to the online RightNow network available to ECO and Fellowship pastors and congregations, we have a wealth of resources to help in the training and encouraging all whom God is raising up for the vital work of the body of Christ. The only obstacle to this is our past mentality that this calling is “best left to the professionals.”
In reality, none of us is a professional when it comes to serving Christ. Our effectiveness depends primarily on our reliance upon and availability to the Holy Spirit, with the humility reflected in teachable hearts. In my congregation we have a long way to go in growing effective leaders – but by God’s grace, through the prodding of two of my elders, I think we are on our way!