Seeking God (Part 3): Prayer Posture

(For Part 1 click here)

(For Part 2 click here)

In this third and last of my three-part post on seeking God I want to elaborate on what Jeremiah 29:13-14 says about our prayer posture as we seek God.

Firstly, the Lord EXPECTS us to seek Him. In the verse the Lord says, “You will seek me.” It is not If you want to, or Should you want to, or I hope you will—it is, you will. God expects us to seek Him. Truth be told, God commands it. For what purpose? Primarily that we may know Him. And when we know Him we will know His will, and desire to align ourselves to Him and do His will.

Secondly, we are to seek God EXCLUSIVELY. That is to say, it is God and God alone who we are to seek. For new and young believers, especially those who have come out from other religions and hence, who have previously worshipped other gods, what this means is that there is no place for syncretism. Jesus is not one of the many gods that we worship. He is the only God whom we are to worship and seek. The problem of the Israelites during Jeremiah’s time was that they added the gods of the surrounding nations into their worship, and as a result they were led away from God. That was the principal reason the Lord judged the nation of Israel and sent the people into exile.

For those of us who have been Christians a little longer this may not be a problem. However, there may be a subtle and even greater danger—that we go seeking for counsel and help from elsewhere instead of seeking God first. Or we may run from one church to another or one conference to another—hoping to find some magic formula to lift our lives. The Lord says, “You will seek me.” Prayer must be the first, last and also undergird everything we do.

Thirdly, the Lord says, “seek me with all your heart.” That is, with the ENTIRETY of your heart, or wholeheartedly. Seeking God calls for effort and discipline. It is an effort of the heart—of wanting God, waiting upon Him, desiring to hear from Him and realigning ourselves to Him and His agenda.

A classic example in the Bible is Nehemiah. When we read his story and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem we often think of Nehemiah as action man. He was always doing something: evaluating, planning, strategising, giving instructions, even physically helping to rebuild the walls, contending with the opposition and dealing with rebellious people. If that is all we thought of Nehemiah—as action man—we have gotten him very wrong.

What was the very first thing that Nehemiah did when his brother told him of the sorry state of Jerusalem? Nehemiah 1:4 tells us, “When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” Nehemiah’s first response to the news was prayer and fasting. And when you eavesdrop into his prayer you can hear the depth of his feelings; how he sought the Lord with all his heart. It was during this four months of seeking God (four months had passed between Chapter 1:1 and 2:1) that he understood the heart of the Lord for Jerusalem. It was in his time of prayer when the Lord told Nehemiah what He wanted him to do.

This dovetails into the fourth element we find in Jeremiah 29:13-14. The Lord says, “I will be found by you.” That’s God’s promise, or the result of what happens when we seek the Lord with all our hearts. From another perspective—this is where faith kicks in. Earlier on we learnt that the Lord expects us to seek Him. Now, here is His promise—that we can expect to find Him, to hear from Him and to encounter Him. That is to say, pray EXPECTANTLY—pray with faith, believing we will see the Lord and hear from Him.

Lim Soon Hock Empowering Churches

Seeking God (Part 2): Importance of Alignment

(For Part 1 click here)

In the previous post I said that in order for us to do the God-thing, we need to hear from the Lord, and in order for us to hear from the Lord we need to seek Him.

The classic Scripture that is often quoted in reference to this is Jeremiah 29:13, “‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord….”

This was said in the context of a prophecy to the exiles about what they were to do while they were in Babylon and coupled with a promise that the Lord would bring them back to Israel (Jer 29:1, 4-9, 10-14). After the Lord had made known His plans to the exiles He then told them to “seek me.”

This whole scenario begs a question: why seek the Lord when He has already made His plans known to the exiles? It’s like knocking on your boss’s door when he had just told you what he wants you to do. If you did that you’d probably get an earful!

In the context of Jeremiah 29:13, obviously seeking God is not simply about hearing what the Lord has to say—they had just heard from Him. Seeking God in this case was about the exiles aligning themselves to Him and His purpose. It is one thing to know what the Lord wants—it is another thing to align ourselves to what He says.


Israel’s problem was not that they didn’t know what the Lord wanted. He had sent numerous prophets to bring them the “word of the Lord.” Israel’s problem was that she did not heed the word, and that was the reason for Jerusalem’s destruction and the Israelites taken into exile. The people were rebellious—they did not seek the Lord and align themselves to God and His purpose.

Patrick Morley (Man in the Mirror) says, “The turning point in our lives is when we stop seeking the god we want and start seeking the God who is.” An idol is precisely just that—a god we want, a god of our own making. And the Lord will not have us fashion Him after our own image.

“Seek Me” is still the word of the Spirit today no matter where you are in your spiritual journey. Whether you are a young believer or a mature Christian of many years. The same call also goes out to the corporate church—we must continually seek God so that we may not only hear what He has to say to us, but also that we may align ourselves to Him and His purpose.

Lim Soon Hock Empowering Churches

(For Part 3 click here)

Rooting for the Small Church!

What is the place of the small church? Should we hypothesise that all churches are meant to grow, and therefore, we must do all we can to breakthrough the barriers that keep a small church from growing?

Or, should we say that the small church has its place and accept that, “My church is, and shall remain, a small church”?

Or, after having evaluated our church we come to the conclusion, “Although we may be a small church, we are nonetheless effective.” Now, (and please do not think that I am being insensitive or negative) if we are effective why then are we not growing? Are there valid and happy reasons?

I don’t have the statistics, but from my observation most of the churches in Malaysia are small. (I wish our national and denominational bodies will do more statistical studies so that we can have a better picture of the state of the Church in Malaysia). By definition a small church is numerically under 200 people; from babies to senior citizens (or as someone once said to me, “We count everything that moves!”). Using this metric, depending on who you quote, 80-90% of the churches in the US are small churches. My guess is that, it is probably the same in Malaysia. If we were to add all the churches in the small towns and villages in both Peninsula and East Malaysia they will certainly make up a very large  percentage of churches in the country. Even in the urban centres most of the churches are small.

There is no shame in being small.

All churches started small! Unless a large church decided to send out more than 200 people to start a new church plant; which has been done before, but it is not the norm. Hence, we are not to despise humble beginnings. However, note that it was never the intention of the parent church or the new church plant for it to remain small. It was planted to win more people to the Lord and to add them to the church. Churches that have lost its passion need to recapture the spirit and vision of those early pioneering days.

There is a huge difference between a small dynamic church that is making impact in its community and even beyond, and a small inward-looking church whose main focus are the needs of the members and trying to survive till Jesus returns.

There are good reasons why a church should remain small, and there are wrong reasons for a church to remain small. Below are some valid reasons:

  1. The community where the church is located, serves and is trying to reach with the Gospel is small; such as a small town or village. Even if the church is located in a large urban centre, the particular ethnic group that it is attempting to reach may be small; such as a migrant community.
  1. The church leaders believe that a small church is stronger relationally, can attain a higher level of member-participation, and achieve greater effectiveness in outreach. In other words, remaining small is a philosophy of ministry where growth is an objective. An outcome of such a philosophy would be church planting. Instead of growing into a large church, the parent church keeps on training and sending its members out to plant new churches. This is called extension growth. Or, the main church starts new ethnic-language congregations. This has been termed bridging growth. An example is when a Malaysian English-speaking church spawns a Tamil- or a Myanmarese-speaking congregation.
  1. Most pastors (and church leaders) are not large church leaders. Fewer still are megachurch pastors. If that is the case then, it is better to have many small churches that have pastors who are able to lead with vision and passion for growth and multiplication, than to load them with guilt that they are not growing their church into a large church.
  1. Small churches are easier to manage and lead. And if most pastors don’t have the capacity to lead large churches, it is best to accept our God-given abilities and work with small churches. Some people think that pastoring a mega church has built-in advantages because it has mega resources. But as I once heard Daniel Ho (former Senior Pastor of DUMC) say, “…we also have mega problems!” And not every (read, “most”) pastors (or lay leaders) are able to handle mega challenges.
  1. Some people don’t want to go to a large church. They prefer the I-know-everyone-in-the-church kind of atmosphere and where the pastor is everyone’s personal shepherd. Should the church grow too big for them, they move out to a smaller church.

Small churches are here to stay—and for good reasons. The thing is, we need to ensure that our church is small for the right reasons, and never at the expense of fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

Staff Meeting

When a pastor has other staff working together with him (or her) he should, inevitably, have regular staff meetings. It baffles me when I come across churches that don’t do that. And unfortunately some of those who do don’t do it well.

Why do we need staff meetings?

The twin reasons are, to gel the team together and to put everyone on the same page. There is nothing like a shared time together as a team. Information may be passed from the leader to the others individually, but it will not foster team spirit. However, if the whole team were to think through (and pray through) issues together it would inculcate ownership and create resonance.

“Without a regular staff meeting, you will be like soloists who belong to an orchestra but who never have a rehearsal. They end up without harmony and without beautiful, heart-lifting concerts.” (Harold J Westing, Church Staff Handbook, p144).

In the church office there are two kinds of staff meetings.

  1. Staff Group Devotions

Some churches have it once a week, on the first day of work-week. Some have it every day, which I think might be too often. In a former church where I was the Senior Pastor we had it twice  a week, on Tuesdays (first day of work-week) and Fridays.

Typically it was in three parts: worship in song, devotional sharing from the Word and prayer. Everyone is put on a rota to lead in the singing or to share the devotions. Usually the prayer segment is preceded by sharing of personal prayer needs, church members’ needs known to us, upcoming church events and national issues.

This regular time together is certainly important for people who work in the same office. And if the church staff cannot model this, we certainly cannot expect it of the rest of the ministry teams in the church. Furthermore, to quote an adage (with some modification), the staff that pray together stay together. 

  1. Pastoral/Ministry Staff Meeting

In medium-size to large churches that have three to seven pastoral/ministry staff one set meeting a week should be the norm. In mega churches with a few levels of pastoral and ministry staff there will be further divisional or departmental meetings, and including the top level SPO (Senior Pastor’s Office) comprising of the Senior Pastor and a few of the most senior members of the pastoral team.

There are so many things that may be brought to the table at the pastoral staff meeting that we can easily miss the forest for the trees. It is important to keep the main purposes of the meeting constantly in focus:

  • Informing. To bring everyone up to speed on what’s going on in the church and ministries.
  • Uniting. To discuss issues and get everyone on the same page. Reading and discussing a church ministry book together will help the team develop a common philosophy of ministry. This is critical in church work (read my blog on Know Your Philosophy of Ministry dated 27 Aug 2017).
  • Evaluating. To evaluate how the church is doing and determine what needs to be done to correct and to advance.
  • Planning. To work out the plans and steps to do what needs to be done
  • Acting. To assign responsibility to one of the pastoral staff to take action.

Regular and well-led staff meetings are important because they have a rippling effect on the well-being of the church. The lead pastor needs to sharpen his tools to do a good job with this.

Sabbatical for Pastors (Part 3): Policy

(Click on the link to Part 1 and/or Part 2 if you have not read them.)

One of the reasons churches don’t give Sabbaticals to their pastors is because they fear that it would be wrongly or unwisely used. The best way to make sure that everyone is on the same page is to draw up a comprehensive Sabbatical Policy; to provide clear guidelines and expectations from both the pastor (eg. how he is to utilise the sabbatical leave) and the church (eg. what support it would give the pastor).

Below are important items that a church leadership should deliberate when drawing up a Sabbatical Policy.

  1. Who is entitled to a Sabbatical?

Are all church staff entitled to sabbatical leave or is it only for  pastoral staff? Are part-time and ministry staff eligible or is it only for those who are full-time and hold senior pastoral positions?

2. When can a pastor apply for a Sabbatical?

After three, six or ten years of service? For a very long tenured pastor, can he* apply for a second and subsequent lot of sabbatical leave?

(* All reference to the male gender shall also apply to the female.)

3. What is the duration of the Sabbatical?

Is the duration of the sabbatical leave the same for all or does it commensurate with the seniority and role of the pastor?

4. What is the purpose of Sabbatical?

This needs to be stated clearly as it will determine what the pastor is expected to be doing during his sabbatical.

5. What should the Sabbatical programme include?

Should it include formal study and training? Visits to other churches and learning from other more senior ministers? Personal reflection and retreats? How much time should he give to the different parts of his programme including time with his family and physical rest?

6. What is expected from the pastor following his Sabbatical?

Is he expected to write a report of his Sabbatical? Is he obligated to serve the church for a certain period of time upon his return? What happens if he resigns during or following his Sabbatical?

7. When and how is the pastor to make his Sabbatical application?

When should the pastor submit his application for sabbatical leave? When should he submit his proposed programme? To whom is he to submit his application and proposed programme? Is his Sabbatical subject to mutual agreement and approval by the church leadership?

8. What support will the church give to the pastor when he goes for his Sabbatical?

Will the pastor be given his full pay? Will his expenses for study, training and retreats be borne by the church? Will the church provide additional finances for a family holiday? (to Disneyland?)

Obviously I have my thoughts on the above questions that, in my estimate, would form good and fair parameters of a Sabbatical Policy, but I shall, at this time, leave it unsaid except for a couple of things.

One, I would not lump sabbatical with study leave. They are not the same thing. Their respective purposes are different. A study leave is for the pastor to pursue further formal study or training, and this is usually done in a theological school. A pastor’s Sabbatical is to afford him time for personal renewal in body, soul and spirit, and not forgetting, the all-important family time. I agree that the programme should include some study time, but it is not to be a pursuit of a higher academic qualification. And, as some of my readers have pointed out to me; a Sabbatical is not a holiday. I certainly agree. It’s a time to recharge the batteries.

The only other thing I want to mention is that the pastor must make himself accountable to the leadership about how he has used his Sabbatical. This is one way of allaying concerns over misuse. It is a simple matter for the pastor to write a short report on how he has spent his time during his sabbatical leave. What he did, how each component of his Sabbatical programme has helped him, and what he might be bringing back to the church that will be a blessing to them. (Please note that the pastor would have had already submitted a proposed programme which would have then been agreed upon by the church leadership before he went on his Sabbatical.)

Bottom line: I really believe Sabbaticals are good for both the pastor and the church.

Sabbatical for Pastors (Part 2): 7 Reasons

In Part 1 of my blog post on Sabbatical for Pastors I shared my findings on how widely (or rather, uncommonly) this is practised among churches in Malaysia. In this follow-up post I’ll give you my reasons for rooting for Sabbatical for Pastors.

The main contention against Sabbaticals is that, well, the rest of the people in the church don’t get one where they work (unless they are professors in an university). So, why should pastors get one?

What most don’t realise is that a pastor’s work is one of the most emotionally, mentally and spiritually taxing jobs in the world. For that, they need a Sabbatical to revitalise them, that a short vacation cannot do. They need an extended time away from an environment that drains them; and to spend that time in a different environment that can provide them with renewal in their body, soul and spirit. (By the way, I think that others like social workers and psychiatrists should also get sabbatical leave.)

Many cannot appreciate that the pastoral ministry is that demanding. They contend that someone who is responsible for hundreds of employees and accountable to shareholders and Boards for the bottom line has an equally (if not, more) stressful job. It is not my intention to get into a debate over this. However, I am yet to hear anyone who had moved from his or her “secular” job to become a full-time pastor say that the latter is less stressful than the former. In fact, the reverse is more accurate. Some have even secretly entertained the thought, “Why did I give up my job to work in the church?” (I know I did! And probably more times than I want to admit.)

Someone wrote to me after reading my previous post: “Israel didn’t give the land sabbatical rest for 490 years as God had commanded. This resulted in 70 years of exile; one year for every seven years.” Now, that’s a thought for us to think on.

Here are my reasons churches need to give their pastors sabbatical leave:

  1. The pastor’s job often takes a toll on him* emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The Sabbatical is to give time to the pastor for personal renewal in all departments of his life. (*This also applies to female pastors, and the following statements should be read accordingly.)
  2. The pastor’s job not only takes a toll on him but also on his whole family in the same three areas mentioned above. It is not unusual for the wife and the children to be affected even more than the pastor. The Sabbatical in part is to give time for the pastor to have more quality time with his family.
  3. A properly utilised Sabbatical will empower the pastor for future ministry. A well-rested person (in body, mind and emotions) is obviously better able to handle the challenges of the pastoral ministry than one who is running on empty (or even, half-empty).
  4. A spiritually renewed pastor afforded through a Sabbatical will be able to provide better spiritual nurture and leadership to his church when he returns.
  5. The study and training acquired during the Sabbatical will further equip the pastor to serve his church.
  6. The pastor and his family will feel loved and affirmed when the church understands their pastor’s and family’s needs. Giving their pastor a Sabbatical shows in a tangible way that they do.
  7. It provides an opportunity for the leaders of the church to rise up to fill the gap during the pastor’s absence. In a larger church where there are multiple pastoral staff, it provides an opportunity for the second-man to step up. A step, perhaps, towards succession planning.

My four months Sabbatical in 2000 when I serving at Georgetown Baptist Church was possibly the best I’ve ever had. I started my Sabbatical browned-out from ministry and running-on-empty (or rather, running-on-reserves). I returned refreshed, changed and better equipped for ministry. Even my preaching style changed! The Sabbatical led to the best and most fruitful seven years of ministry ever at GBC!

Read the next blog post on what to include in a Sabbatical Policy. The need for this is to prevent misunderstanding and to give clarity on what a pastor’s sabbatical leave entails.

Sabbatical for Pastors (Part 1)

Wow! Was I surprised by what I found out about sabbatical leave for pastors among Malaysian churches. I thought it was fairly widely practised; at least among the English-speaking churches. After all, in the two churches that I served both of them had clear policies and arrangements for my Sabbatical! I guess I should thank the Lord that I had been among the privileged few!

The survey I conducted will certainly not qualify as “scientific research”. I simply messaged some of my Christian friends and pastors to do a quick survey with the following questions: 1. Does your church give sabbatical leave to your pastor? 2. If so, a) After how many years of service? b) How long is the sabbatical leave? and c) Is there a policy that guides what the pastor should do during his Sabbatical?

From the responses I received I understand that pastors in the mainline churches are given sabbatical leave; and the policy is set at the denominational level. However, among the evangelical (and charismatic) churches there does not seem to be any. Definitely not at the denominational level. And if a church has such an arrangement for its pastors, it is through its own initiative. The numbers for this, however, are comparatively few. Non-denominational churches practise this even less.

I had thought that the above scenario was because the Church in Malaysia is relatively newer compared to the Church in the West. I was again terribly surprised. Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, and a respected church consultant and researcher in the United States estimates that only 5% of the churches in the US have Sabbatical arrangements for their pastors.

Back to the Malaysian Church scene; among the mainline churches a pastor may be granted sabbatical leave after he (or she) has served for between five to ten years (depending on the denomination). In one denomination the pastor is allowed to apply for subsequent Sabbaticals after every seven years of service. Another denomination, however, limits the total number of Sabbaticals a pastor is allowed to take to two. As for the length of the sabbatical, it ranges from three months to a year, depending on the denomination.

With regards to what the pastor is supposed to do during his Sabbatical, I am told that for one denomination the pastor gets to decide what he wants to do (I presume he would have to submit his proposal for agreement or approval by his leadership team or the person he is accountable to). In a couple of other denominations the Sabbaticals are more like study leave; where a pastor is expected to enrol in a Seminary (or equivalent) to further his training; which is usually translated into more than a year of post-graduate studies.

That’s the brushstroke of the practise of Sabbaticals for pastors in Malaysia (among the English-speaking churches). In short, it is not widely-practised and when it is the purpose is usually associated with further theological education.

Go to Part 2 where I tell you why I believe Sabbaticals for pastors are necessary.

The Misunderstood Ephesians 4:11-12 (Part 2)

In Part 1 I wrote about how the church has continually misunderstood the role of God’s gifted-persons such as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (or, pastor-teachers). The wrong understanding is: Since they are gifted by the Lord then they should be the ones to do ministry, while the rest of the church just sit back and soak. Ephesians 4:11-12, however, teaches to the contrary. The right understanding is: The primary job of the gifted-persons is to empower; it is the job of all in the church, who have been thus empowered, to do ministry. In this way the body of Christ is built up.

Alright, so we now know what the gifted-persons are to empower God’s people for. The follow-up question is: What is the former to empower the latter with? A misunderstanding of the former usually leads to a misunderstanding of the latter.

It’s apparent that we can only empower another person in the area that we ourselves have the ability or talent. A non-musician can’t teach someone to play the piano. A drummer can’t teach someone to play the saxophone. To state the obvious, only a bassist can teach a guitarist how to play the bass.

As it is in the natural; so it is with the spiritual. We can only empower others to do what we ourselves have been gifted to do. The apostle, among other things, pioneers ministries. Correspondingly, when raising up leaders in the body of Christ, his job is to empower others, for example, to plant churches or to start new Christian ventures.

As for the prophet, he is to train believers to hear and to speak a now word from the Lord. The evangelist is to raise up the people in the church to effectively share the Gospel with unbelievers. The pastor is to train the members in the body to provide pastoral and spiritual care for one another (and also for those outside the church). And the teacher is to teach others how to teach the Word of God.

It doesn’t mean that these gifted-persons don’t do ministry with their giftings. If they had not, they would not have gotten to know their gifts and ministry, and to develop them to the extent that they are now able to pass them on to others.

In fact, they rightly never stop exercising their gifts. The evangelist still evangelises the lost and the pastor still nurtures people in the faith. They still have to walk their talk; and not just talk about how they used to walk! More than what they had done, it is what they are doing that gives them credibility as they train others. It is from their current experiences of ministry that they can best illustrate and inspire others to do what they are doing.

I like what John Maxwell says in his Leadership Bible. I think it might be appropriately called “Multiplication Maxims”. They are stated in the first line of each point, and I follow-up with a bit of my own commentary.

  1. It takes one to know one. We tend to see what we possess ourselves.

It is not that we can never see what others have if we don’t have it ourselves. But it would be true to say that we can more easily recognise something in someone because we know what it looks like in us. Furthermore, we are able to evaluate the degree of the gifting and its potential for development.

  1. It takes one to show one. We cannot model for someone what we haven’t done.

I am stating the obvious: Nobody can teach what he doesn’t know. He won’t be able to explain it nor show how something is done when he has never done it himself. We can only model for others how to operate in a certain spiritual gift or ministry when we have experience in doing it ourselves. Besides the issue of ability it is also about credibility.

  1. It takes one to grow one. We cannot train someone until we’ve done it ourselves.

This kind-of-follows Maxim No. 2 about modelling. This is about training. And the more we have developed the gift and ministry the more we will be able to grow others in these areas.

Clearly, when a church puts into practise Ephesians 4:11-12 it will have many more people with an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching giftings and ministry (though, in varying degrees). Imagine how more effective the church would be when that happens.

The Misunderstood Ephesians 4:11-12 (Part 1)

Ephesians 4:11-12 is about one of the most misunderstood Scripture. Misunderstanding and misapplying it do not muddy-up our doctrinal beliefs but they certainly impede our effectiveness in building the church.

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of  service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Whether there are four or five gifted-persons (I am being gender-sensitive) is not the concern of this post. Whatever your interpretation, you still have God’s gifted servants functioning as pastors and teachers; as a combo or separately.

The first misunderstanding I want to raise concerns their role. What do they do? What are they supposed to be doing according to this Scripture?

Many would say, the job of the apostle is to plant, organise and oversee churches. It includes laying a Biblical-strong foundation for these churches, and also to raise, train and appoint leaders who will eventually take leadership of these churches.

As for the prophet, his (or her) job is to bring a now word of the Lord to the church and to the world. The evangelist is to preach the Gospel and win the lost to Christ. And the pastor-teacher, is to provide spiritual nurture to the converted, which includes teaching them the Word of God.

It is simply logical to expect a particular spiritual gift to naturally lend itself to a corresponding ministry. However, to say that the above descriptions are then their jobs is to miss the point of Ephesians 4:11-12. If we asked the second question, “What are they supposed to be doing according to this Scripture?”, we will get a totally different answer.

Verse 12 states that the job of these gifted-persons are “to prepare God’s people”. To put it succinctly, in the context of your local church: The job of the pastor-teacher is to equip and empower the members. Does the pastor provide spiritual nurture and teach the Word of God? Of course, he does. But that is not his primary role. His primary role is to equip and empower the members.

To what end? “…for works of service.” The gifted-person’s primary job (or ministry) is not to do ministry but to prepare God’s people to do ministry. Unfortunately in too many churches they expect the pastor or the hired-hand to do all the work! From preaching, counselling and visitation to driving the van, printing the bulletin and being the key-man (literally).

If that is the culture of a church then what we have is just one man serving the rest of the body. Or, a bunch of paid staff serving the church. This is certainly not the body-ministry envisaged by the New Testament, where all the members of body builds up the whole body. Furthermore, 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others also”, is not going to happen. Multiplication is not going to take place.

Now, part of the problem is the gifted-persons themselves. Unfortunately, many among them also have a misunderstanding of their own role. They believe, like so many others in the church, that they are the ones to do the ministry. “That’s my job!” “I’m the one with the spiritual gift; so, I’m to do the ministry!” In fact, for many, their identity is so tied up with their ministry that they cannot give it away—by empowering others to do “their ministry”.  They can’t see themselves doing “less” by empowering others to do “more”.

The awesome truth is that the body of Christ, the church, is only going to be built up when every member does ministry. It’s the kind of ministry ethos that says, ministry is not to be left to just the specially gifted-persons, but to be expected of all. The former is to focus on empowering the members—so that the latter can do ministry. In turn, the gifted-person is freed up to from having to do a lot of hands-on service and give more time to equipping, guiding and mentoring their mentees. Hence, effectively, multiplying themselves. That’s the import and genius of Ephesians 4:11-12 which both the pastor and members must heed if we are ever to see the church built up.

We now know what these gifted-persons are to empower God’s people for. But what are they to empower them with? The answer will surprise you. That’s the other misunderstood item about Ephesians 4:11-12. Click here for Part 2. 

Bringing Change Without Being Shown the Door!

Recently I watched Thom Rainer’s webcast (CEO of Lifeway & a church consultant) on the reasons pastors get moved out (or made to move out) from the church they had been serving. One of the big reasons was because the pastor had led change too rapidly. Another reason, although not among Rainer’s big four, is because the pastor had led change too slowly.

It is not surprising that when too much change is made too quickly there will be resistance. If these are leaders or influential members the pastor can expect a pushback. It may even cost him his job. Change is a necessity. All churches must continually make changes if they are to progress (read my blog “Change or Plateau”, 9 Jan 2018), but pastors need to be wise on how fast and how much change to introduce without incurring pushback; and instead, get a buy-in.

I like what Rainer said about a leader: He is someone who is leading sufficiently out front, but not so far out that he is mistaken to be the enemy and gets shot in the rear!

On the other hand, if a pastor doesn’t make any changes, or ever so painfully slowly, it will, inevitably hinder the development and growth of the church. The church may even fall into decline. Members who want to see the church go on an upward advance will leave and look for another church that they can channel their passion. For others in the church, a mix of lethargy and dissatisfaction will set in. In the United States, the pastor may be asked to leave because of his poor leadership. In Malaysia, from my observation, I don’t think this often happens.

Bringing change, especially in the context of a church, is one of those things which is not going to please everyone. Whether too fast or too slow it will have its detractors. Is there such a thing as the right pace? Yes, but it is not a one-size-fits-all. For one church, a certain kind of change may be too fast, while for another church it may be too slow. Too fast, too slow or just right depends on a number of factors:

  • How much is the church used to change?
  • What is the magnitude of the change on the “Change Richter-scale” for the church?
  • How much credibility does the pastor have with the church to initiate change?
  • How much is the leadership team with the pastor and with this particular change?

On top of the above the pastor still needs to bring change wisely so that the change will not cause a fallout in the church but will bring about the desired results. In order to do this the pastor must be able to:

  • Get a buy-in from the whole leadership team and other influential people.
  • Communicate to the church early and frequently on the why, what, where, who, when & how.
  • Listen to feedback from other leaders and church members.
  • Cultivate a culture of change in the church.

I learnt all this from the school of hard-knocks. I have pastored two churches, and in both churches I introduced changes. In one I successfully brought about changes that enabled the church to move forward. In the other I wasn’t so successful, and was shown the door. The former was ready for change; the latter was not. If I had known then what I know now maybe things might have been a little different in the latter church. 🙂