From around the globe, people tune in on Fletch’s warm and sound advice. He’s a friend and “church doctor,” bringing an objective perspective, broad knowledge and vast experience. Your question will get a personal reply from Fletch.
Hey Fletch … I’ve been a pastor for 15 years and I’m mentally dying. I’m at a place of intellectual stagnation. What can I do to get out of my muddle?
DRF—Perhaps the first 10 years of ministry were a challenge. Everything was new. You had plenty of ideas from seminary. Some of them worked and some did not. Then you began to coast. You knew what to do to have a good ministry. It thrived but you had lost the challenge. What should you do now?
First, improve your intake of material. Cut down your social media by 50%. Invest that time in reading. Read for pleasure and read for content. Don’t read only websites and news media that you agree with. Find 10 stimulating websites that offer radically different opinions than the ones you hold. Let them challenge you to “explain in a new way what you really believe.” Read books that are out of your genre—science fiction, the classics, mysteries, poetry and plays.
You are in a rut because the wagon wheels have been using the same road for a long time. Get out of the rut and think widely. In what you take in, process it through a Christo-logical lens. What do the gospels say about what you are reading?
Second, improve your out-take of material. Talk to people who are readers and learners. Write articles that have meaning and depth. Share with others what you are learning. When you speak in church, salt it with some of the outside sources that you are reading. Integrate the complexities of society into your messages. If you don’t overwhelm people and sound like an ivory tower academic, people will respond!
Hey Fletch … If I were to put our problem in one line, I would say, “People are not leaving our church but they haven’t bought into our vision.” Could you give some advice?
DRF—Tami and I were visiting a church today. It had a fabulous building and a stunning worship team. Yet, I noticed the men around me. Many were impassive. They didn’t sing or respond to the worship. Many were like statues during the message.
I mention this to share that even in great buildings, exciting worship and a good message, there will be some who don’t buy into your vision. Jesus said it in Matthew 13:24-25: “The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” Net Bible®. Only in the mysterious ways of God’s Spirit can the weeds be transformed into wheat.
Perhaps you should look at how you engage folks. At the church we were at today, everyone from the stage was “talk, talk, talk.” There was no engagement of the congregation, no use of photos or video, no sharing stories of ministry and the sermon was a 30 minute monologue. Think through how you can release people to explore your vision during the worship services. How can you penetrate into their souls with the life-changing Word of God. Get creative and see what happens.
Hey Fletch … I am a researcher for a public television station. I wondered if you have ever heard of a trend where a pastor in a small, rural area may minister to more than one church?
DRF—A few thoughts come to me right away, and there is some history that is repeating itself.
First, it is reported that John Wesley rode over 250,000 miles on horseback. Whoa! That makes me sore and stiff just thinking about it. A Christianity Today article noted: “John Wesley preached in the open air to audiences estimated in the tens of thousands after Anglican pulpits were closed to him. Sometimes he began preaching at daybreak or even before daybreak, and regularly he preached three times a day.”
Second, in the classic 1963 black and white movie, Lillies of the Field, Homer Smith (played by Sidney Poitier) meets the camper-driving Catholic priest, Father Murphy (Dan Frazer). Homer builds a chapel for Mother Maria (Lilia Skala) and the nuns. It becomes the first church for Father Murphy.
These type of ministers are called circuit preachers. Pockets of them remain today. Methodism, founded by John Wesley, popularized the notion of circuit preaching. The question you ask is, are circuit riders still out there?
Katarina Schuth wrote Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes in 2006. This sociological study is of Catholic priests who serve in mostly rural, multiple parishes.
Some Methodists are circuit preachers. Traveling Preachers Bring the Word to Rural America is a 2016 article by the Voice of America News. It notes: “And meeting spiritual needs is where Pastor Dan Sweet comes in. Today, he is leading services at tiny Zion’s Hill United Methodist Church in Unionville, Tennessee. He is one of a growing number of lay pastors serving Methodist churches, primarily in small, rural congregations just like Zion’s Hill … As soon as services are over at Zion’s Hill, Pastor Sweet jumps into his jeep and rushes ten minutes cross-country to another small church where he conducts his second service of the morning.
It seems that the Methodists and Catholics dominate modern day circuit preachers. I wouldn’t say that it is a fad or trend, but is a continuation of a 200-year tradition of church in rural areas. Saddle up your horses!
Hey Fletch … My question to you is ‘what is the purpose of the church’?
DRF—That’s a pretty broad question and I don’t know what perspective you are coming from. So, let me give a few thoughts from the New Testament.
One purpose for the church is to be a community. The community worships together, cares for one another and serves others in their society. It is not any kind of community, but a specific one. The community is a group of people who are following Christ—the members aren’t perfect, they stumble and fall, but they get back on the road of following Christ.
Tell me more about your question and whether your question relates to the article that you were viewing on XPastor. I’d be pleased to dialogue with you more.
Response—Thank you for your email. This question came up as part of a discussion for a class assignment. I was clueless. Hence my reason for asking you. I shared the same concerns that you have about the question. Your response was helpful. Thanks again.
Hey Doc … Here in India I am pioneering a church planting ministry. We, are doing some income generating projects based on the people and the places. I would like to request your practical suggestions. How can the spiritual aspect of ministry can be reconciled with business? How can we strike proper balance between business and ministry? Sometimes I am afraid that we succeed in business and fail in ministry. Kindly give me a piece of advice as to how can I have a business mind with pastoral heart.
DRF—It’s so good to hear from you again, dear friend. Your questions remind me of the Apostle Paul. In Acts 18:3 we see that he was a “σκηνοποιός.” While commonly translated “tentmaker,” I prefer the traditional rendering of the Greek word, “maker of stage properties.” Paul made sets and backdrops “σκηνή” for the theater. We get the English word “scene” from σκηνή. Bauer (BADG) notes that translators prefer “tentmaker” due to religious objections of Jewish culture to the theater. Let’s think for a moment, was Paul affected by religious objections? Paul was free, unbound by such thing. Where to better be with those who don’t know Christ? Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” I like to think of Paul creating stage sets for the theater.
So, you are free to be a “scene maker” a σκηνή. Business can fund your ministry, as long as it is legal! The key is to keep your purpose in mind. The business enables you to live and provide for your family, so that you can do ministry. Define your business hours, then stop doing business. Define your ministry hours, then start doing ministry. Don’t be hassled by religious or cultural objections. In your business, bring the ethic of Jesus’ Kingdom. Immerse yourself in the Proverbs and do business with kindness, justice and with grace. When your ministry can pay your salary, receive the “double honor” of 1 Timothy 5:17. One person recently said to me, “David, in business I have far more opportunities to share the gospel with the unchurched than I do being a Pastor.” Carpe Diem.
Hey Fletch … I am a Senior Pastor here in Australia. We just formulated an Executive Pastor role description. I have operated as ‘leader of the leaders’ in terms of bringing values and vision. Some of the leadership wants us to operate as a level team—no leader of that group. The vision and values would equally arise from anyone in that group. Thoughts?
DRF—I would offer three items to consider: First, walk slowly. It may be time to add a new role in the church, or that may cause more rancor.
Second, grow the spiritual breath and biblical thinking of the new leaders. Accept as a working hypothesis their managerial input and advice. As our ethic is Jesus’ Kingdom, the church is more than “good business.” We should never settle for “poor business,” nor should we forget that our first priority is to “love others as Christ has loved us.” Before you get an answer to the church vision question, ensure that the leadership team is spiritually mature.
Third, get a good coach to work with you. There may be someone in your denominational headquarters. There may be another pastor near you. In this season, get competent outside advice every week—and let me emphasize “every week!”
In some churches, a leader other than the Senior Pastor creates vision. It isn’t common though. The issues that you raise are deeper than “who.” I would take plenty of time to explore the “why.”
Hey Fletch … I would love to know if you have any further comments on the Elder Job Description on XPastor. I’m interested your ideas on the role of discerning and setting vision. Is this with the Senior Pastor who then shares with the elders, or is it with all the Elders?
DRF—There isn’t one-size fits all. Some churches have a shared style of creating vision. Many have the Senior Pastor create the vision and then have the Elders processes it and (hopefully) agree with it. Some churches have other leaders, such as the Executive Pastor, create the vision—then often the Senior Pastor shares it from the pulpit.
I’m coaching a guy currently on this. Part of our time over the next several months will be talking through how to do it best in their church. Each church and circumstance is unique.
Hey Doc … I have just been posted to a very small church in Africa, just 15 older people. What should I do to help grow the little church? What are some of the workable principles to getting the church to grow?
DRF—You are asking a huge question there. The great thing about retired people is that they have more time than working people. Here are a couple of ideas: 1) make your church as friendly as possible. Teach everyone to get to know newcomers, inviting them to lunch. 2) Though you have an older congregation, have a working nursery! Make sure it is clean and ready for a young couple. Staff it with some grandmothers! Love on those young moms. 3) Preach the clear and compelling gospel of Christ. 4) Talk about your church on social media. Be prepared for visitors and let them feel loved. God’s best to you in Africa!
Hey Fletch … When are you going to post your annual list of recommended books? Don’t you do it right before the XP-Seminar?
DRF—Nothing gets by you, friend! Yes, for each of our 14 annual XP-Seminars we cull the world for great books on personal enrichment, management and leadership. The current year’s books are available at the XP-Seminar Free Book Table. Here are the books, covers and descriptions from 2005 to 2018. As the Spanish philosopher Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás (known as George Santayana in English) wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Read, grow, learn from others!