A funny thing happened to me on my way to introducing the latest departmental program to my church. I looked it over and found that it didn't fit into the program my board and I had mapped out for the year. It was almost comforting to note how similar it was to other departmental programs that had come in the mail with their own URGENT stamp.
Fortunately, I felt no guilt in placing the program on a suitably dusty shelf. I've had enough years in a successful ministry to reach a few independent conclusions. Here are four that have grown into what I call Independent Pas tor Principles.
1. Establish priorities for your church program.
It is better to be successful with a realistic amount of programs than to flounder with many, and lose the support and respect of your church members in the process. To try to cram every new program "to finish the work" into an already packed schedule is to become a victim of the system rather than victor over the system, and to lose self-respect as a church administrator.
2. Involve the church board in planning.
The wise pastor will plan his church program at least a year in advance—and, in some aspects, several years. The board that works with the pastor in this process will have an overview of the church mission that transcends exigencies. Having involved the board in this process, the pastor will find them supportive when he resists programs that don't fit his church or are better achieved through other methods. Likewise, if something truly exceptional comes along—an unusual occurrence!—his board will readily see its merit. Further, by utilizing the board and other capable members in decision making, the pastor is training his corps of lieutenants.
The year's program should include a schedule of sermons, evangelism, and other forms of outreach. In most churches local elders should expect to preach once or twice a year, and guest speakers should be scheduled well in advance. Knowing months ahead that he will not have the pressure of sermon preparation during a particular week, the pastor can plan time to be used in creative and personal study.
3. Develop and practice your own Declaration of Independence.
I became a better pastor when I realized I did not need the job to sustain me. Not that I discovered an independent source of wealth, nor that I cultivated an arrogance toward my conference employer. I simply came to the place where I found within myself the personal confidence to say, "I can do a number of other jobs satisfactorily. But God has called me to the ministry, and humbly, but with a realistic sense of my competence (or incompetence), I accept the challenge." When a man senses his importance as a spokesman for God, he will more readily establish priorities and follow them to their goal.
I don't believe any man can give his independent best to a program if he secretly fears that a wrong move will result in his being banished to another district or "called" to another field of the gospel ministry. A man who is in the ministry with the conviction that he is not qualified to do anything else will never feel free to innovate. Of course, there are areas in which supportive cooperation with conference programs is expected and should be enthusiastically given. But, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the pastor must be his own man; he must have the atmosphere in which to create and innovate. The conference should be a serving organization to the local pastor, not a command post from which programs are ordered without the study and concurrence of the local church board and the pastor.
I have suggested that the pastor may have inadequacies. To deny inadequacies is to be unrealistic. And to fail to see that there are areas where the local elder and other members may do a better job than you is to fail in your duties as a church administrator. To fail to delegate responsibilities because you feel threatened is to further limit the very freedom you seek.
4. Be the master of your day.
Unless you control your day, you'll find many church members are more than willing to say, "The pastor doesn't have anything to do; let him do it." And the fact is, unless we establish priorities, they may be right. Do you have established time to read and to study? Established times for personal devotions and meditation? Are you aware of those in your church who, with a small amount" of training, could handle many of the routines now occupying your time?
Further, though you are "debtor to all men," do you accept your right to, and need of, a day off each week for proper rest, recreation, and exercise? You may push yourself beyond wise limits and receive the accolades of your members, conference administrators, and fellow ministers, but can you do so and be truly happy and free? Doing so, can you really be your own man, possessed, motivated, and directed by God and following the guidance of His Spirit? Or will you be, instead, bound by the chains of success for the group's sake, and in the quiet times of reflection find yourself asking, "Is it worth it all?"