Building a church's self-esteem

It's more important than we may think.

Rodney W. Draggon is pastor of the Mount Tahoma SDA Church in Tacoma, Washington.

Self-esteem for churches is an important subject we hear little about. Along with being vital to a congregation's spiritual well-being, corporate self-esteem is a barometer of its standing both in the community and among other churches. When a church feels good about itself in the Lord, that church grows.

People don't function well when their self-esteem is low; likewise with churches. Many are labeled "problem churches" when they just need some love and respect. Blessed is the pastor who meets that need.

When a pastor comes to a new church, the conference usually has an agenda waiting. So does the local congregation. Sometimes the two are the same; other times they are worlds apart. The pastor's responsibility is to deal with both agendas in a way that the local church can progress. To accomplish this, pastors need to find out how their church feels about itself and its existing programs. They also need to help the church assess its strengths and weaknesses.

One way to accomplish this is to counsel with local elders and other decision-makers on the church board. Another way is to survey the congregation at large. As pastors we need to listen to what members say about their felt needs, which are often ignored. Members find themselves forced to accept goals, projects, and plans that do not scratch them where they are itching. This can damage a church's respect and esteem. At the first opportunity we should restore these and help the church feel good about itself.

Corporate self-esteem is enhanced when leaders trust and respect the group's ideas and concepts. It works the same as when you respect an individual's ideas. Suppose your children ask you to help them find a job, but instead you insist on helping them with their homework. In your judgment, helping with their home work will help them get a job. But the message they hear you saying is: "What you think is not important." That hurts their self-esteem.

Pastors must beware not to make that kind of mistake. We are the spiritual physicians of our churches, trained to deal with problems after hearing the members explain their symptoms. We should be careful how we proceed in implementing our remedies, taking into account suggestions the members themselves may have. I remember one church where upon my arrival the first elder said, "We need a stewardship drive right away." Sure enough, that was just what was needed.

If members relate their symptoms and we ignore them, we are harming their spiritual health and damaging our own ability to serve them. I am not recommending a concept of "don't plan; just wait for the members to give me my marching orders." I'm saying only that in order to help our churches fulfill their goals and God-given responsibilities we need to listen before we act.

Much of the time churches know what their needs are, and we can best serve them by assisting them in solving the dilemma themselves. Churches with good esteem tend to work harder, love one another and support the conference. You will have fewer headaches.

Here are some specific actions you can take to nurture a church's self-esteem:

1. Find out what needs immediate attention.

It may be remodeling, evangelism, stewardship, or community involvement. Listen to the needs of the church and start from there. I remember one church was trying to finish its basement. Unable to hold programs there as it was, members did not invite many friends and neighbors to church. So we organized a plan to finish the basement, and sure enough, the church was happy to welcome visitors. The visitors themselves, in turn, were pleased to come to the church in increasing numbers. Listening to my members before taking action helped me build the church's self-respect.

2. Keep the church and its surroundings neat and clean.

The appearance of the property says a lot about its members and their relationship with God. Have a nice sign in front. Mow the grass—nothing is worse than seeing a church with an untended lawn. Organize a general clean-up day at least twice a year. Keep the bathrooms clean. All this reminds our people that the church building is God's house.

3. Invite conference officials to your pulpit at least three times a year.

The president or secretary should come at least once a year. These visits provide a boost to members, helping them feel a part of the conference. The further you are from the conference office, the more often you should invite conference officials.

Recently Kay Orr, a former governor of Nebraska, spoke at one of our academies. While explaining her responsibilities, she observed that citizens of the state's panhandle feel isolated. To remedy this, she instituted "Governor's Day," when she and some of her staff travel to remote areas and listen to suggestions and complaints. We need to do the same for our churches by making sure conference officials visit them. If members never see anybody from head quarters, they feel that no one cares and that they are not worth much. No matter how small your church, invite conference and union officials to meet with your people. You are not imposing on them visiting your church is part of their job. You might also bring in well-known speakers from outside your territory for a special day once or twice a year.

4. Stand up for your people.

Don't let your church or district be pushed around (for lack of a better term). Stand up for your people. Not only does the good shepherd lead sheep in green pastures and look for them when they are lost; he also stands up for them in difficult situations. So take some heat for your members. It makes them know you are concerned for them.

I remember in one church it was a foregone conclusion that the youth federation Sabbath services were held at a larger church. A mid-size church nearby had the Friday night meeting. Although my church had the fewest members, it could hold as many visitors as the bigger churches. So I suggested that my church have the Sabbath services. Without being obnoxious about it, I firmly held my ground and won my case. My folks were beside themselves in unbelief; they felt so proud to host the program.

I play basketball and believe in rebounding, blocking shots, and playing defense. But I also want to shoot the ball now and then. Even if I miss, at least I get a chance to shoot. We must all give and take, as individuals and as churches, but when you are only giving and never receiving, you endanger your members' sense of respect and esteem.

5. Sponsor an outreach program unique to your church.

It may be a Community Services center, radio or TV program, prison ministry, literacy classes, or a food bank. Help the members make a contribution to their community so people will say, "If you need thus and so, go to the Seventh-day Adventist church." Get to know your local public school principal, the mayor, and other city officials. All this means a lot to your church's sense of esteem.

6. Publicize activities in your church.

It does not cost much, but it certainly pays a lot to take advantage of any avail able avenues of communication. You might arrange local TV coverage for a special event or put articles in the local newspaper and your union paper. Your members will be thrilled when they see an article about their church. Always put the church's name in big bold print; your people will love you for it.

7. As pastors we need to look our best and be our best.

Some feel, "I don't want to be above the people; I want to blend in among my members." In reality, our people expect a higher standard from us and rightly so. Along with maintaining a sharp appearance, we need to keep our minds sharp. Avail yourself of continuing education. Other professionals do, and so should we.

8. Accept occasional opportunities to minister outside your church.

When members see their pastor in demand, they want a pastor others want that's human nature. If the only time we get away from our own districts is for camp meeting and vacation, they may think, How come nobody is inviting our pastor to come and speak? I'm not advocating a popularity contest or that you go on the road so much that others are almost paying your salary. But take an outside sermon appointment or conduct a workshop at least twice a year. You will be surprised how your people relate to you after you take another engagement.

In summary, think of the many ways the devil tries to discourage our members. How important it is for the church to be a positive force in their lives. Through nurturing a sense of corporate self-worth, pastors also enhance individual self-es teem.

Bible credits: Texts credited to NEB are from The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961,1970. Reprinted by permission. Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Texts credited to NKJV are from The New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers. Verses marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, III. Used by permission. Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952. 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.


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Rodney W. Draggon is pastor of the Mount Tahoma SDA Church in Tacoma, Washington.

October 1992

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