Pastor's Pastor

Common sense pastoring

Some common sense concepts that can help your ministry

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

What do pastors most need to accomplish their ministry? After personal spirituality—a daily walk with Jesus Christ—I would suggest the next essential is common sense.

The very term, common sense, is an oxymoron since it is an uncommon trait to possess. Likewise, the term is difficult to define because like water held in our hands, common sense is more difficult to grasp than it is to observe. Common sense may best be described by the greek word, phronesis, meaning practical wisdom. Aristotle considered phronesis to be about the most important of all virtues.

Common sense pastoring suggests that practical wisdom reigns over theoretical concepts. It suggests that head knowledge is most effective when applied to useful experience in the crucible of daily life.

Common sense means thoroughly examining any idea for its real-life usefulness. Its genuis is application more than description. To use the vernacular of the automobile tire moving the vehicle, common sense is "where the rubber meets the road."

Those who lack common sense usually out number those who possess it to such an extent that the few who actually utilize common sense are considered gifted. I disagree.

While pastors sometimes bring about their own defeat by failing to employ common sense, I believe that it is a skill that can be learned and sharpened.

I reject the popular concept that either you are born with common sense or you will never possess it at all.

While many individuals innately focus on practical applications more readily than some of their peers, I am convinced that certain methods can be used to gain a practical quality of wisdom, if an individual is willing to pay the price for this knowledge. What would it cost you personally to embrace the following concepts?

Attitude is more important than aptitude. Placing yourself in the position of a seeker is vastly more important than considering yourself to be the fountain of knowledge. If you believe that you have all the answers, you will seldom ask the important questions. If you believe your opinion is more valuable than all others, you will seldom listen to the wisdom that begs for entrance to your closed mind. If your way is the only way of doing things, you need an attitude adjustment.

What you learned yesterday is more important that what you do today. Experience is a difficult teacher. She gives the test first and the lesson afterward. Common sense can be learned from what worked or failed in your own past experience. Capitalize on that know ledge now. Grow from the challenges you have already faced.

Trying something different may be the wisest course. Repetition for the sake of consistency destroys progress. Recently I read this definition of insanity: "doing the same things over and over and expecting different results." If change is needed, set a vision for the future and invite your members to move forward with you.

Trying something different may be the most risky course. Any change costs something. Some members will resist any innovation, so alterations just for the sake of change may be foolish. Carefully learn the history of your church. Your congregation has a story that has brought it to today's situation. Build on your church's strengths and apply what you have learned from the past. Make sure that your leaders are with you and willing to help pay the cost.

Offer alternatives rather than decisions. Common sense pastoring means seeking consensus in any matter that does not involve moral issues. Pastors should also remember that moral issues are far less in number than we might imagine. You are safe to confine such issues to the 10 commandments. Matters such as the color of carpet or what songs are sung in Kindergarten or who leads VBS crafts are seldom of such magnitude that they should ignite divisive controversy. Suggest alter natives to a committee for their selection or input. Then be willing to live with their choices.

Attempting something is more important than doing it perfectly. I'm always amazed at how the Holy Spirit uses an atmosphere of evangelism in the congregation to reduce other problems. If you wait until you possess the exper tise of a great evangelist, you may never get around to active outreach. However, if you use your talents to proclaim the gospel in a public presentation, you'll discover heaven's blessings on both your efforts and your whole congregation.

Common sense pastoring is an on going adventure and this is a topic we will consider again in this column. In the meantime, please share your own ideas of common sense pastoral skills with me, and you will bless us all with your wisdom as I share it in this column!

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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