Pastoring a large, multiple-church district is a challenging job. The difficulties vary, depending on the nature of the district.
For example, if the church is in an urban area, with a membership that includes highly educated professionals, the difficulties will be of one kind. If the district is a rural one, comprising many churches separated by long distances and if the pastor's transportation is inadequate (as in Asia or Africa), or if the membership is largely illiterate, there is another set of difficulties. One district may have prosperous and educated members, but be largely unwilling or unmotivated to take on church leader ship duties. Another district may have willing people, but lack professional skills and financial resources. How does a pas tor handle such churches, especially if the district is far-flung and unwieldy?
Here are some thoughts about this from my background as a pastor in Africa. Recently, for financial reasons, the pastoral workforce in our mission was downsized. Eight of our 21 district pas tors were dropped. Whereas once we had 21 pastors, the same work now had to be covered by 13. Some pastors are now having to handle three districts with a total of more than 100 congregations.
I am presently pastoring 53 congregations. This is likely to double in two years' time because of the success rate of our outreach and evangelism ventures. The challenge is twofold: One, caring for the congregations so that our people re main faithful, growing in all the practical aspects of their love for the Lord they have found. Two, easing the work of the lay pastors so that they do not become victims of burnout and they have sufficient time to care for their families and tend to their professional and spiritual lives. The following suggestions may help in meeting these challenges:
Inreach and outreach
While evangelism must always remain the watchword of the church, the need for inreach should not be neglected. We often bring in hundreds of souls each year, but soon they are no where to be found. They come in one way, and they go out another. Unless outreach is balanced by intentional inreach, our churches cannot be strong.
Inreach should include not only spiritual and doctrinal nurture, but also such matters as stewardship and especially lay leadership training so that the care of the church is properly maintained. It is neither necessary nor important that every church have a salaried pastor. Where members are trained and are willing to assume leadership, that church will be healthy in both evangelism and sustained growth.
Believing and living
Pastors need to take the time to study the many congregations within their district. What makes one strong and another weak? What contributes to the dynamism of one and the stagnation of the other? Are there unresolved conflicts with sister churches? How is the tithe in flow of each church? Which churches are not doing well and why? Do the churches in a district realize that believing a set of doctrines is not enough, and that a community of faith goes beyond mere doctrine and that it should embrace living out the faith in action so that others may see and follow? We must lead our congregations to discover the delicate balance between believing and living. A congregation that lives out its belief will find a way to work out its problems.
Vision and mission
A living church is a visioning church. It asks itself some significant questions. What is our mission within the frame work of our belief and faith? How does this mission affect interpersonal relation ships within the church, leadership of the congregation, and relationships to other congregations in the district? How are we related to the mission of the conference or the local field? Where do we want our congregation to go during the next five or ten years—what do we want it to look like then? What is our responsibility to our children, teens, families, and seniors? How will we involve them in the life of the church? A church that has a vision and mission map cannot remain stagnant and troublesome. It will be so busy caring that it has no time for quarreling.
Planning and empowering
Out of a clear statement of vision and mission, both long-term and short-term planning strategies can be devised for a district. To help develop these strategies, a district planning commit tee may be organized. This committee should ideally include the key leaders of the church, representing the elders, deacons, deaconesses, departmental persons, thought leaders, and experts in various areas. The committee should be responsible to the church board. It should deal with specific time-bound issues of planning, training, and em powering. The committee should define the tasks, one by one, that the church family should be involved in. These tasks should cover the areas of nurture, outreach, stewardship, finance, building facilities, and human resources.
The committee can break down the large mission objectives into smaller tasks, assigning responsibilities, providing training (which may include bringing in specialists from elsewhere), drawing up an accountability chart, setting dates for the completion of tasks, and empowering the people involved so that they may complete their work with joy and a sense of ownership. If the district is too vast and spread out, organize the district into zones (A, B, C, etc.), and have a planning committee for each zone.
Hindrances and opportunities
Church districts, large or small, have joys and concerns, opportunities and hindrances. The most significant hindrance is what may be called the Sanballat-Tobiah syndrome, illustrated by the life and times of Nehemiah. Every church manifests this syndrome. There are always some who feel constrained to play the role of Sanballat, presiding over the seat of criticism and pointing the accusing finger at those who are doing something in the church. The answer to them is the same as Nehemiah's: "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down" (Neh. 6:3, RSV).
In addition to human hindrances, financial constraints, logistics, time management, and group procedures may not be exactly what you desire in carrying out your mission. But when the challenges are great, so are the opportunities. A strong church district is being built that can be self-sustaining in human, financial, and spiritual resources. The process will ultimately bring satisfaction and fulfillment to the congregation. It is our privilege to emphasize the positive. The church is the Lord's family. We are only stewards. If we choose to do His bidding in ministering and administrating the district, our leadership will develop into much more than just a one-person affair.