Pastoring multichurch districts has become a worldwide phenomenon. I once had a three-church district with a ninety-minute drive from one end to the other and church members scattered over ten, mostly rural, counties. In some countries like the Philippines, pastors often have to care for twenty to twenty-five churches with no better transportation than the city bus.
Such pastoring of multichurch districts poses many challenges—not just territorial and logistical. How do pastors do it? Where do they turn for counsel and encouragement?
While single-church districts have challenges of their own, the challenges of multichurch districts exceed theirs. For example, distance between churches, inter-church tensions, choice of Sabbath School locations for the pastor’s children, and attention to stewardship and church growth are a few of the problems such pastors face.
As a result of my own experience, I advocated to my ministerial students in their pastoral ministry class to view multichurch district ministry as a specialty that is to be coveted. Coveted? What might a pastor covet when driving great distances, and dividing their time and attention among several churches that can often be different in temperaments and worship styles? It could be argued that such a ministry benefi ts pastors in that it can increase their people skills and sharpen their organizational skills—at least that has been so in my case. Pastoring more than one church at one time made me a better pastor, and more than that, it made me a better person. Interacting with varied temperaments and experiencing differing worship styles broadened my ministry in a manner that I could not have experienced otherwise. Each member in each setting contributed to me in ways that they may never know.
A joyful ministry
My burden for multichurch districts was born when I was about eight years old. Our district pastor occasionally visited our small, out-of-the-way church, some thirty miles from the larger church. I wondered why he didn’t come more often. At that very young age I vowed that if I ever became a pastor I would not shortchange my smaller church for the larger one.
Many years later, those days and nights during which my newlywed wife and I shuttled back and forth among our three churches in southeast Texas, were some of the sweetest days and nights of our lives. I wouldn’t trade one experience from any of those days, including the frustrations, for anything else in the world.
But there are pastors, such as those whom I met during a recent visit to Nairobi, Kenya, who pastor more than twenty churches and companies at one time. How do they do it? Is it exhausting? No doubt about it! Do they face challenges that others can only attempt to imagine? Indeed! But do they love what they do? The joy was written on each face.
We salute you
To these and countless other pastors of multichurch districts we dedicate this issue. This issue does not promote multichurch pastoral ministry as a stepping-stone to the “higher calling” of single-church ministry. Rather, it affirms, celebrates, and strengthens these pastors and their families to press on in the name of the One who called them to this great work that they so faithfully fulfill.
In this issue Nikolaus Satelmajer, Reger Smith, Jr., and I personally interviewed, contacted by telephone, or communicated by email with a number of pastors in several countries. Reger Smith, Jr., in the lead article, tells you the stories of some of these district pastors—stories about the joys and challenges in their ministries, insights into their spouses and children who share in their pastoral experiences, and many other things. Discover how they face tasks and mount challenges that seem insurmountable, but regardless of their locale, the issues remain the same.
Ellie Gil, a pastor’s wife, shares her experience and counsel with other pastors’ wives through her article. Juleun Johnson writes both from the perspective of a pastor and a pastor’s son. Finally, Barry Kimbrough, Marty Thurber, and Joe Webb share counsel in managing multichurch districts.
We thank these writers for their contributions. May this issue be just a start in the process of affirming and empowering the men and women who have taken on this glorious task of shepherding more than one church at a time.