Can you be in two places at once? It’s not as hard as you think. Years ago I had four churches in western Kansas and Nebraska. Two were in the United States Central-Time zone, and two in the Mountain-Time zone. My wife and I would drive to one in the Central-Time zone, where I’d preach at 11 A.M., and then we would drive quickly back to the church in the Mountain-Time zone, arriving just in time to preach at 11 A.M.
That’s how I could be in two places at once. Of course, not all our church districts are lined along time zones like that, so the question is, what other ways can you do a good job of getting out into the district each week? Here are five ideas that might help.
Find out how the last pastor did it
First, call the previous pastor and ask what he did and what might be done differently. Find out who in the district has shown interest in preaching. Could they preach in that church? How often did this pastor go to that church? Would changes in the schedule be helpful?
Such questions are not the final answer but simply starting points for creative thinking. Your first words and actions will likely set the stage for most, if not all, of your ministry with those members, so it’s important to start off on the same page and with good reasoning for your preaching/visiting/prayer meeting schedule.
Spend time with members. This investment in them grows and brings returns. Explain your time usage and share some of your schedule with them so they know what you’re up to. The best way to share your schedule with them is by being involved in their lives at work, at home, or on the farm or by stopping by their businesses. A quick visit often yields great returns. They know you’re busy; they just don’t know what you’re doing all the time. Show them by spending some of that time with them.
Negotiate with the churches for a better future
Some churches are located in great areas for growth, and some just aren’t going to change much. Because you alone manage your time, you have to get the most out of it. Other people will offer their thoughts, but you are the final timekeeper. Though you need to be tactful, you must make it clear that you’re going to invest as much time in that church and their community as you can, and as seems profitable. God alone can direct you in the final amount of time you spend. To Him you must be ultimately faithful.
A negotiation can be defined as two or more sides talking and, we hope, becoming one. When one side feels neglected or abused, they really want to be heard and understood. A good negotiator listens carefully for what lives inside the hearts of people. They want their pastor to love them, and they need you to show it. Sometimes, we’re tempted to think that they need us too much, and often that’s true. We just have to wean them from overdependence, and that takes time and trust.
If you speak truthfully to them from your first day in the district about these things, you will have more room to be flexible. They will give you permission to try new approaches, to add new items to the schedule, or to drop something that is not working or that has become stale.
They might let you switch a church service to the afternoon or to the early morning. Just let them know what you’re trying to do—and why. Give yourself some time to work it out; let them get used to the changes. If you’re just coming into the district, it takes time for people to get used to the way you do things. Be open and consistent from the start as you tell them the truth about your plans and ideas. Even if those ideas are not complete or certain, you can avoid inflating their expectations.
What should be your focus?
You’ll have to focus on one or two churches that are positioned to do well. This concept hurts, because most pastors want to keep all their members happy in all their churches. The minute that church members get the idea that you are going to spend more time with the other church, they may think of themselves as the stepchild in the district, and so you take on impossible tasks and run to the beat of a frenetic schedule. I’ve known pastors who tried to preach and do prayer meetings in all three churches each week. They didn’t last long.
Instead, you will have to focus your time in the area that will be the most productive, even though we often feel guilty when we get that phone call from someone whom we’ve neglected. We feel like we are not measuring up to their needs, so we redouble our efforts to make them happy.
If we have truly neglected someone in our churches, we must visit them and minister to their needs. On the other hand, if you can easily recall the times and activities that you have spent with that person or group, you should not feel guilty. Learn to tell the difference, or you’ll never be happy or successful in ministry.
Who’s going to preach when you’re not there? What if you took time to train someone to preach in one of your churches? What might happen if you gave them a sense of pride and ownership for the ministry in that community and church? You would still be the pastor and still be responsible for what goes on there, but you could replace yourself with this lay pastor and possibly enhance your effectiveness there and elsewhere.
Here is a good principle for district pastors: Do not do for others what they can do for themselves. Pastors in other parts of the world seem to live by this rule. They have trained and encouraged others to preach and minister in their churches.
Of course, there are always excuses. “We don’t have anybody good enough to preach or to lead out in prayer meeting.” Or “No one wants to do it.” Or “The person I think should do it isn’t respected or liked by some of the members.”
We simply have to get past these excuses and find ways to help our members regain ownership and responsibility for their church and its ministry to the community. As a church leader, we should always be prospecting for other leaders.
Don’t forget time shifting
In today’s digital world, you can listen to a sermon or message anywhere you want to. All you have to do is record it onto an MP3 player and then press the button. If you want to record It Is Written, you press a button on your recorder and it records it automatically. When you’re ready, you sit down and press another button, and there’s the program.
You can do this in your ministry too; it’s called time shifting. Here are some ideas. Get the DVD series called Adventist Preaching.1 These DVDs have some excellent sermons and preachers. Take a DVD player and a TV to prayer meeting, play an Adventist Preaching DVD, and see how the members respond. If you’re going to be away from your district for vacation or some other appointment, ask them to play one of the DVD sermons for church. It’s like having a good guest speaker.
If your members have difficulty accepting this idea of time shifting, be patient. Some may never get used to this digital world. But give it a try.
The time will come, and might even be here now, when you can preach in one church and, through broadband Internet connections, be seen and heard at the other churches in your district. Some pastors have used telephone hookups to speak to two or three churches at once. This works for a small group. I look forward to the time when I’ll be able to say hello to all of my church members at the same time from one location, even though they worship in several places. Some will be able to watch from home too. And the ones who were away or unable to attend church will be able to download the service and play it later.
It all sounds a bit futuristic maybe, but it’s here. These ideas will start to show up in more and more churches because we want to be effective pastors and share the message with as many as possible.
The good news is that through technology, we really can be in two places at once, and without having to rush across time zones either.
1 To purchase Adventist Preaching DVDs, call 800-ACN-1119 or 402-486-2519 or order them online at http://www.acn.info. For information on the latest Adventist Preaching DVD from Adventist Communication Network (ACN), please refer to the advertisement in this journal.