New to the ministry

New to the ministry- with four churches

Lessons in ministry from a layperson turned pastor.

Ronald W. Booth, MBA, pastors four churches in Minnesota, United States.

When I was asked to pastor four churches, I was quite surprised. In college, I failed to finish ministerial training and switched to elementary education. Later when an opportunity to learn a trade presented itself, I saw something I could put my whole heart into and honor God in the process. I became a masonry contractor. Because I often pondered the fact that Jesus was a builder, I tried to do my work with that thought in mind. Manual labor is honorable if its motive includes serving others and bringing glory to God.

While active in my local church, I stayed as a layman for many years and served God the best I could. Never did I dream that I would be called to pastor a church—let alone four. Yet, when the conference called me to pastor, a strange conviction gripped my heart that God would not have permitted such a call without knowing my inadequacies. God knew that I had limited training for ministry, but He also knew that I was an instrument in His hands. I believed that He would not have allowed this opportunity without having prepared me in His own way. In addition, I also knew that the One who calls also enables and equips. He would surely offer new energy and on-the-job training equal to the requirements of the work He was now giving me.

Most of my training up to this point had been in the school of practical experience. My work had been first as a builder and then as a computer programmer and teacher. When many of my friends were talking about retirement, I was about to take up a new career. As I thought about this ministry, I also had to consider what I had learned and what I must still learn in order to work as a pastor. Was it possible that working with four churches at once might offer some sort of advantage over working with just one congregation?

As I considered the challenges of a multichurch district, I tried to recall each of the pastors I had known, remembering those things they had done especially well. Through the years, my membership had mostly been in small churches with a pastor who had a multichurch district. Some pastors had been especially close to one church in the district. Others seemed to spread themselves equally with each church. Some tended to maintain tight control over what was happening in the church. And others seemed not to have such tight control, perhaps as a way of developing local leadership or maybe because of the frustration of having so many things happening at different places in the district.

A large part of any married person’s life is the spouse. In my case, Sanita had hoped to marry a pastor. Instead she married me, and we have lived a happy life. Now what would her reaction be if I took up ministry? Would we be able to make the transition together? Would we be able to support each other in this demanding opportunity? Would she feel the call too?

After much prayer together, we decided to accept the call.

Choosing my style of leadership

Recognizing my limited formal training, I decided to rely on the local leadership in each church to help me with the focus of my pastoral responsibilities for that church. This seemed especially appropriate because the district had been without a pastor for several months and had managed quite well. It was good for me to realize that the success of each church might well depend on them more than me. If I could remember this, perhaps I could convey to them my trust in their connection to God and lean on them for guidance as to the direction each church should go in its effort to fulfill the gospel commission.

A short time after taking up my pastoral responsibilities, one of the churches expressed a strong desire to have evangelistic meetings. They had already discussed what they thought would work; my job was to support their decision and to help them coordinate with the conference in order to reach our goal.

Another church had been interested in conducting a CHIP (Coronary Health Improvement Project) program as a form of service evangelism. They had tried to implement the program in a previous year, but the community had not adequately embraced the program. Now the church decided to try again. In the process, they determined that more people should receive training for conducting the seminars. Then, the leadership from within the church put the program together, planned the advertising, and did the presentation. My job was to support them in whatever way I could. This same church is now giving their third presentation of the CHIP program with ever-increasing success. They didn’t need my expertise in order to do this sort of evangelism, but they needed my interest and support.

My congregations have the greater part in accomplishing the commission given them by Jesus. They understand that they are to go to the world and share a glimpse of the hope they have experienced in knowing Jesus. They do not look to me for all of the ideas, and I would be remiss to suppose that I have all of the answers. My life has clearly shown me that I do not have the total picture in my own mind. Every group has its own dynamics and strengths. The worst thing I could do as their pastor would be to stifle their creative approach as to how they are to fulfill their commission. When it’s their program, they get behind it.

My job as a pastor

So what does my job include as the pastor of these churches? Among other things, I must support and encourage them as they consider what they can do in their communities for God. Other pastors before me helped make them what they have become. God forbid that I should slow them down.

With my temperament and view of life, I cannot, in good conscience, ignore one of my congregations for the benefit of another congregation. I must rely on each church to play a very large part in setting its own goals while I provide support and encouragement. Each church must then take responsibility for their growth.

People generally respond to need. This becomes especially true as they realize that something may not get done unless they do it. Each congregation seems to understand that I would be spreading myself rather thin if I spend time with each church every Sabbath. This works out for the best because every member has an opportunity to be more involved and intentional about their role in the church.

Some might say that this cannot be considered pastoral leadership at its best. My reply? A church cannot exist as the result of one person’s gifts. Jesus has given His church gifts and there are enough gifts for each church. When it appears that gifts are lacking in a congregation, we need to pray for gifts to be given to people within the church and for those people to carry the responsibility their gift addresses.

Godly balance

There are times when a person thinks God has called them to run the church by themselves. This is less likely to happen when each person in the church takes action in regards to their gifts. It takes a godly balance to know when to use one’s gift and when to step aside and let another person exercise their gift. This godly balance comes to those who focus on Jesus. The pastor must also demonstrate this balance.

A large part of my work as a pastor is to introduce fresh ways of seeing God in His Word. I need to apply what I learn to the things happening in our homes, communities, and the world at large. How we make sense of our existence has a strong bearing on how we serve our communities.

Being able to bring hope to others requires a strong hope within oneself. I see my time preparing for a sermon as a sacred and important part of my ministry. People generally come looking for a blessing. The blessing comes from God. I want the sermon to be part of the process that brings hope and a deeper trust in what God has been doing and will continue to do in each life.

As a pastor’s wife, Sanita has been very supportive. Because our children are grown, she has been able to devote more of her energies to the churches than would have been possible with children to care for. Her support and wisdom have made the difference at crucial times in our ministry together. Her prayers have made a telling difference in the ministry we share.

Conclusion

The church belongs to Jesus Christ, and I am fortunate to worship together with the people in each congregation. And Sabbaths are a bit like camp meeting— we move from congregation to congregation. On a given Sabbath, we may meet with three congregations. This can be tiring, yet inspiring.

My most important responsibility is pointing others to Jesus. I can only do this as I seek to focus on Him while living in today’s world with its distractions arranged by the devil to get me off track by forgetting from whom I receive my strength.

God is good. I praise Him for allowing me to serve Him in this new way. All along the paths of my life, He has been preparing me for the next step. All the steps along the way have been profitable and interesting. He has brought good out of bad. And most of all, He has given His life for me. My prayer is that I give my life entirely to Him.

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Ronald W. Booth, MBA, pastors four churches in Minnesota, United States.

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