When I first came to our new church, a seasoned pastor and district superintendent gave me a welcoming phone call. He knew that I was going to a larger church and thus offered me this advice: “Never hang alone.”
“What do you mean by ‘never hang alone’?” I asked.
He explained that pastors need to involve elders in decision-making. If elders are involved, the pastor does not have to do it alone. He or she has their support.
But if you as the pastor have not involved the church leadership team, all the responsibility falls on you, and you will, he warned, find yourself “hanging alone.” If opposition arises against a decision that you and your elders and church board have collaborated on, then all share the responsibility. As bad as it may be, the church cannot blame the pastor alone because church governance was a shared process.
Learning a lesson
He had a point. In one of my earlier churches, I had felt compelled to have an evangelistic series every year. Evangelism has always been my passion. What I did not comprehend was that it was not everyone else’s. I was pastoring a three-church district at the time. There was so much to accomplish with three churches that I did not include the needed time for consultation and team-work. I presented my enthusiastic evangelistic plan to the church board. We had recently, and successfully, conducted two lay-led Daniel seminars in the city in two different locations. It seemed to me that these entry-level events needed an evangelistic follow-up.
I presumed others in the church felt much the same way. To my surprise, the proposal met with considerable pushback. I was left “hanging alone.” Why? The church leaders were simply not ready to move into an evangelistic series as a follow-up. Also, they did not feel part of the planning process. People at the heart of church leadership desire to be included in the major decisions.
As the pastor, I had presumed they would approve. I learned that they needed time for reflection and inclusion. I did not yet appreciate these words of counsel: “When power is concentrated in the hands of a single person or small group, the potential assets of the rest of the team are squandered.”1 Church leaders want their pastor to be successful, but they desire to be part of that success.
Later that week, I met with my head elder in his office. He told me why he viewed public evangelism as ineffective. He had witnessed many interests leave when the testing truths of our faith were presented, and they did not come back. He also said that when people were baptized after a series, the members often never saw them in church again. He was a good and effective spiritual leader, a man of persuasive influence with a soul-winning track record. From his experience, personal Bible studies were the most effective way to bring people into the church and keep them there.
Thus, as a young pastor and aspiring evangelist, I had made the mistake of not having this conversation first. It was time for a pastoral reset. This crisis compelled me to pray more and search for the meaning of my ministry. God used this incident to grow my ministry and to bring me to a deeper surrender to His will. “When you give all you know of yourself to all that you know of Him,” wrote Billy Graham, “then you can accept by faith that you are filled with the Spirit of God. That means that He can have all of you. Commitment actually is surrender—total, absolute, unconditional, irreversible surrender.”2
I then became busy developing a 12-month outline for evangelism. Seeking the Lord’s will led me to be more willing to work closely with my leaders. The head elder and I began to meet regularly. Together we fleshed out a new and in-depth evangelistic schedule. To his credit, he bought into this new plan, which also included an evangelistic series at the end of the year. Next, we met with the team of elders. Finally, the proposal was placed on the agenda for a church board meeting for their consideration. The inclusive leadership process allowed all the church leaders to feel respected, and they appreciated being included. People in leadership need to feel that their opinions are valued and that they can share their opinions openly without fear of retaliation. As a pastor, I learned a valuable lesson on listening, planning, and patience. The process resulted in the leaders’ ownership of and buy-in to the plan.
What followed was an over-whelming church board vote for the full-year evangelistic plan. When our leadership team saw a plan and became involved in the process of integrating personal and public evangelism, they had good reason to hope for evangelistic success.
The result of teamwork led to twice as many baptisms for the church as the previous year and in half the time. A church revival resulted as prayer ministries became a vital part of the plan and its success. “Prayer movements always precede powerful revivals. As more people begin to pray for revival and Holy Spirit power, a new force will begin to be seen in the church; and bear in mind, the power of the Holy Spirit always leads the church into mission. . . . In the process of leading the church forward, be certain to provide the spiritual momentum to accompany all that you do to bring the church to renewal.”3 Most of those baptized remained faithful disciples for Christ.
Hence, I learned six powerful lessons about “not hanging alone”:
- Meet with your heavenly Father daily.
- Meet with your head elder weekly.
- Meet with your elders monthly.
- Meet with your church board monthly.
- Meet with your finance committee monthly prior to the board meeting.
- Meet with your outreach committee monthly.
In regard to lesson five, remember that money issues create more tension in board meetings than any other item. A small finance committee made up of the pastor, treasurer, a person of influence, and the head elder or head deacon can resolve most perplexities. They can suggest resolutions that enable the board to much more quickly see their way to deal with financial concerns. The result is that money matters will not dominate the agenda and time.
Let your leaders cast the vision with you, and you will see how rewarding it is. It takes humility, but it means you are becoming a better leader yourself. You are gaining influence. You are connecting with the very people who can help you change the direction of the church to that of growth and revival.
Taking time to plan well helps you understand your church better. And the church understands you as the pastor so much better. The members begin to identify with you. They will love you for including them in mission. When you come to the church board and business meetings, you will have confidence you did not have before.
Both as a pastor and an evangelist, I have found that a sound planning process works for the benefit of the church. A church that prays and plans together will work together, and a pastor in a church like that will, yes, never hang alone.
1 Paul Brantley, Dan Jackson, and Mike Cauley, Becoming a Mission-Driven Church (Nampa, ID: PacificPress Pub. Assn., 2015), 27.
2 Billy Graham, Unto the Hills: A Daily Devotional (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996), November 1
3. Russell Burrill, Waking the Dead (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2004), 56