Advice to a Church Planter on a Theology of Pastoral Ministry
If we were to meet over coffee to talk about your hopes to plant a church, I would begin by asking you if you have developed a theology of pastoral ministry.
A theology of pastoral ministry isn’t much different than having a theology of God or a theology of the return of Christ or any other conviction of biblical beliefs. Having a clear understanding of what you believe God wants from you as a pastor and a church planter will sustain you through trying times of ministry.
I never gave much thought to my pastoral theology when I planted my first two churches in the 1990’s. Today, I am 8 years into my third church plant and before day one I had given a great deal of prayer and study to developing my pastoral theology.
So what is the difference between having a clearly defined pastoral theology in my current church plant and not having one in my previous two church plants? The difference was not in the success of the churches but in the success of my own personal ministry. Allow me to explain…
The two churches I planted in the early 90’s are still alive and thriving nearly 30 years later. Both church plants were given the foundation of organization, put on a trajectory of the Great Commission, and equipped with leadership.
Back then the closet thing I had in my mind to a pastoral theology was an image of Billy Graham authoritatively pointing his finger toward Heaven while balancing a Bible in his other hand. I often found myself running ahead of the church or behind the church pushing them.
You can plant a church by relying on the engineering of the mechanics of doctrinal statements with By-Laws, recruiting parishioners, and establishing a meeting location – all without having a personal theology of pastoral ministry – but not without having that anchor to keep you content and steadfast day in and day out.
Prior to starting my current church, I had come to a clear theological conviction that God’s calling on my life was to a “shepherd-teacher” ministry as explained in Ephesians 4:11. With the context and use of the word “and” I am of the understanding that this office is of the same function.
In understanding Ephesians 4:11 I now see my role in my church as fulfilling God’s purpose of leading His people into a learning and growing relationship with Him. With no surprise, I now filter everything I do as our church’s pastor through the objective of 2 Peter 3:18 helping our people “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Earlier in my ministry I acted as if I was called to a “leader-executive” role, but not that of a shepherd. I focused on butts in the pews and bucks in the plate, not so much about growing in grace or in knowledge of Christ. It also occurred to me that the word “pastor” is the Latin word for shepherd that the King James translators choose to insert for the Greek word “shepherd” in Ephesians 4:11. Being a pastor is being a shepherd.
I have found a great deal of personal contentment in having a clear identity for what God has for me in ministry as a Shepherd rather than as an Executive. That’s not to say that a pastor doesn’t operate in an executive mode or won’t need to make executive decisions. It is to say that I have personally found the Shepherd model to be less stressful and more fulfilling and more about the Good Shepherd than about any skills set I can offer.
Another aspect of my own personal theology of pastoral ministry is my understanding of what I am called to do. Being a “shepherd-teacher” is what I am convicted that I am called to be, but I am convicted from Acts 6:4 that I am called do the work of “prayer and ministry of the word.”
In my previous church plant journeys I thought I was called to do the work of Billy Graham. If I wasn’t on the radio or preaching somewhere, I was lining up outreach events. I spent an enormous amount of effort trying draw people into church, but my approach was backwards.
If I had a clear pastoral theology, I would have focused on being a shepherd to the sheep that God was giving me and would have invested more into equipping those sheep to do the work of evangelism. There is actually only one person in the Bible called an evangelist, and that is Phillip, a layman, a deacon, you find that in Acts 21:8. Interestingly, in 2 Timothy 4:5 we have a pastor in the Bible being told by Paul that he should also be “do the work of an evangelist.”
An executive can sit in the proverbial ivory tower, but a shepherd can not do his job unless he is with his sheep. He knows that sheep are valuable to others because they provide wool and sometimes food. He also knows that unless he is guiding them in receiving nourishment and leading them through rough terrain to safe paths, they will provide no value for others.
In 1 Peter 5:2 we read “Feed the flock of God which is among you” which seems to imply that the calling of a shepherd is to be with his sheep, not directing from a distant but among them. A shepherd ought to smell like his sheep.
There is a comfort in knowing that being with the sheep that God gives you also allows you to overlook and not get frustrated when your sheep are being sheep. Sheep get scared and easily fall down. Sheep forget. Sheep get angry and suddenly headbutt their shepherd.
Your theology of pastoral ministry doesn’t have to reflect my own, but if you will honestly wrestle with the Lord through prayer and study to develop your own, you will have a power source in sustaining you through the trying times of church planting.