Cultivating a Heart for Long-Haul Ministry in Church Revitalization: Part 2
The question we are seeking to answer in this two part series is this: Is a long-haul ministry mindset all that important? Specifically, in church revitalization, is a lasting commitment to leading and shepherding a particular congregation needed to see healthy, sustainable renewal become a reality for that church? If so, why? What are some of the reasons this is so important?
In a recent article [i], Pastor Scott Catoe offers up ten reasons why long-haul ministry is so important and so effective. According to Catoe, long tenures are vital to the discipleship, health, and future ministry of a church. I believe history shows that he is exactly right! In Part 1, we looked at the first five of these reasons, here we will consider the second five...
#6. Long-term commitment is the only antidote to the stepping-stone syndrome.
Many pastors have bought the lie that success in ministry means pastoring at an exceptionally large church, and sadly, it’s not unusual for pastors to skip from small churches to bigger churches looking for a better position. I don’t have anything against large churches. I’ve served in large churches and I praise God for large churches. But the normative size church has around seventy-five to ninety people in attendance, and the truth is most pastors will serve in such a place. The narrative that we need a mega-church with a huge budget and a big building needs to give way to reestablishing the calling of the pastor. This is the sacred calling to shepherd God’s people, to preach the Word, to find boundless joy in our work, and to understand the weight of caring for souls. A small, declining church is not a stepping-stone to a more lucrative opportunity with a bigger platform. The greater opportunity is staying right there for the long haul, and helping to bring about vibrancy and healthy growth.
#7. Teaching ministry requires longevity.
Teaching the whole counsel of God through expository preaching takes time. It takes time to disciple your people, to help them learn how to study the Bible on their own and to correctly apply the text to their lives. This kind of vision for preaching, discipleship, and teaching ministry requires a significant amount of effort and persistence in order to bring about the fruit of growth. Our sanctification is a long-haul process. In the same way, our teaching ministries must be marked by a commitment to helping people grow by sticking around. And don’t buy the lie that small or rural churches needing a big dose of pastoral care don’t also need solid biblical teaching. Rooting people in God’s word is just as important whether you serve in a young urban church or an elderly congregation 50 miles from the nearest Target.
#8. Longevity gives you the opportunity to celebrate victories that you have waited on.
I always feel bad for folks who leave a baseball game in the 7th inning, only to miss the most exciting part of the game! By definition, a church revitalization project is happening in the context of a congregation that has been around for a long time, so the turnaround you’re waiting for is likely going to come slowly, too. It may take many years of preparation, conversations, and love before new families start to come or you see your first baptism. We rob ourselves and our churches of the joy of experiencing those victories and celebrations of what God has done when we leave too soon. It’s in taking time, being faithful, and trusting God for the long haul that we get to celebrate some of the greatest victories in the local church.
#9. Rural culture values longevity.
Many churches in rural communities are in need of revitalization, and maybe this is where you find yourself. If you are leading a rural church with urban expectations it can have detrimental consequences and negative implications for the church. Change and progress look different in the rural church where health and survival may be the pressing concern. As the saying goes, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” In a culture where change is slow and commitment is a virtue, a pastor should plan on putting down roots to patiently shepherd a flock. Only then will trust be built and growth experienced in the life of the congregation.
Here’s a great example of a faithful rural pastor who was instrumental in my own coming to Christ. Jim Brown shepherded the same congregation for many years in a tiny Wyoming town you’ve never heard of—he knew the people, loved them, married them and buried them, all the while preaching the Word, week in and week out. I got saved under his teaching at a church camp (although at the time he probably didn’t anticipate the impact his service there would have). Jim demonstrates the beautiful power of faithfully showing up—a value, I might add, that is important whether you serve in a rural context or a huge city.
#10. It paints a picture of the faithfulness of Christ.
This is the exclamation mark on all of these points. When we bounce from place to place in pastoral ministry, what does that communicate about the faithfulness of Christ? The Gospel is such good news because a gracious God came to save sinners like us, to redeem us through the blood of his Son, Jesus. When we are in Christ, as we have repented of sin and we have trusted in him as Savior and Lord, we are assured of our salvation, which means we are assured of his commitment. He is faithful to us even when we are faithless. This is the good news of the love of God. As we stay with our local church, loving, encouraging, and praying for them, we model Christ’s faithfulness to the congregation and to our families.
[i] Scott Catoe, “Ten Reasons Pastoral Tenure Matters,” thepillarnetwork.com,https://www.thepillarnetwork.com/pillarblog/10-reasons-pastoral-tenure-matters (accessed January 24, 2022).