As I continue looking at the last 8 years as pastor of Old Powhatan Baptist Church, here is part 3 in a series of things I have learned or that have been reaffirmed ministry, life and the church.
5. The Holy Spirit changes people, not programs. And Holy Spirit changed people change programs. This means that real, lasting change often takes longer than we want and happens in ways that we would not expect. Patience should mark the pastor. Never patience with obvious sin, but patience with people. The Spirit working in people works on God’s timetable, not on ours. Therefore, it stands to reason that pastors need to focus ourselves on the work of the Gospel in the lives of our people, trusting that the Spirit will bring HIS people to HIS purposes.
I have been tempted (and have fallen into that temptation) to push programs that are good and maybe even necessary, while neglecting to see the need for people to be changed first. That has been a hard lesson to learn, but one that will serve ministry for decades to come. Too many times people inside the church and outside the church have put pressure on pastors to “change this, change that” because “it’s old-fashioned, not the way I would do it, or not the way another, bigger, cooler church is doing it.” All those things may be true, but the pastor’s work is a soul work first. I praise the Lord for folks who have helped me be more patient to see God change PEOPLE first… and as those people have changed, the PROGRAMS have become what God would want, not just what I want, or what someone else thinks they should be.
Pastor… be patient. Patiently proclaim the Gospel. Patiently confront sin. Patiently pursue peace. Patiently pray for God to move. Patiently lead, not standing at the destination, saying “what’s wrong with you? Why won’t you follow?” Instead, enter the fray, smell like the sheep, demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Lead by example, lead by declaration, lead by the Spirit. Lead by growing in Christ, not just hoping others will grow. Be patient… He’s being patient with you!
6. Preferences are not the Gospel. How many times have I heard… “I don’t like that. I don’t like this. That’s not the way I would do it. Contemporary. Traditional. ESV. KJV. Local vs. International.” On one particular Sunday I had two people come to me separately. One said, “I don’t like the drums. They’re too loud. I don’t think they should be played in church. I can’t worship when the drums are playing.” 10 minutes later, the other grabbed me and said. “How can we ever reach people if we keep playing an organ? I hate the organ. It needs to go. I can’t worship with the organ playing.”
FANTASTIC. Who is right? Who is wrong? When preference becomes the Gospel to folks, their preferences rule their worship. Both were equally wrong. Both were equally guilty of setting up an idol that determined when and how they could worship. This happens all the time. But there is a more heinous reality I have had to come to terms with. Pastors… our preferences aren’t the Gospel either.
Call it “vision,” “direction…” Call it whatever you want. If it is not the revealed Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation… if it is not the whole counsel of God given to exhort, rebuke, grow… it is simply a preference, and pastors, we are just as guilty as our people of setting up our idols of preference and imposing them on others. Pastor, join me in repenting and trusting the One who is growing, transforming, and using, not only our programs and churches, but mainly our people to accomplish His purposes. He doesn’t need me, or you, or our preferences.