Archives For pastors

To protect and serve

Lisa Misner —  July 29, 2019

By Nate Adams

church pews

Some churches have business meetings every month. Some have them once a year. My home church has probably the most common practice, gathering once a quarter to hear reports and consider major actions not already approved in our annual budget and ministry plan.

An extra meeting at church every three months really isn’t that much to ask. Yet when our church’s most recent business meeting rolled around, it was on a stormy summer evening when I had a hundred other things to do. Knowing of no controversies or big decisions, I found it tempting to stay home. After all, a friend of mine once jokingly referred to church business meetings as the Baptist version of purgatory.

But my wife and I have committed to participating whenever we can, not just in our church’s ministries, but in our church’s business. The motto, “To Protect and to Serve,” used by many police departments, also describes our responsibilities as devoted, mature church members. We should both serve through our church, and also protect the integrity and resources of our church.

In recent days, I have seen sad evidence of churches whose members did not guard their business well. In each case, an unscrupulous man used the role of pastor, not to guard and shepherd the flock, but to fleece it.

Church members are responsible to do both.

The pattern was generally the same each time. The churches were small and vulnerable, with few strong leaders. Often in a state of discouragement or desperation, they called men as pastors who promised a better future. Like too many churches, they also hired more with hope than with carefully researched background, references, and secondary references.

After a brief honeymoon period, these men began taking more and more control of finances, property, decision processes, and leadership selection. Anyone who questioned their authority was quickly marginalized, or accused of something, or asked to leave. Soon the small church was even smaller, left primarily with members who didn’t have the ability or the will to oppose. Then whatever finances or property the church possessed was gradually or quickly depleted, or outright taken, by the man the church had trusted to be their shepherd.

It’s often not until then that a handful of the remaining members realize what has happened to their church. They look around for church leaders to help, but most of those folks left shaking their heads when the so-called pastor began his abuses.

And it’s often then that one of the IBSA staff or I will receive a call. And yet, because each Baptist church is autonomous, members with standing in that church, operating within its approved governance and documents, are needed to challenge the abuse that is happening.

Fortunately, most churches do have a core of devoted, discerning leaders who detect this kind of abuse in its early stages, and who guard their church with spiritual courage, and with an understanding of its governance and legal protections. And when there is strong associational leadership in place, these church leaders also have a nearby and willing advocate.

These leaders know to place language, not only in the church’s bylaws but in the deed to its property, that stipulate what happens to the property if it ever ceases to be a Baptist church. They know to put appropriate financial controls and accountability in place that prevent any individual, or any small group, from having inappropriate access to funds. And they are willing to confront even the man who calls himself pastor, when he is brazenly and selfishly exploiting the church from within.

The overwhelming majority of churches I know are served by humble, loving, self-sacrificing pastors and leaders. But especially if your church is small or vulnerable, you may one day be the one called upon by your church not only to serve, but to protect.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

In the golden age of piracy, a pirate captain had power, authority, and a wide-brimmed hat that set him apart as commander of his ship. His crew agreed to follow their captain wherever the seas took them.

While the captain had legitimate power to move the ship onward, the ship’s quartermaster had a different kind of influence. Often placed second in command, the quartermaster’s primary job was to take care of both the needs and the discipline of the crew. He interacted with his fellow pirates on a daily basis and had the responsibility of keeping up morale and making sure the crew was effective in their daily duties.

His influence, though not official, also allowed him to have authority over the crew. And if the captain became despotic, the quartermaster could use his influence to assume power and lead a mutiny.

Pirates don’t pastor churches, but pastors and church leaders do wield different types of influence. Each can be used wisely for the edification of the church and the glory of God.

1. Legitimate influence. This is formal authority, like the captain, the President of the United States, a police officer, and yes, a pastor. A person with legitimate influence occupies an official position and because of that, has authority. Biblical examples of this kind of influence include King Saul and King David, both anointed king by God’s prophet Samuel.

2. Referent influence. Like the quartermaster who understands and cares about the needs of the crew, referent influence is based on affection, trust, integrity, and dependability. While the culture’s referent influence comes from Hollywood actors and star athletes, referent influence in ministry often comes from missionaries, ministry leaders, and again, the pastor. He may start with legitimate influence, but to be most effective long-term, a pastor must develop referent influence.

3. Reward influence. This type of influence is based on the ability to offer rewards or incentives to motivate. A general example of this is an employer/manager or a military superior. In ministry, a pastor can utilize reward influence.

Paul’s commendations at the end of his letter to the Romans showcase the value of reward influence. He extends warm greetings to several fellow believers by name, and then addresses the whole church. “The report of your obedience has reached everyone. Therefore I rejoice over you…” (Romans 16:19).

4. Coercive influence. Averse to reward influence, coercive influence is based on the ability to punish, discipline, or penalize. This kind of influence also comes from an employer or superior. The same authority that can promote you can also fire you.

Pastors also have this kind of influence, though it should only be used on rare occasions.

5. Expert influence. This influence is based on knowledge, special skills, or insight that others do not have. Examples of expert influence include doctors, lawyers, teachers, and scientists. Pastors and other full-time ministers and experienced Bible teachers can become experts in their ministries. They follow trends, know what works and what doesn’t, and have experience dealing with a variety of issues and challenges.

6. Informational influence. Though not an expert, someone with informational influence possesses the ability to attain and distribute information, and usually to effect change. This influence stems from personal connections. Political leaders and people in sales are prime examples. Similarly, pastors, elders, and denominational workers can use their connections as a way to influence people around them, for the glory of God.

God is the ultimate source of pastoral influence, and we as leaders are completely dependent upon him. However, we are called by God and affirmed by our congregations, and we should be moving our people toward God’s agenda.

In other words, we want people to do what God wants them to do. Most of us influence and lead with our own intuitive style, but understanding different kinds of influence—seen both now and in a biblical context—can help us be more intentional based on the challenges and needs of our specific ministries.

– Bryan Price pastors Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville.

Grilled, not toasted

Lisa Misner —  June 6, 2019

By Eric Reed

toastTwo things surprised me about my ordination: the interview was not nearly as painful as I anticipated, and it was scheduled 90 minutes prior to the evening service where I was to be set apart for God’s use.

What if I fail the test? I thought. My mother drove 10 hours to attend the service. And there’s an ice cream social afterward. What will happen to all that ice cream if I give the wrong answers?

I passed.

A dozen of the church’s finest gathered in the church library and asked me to share my testimony and my calling. (As I had recently written at length about that for my seminary application, the telling of it was easy and lasted about 40 minutes of the hour they reserved for the meeting.) Had I read The Baptist Faith & Message? (I had. In fact, the previous pastor had required it as part of a church membership class.) Did I disagree with any basic Baptist doctrines? (I did not.)

Their vote was unanimous. Half an hour later the church body approved. It seemed right that my little local congregation was doing the ordaining; after all, they knew me. I had served as their youth minister for two years.

I still remember a few prayers of those men as they laid hands on my head and whispered over me. Then came their wives and other members of the church. The praying lasted longer than the quizzing as the line to affirm God’s call wound around the inside walls of the sanctuary and Norma Lassiter played hymn after hymn on the Hammond.

Those men were serious, and they took their responsibility seriously. I recall with appreciation those who signed my ordination certificate: Leslie Rooks and Stephen Young and Marion Oldham and Luther Barker and more.

Anyone ordained in a Southern Baptist church might tell a similar story. They might also tell this one, as a friend described his own ordaining council: “I expected to be grilled, and instead I was toasted”—as if they had raised a glass in his honor.

In retrospect, I respect those men and the process. But times have changed and the call for more stringent screening is appropriate. The questions I have asked in ordaining councils have gotten tougher across the years, and yes, even a bit embarrassing, but it’s necessary. And ordaining councils would be well advised to bring directors of missions and pastors, a theologian, and men who aren’t so close to the candidate into the process to beef it up.

For the safety and well-being of the church, the pastorate, and the faith, we need to do more grilling and less toasting.

– Eric Reed

Improving ordination

Lisa Misner —  June 3, 2019

More careful interview process needed to protect churches

By Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

Ordination_web

The ordination process of Southern Baptist churches is a weak spot when it comes to protecting congregations from sexual predators, according to a report released May 9.

The report, “Above Reproach: A Study of the Ordination Practices of SBC Churches,” was conducted by Jason A. Lowe, an associational mission strategist in Kentucky, in response to a Feb. 10 Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches.

Lowe began polling pastors and other Baptist leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention on Feb. 20, two days after SBC President J.D. Greear presented 10 calls to action from the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study, one of which was to enhance the ordination screening process.

IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said the survey is helpful because it inquired about familiar aspects of ordination, but also some that are less often considered. “For example, it asked about various types of background checks as part of the ordination process, and also about how ordination councils can provide follow-up and accountability,” Adams said.

The screening process is a “sacred responsibility” that needs to be taken seriously, Greear said at a February meeting of Baptist newspaper editors. He explained that ordination candidates should have no hint of sexual abuse or cover up in their past. Greear asked why background checks are often more rigorous for children’s ministry volunteers than for people being ordained to lead.

Fewer than 1/3 of ordination candidates were required to have a background check.

Ordination, a process that sets a person aside for ministerial service, is left up to each individual Southern Baptist congregation in keeping with the SBC’s policy of church autonomy. Churches may review a person’s salvation experience, pastoral call, qualifications, and potentially his experience or seminary training to determine if he’s an appropriate candidate, according to the SBC’s website, sbc.net.

But Lowe wrote in his article that up until now, no one had a good snapshot of what was actually happening across the SBC when it came to ordination practices. “Very little study” has been done on this topic, he said.

“No one knows how thoroughly candidates for ordination are being examined,”
wrote Lowe, who serves as associational mission strategist for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists in southeastern Kentucky, as well as executive pastor for First Baptist Church of Pikeville.

“No one knows how many ordination councils require candidates to complete a background check,” he wrote. “No one knows how many ordination councils examine a candidate’s sexual purity.”

In late February and early March, Lowe gathered 555 survey responses. He compiled his findings in a 42-page report and noted five significant points of interest:

1. SBC ordination practices have significant room for improvement. In addition to Greear, other SBC leaders had spoken out about weaknesses in the ordination process ahead of Lowe’s report.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in February that “lackadaisical ordination will produce doctrinally dubious and morally corrupt pastors.” That kind of trend “must end and churches must take responsibility for those men they ordain for ministry,” he wrote.

Thom Rainer, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources, also wrote that because of the weak process, “we ‘bless’ new pastoral candidates who may not be ready for ministry at the least, and who are sexual predators at worst.”

Lowe said his report confirmed their observations. “While there are some encouraging trends, [Southern Baptist] churches need to improve our current ordination practices in a number of ways,” he said. For example, only 30.2% of ordained ministers were required to have a background check and only 29.4% were asked about their sexual purity. Also, in roughly 60% of cases, the ordination service was publicized before screening took place and the screening council happened on the same day as the service.

“Ordination is too important and consequential to be handled casually or quickly,” Adams said. “I would start by inviting local associational leadership into the process, and developing a plan for the ordination that allows sufficient time, and that can be thorough and involve as many ordained men as reasonable.” He also suggested churches obtain a guide or checklist of ordination best practices that would include steps of preparation for the candidate and the ordination council.

2. Discussions regarding a candidate’s sexual purity are sparse, but on the rise. Even though sexual purity is not discussed most of the time, the report found that there has been a “significant uptick (40.5%) since 2010.”

During the ordination process, Adams said, questions of an extremely personal nature should be tempered with a sense of appropriateness, respect for the candidate’s privacy, and recognition that past mistakes and especially pre-conversion behavior are not necessarily disqualifiers.

“That being said,” he added, “in today’s world especially, ordination councils—and pastor search teams too, for that matter—are wise to include in their processes background checks, reference checks, and secondary reference checks, and even a loving line of questioning about personal purity.”

Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, suggested a standard questionnaire about sexual purity and other moral issues could be helpful for ordination councils.

3. SBC ordination practices are changing in both positive and negative ways. Lowe’s survey garnered information on ordinations spanning every decade since the 1960s, and across the years, a number of trends emerged. Some were positive—for instance, more churches are requiring theological training, and more are conducting background checks and asking candidates about sexual purity.

But on the other hand, the role of the ordination council seems to be decreasing in importance. Screening periods have gotten shorter as a whole, and councils involve fewer ordained pastors.

Pajak recommended councils seek help from others. “Few church members may feel qualified to ask theological questions,” he said. “That is why the practice of church councils inviting associational mission strategists and other pastors to sit in on the questioning is necessary, but unfortunately, rarely done.”

Adams suggested every Baptist ordination council should have at least one, and hopefully several, members who have studied The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (Southern Baptists’ statement of faith) thoroughly enough to question the candidate through its articles. “That’s why it can be valuable to have multiple pastors involved in ordination processes, as well as local association or state convention staff that are usually available to help when needed.”

4. Ordaining churches in more populated areas set higher standards for their ordination candidates. The report data showed urban and suburban churches handling the process differently than churches in less-populated areas. City churches more often check on candidates both before and after ordination and require training more often. Rural churches are more likely to publicize the ordination service before a candidate is approved, then conduct the screening on the same day as the service.

Joe Lawson is associational mission strategist in Rehoboth and Louisville Baptist Associations. He agreed with Lowe that interview questions are important, but said they should be part of a longer-term mentoring relationship that starts well before the ordination process. “By the time a person is ordained, they have very likely been in a position of leadership teaching children, youth, and/or coed adults in church. They have also preached,” Lawson said. “A candidate desiring to pursue a call to ministry should have a pastor/mentor who will ask the questions about debt, sexual purity, and other behaviors, i.e. drugs and alcohol. It is easy to hide and not be transparent about the sin in our lives. Yet, leadership demands that we hold each other accountable.”

5. Larger churches are more thorough in their examination of ordination candidates. Churches with a larger membership are more likely to cover more topics during the screening process, require a background check, and require training.

Lawson cautioned against creating too rigid a barrier between ordination and theological education, though. “Personally, I am a little concerned we could establish a hierarchy of clergy and lose the power of the Spirit of God and the call of God in people’s lives,” he said. “Many of our churches are served by folks who are well-read, articulate, and theologically sound, but not formally educated. They are effective pastors serving in small places.”

Lowe didn’t make any specific recommendations for improvements, but he wrote that he shared the findings “with the hope of generating productive conversations among Southern Baptists as we seek ways to improve our ordination practices in the days ahead.”

“Ordination by local churches is one of the grassroots practices that has for generations allowed Baptist churches to recognize and develop leaders, accelerate proclamation of the gospel, and establish new churches more rapidly and expansively than other groups,” Adams said. “That’s why it’s imperative that ordination by local churches be administered responsibly and thoroughly, whether its result is to qualify or to disqualify.”

The full report is available at https://jasonalowe.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/sbc-ordination-practices-report.pdf.

– Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

Giving is up amid declines in baptisms, membership, and worship attendance
The most recent Annual Church Profile reports collected by the Southern Baptist Convention show continued decline in key markers, including a 3% decrease in baptisms from the previous year. And Christianity Today noted membership fell to 14.8 million in 2018, the lowest since 1987.

“As we look forward, it is time to press reset spiritually and strategically in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd. “Prioritizing and elevating the advancement of the good news of Jesus Christ into every town, city and county in America, as well to every person across the world, must be recaptured by every church.”

>Related: New data from the General Social Survey says just over half of people who were Southern Baptists at 16 still are as adults.

Churchgoers split on existence of undiscovered sexual abuse by pastors
Nearly all churchgoers say their church is a safe place where children and teenagers are protected from sexual abuse, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. But almost one-third (32%) also believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than we have heard about, while 37% disagree and 31% say they don’t know.

Texas lawmakers pass ‘Save Chick-Fil-A’ bill
A so-called “Save Chick-Fil-A” bill was approved May 22 by Texas lawmakers, prohibiting government entities from acting against businesses and people because of their associations with religious organizations. The bill is connected to the chicken chain following the San Antonio airport’s decision to deny space to Chick-Fil-A based on its support for traditional marriage. Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law.

Younger Americans find more meaning in work than religion
Americans under 40—less likely to say religion is important to them—are finding more meaning and identity in the companies they work for and the jobs they do, Fast Company reports.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today, LifeWay Research, Fast Company

Read: Acts 6:4 (ESV)

“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Time management

By Adron Robinson

There are 168 hours in a week, and most weeks they seem to go by way too fast. Each week has a variety of good things you can do to fill those hours: community meetings, phone calls, pastoral care, staff development, membership concerns, teaching, sermon preparation, and the list goes on. But how do you determine how much time to spend on each of them when there are so many options?

In Acts 6:1-4, the church was growing rapidly, and because of this, the disciples had to make some hard decisions about how to divide their time. There were people in need and ministry to be done, and they had the same 168 hours a week that you and I have. But they made a decision to prioritize their time by focusing on what God called them to do and to delegate to capable people that which was not their calling.

The apostles said: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” And pastor, it is not right for you to serve tables at the neglect of prayer and preaching the word.

Prayer and preaching are the pastor’s priority. You must discipline your time to allow for prayer and the ministry of the word. If you are not intentional about spending time with God and his word, you will find yourself giving God your leftovers instead of your first fruit.

It takes time to pray and it takes time to study and craft biblically sound sermons. So, set aside the hours to do what God called you to do and delegate the things that others can do. Every Christian can serve, but the pastor is called to preach the word.

Prayer Prompt: Lord, Sundays seem to come so fast and there is so much work to do. Grant us your wisdom and discernment to make prayer and preaching our first priority, so that we can commit our time to our calling.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

Our neverending task

Lisa Misner —  March 4, 2019

By Nate Adams

In addition to a great faculty of Illinois pastors and church leaders, last month’s 2019 Illinois Leadership Summit welcomed Mark Clifton as its primary speaker. Mark has been a pastor, a church planter and replanter, and a director of missions for decades. He now serves churches through the North American Mission Board in the area of church replanting.

The theme of our conference was “Reimagine.” I was hoping that leaders in general, not just church replanters and revitalizers, would benefit from Mark’s teaching. I was not disappointed.

As Mark began describing churches that should consider replanting, he clarified that he was talking about churches that, presuming they remain on their current trajectories, would probably need to close their doors in the next three to five years. And yet as he described the characteristics and needs of those declining or dying churches, I saw many, many pastors and leaders in the room nodding in empathy and agreement. Their churches may not have been five years from closing, but it was clear they recognized some of the same danger signs in their own settings. In a sense, all pastors must be revitalizers or replanters.

Churches that die, Mark asserted, tend to value their own preferences over the needs of the unreached. They cease, perhaps gradually, to be part of the fabric of the community. In fact, what was once a community church often becomes a commuter church.

On today’s ministry landscape, all pastors must be ‘vitalizers.’

As the church declines, some members tend to resent the community for not responding the way they once did. They may work harder and harder on church programs or activities, but these tend to be for insiders, and have little impact on the unchurched, or little relevance to the community.

Dying churches, Mark observed, also seem to have an inability to pass meaningful leadership on to the next generation, and they can often confuse caring for the church building with caring for the church and community. Dying churches value the process of decision-making more than the outcomes of those decisions. And a few strong personalities tend to drive those decisions, while others remain silent or simply drift away.

Of course, it’s much easier to recognize those kinds of traits in churches other than your own. That’s why an outside perspective or consultant is often helpful. And as this experienced leader from outside Illinois described the churches with which he had worked over the years, it was as if he was holding up a mirror in which we could also see ourselves.

One thing I really appreciate about Mark’s background and experience is that he had invested 10 years in a Midwest, urban church that had declined to 18 people when he arrived and grew back to about 120 by the time he left. He spoke personally and lovingly, not of “small” churches, but of “normative” size churches, reminding us that 63% of SBC churches in America have less than 100 in worship, and 83% have less than 200. If we are going to penetrate the lostness of our nation, he reminded us, it will not just be through large churches, but through thousands of normative-size churches, both revitalized and newly planted.

My greatest personal takeaway from the conference was simply this. Especially in the normative-size churches of Illinois, the primary focus of a pastor or church leader must be to bring vitality to a church by leading it proactively out into its community. Replanting is only necessary when revitalization doesn’t happen in time. And revitalization is only necessary if we allow the church’s intended vitality to fade.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.