Monday, January 14, 2013

The 7 Worst (and best) Things I Did in Traditional Church Ministry

by pastor Smith

I recently left a twenty-five year pastorate and the professional ministry. The move came after a two year struggle of conscience where I tried to do what Wolfgang Simpson describes as “trying to cross the river without getting your feet wet.” After a year of reflection I offer to you the seven worst/best things I did as a conventional  church pastor.

1. Took a full-time salary. Until I left the ministry I had no idea how corrupting a compensation package is to the church. It changes the way you think about yourself and changes the way people view you. You become a sort of professional  Christian that floats above the unwashed masses of laity. It affects your decision-making almost every day. The Trinity becomes Father, Son and Holy Cash Flow.

2. Defended tithing as a principle. This is closely related to the first point. By “defended” I mean that I never really believed that tithing was a  New Testament requirement but I kept the clergy conspiracy of silence in order to protect the finances of the church. By “principle” I mean a nicer word for “law.” No one in our congregation had to  tithe but if they wanted to be in any leadership role…well…

3. Preached every Sunday. This was a surprising one for me because like most pastors I had a high degree of (over) confidence in my ability to inspire, entertain, and transform lives from the pulpit. Now, of course, I realize that being the  voice of God week after week creates a group of listeners who have no confidence in their own ability to hear God let alone teach others.

4. Promoted music as worship. Anyone attending our church for very long would come away with the idea that the half-hour music concert at the beginning of every Sunday morning celebration was the high point of praising and worshiping God. Presenting yourself as a living sacrifice each day came in a distant second.

5. Marketed the church. I spent an inordinate amount of time and money through the years keeping the church in the public view of our community. Advertising, signage, and special events, took the place of signs, wonders, and miracles in practice if not in doctrine.

6. Established an equipping track. The equipping part is classic discipleship. It’s the “track” part that crossed the line. Trying to systematize spiritual growth is not only inorganic and unscriptural, it is also impossible. Much time, energy, and emotion blackmail was expended pushing people through artificial, inflexible programs that at the end of the day puffed up more than they built up.

7. Purchased a building. My crowning achievement as pastor was saddling my congregation with 20+ years of debt and maintenance costs.

Life isn’t all bad, however. Here are the seven best things I did as a pastor:

1. Established cell groups. Beginning in 1994 we spent more and more time and emphasis on small groups. Routinely we had more people involved in cells than were attending Sunday mornings.

2. Taught people how to have devotions. I spent two years equipping the congregation how to journal their way through the Bible. People still contact me to tell me how much it has meant to them.

3. Became a police chaplain. In a desire to reach out beyond the congregation and model evangelism, I acted as police chaplain of our city for 16 years.

4. Reached out on campus. The church I pastored is located in a college town. With several others in the church I reached out regularly doing surveys with students. Some of my best ministry memories happened during these outings.

5. Made disciples. The longer I pastored the more time I spent building relationships with people and the less I spent preparing for Sunday. Ironically the less time I spent on “quality control” the better the services became.

6. Never stopped praying or learning. I have always viewed prayer as the R&D department of the church. It was prayer that launched me into the ministry, prayer that sustained me in the ministry, and ultimately it was prayer that led me out of the ministry.

7. Pastored bi-vocationally. The first two years and the last two years I worked part-time outside the church. The first two out of necessity and the last two out of choice. The last two also prepared me to support myself in the simple church ministry role I have now.

I can summarize these two lists this way: Most of the worst things I did as a pastor I did promoting, protecting, maintaining, and leading Sunday morning services. Most of the best things I did as a pastor I did during the course of living life during the week. Hopefully these lists will help equip others to avoid the same mistakes.

Pastor Smith was a conventional church pastor for 25 years in the Northwest. He now lives with his wife in Las Vegas, NV coaching simple churches, reaching out to the lost, and ministering bi-vocationally.

Originally published here:

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Anonymous said...

Very good I believe a lot of the same way we were told at a church we attended that we had to watch a tithing video in order to be on the worship team and our tithes would be monitored to make sure we were doing what we were told to do we declined needless to say we weren't allowed on the worship team oh and we also had to become members

Anonymous said...

Why, Pastor Smith!
am so happy to hear news of you

And that you seem to have your "Kill Darius" well sorted out.

I've never forgotten that message you gave so long ago when you returned from N'Awlins.

Good on ya, Bro!
Craig Adams