By Dr. Kevin Smith

Disillusionment – I never expected that to play such a role in the lives of so many pastors. However, in my roles as a pastor, a state convention president (Kentucky Baptist Convention ’15-’16), and now, denominational servant for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, I have regular opportunities to encourage discouraged pastors. Often, these shepherds, who desire Christ-honoring fruit (John 15:16), have encountered unexpected challenges in leading a congregation and now are recalibrating.

KEVIN SMITH, Executive Director, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware

This brief essay is not “What-They- Didn’t-Teach-in-Seminary 2.0.” No, this is a combination of things that a pastor can forget, things never learned, or things (maybe learned) that can’t really be considered until experienced. I claim no special insight – I have been aided in my journey. First, my late pastor, D.J. Ward (Main St. Baptist Church, Lexington, KY) spent so much time with me, doing case studies in our congregation. This was a tremendous benefit to me and other young ministers. Second, biographies and writings of pastors were helpful in my development – particularly, C.H. Spurgeon’s “Minister’s Fainting Fits,” and his involvement in the “Downgrade Controversy,” along with D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Spiritual Depression.” Third, I have been a part of/interacted with some the U.S.’s largest Baptist denominations and have benefited from the counsel of many pastors and members of Christ’s congregations (1 Corinthians 12).

Regardless of a congregation’s age (one year or 100 years), size, geographic location, or “style” (I don’t like that term), I have found that pastors must recalibrate their expectations regarding certain matters:

ROLE OF RELATIONAL DYNAMICS

Relational I.Q., interpersonal skills, being a “people person” – however you term it, many pastors did not expect that their work would be significantly shaped by this dynamic, in positive or negative ways. I have seen pastors value faithful biblical preaching and effective programming, yet somehow give inadequate
weight to the “interaction-with-people” component of their work. Pastors deal with real people, in real congregations and communities, in their fullness – the good, the bad, and the ugly! This can’t be avoided – ask Moses, Joshua, Gideon, James, or John.

First, I am still surprised to meet pastors that don’t seem to like people, be into people, or desire to have relationships with God’s sheep that they are shepherding (Acts 20:28). That expectation must change.

Second, too often, I meet pastors that seem to struggle with the relational dynamics of Baptist policy and congregationalism, and its accompanying “democratic processes” (Baptist Faith & Message, Article VI). We don’t have a hierarchical structure like Methodists or Anglicans. We don’t have an outside presbytery to guide us like Presbyterians. We must lead, build and maintain biblical, spiritual, and mission consensus with the folks in the pews. Yes, they can be challenging, peculiar, mean, and at various levels of Christian maturity, but you should have expected that. By the way, they can also be loving, encouraging, fruitful, and constantly growing.

Third, the need for conflict resolution, among congregants, should be an expectation of pastors. A casual reading of the New Testament finds Jesus resolving conflict among His disciples, the early church experiencing conflicts soon after the Day of Pentecost, and letters written to congregations which often address conflict. Expect it and be prepared to bring biblical, godly pastoral leadership to the situation.

COSTS OF BIBLICAL CONVICTIONS

“Earnestly contending for the faith” (Jude 3) can be costly. Now, let me quickly state that this has always been the case. However, I regularly meet pastors who struggle with this element of their work in a society that is ever-increasing in hostility to biblical truth. Additionally, they don’t expect that their congregations have been influenced by that hostility, resulting in unbiblical selfishness (individualism), antiauthoritarianism, and rejections of absolute truth. Expect it! Whether you compare our contemporary moment to Egypt, Babylon, or Rome – expect to pay significant costs when you speak like the faithful prophets, declaring “thus saith the Lord.”

Two historic, universal examples – the Church has always paid costs to contend for the Bible’s teachings about the exclusivity of Christ (John 14:6) and the Godhead/Trinity (Romans 1:20; Matthew 3:16-17). In societies with ideological pluralism, syncretism, inclusivism, and numerous idols – the costs of contending for the Church’s truth-claims have been and should be an expectation for most disciples of Jesus, at most places, in most times. (This is certainly the case as I edit this article from Western Kenya, on a BCM/D partnership mission trip, discussing these very issues with Kenyan pastors.)

Two contemporary examples – the Church in the Western world must contend for the Bible’s teaching about creation and the image of God in humans. Since the late 19th century, Darwinian evolutionary theories have conflicted with biblical truth. A rejection of God as Creator puts societies under the influence of “reprobate”/corrupt thoughts and worldviews (Romans 1:28). In many settings – work, universities, media, family – disciples of Jesus pay a “cost” for standing upon the Bible’s teachings. As our society gets more confused about human dignity, pastors must provide an example for God’s sheep of biblical fidelity in a challenging era. In creation, God ordained male and female, so they aren’t mere “cultural-constructs.” If humans are created in God’s image, then partiality (whether racial, ethnic, socio-economic, or gender) is sin (James 2:1). These foundational biblical truth-claims conflict with many surrounding worldviews. Expect to pay costs as you stand on biblical truth.

IMPORTANCE OF MISSIOLOGICAL ENGAGEMENT

Some pastors relate well to the congregation and contend for the faith, yet don’t expect to be the missions/evangelism leader in their congregation. In Baptist circles, we often talk about the Great Commission. However, many congregations suffer from a lack of Acts 1:8 zeal amongst the congregants. Often this is related to the lack of a clear, pastoral example of consistent commitment to seeking to win people (souls!) to Christ. Whatever the methodology, pastors must demonstrate an “example” (1 Timothy 4:12) of faithful, informal (not in the pulpit) sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with unbelievers. As a pastor, I have sought to push God’s people out (relationally) of the walls/safety of the church and into the needy world around them. In my life, that often involved families whose kids were on sports teams with my kids and bikers at various Harley Davidson rallies and events. Expect to exhort your folk towards evangelism and expect that the greatest motivation for them is the personal example of their pastor.

ROLE OF ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP

The overwhelming use of the pronoun “you” in the New Testament is second-person plural. Thus, God exhorts His people (plural) and those people are led by pastors. This reminder is needed for Christ-followers who find themselves living in autonomous, individualistic Western societies. Often pastors struggle to lead the congregation, both in terms of (1) discipleship and growth in holiness, and (2) execution of mission efforts related to their congregation in its context.

This is related to the earlier mention of relational dynamics. Scripture reveals clearly that God’s people need leadership, and they will be led, either by godly leaders or influenced (led!) by the surrounding worldly leaders (some who dress in religious garments). Pastors should expect to give attention to execution and influence. Can our congregation get things done, or do we just talk about it? Do I have pastoral leadership influence with members of our congregation?

In my work, I emphasize Ephesians 4:11 to pastors. Often pastors are full of zeal for the Lord, yet lacking in the ability to lead members of the congregation to grow as disciples of Jesus and do the work of the ministry. I understand the concerns some have about an overemphasis on studying leadership principles to the neglect of other things – but that concern does not alter the fact that the ability to lead people is vital to the fruitful functioning of a congregation. Nothing is clearer than the sanctifying influence that Joshua (and his generation) had on the children of Israel, and the execution of various projects led by leaders like Moses, Nehemiah, and David.

A rejection of God as Creator puts societies under the influence of “reprobate”/corrupt thoughts and worldviews (Romans 1:28). In many settings – work, universities, media, family – disciples of Jesus pay a “cost” for standing upon the Bible’s teachings. As our society gets more confused about human dignity, pastors must provide an example for God’s sheep of biblical fidelity in a challenging era. In creation, God-ordained male and female, so they aren’t mere “cultural-constructs.” If humans are created in God’s image, then partiality (whether racial, ethnic, socio-economic, or gender) is sin (James 2:1).

These foundational biblical truth-claims conflict with many surrounding worldviews. Expect to pay costs as you stand on biblical truth.

IMPORTANCE OF MISSIOLOGICAL ENGAGEMENT

Some pastors relate well to the congregation and contend for the faith, yet don’t expect to be the missions/evangelism leader in their congregation. In Baptist circles, we often talk about the Great Commission. However, many congregations suffer from a lack of Acts 1:8 zeal amongst the congregants. Often this is related to the lack of a clear, pastoral example of consistent commitment to seeking to win people (souls!) to Christ.

Whatever the methodology, pastors must demonstrate an “example” (1 Timothy 4:12) of faithful, informal (not in the pulpit) sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with unbelievers. As a pastor, I have sought to push God’s people out (relationally) of the walls/safety of the church and into the needy world around them. In my life that often involved families whose kids were on sports teams with my kids and bikers at various Harley Davidson rallies and events. Expect to exhort your folk towards evangelism and expect that the greatest motivation for them is the personal example of their pastor.

ROLE OF ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP

The overwhelming use of the pronoun “you” in the New Testament is second-person plural. Thus, God exhorts His people (plural) and those people are led by pastors. This reminder is needed for Christ-followers who find themselves living in autonomous, individualistic Western societies. Often pastors struggle to lead the congregation, both in terms of (1) discipleship and growth in holiness, and (2) execution of mission efforts related to their congregation in its context.

This is related to the earlier mention of relational dynamics. Scripture reveals clearly that God’s people need leadership, and they will be led, either by godly leaders or influenced (led!) by the surrounding worldly leaders (some who dress in religious garments). Pastors should expect to give attention to execution and influence. Can our congregation get things done, or do we just talk about it? Do I have pastoral leadership influence with members of our congregation?

In my work, I emphasize Ephesians 4:11 to pastors. Often pastors are full of zeal for the Lord, yet lacking in the ability to lead members of the congregation to grow as disciples of Jesus AND do the work of the ministry. I understand the concerns some have about an overemphasis on studying leadership principles to the neglect of other things – but that concern does not alter the fact that the ability to lead people is vital to the fruitful functioning of a congregation. Nothing is clearer than the sanctifying influence that Joshua (and his generation) had on the children of Israel, and the execution of various projects led by leaders like Moses, Nehemiah, and David.

The entire congregation needs to be led, but I have seen pastors struggle with certain groups: (1) young adults, (2) white-collar professionals, (3) folks with no church background, and (4) those of varying ethnic backgrounds (as communities have demographic shifts). Pastors need to measure their leadership skills by their ability to engage those that are currently at the edges or periphery of congregational life. Pastors should expect this to be challenging work requiring intentional, rigorous effort.

IMPORTANCE OF THE PASTOR’S OWN SANCTIFICATION

Finally, I often find that pastors are surprised as the Lord works on/in them. Pastors should expect, as disciples themselves, that they would grow in godliness as they serve God’s people. The patience required, the insults endured, the resistance encountered – often, God is revealing ways in which His people (the congregation) need to be further sanctified, AND simultaneously revealing ways in which His person [the pastor] needs to be further sanctified. Disillusionment and discouragement can be reduced if pastors have biblically-rooted expectations.

Dr. Kevin Smith is the executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware 

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 edition of BaptistLIFE magazine. (Cover photo by Ben White on Unsplash)