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Pastor, Get Out of the Way

Spider WebI love preaching. Love it. In my ministerial duties there’s probably only one thing I find more invigorating than preaching: sitting under the preaching of men I’ve been privileged to pastor. Of course, that requires that I get out of the way, which I’m glad to do. There’s a reason for that. More than one, in fact.

First, my job description from Ephesians 4:11-12 is not to do the ministry or be the ministry. It’s to equip for ministry—to preach and train and pray for two of the core values of TCBC: every member ministry and decentralized leadership. The ministry mustn’t rise and fall with me. For example, the relationships in the church shouldn’t be like a wagon wheel in which all the spokes are connected to the pastor-hub. Instead, church relationships should be like a spiderweb, moving in every possible direction, thereby making every member both important and expendable—including the pastor. The only indispensable one is also the only preeminent one: Jesus Christ.

Second, my goal from 2 Timothy 2:2 is to teach faithful men who will be able to teach others also. That’s happening at TCBC in a mind-numbing way, by God’s grace. For example, during the last 8 days, there have been 11 formal teaching opportunities at TCBC—in corporate worship, a men’s retreat, midweek prayer meetings, and large classes. I’ve taught only twice during that time. That’s it. Joe Tyrpak, the excellent assistant pastor here, whose fingerprints are all over our philosophy and its execution, has taught only twice, too. The other seven opportunities were shared by 5 other men, all of whom did a stellar job. What’s more, many others could have stepped up and brought the Word as effectively if asked. Still another is long gone, having left TCBC last year to be the assistant pastor of a sister church.

What does this shared preaching look like week to week and month to month? Good question. Here’s how we do it:

First, we have 4 elders besides me, so we’ve organized our adult Sunday School hour into 4 EMM’s (EMM stands for “Every Member Ministry”). Each of them is led by an elder and a deacon. The elders teach, but they also share the teaching load with a few other gifted men in their EMM, some deacons, some not. And me? I listen. I roam. Sometimes I study. (I’m not proud of myself, but there it is.) Once in a great while I work in the nursery. And I love it. (By the way, the “EMM’s” are more than our Sunday School class divisions; they’re our shepherding plan, and they’re working well. Ah, but that’s for another post!)

Second, we plan Sunday evening series or summer midweek series and assign texts and topics to gifted men. This summer, for example, we’re studying “Suffering and Sovereignty” on Wednesday nights before our prayer time. Joe and I spent quite a bit of time laying out the series, planning 12 messages that move from a general treatment of suffering (types & purposes) to God’s relationship to suffering (sovereignty, love, empathy, example) to godly responses to suffering (grief, joy, trust, perseverance, thankfulness, ministry). Each topic is also assigned a text or two, so the messages are essentially expositions of a particular passage. Finally, we asked our elders, deacons, and other gifted men to choose a topic and text. The result? They’ve prayed, prepared, and preached with great insight and power. It’s been great for them, great for our body, and great for Joe and me.

Sound frightening to share your pulpit that much? It shouldn’t. For one thing, it’s not “your pulpit.” Get over yourself. For another, by God’s grace, we’ve never had a “dud.” Why? Because God has gifted these men. Because they study. Because they know how serious the task before them is. Because we work with them ahead of time, when necessary, especially early on. And because they’re learning to preach by hearing preaching. That’s the most thrilling thing of all, I think—that they don’t get up and tell jokes or stories. They preach, thoughtfully, biblically, and passionately, both here and elsewhere, when called upon.

Now, this sort of aggressive pulpit sharing isn’t possible in the earliest stages of a church plant. It may not even be possible in your established church, though if it is, you have cause for rejoicing. The point is, that’s what you’re aiming at, and it need not be too far off. Mercy, we’re just over 10 years old ourselves, and none of these men are Bible college grads. (As I understand it, the church trained leaders for almost two millennia before Bible colleges existed. Go figure.) In fact, by God’s great grace, two of the men who regularly teach in these settings came to Christ through this ministry. Every time they preach I just about pop with 3 John 4 joy!

Pastors, we should be making ourselves expendable. Were I to die suddenly, TCBC would be just fine, thanks. That’s hard on my ego, perhaps, but it’s true. They’d probably add staff from our current leadership, and they wouldn’t miss a beat. And that’s how it should be. We need to apply the principles of “indigenous church planting” to our efforts everywhere, not just where there are language and cultural differences. We need to change our definition of success. Make no mistake: ministerial success isn’t when the church can’t live without you. Quite the opposite! Augustus Strong put it this way in his classic Systematic Theology:

“That minister is most successful who gets the whole body to move, and who renders the church independent of himself. The test of his work is not while he is with them, but after he leaves them. Then it can be seen whether he has taught them to follow him, or to follow Christ; whether he has led them to the formation of habits of independent Christian activity, or whether he has made them passively dependent upon himself.” (p. 908)

There’s a saying that goes like this: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Actually, in pastoral ministry it should be more like this: “Lead, then get out of the way, then follow (at least a little bit).”

There’s plenty more to do at TCBC. We’re very far from perfect. Nevertheless, I’m expendable, and that’s what I’ve been praying for. Glory to God! (Psalm 115:1)

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13 Responses

  1. Well, yes and no. You may find that you’re not as important as you think you are preaching exclusively, but the fact is that what you describe happening in your church might not be taking place on a continual basis under someone else’s leadership. The climate you describe could be altered radically under another pastor.

    Obviously, we ought not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. And, when God is through with us in one place, He can manage things just fine without us there. But God in His sovereignty puts us where He wants us for such an occasion as He deems fit. “Expendability” is determined by Him, not us.

  2. Greatly appreciate this philosophy toward ministry.

    any plans for a TCBC “Weekender?”

  3. Praise the Lord, Sam. I’d love to see this philosophy spread, as I think it’s thoroughly biblical. I know it’s happening elsewhere, as well. Praise the Lord!

    Now, what’s a “Weekender”? ;)

  4. Good words.

    A tease, a tag-on, and a terse demurral. (Won’t really be terse, but I needed a third “t.”)

    1. You’ve found Biblical warrant to be a slacker! Excellent!

    2. I think you’re vision is important and healthy. A truth has pressed increasingly on me, that pastors have stewardship answerability not only for their own gifts and ministries, but to a degree for those in their care. Responsibility is laid on us to seek out, find, develop elders – not merely to wait for them to find us and force us to train them. We are (as you well note) to equip saints for the work of ministry. Baxter hammered into my unwilling skull most bloodily that there is far more to this than standing up and talking, no matter how well, once a week.

    3. A reader might get an impression from the “not my pulpit” other than what I think you mean. It is not our pulpit in that we can’t do with it whatever we please. It certainly is our pulpit in that it’s been entrusted to our care and guardianship. If Bob (or Bobbie Jo) wants to get behind it and say whatever he (or she) wants to say, it certainly is our responsibility to shut it down right smart, as I’m sure you’d do.

    Similarly, with James 3:1 in mind, were we to let any Bob or Bill stand there who is not gifted nor qualified, in the name of it not being our pulpit, we hardly do him or the church a favor.

    I’m pretty sure you intend no such thing, but thought perhaps a clarification was in order.

    (Wow. That really wasn’t “terse.”)

  5. Argh, I HATE that.

    “you’re” in #2 of course = “your”

  6. No disagreement with what you’ve said, Dan. I’m speaking of a proud possessiveness that similarly refers to “my church” or “my people” or that sort of thing. But you’re right that there is a sense in which “the buck stops with me.”

    Thanks for chiming in. :)

  7. Well, here in central PA, a Weekender is a large bag of Middleswarth chips that, if they are bbq, don’t stand a chance of lasting a weekend.

    But, I had in mind the Weekender ministry that 9 Marks and Capitol Hill Baptist Church offer to pastors and church leaders.

  8. Chris, maybe you could arrange for franchising rights within the fundamentalist community on the Weekender brand.

    And then you could say things like, “Pastor, I’m telling you that you are in SINif you are not raising up generations of faithful leadership to train the generations that follow after them.”

  9. “You are in SIN.” So that’s how you start a ministry influencing other churches, eh? Nice to know!

    Very funny, Ben.

  10. Excellent post, Chris. As I’ve been developing in a philosophy of ministry, these are the things I have been learning about and am passionate about. Thanks for the post, and for the great example found at TCBC.

  11. […] explains this concept in a far better way than I can, so I was delighted and refreshed to read this post on his […]

  12. Hey, Dan. Thanks for the comment and link. I’d love to see this philosophy really catch on in our circles. You saw a lot of it at Grace Church growing up. Keep encouraging it wherever you have influence.

    FWIW, the book The Disciple Making Pastor was very helpful to me in this regard.

    Blessings, friend!

  13. […] made many posts more important to healthy churches than one I made several weeks ago, “Pastor, Get Out of the Way.” Thankfully, it’s sparked a number of conversations among young guys that are hungry […]

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