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Getting Your Church Back to the Basics

Mary Wiley | Apr 15th

I once sat in a pastor-deacon meeting in which the two pastors (myself and another) were talking with our deacon board about hiring a new youth pastor. We had a candidate lined up that was highly recommended by some of the most respected leaders in our area. He was also qualified in gifting, experience, and education; more importantly, he had the biblical character required of a church leader. He was a slam dunk in our minds.

According to our church’s tradition, the two pastors were required to have any major decision approved by the deacon board, who essentially acted as an ex oficio elder board. We respected that tradition, and brought everyone together to suggest that the deacons interview him. The deacons bristled at our attempt, noting that the pastors shouldn’t recommend a candidate, and rejected our proposal for them to meet with him themselves. When we asked why he couldn’t even get a hearing with them, they said—and this is not exaggeration—“That’s how we’ve always done it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” After all, they hired both of us using this process and it worked out just fine.

Eighteen months later, long after I was gone, a youth pastor was finally hired. In the meantime, the youth group had died almost entirely—in fruit and in number—under the leadership of interim, unqualified men. The youth ministry had gone from regular preaching and teaching of God’s Word to a place for babysitting teenagers while their parents either came to church or enjoyed a quiet evening at home. My fellow pastor and I were devastated and a little caught off guard by the fall out of that meeting. There were no hard feelings, and we understood quickly that these men were well-meaning but needed basic ecclesiological training. They didn’t know how to hire a pastor, much less how to assess a qualified candidate. (I guess that doesn’t speak too highly of them hiring me though!)

The point of this story is not about how awful that church was, or that the deacons were somehow a group of bad people. The point is that the church was entirely unequipped to handle major ecclesiological decisions. This was evidenced primarily by the response we received—“This is how we’ve always done it.” The congregation agreed, and the process was out of our hands. They knew all about personal evangelism and block parties, but the foundational aspect of hiring leaders and honing in on a theological and ecclesiological mission wasn’t on their radar.

Getting Back to the Basics

The pastor and I lamented on several occasions that there just weren’t any good materials on the market to equip our church to handle ecclesiological issues. The books we came across were too academic, too pragmatic, or too watered-down. It might’ve been easier to find a unicorn or a leprechaun than to find a book our church could digest and grow from. We needed something that was theologically rich but short, sweet, and accessible. To our knowledge, it simply didn’t exist. And preaching a few sermons on ecclesiology only did so much. Those messages are often forgotten as soon as they’re preached.

As a pastor, sometimes the most encouraging news to hear is that a publisher cares enough about you and your ministry to create resources that you can trust and that they can understand, something they can take home and chew on. Pastors know as well as anyone that theology and ecclesiology are important, but it’s always difficult to know where to start, or even what to give people.

And the truth is, many laypeople want to grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures and how they can best serve their local church. They do their best, but often simply don’t have any tools in their tool belt. Beyond that, many of them also see theology as a professional sport for pastors and academic types, but not for them. They think attending seminary or reading dozens of heavy books is the only way they can grow in this area, and that seems intimidating or downright impossible.

As a pastor or church leader, it’s your responsibility to let them know that it’s not impossible. You can set the tone for them if you’re willing. And now you don’t have to be irritated by the lack of resources.

One of the most exciting new series from B&H Publishing is the Church Basics series, which is in partnership with 9Marks. This series covers a wide range of ecclesiological issues (church leadership, congregational authority, baptism, the Great Commission, etc.), and packs them into punchy, 100-page (or less) books. This series was specifically designed for pastors and leaders like you and me, who feel like we’re spinning our wheels trying to get the bus moving in the right direction. These accessible and affordable books are at least one way to help get your church out of the mud and onto the road of theological and ecclesiological growth.

Brandon D. Smith is Brand Manager for the Christian Standard Bible and author of Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians.