Like a coach, the pastor's biggest job is turning his team into winners. The second is keeping them winners.
I've sometimes thought the reason professional football is more satisfying to follow than college ball--and I confess to loving both--is that the makeup of the college teams keeps changing as players graduate. In the NFL, they can stay around as long as they're able to play at a high level.
But it doesn't happen quite that way.
Take the two teams everyone around here roots for, the LSU Tigers and the New Orleans Saints.
LSU will have to replace 13 starters who graduated after the 2009 season. That's 13 out of 22 key players. It's a huge task. Doubters should ask any college coach.
The Saints, who less than three weeks ago won their first-ever Super Bowl, making them champs of the NFL, should be in a better position, right? Maybe. Maybe not.
However--and this is the parallel I'm making with pastors and churches--no team stays static. People change. They age, they grow satisfied, they slack off on workouts, they want to enjoy the big money they've been making, they lose their hunger for great achievements. Their family demands grow stronger, they fall into bad habits. And, they become free agents.
A free agent in football is just what it sounds like: the player has completed his contract with his present team and is at liberty to sign on with a new team, hopefully for a lot more money.
Take Darren Sharper, for instance. He plays a defensive position for the Saints known as "safety." His main assignment is to cover the opponents' receivers, either breaking up passes thrown to them or intercepting the ball himself. Nine times this season he intercepted passes. Three of them he returned for touchdowns.
In football, an interception is a game-changer. The other team was moving the ball, gaining yards, heading toward your end zone. Suddenly, you step up and catch a pass meant for the other guy. Now, the other team leaves the field and your offense comes on, ready to move the ball toward the opponents' end zone. Anyone who can deliver nine interceptions in a season of 16 games you want on your team.
Darren Sharper is a favorite among Saints fans. Now, after earning around $2 mil last year, he's a free agent. The Saints will try to keep him. Some other teams will probably offer him big bucks. What will he do? No one knows right now, not even the man himself.
In football, there are restricted and unrestricted free agents. We'll not get into that here. You're welcome.
The college draft is coming up. College seniors who had great careers will be wanting to sign on with a pro team and continue playing. They wouldn't mind earning a few million dollars for their trouble, either.
As a result, the makeup of the 2010 New Orleans Saints will be different this fall when the team runs onto the field. How different will be determined by free agency, the teams' salary cap, the wishes of the coach, the attitude of players, and such.
No team is static.
No church remains the same year after year.
A pastor comes to a church and begins to take the reins of leadership. He has a clear vision of what the Lord wants him to accomplish. He may bring in a few assistant coaches--that is, other staff members--to work alongside him.
Like football coaches, pastors and other leaders recruit. We call that outreach and visitation. They're looking for additional people to join the team. They hope to attract both outsiders who have never heard the gospel and do not have to unlearn church the way they've done it in previous places, and veteran Christians with great hearts and a passion for kingdom growth.
The church grows, establishes some excellent ministries, erects new buildings, and is making a difference in its part of the world.
They reach a good place.
The pastor thinks to himself he can sit back and rest now. He has worked hard and has reached the summit, in a manner of speaking. God is blessing, the work goes well, the staff is getting along with everyone and working harmoniously, the finances are coming in. The invitations to speak in high-profile venues arrive almost daily; people want to hear the pastor of such an outstanding church preach the word
Whether the pastor is aware of it or not, at that very moment some things are happening in his church that will affect the future of his ministry. Some or all of the following is occurring:
--one or more of his chief lieutenants (staff members) are considering leaving for other churches, perhaps to become pastors themselves.
--several key families in the church are moving to other cities as a result of job transfers or personal situations.
--the plant at the edge of town that employs thousands announces it will be closing soon. The employment of half the church members will be affected. If they cannot find other work, hundreds will be forced to move away.
--someone is unhappy in the church. He is criticizing the pastor and moving to another church, taking a number of people with him.
--the denomination asks the pastor to start another church across town and to give up perhaps 100 members as the core of the new congregation.
--someone is backsliding, falling into a sinful pattern.
--someone else is growing, beginning to get deeply serious about his Christian service.
Nothing stays the same, not in a family, not in a sports team, and especially not in a church.
Every church exists in a state of constant flux.
Every time a member moves away, the church changes. Every time a new person joins, it changes. When a member backslides and when a member begins to grow, to read his Bible, to witness, to tithe, to minister, the church changes.
When the pastor goes back to seminary to acquire another degree, he changes. When he attends a key conference to learn a new skill, he changes. When the pastor's family increases through births and weddings and when it decreases through death, divorce, and the empty nest, he changes.
And when a pastor changes, the church does also.
Members who look back to a time ten or twenty or more years ago when their church was at its zenith and long for those days of glory are living in a dream world. Even if they could miraculously transport it into the present, they would find even that church was a living entity in a constant state of change. At one moment it was loving and gracious and faithful; at other times it was less so. At no time was it stationary.
The pastor has many challenges. None is tougher than the need to constantly monitor and assess his congregation and decide what it will take to make it stronger and more effective.
The day he decides "we've won the Super Bowl" and chooses to sit back and rest for a season is the day things start to slip. This is not to say he cannot take a vacation or a regular off-day, although some put such a load of expectations on themselves, this is precisely what they do. Far from helping, this becomes detrimental to their effectiveness.
It's more of an attitude than anything else. Someone once said, "The day a church decides it's now having a Spirit-filled revival is the day they begin losing it."
It's a constant challenge.
That's why the pastor must always be a person of deep prayer, constantly on his knees before the Father for His strength and guidance.
It's why you and I should always be lifting him to the Father in prayer.
The task of pastoring a church of any size is bigger than any one man can handle. A pastor will do his work in the power of the Holy Spirit or he will go to pieces under the pressure and expectations.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.
Original publication date: March 4, 2010