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Future Pastor





One of America's best-loved pastors shares his secret for staying relevant: risk reinventing yourself.

It's been said that the pastor today is more of a CEO than a shepherd, but perhaps there is a better metaphor to describe the 21st century pastor.

As a church grows and broadens its ministry, the pastor must begin to view his role not only as a shepherd but also as a rancher. As a church expands its reach to meet the needs of different groups of people, the senior pastor must be willing to allow others to shepherd those distinct groups. As a rancher, he helps set the direction for all these shepherds so the entire flock can embrace a like vision and operate in unity.

In order for a church to reach its community today, one must be willing to explore innovative ways to communicate to people who are receiving information, inspiration and motivation differently than they did just a few years ago.

Each year, when thousands of pastors and leaders gather at our Pastors' School, we emphasize that the method is not sacred--the message is. As long as we maintain the integrity of the good news of Christ, we can be--and we must be--innovative in the way we present the message so that it is relevant to people's lives.

Ultimately, there are two priorities set before the pastor as his holy charge. They are eternal and must be at the forefront of what he does: the Word of God and people. Everything else will pass away, but the Word of God will remain. And an emphasis on people and their everlasting souls will help keep the pastor focused, and limit distractions such as buildings and programs, which--albeit important--must not become the main focus in ministry.

If the pastor, or a rancher, if you will, has these priorities in mind and heart, it will be easier for him to reach the community with new methods, but with the same message of the love of God.

Numerous studies have shown that one of the primary barriers to churches reaching unchurched people in their communities is that many people feel churches are not relevant to their lives.

I have always felt that the church should be on the cutting

edge in the ways that it reaches out to people. Fifty years ago, using props and dramatic presentations while presenting illustrated sermons was considered practically heretical. Realizing that our society is becoming more and more visually oriented and less literary, we have to bring the message of Christ to people in a manner that makes sense to them.

Similarily, when we removed the hymnals from the pews at Phoenix First and replaced them with two large projection screens, many thought that a sacred element of worship had been replaced by some sterile technology. Instead, the worship experience has been enhanced with the use of technology that makes the message relevant to people.

A pastor must examine the church and its ministries, its facilities and, ultimately, himself to see that the love of God is being effectively communicated to people in a way that makes sense in the postmodern context.

A pastor should be willing to risk utilizing cultural innovations in order to spread the gospel. For example, we often capitalize on the marketing efforts that are capturing the attention of millions of people in order for those same people to hear our message.

We recently advertised an illustrated sermon titled "American Idols," complete with a vocal contest, and unchurched people from all over the community came. When the message was presented that idolatry and the pursuit of fame leaves people with a hollow emptiness that only Jesus Christ can fill, more than 1,000 people came to the altars to give their hearts to the Lord.

We've built new high-tech buildings for youth and children, a "Youth Walk" hangout for teens and a cafe in order to create an environment where we can reach the next generation. Young people who might not otherwise come to church are affected by the message to such an extent that many of them don't want services to end as they continue to seek the Lord.

If the pastor is a CEO as some church leadership experts claim, then perhaps some reinventing--as the corporate world would call it--is in order. When companies reinvent, they strengthen their identities and visions while increasing the scope of their outreach.

Without compromising the enduring values of salvation, healing, the Holy Spirit and the second coming, we must create innovative means of communicating these truths to a generation that is biblically illiterate.

One of the ways that we as pastors can examine our churches' relevance in our communities is to see if our churches represent the people that we are trying to reach in our weekly attendance. If not, we must be willing to take the risk of reinventing ourselves in order to reach a lost and dying world for Christ. *


In his 50th year of ministry, Tommy Barnett is the pastor of Phoenix First Assembly, an innovative congregation he has served for 24 years. Barnett is the author of several books, including Hidden Power, Dream Again and Adventure Yourself. For a profile of Tommy Barnett, see page 38 of this issue of Ministries Today.

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