Don’t Lose Your Personal Touch During Growth Seasons

shakehandI have a pastor’s heart. I really love the people I’ve been called to minister to as lead pastor of River Valley Church in Apple Valley, Minn. They are my spiritual family and friends. But because I want to be involved in their lives, I’m challenged by the rapid growth in our church. One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with in a growing church is my inability to be everything to everyone, and to be everywhere every time there is a need.

When the church first started I used to write a personal, handwritten birthday card and anniversary card to every person in the church, with a specific scripture for them on the card. I kept this up until we reached 500 in weekly attendance—at that point I could no longer think of 500 unique and personal things to say!

I also would sit down every Sunday and list names (from memory) of people who had missed that day. If they missed two or three weeks in a row, a call, letter or e-mail was on the way. It was a chore, but it kept me connected as their teacher, equipper, protector and pursuer—I believed it was part of my life-giving call. But week by week, I struggled to balance my pastor’s heart with the expanding needs of a growing church.

When I look back on our church growth, a church of 200 to 500 allowed me to stay personally connected, empower others for ministry, rest when needed and get paid enough to survive. But when we kept growing past my available hours, I realized that my pastor’s heart might be the end of me—unless I changed my approach to pastoring.

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The choice was easy, but the changing was hard. I wanted to be personal with everyone, but I simply I didn’t have the bandwidth to get it done. I knew it meant spending less time meeting the needs of members and more time training leaders to make the personal connection. What’s more, I had to be OK that they were doing it and not me. In other words, I died to self. I died to my drive to be the pastor who was there and became the pastor who cared.

Along the way I discovered several things. I learned that preaching the Word was much more important than the time I had allotted for it, so I paid more attention and devoted more time to preparing my sermons. Now, I consider my sermons my way of showing love to my people. At the same time I released the reins to others who could reach out in a more personal way. I empowered the pastoral staff, elders, deacons and lifegroup leaders, with great results.

This way of thinking became my new normal. Now more people are developing a pastor’s heart to help others, and more people are receiving the benefits of pastoral care. Our church has become so much more now that more people are growing a pastor’s heart.  —Rob Ketterling | Rob also serves on the board of Association of Related Churches (ARC) leadership team

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