The following is a guest post written by my friend, Charlie E. Dates, who serves as the Senior-Pastor of the Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, Il.
God willing, I will celebrate the second anniversary of my installation as pastor of Progressive Baptist Church a month from now. In most historic black Baptist churches, the installation is the official start of the pastor’s tenure. It’s something like the president’s inauguration.
I am fortunate to serve as the senior leader of one of Chicago’s historic churches. I am also fortunate – or some would say unfortunate – to do so as a relatively young man.
When I arrived at Progressive, the church was 92-years-old with a median membership age of 65. It had dwindled from several thousand to a couple hundred, with fewer than that on Sunday morning. It also experienced rapid transition with 3 pastors over a 10 years. Say what you will, but any organization that turns over leadership at that clip will likely diminish.
My task was, and continues to be, daunting. Without having a clearly expressed, biblically defined job description, the expectations were as varied as the personalities of the church. Like many other young pastors at old churches, with the unique joys of the assignment have come some very dark circumstances.
I’ve learned a few things along the way that may encourage you. There are not 103 of them, but hopefully they inspire you as you pursue your calling to serve as a Senior Pastor.
Preach the Gospel.
Nothing revitalizes a church like the faithful, consistent proclamation of the gospel. I use the term gospel not as a genre but in the historic sense referring to the entire corpus of scripture as it tells the redemptive story. The gospel has power. The enemy of your church has no successful plan to defeat it. The more you keep preaching it the more transformation will occur in the pews, boardrooms, backrooms, and in the hearts of the people.
Perhaps you’ve heard the same bad advice: “If you do dirt, do it away from the church.” That is a sure recipe for failure. Be holy, not discreet about your sin. None of us are perfect, but we should strive to live as Him who called us. Moral failure is an impediment to pastoral progress. It’s better for people to make up a lie about you than to slander your name telling the truth. Righteousness has power. Integrity sends a silent message to your haters. They may not like you, but they will learn to respect your lifestyle.
Make decisions with a group and not alone.
In the multitude of counsel there is safety. Whenever possible, use the wise counsel of the godly people at the church to make decisions. People support what they help create. Even when your heart is sure and your mind is made up, try hard to involve other leaders in the process. It demonstrates submission and partnership, while giving other leaders a greater sense of significance and ownership.
Don’t take the credit and you won’t have to take the blame.
Pastor James Meeks taught me this one. When things go well in the pulpit, give God the glory. When people are helped, programs succeed, finances increase, and folk join the church, point to God. That way, if ever things don’t go well, when you’ve not taken the credit you can always avoid the blame.
Pray for Wisdom.
Recently, one of my deacons said to me (in a well-intentioned voice) “Pastor, its two things you can’t have at the same time: wisdom & youth. You just cannot have them at the same time.” His words stung me. Then relief overcame me. He was wrong! He had good intentions to cheer me, but he was wrong. You can have wisdom and youth at the same time. Look at Solomon and Josiah. What he meant to say, or so I hope, was “Pastor, its two things you can’t have at the same time: youth & experience.” Now that’s true. Young age prevents a fair amount of experience. There are exceptions, of course. I know guys who’ve been pastoring since they were 17. H.B. is one of them. But on the whole, that is uncommon.
So what help is there for a young pastor with an old church, and not a lot of experience? The simple answer is time. Keep living. When moments are dark, out pray everybody. When conflict is thick, out love everybody. When all else fails, out last everybody.