A Senior Pastor's Priorities, Part 1

Got enough time to do everything you feel needs to be done? If you are like most Senior Pastors, the answer is a resounding and emphatic "NO." Sermons to write, people to marry, meetings to attend, lessons to teach, people to connect with, problems to solve, budgets to approve, buildings to build, strategies to design...the list goes on. We merge all that with the weight of responsibility involved in leading well at home - attempting to, as a wise man once said to me, "Save energy for the people you love the most." There are days when the pressure mounts so high that pastors are ready for the funny farm. (Some pastors tell me their church is a funny farm!)

meet-696077 640My desire in this article is to keep you out of the funny farm. To do that, I will outline the top five priorities of a Senior Pastor. This set of priorities comes from years of experience and observation of Senior Pastors who lead well, and those who don't. If you invest your time wisely in these areas your ministry will be more productive and hopefully you will increase the margin in your life that increases the quality of your life.

Before we jump in, I need to add a warning label to this topic of what a pastor should do. While it seems easy enough to write this list, I'm well aware of the grenades just waiting to go off if this isn't handled properly. Do not, I repeat, do not take this list and announce to your board, or worse, congregation: "From now on, this is the limit of what I will do. Everything else can be handled by someone who cares." OK, the last part doesn't represent what you would really say, but you might get close, so be wise. Unless, of course, you enjoy the U-Haul experience.

The transition from doing 27 things to doing 5 will take much time, and the growth of your church is a significant factor in the process. The next article of The Pastor's Coach will deal more with the actual transition to this more focused approach to leading a church. For now, let's hit the list.

1. Primary Leadership and Vision-Casting.

Pray and think.

It all begins here for you as the lead pastor. Your number one responsibility above all others is to invest time on your knees before God seeking His vision, guidance and blessing for your church. If you find yourself too busy to pray, you are too busy, and your church is on shaky ground. Immediately connected with your responsibility to pray is your responsibility to think. I love asking Senior Pastors: "When do you think?" The most common response is: "Well, I think all the time." To which I say: "I don't think so." I'm not being mean, just honest. None of us think all the time. We are more often on autopilot, and in a hurry at that. Think time needs to be in your schedule or you are robbing yourself and your church of the quality of leadership that is needed.

Create a positive atmosphere and faith-deepening environment.

Devote yourself to being the chief encourager and positive thinker in the church. This isn't a surface-level "hype" thing. But I am asking that you evaluate your leadership persona to make sure that you possess a positive, energy-filled, approach to life and you are purposeful about letting it spill over into the church.

A spiritual gift that is very common, (almost 100%) among Senior Pastors is faith. This sets the stage for your passion to challenge the church to deepen their faith and walk in obedience to God's Word. Your faith also prepares the way for you to be able to cast vision for your church.

Cast vision!

I have spent considerable time around successful Senior Pastors and there are two things I know for sure. First, they all have a vision, and second you couldn't stop them from talking about it if you wanted to. Don't be bashful about telling the vision over and over again. Let your people see and catch your dream to build a great church. Make sure they understand that they are a part of the dream coming true!

2. Principal Communicator of the Word of God.

Establish a biblical culture.

Paul said in I Corinthians 9:16, "Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" As the Senior Pastor, it is your charge to build a biblical church, one based on the truth in God's Word. Teach people to love the Word, study the Word, memorize the Word, and most importantly live by the Word.

Set your aim on transformation.

You and I both know churches that are based more on information than transformation. The scriptures carry authority on their own, but without a teacher to guide people in their understanding and challenge them to a daily application, we have missed the mark. Evaluate your communication skills not on how many people tell you that you preach well, but on how many people demonstrate a changed life.

3. Leadership Development.

Identify new leaders.

So much has been written and said on this topic of developing leaders, and yet so little is done. Look for potential leaders. Take a risk. Give people a chance. I agree that it's important to give relationships time to prove their stability as well as test for a servant's heart. But at some point you must take a chance on some new people, even if you're not sure.

"At some point you must take a chance on some new people."

Train new and existing leaders.

Pull potential leaders and existing leaders under your wing for training and guidance. Small group environments are best, but larger classes work well, too. Teach leadership and provide opportunities for people to discuss and practice what they are learning. If you would like help on how to develop leaders, John Maxwell has enough top quality material to keep you busy for years. If you are new at this, I recommend that you start with his book and materials on Developing the Leader Within You. After that, study all the material on The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

4. Stewardship Development.

Take ownership of the church finances.

It's interesting to observe the numerous approaches to handling money in the church. The extremes range from pastors who have nothing to do with the budget or finances in any way (the finance committee does it all) to others who are in complete control and even sign every check. Neither extreme is recommended - a balance is probably the wisest approach. That being said, I strongly believe that the senior leader must take responsibility for the finances in the church. This includes raising the money and being a good steward of it. I'm not suggesting that you as the Senior Pastor get involved in the minutiae of accounting, but you need to know the general patterns of giving and financial strength of the church.

Create an atmosphere of generous and worshipful giving.

You set the tone for generosity and worship as it relates to giving of finances. Your own personal beliefs and attitudes, even if you don't express them, have a huge impact on your congregation. If you trust God with your finances, your people will pick up on it. If you are generous, your people will catch that spirit. If you are full of faith, believing that God will keep His promises to provide, your congregation will follow your lead.

5. Personal Evangelism.

Cultivate relationships with people who are spiritually unresolved.

I'm not going to preach at you, and let's not even start on who does and doesn't have the spiritual gift of evangelism. The bottom line is if you don't share your faith with people who are disconnected from God and not attending church it is highly unlikely that your church will embrace a culture of evangelism. The days of knocking on doors may be over, but the days of cultivating relationships with people who are part of your everyday life like your neighbor and your kids' soccer coach will never be over. When is the last time you invited someone to church? When is the last time you shared the plan of salvation with someone? When is the last time you took the initiative to reach out and befriend someone outside your circle? Pastor, this is the core of what we do and why we do it. If you want to focus on the right things, start with evangelism. This is exactly where will pick up in the next The Pastor's Coach article.

You might be thinking, "Man I'd love to focus on those things, but I seem to spend my time on stuff like marrying, burying, and visitation." Changing what you do is not an overnight process. In fact, it takes years. That is one of the reasons many pastors give up and revert back to "preaching and visiting" and that is why most of the churches in America are under 200 in attendance. There is nothing wrong with a small church, but I believe God wants your church to grow. Use the five-point plan I've given you as a guideline and make it happen!

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com. I hope this is helpful to you, the next edition of The Pastor's Coach will cover the topic of ministry values.