Monday, April 17, 2006


When I was Christmas shopping I ran into some folks I had known from the past at CTK. I'll call them Bill and Mary. They left the church a couple years ago. They did not move out of the community. They left to attend another church. They left in a good way. They called me up and told me that they were leaving. They told me why. They blessed me as they were leaving, but they left just the same. I had not seen them in a while, but I had thought about them. So here we are in a major department store, standing face to face. These can be awkward moments for an ex-pastor, but we had a pleasant conversation. Once again, they were very encouraging to me. And something they said was instructive. They said, "We always really enjoyed your teaching." It echoed what they had told me when they left, "We are going to miss your teaching, but....."

Now think about that for a second. They enjoyed my teaching. But they left. How does that work? Let this be a lesson to us all: meaningful teaching can help to attract people to your ministry, but it is not enough to keep people in your ministry. What keeps people is: meaningful relationships and meaningful responsibilities. Bill and Mary did not find what they need, so they moved on. It was that simple. The teaching was not enough to keep them there. It seldom is.

I don't want to diminish the value of strong teaching. I don't think that you can grow a strong, healthy, replicating ministry without it. But it is not enough, in and of itself. If pastoral effectiveness consisted of good teaching, most of the pastors in America would be pastoring growing churches. But, in fact, some of the best teachers in the country you've never heard because they are pastoring small, stagnant churches.

True pastoral effectiveness is found in leadership - leading people toward meaningful relationships and meaningful responsibilities. I evidently didn't show good enough leadership for Bill and Mary. And my teaching, no matter how good, could not make up for it.

Here's the tell-tale: When Bill and Mary left, not many people missed them. Why? Because they were not "plugged in." They were not a part of a small group. They did not have meaningful relationships. When they left, they did not leave "a hole." Why? Because they were not part of a ministry team. They weren't contributing to the mission in a way that was meaningful.

Had I spent a little less time preparing my weekly message, and a little more time making phone calls and getting groups and ministry teams organized, I could have been farther ahead, at least with Bill and Mary. There is an immediate feedback loop with teaching that can delude us from the hard work of social architecture. We can retreat into our study and dream up clever phrases and analogies, meanwhile, what people really need from us is not being delivered. They need our help to develop their relationship with God and other brothers and sisters in Christ. They need our help to find their purpose, and be equipped to do the work of the ministry.

We are living in a different time. It is the information age. There was a time when a pastor was valued simply for the insights that he could bring. Those days are gone. If someone is truly looking for excellent Biblical teaching they can hear the best possible on Christian radio each and every day. They can buy books, CDs and DVDs. They can download audio files. They can do a Google search and obtain research on any and every topic in which they might have interest. Really, you, as a pastor, can't beat that.

But what you can provide for people, that the Christian book store and the internet cannot, is meaningful relationships, and meaningful responsibilities. When was the last time you "hooked someone up"?

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