Yesterday, I spent about an hour with Tom Ascol talking about the past ten months since I came on staff at Grace Baptist as an Associate Pastor. At various points during this time, I intended to post some thoughts and reflections on things I’ve learned, challenges I’ve faced, and joys I’ve experienced transitioning from a seminary student working third-shift to a “full-time” minister in a local church (I think there are even some posts sitting in draft mode from several months ago!).
Some of my friends have encouraged me to talk more about what I am doing and learning in the ministry, so I thought I’d try to start doing that as I near my first year serving at Grace. For starters, I want to mention a paradigm I created focusing on five “P’s” (I alliterate them to prove my true Baptist Identity for anyone checking my credentials). Here they are with some of my thoughts.
The fundamental means of grace in the local church is the right preaching of the gospel. With Tom preaching for the past 22 years strong, gospel-centered, expositional preaching, this is not a weak area of Grace. However, preaching has been a weak area in my ministerial development, having done little in my seminary days. When Tom was struck my lightning, I was thrown into the fire, from struggling to prepare for one sermon every two weeks to preaching Sunday morning and Sunday night as well as teaching an evangelism series to the adults and occasional Bible Study on Wednesday night. Nevertheless, God used that to land me on my face with a sense of dependence and desperation I had not known.
Since June of last year, I think I’ve preached somewhere around 30 times, and every one of my messages have been critiqued by the elders as I have welcomed the constructive input to help me become a better communicator of God’s Word. Various things like writing and preaching from a manuscript, length of message, pace and enunciation in delivery, thesis construction, coherence/clarity and simplicity, and pastoral application have all been addressed. While I have a long way to go, I can honestly say that I have been tremendously helped by the feedback and follow-through of more experienced preachers who care enough to help me communicate the gospel message with passion, precision, and pastoral insight.
Giving myself to the ministry of the Word and prayer seems obvious; however, I would say that my prayer life prior to coming to Grace was sadly quite sporadic and shameful. Not only has prayer been strengthened in my life, but I’ve learned more about the method of corporate prayer in a pastoral context by listening, learning, and even note-taking. Rarely have I ever heard corporate prayer done well prior to coming to Grace, but the past ten months have really opened my eyes to the importance and power of it in the local church.
3. People/Pastoral Care
The next most important area of assisting the pastoral team (after preaching and prayer) is pastoral or member care. Everything from counseling people by helping them see the sufficiency of Christ and the power of the gospel to prayer through our membership together on a weekly basis, to loving and spending time with our precious widows, to visiting members in the hospitals–I have been greatly blessed to serve among a people who are truly gracious and grounded in the gospel. One of the areas I hope to develop more is incorporating a disciplined approach to regular member care and visitation. Unfortunately, members are usually only visited when they are sick, hospitalized, or wayward are seldom (if ever) visited to celebrate God’s work of sanctifying grace and express thanksgiving for their covenant faithfulness to God’s people.
This is where things get a little less spiritual and a little more practical. One of the first things I discovered about Grace was that it was hard to find both in the city and on the internet. The latter was easier to fix than the former, so my first initiative was to develop a dynamic website that will create good internet presence, especially since more than 90% of our guests come via the website. Some of the intentional goals were to:
a. Change URL that is easy to remember, would better suit SEO, and attract key word searches
b. Integrate a WordPress blog into home page for dynamic interface for regular updates
c. Highlight our strengths, in particular the preaching with a highly visible podcast
d. Integrate live-streaming of our services online
e. Develop a social media strategy and online network for Grace, including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, WordPress, and Mogulus/UStream
All that took me approximately 6-8 months, and the next area of developing presence online is video, and in particular, developing our YouTube channel with a directory of spliced clips from preaching along with video testimonies of those recently converted.
In the city, the two biggest ways to cultivate presence have been (1) community groups and (2) signage. In March, we decentralized our Sunday nights into eight community groups throughout SW Florida with plans to expand them in the near future (almost all of them are already too large). We have seen high participation by our members and more opportunity to impact neighborhoods and our community in ways we have not in the past. The issue of signage is next. We are woefully inadequate in signage such that the average citizen of our city does not know where our meetings are located! Street signs, along with ministry cards for members will hopefully correct some of this problem, but the greatest signage, of course, are our members on mission as living billboards of God’s transforming grace. Seeing their lives as such will make a big difference as they embrace more of the call to represent Christ as His ambassadors in their corners of the community.
Lastly, by pioneer I mean new work yet to be done in the life of our church. What are some aspects of the vision yet to be realized? Where do we want to be in six months? Year? Three years? One of the biggest new works has been the transitioning to becoming a church planting church. During the summer, we prayed and pursued God’s leading in this new work, and in September began the process of forming our first launch team. After a dozen meetings over six months, the launch team was formed and began meeting weekly at the beginning of March. Since then, a core group of around 40-50 have been meeting, and we are currently in the process of calling a guy to join us in leading this church plant.
Other areas where there has been pioneering work includes our community groups, social media networking, live-streaming, podcasting, and member’s only section of website. In the future, more work hopes to begin in the systems and ministry design, including a more robust attractional team (greeting, welcome center, hospitality coordination, reception area, etc.), new member’s assimilation, leadership development/church-wide mentoring strategy, third-spaces in community (arts, music, parks, etc.), local business think tank, short-term missions manual, church planting center and residency program for interns, and new Christian curriculum.
So in 5 P’s, I’ve given a basic overview of a paradigm that covers the scope of what I’m doing in the local church. I’d be interested in any thoughts, input, or feedback. There’s much more that I hope to share of assessment/evaluation, ministry alignment, contextual/community engagement, and missional DNA (among other things). One of the things about working in a small church context is doing a wide variety of things. In light of that reality, I think there are profitable approaches to church leadership such as triperspectivalism that help channel and capitalize on our strengths while cultivating our weaknesses. Hope you hang around as I attempt to hash some of this out. 🙂