By Daryl Crouch
Is God doing a new thing, or is this just a new book? Is God leading me in a new direction, or am I simply mimicking my favorite mega-church pastor? Have I heard from God or have I just been scrolling Twitter for too long?
In unprecedented proportion, church leaders have instant access to amazing church leadership resources. Social media allows us to see what other pastors and churches are doing in real time.
We subscribe to emails that deliver great insights into the latest church growth practices. We read articles like this one that offer relevant counsel for the everyday challenges of ministry. And we listen to podcasts from some of the most effective church practitioners of our day.
It’s both inspiring and instructive to see what God is doing in local churches around the world.
With so much advice at our disposal, however, how do leaders find clarity about God’s specific call for their church? How do we hear from God when so many other voices are calling for our attention?
Perhaps these four practices will help:
1. Pursue the Presence of God.
Elijah had been full of faith taking on and defeating the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. Now the wicked Jezebel was angry and intent on killing him. After a long journey to Mount Horeb, the Lord suddenly spoke and asked, “Elijah, what are you doing?” In his fatigue and despair, Elijah gave God his resume and declared he was now left alone, vulnerable to Jezebel’s murderous intentions.
Then [the Lord] said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.’ At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'” 1 Kings 19:11-13
Elijah was looking for answers. He thought he needed a miraculous rescue. But the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in a soft whisper.
Sometimes God shouts at us in over-the-top experiences, but it seems He most often, most consistently speaks in the quiet places. When Jesus’ ministry was in full bloom, He continued to make time to be alone with the Father.
The press of the crowd or the expectations of the disciples did not determine His next steps. Instead, the will of the Father as clarified in times of fellowship with Him directed His ministry.
Rather than depending on our social media feed, pastors must develop a quiet, clear, and confident awareness of the presence of God that informs our steps.
Our satisfaction and contentment in the gospel ministry will grow out of our intimacy with the Father.
2. Know Yourself and Your Church.
In recent years, I’ve done a little backpacking. On my first hike, I was trying to find my pace. Some of the guys were in front of me. Some were behind me. I knew it wasn’t a race, but I just wasn’t sure how to pace myself.
At one point along the trail, a more experienced hiker told me, “Daryl, just hike your hike.” Immediately, I felt a new freedom to enjoy the trail.
None of us bring the same background, experience, gifts, and passions into ministry. Not only is every leader different, but churches have unique personalities as well, and that personality will change over time.
So when Peter wrote, “shepherd God’s flock among you…” (1 Peter 5:2), he was necessarily saying we cannot shepherd the flock that’s not among us. We’re not called to serve a different church. We aren’t called to serve our last church. We’re called to serve the church, the family of believers, among us in this moment.
Financial resources, leadership capacity, theological appetite, evangelistic fervor, and other factors vary from one church to another. As church leaders, we’re charged with knowing the condition of our congregation and then leading them to join the mission of God according to its bent.
3. Always Study. Freely Celebrate. Occasionally Imitate.
Someone has said that comparison is the enemy of contentment. When we constantly compare our church with the “big, cool church” down the street or across the county, our people feel that.
When our ministry priorities are set based on what other churches are doing, discontentment gets into the bloodstream of our entire congregation. It eventually creates division and factions that Paul warned the Corinthian believers about.
Yet there are church trends worth noting. Trends often indicate the movement of God. So wise pastors are perennial students. We read widely. We pay attention to people who are a little ahead of us, and we learn from their successes and setbacks.
There’s nothing spiritual about remaining stuck in old, familiar ways that are no longer effective in reaching this generation for Christ.
Pastors must grow in our willingness and ability to lead in new ways.
So we celebrate what God is doing in other churches. And from time to time, we actually incorporate new practices into the life of our congregation in a way that fits our culture and makes sense to our people.
Slapping someone else’s logo on our program will be found contrived and ineffective, but prayerfully and wisely leading our congregation to learn from others and engage in the gospel mission in new ways helps everyone grow in their faith.
4. Get to Work.
Reading new books and articles and observing what other churches are doing is all very helpful, but the days of a pastor should be filled with getting things done. Pastors are thinkers, but we are also executors.
The slacker craves, yet has nothing, but the diligent is fully satisfied.” Proverbs 13:4
God has called us to serve our congregation, which means there are people counting on us to prepare sermons, to equip ministry teams, to initiate community outreach, to engage in gospel conversations, and to care for one another. Pastoral ministry is not for the sedentary.
Whiteboard sessions are easy. Doing the work of ministry is hard.
It’s in the work, however, empowered by the Spirit of God, that we see God at work. It’s in the work that He grows our faith. It’s in the work that we discover what helps and what doesn’t. It’s in the work that He takes our church to new heights of health.
While there will always be a gap between where we are and where we want our ministry to be, only our daily diligence will allow our church to make progress.
When Elijah listened to the soft voice of God, he got back to work and found Elisha, his successor, and finished well.
Daryl Crouch is the executive director of Everyone’s Wilson, a network of gospel-loving churches working together for the good of the community. Prior to this role, he pastored churches in Texas and Tennessee for 28 years. He and his wife Deborah have four children.