As you lead your congregation to maintain an unwavering focus on Jesus and His gospel mission, here are four pastoral priorities to remember.
By Daryl Crouch
In the last 2000 years, pastors and congregations have struggled to follow the example of the apostle Paul’s maxim: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, CSB).
If we step back, read again, and consider the context of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we see his aim—the singular focus of his life—is to know Jesus and make Him known. He had many reasons to chase other priorities, but knowing Jesus was his driving pursuit.
Maintaining this focus on the person and work of Jesus remains elusive in the modern era. A recent study by Lifeway Research reveals nearly half of pastors (48%) confess navigating their church members’ strong opinions on non-essential issues is a major challenge. And many pastors struggle with navigating people’s political views (44%) and caring too much about people’s approval or criticism (32%) in the church. For younger pastors, these are even larger obstacles.
Selecting pastoral priorities
Social and political issues saturate public discourse, and ideological tribalism divides people and undermines legitimate efforts at cooperation. Unfortunately, what’s true in the public square among idealogues has become true in the church among the people of God.Unfortunately, what’s true in the public square among idealogues has become true in the church among the people of God. — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Political rancor, decision-making related to COVID-19 protocols, conspiracy theories, and a host of other non-essential issues animate church members. And as non-essential issues are prone to do, they divide churches and dilute our gospel witness.
How then can pastors shepherd the flock among them with integrity and skill? How can pastors guard their own hearts, and follow Paul’s “one thing” example of life and ministry? And how can pastors effectively lead believers back to pursuing Jesus as their greatest aim?
Let’s consider these four pastoral priorities for keeping your singular focus on the gospel mission:
1. Develop a greater focus on biblical doctrine and church confessions
It sounds a little nerdy, but historical, biblical theology remains an essential foundation for pastoral work. It’s possible that pastors can become so preoccupied with the organizational tasks of church work, or so caught up in the public discourse of the day on social media, or so motivated to implement the next outreach effort that we lose sight of the truths that root us in the faith and bind us together for the mission.
As our church members are confronted with all kinds of notifications and invitations to form opinions on social and cultural issues, pastors should feel no pressure to be experts in every arena of life and culture.As church members are confronted with notifications and invitations to form opinions on social and cultural issues, pastors should feel no pressure to be experts in every arena of life. — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Pastors are tasked with leading their people to follow Jesus. And that begins by being rooted and grounded in the foundations of the faith. This requires pastors to have a well-formed biblical framework and an understanding of how the church’s confession of faith informs their fellowship and mission.
As the pastor’s attention to biblical and confessional roots deepen, the congregation’s appetite for those essentials deepens as well. And as the congregation becomes enamored with the wonder of God’s redeeming work, the pastor and people develop a greater ability to navigate the diversity of views on the non-essentials.
2. Develop greater courage to shape the conversational culture of the church
When Paul heard about divisions among believers in Corinth, he wrote a letter, addressed the issues, and called the people he loved back to Jesus and the gospel mission. Local pastors set the tone and move the congregational conversations back to knowing Jesus and making Him known.
Church members who insist on focusing on non-essential issues will do so as long as they have the opportunity. Sometimes their motives are benign. They’re simply carried away with a particular cause. Sometimes they lack understanding and need insight. Sometimes they’ve been wooed away by error and need correction. And at other times, they’ve become “devils of division” and need rebuking.Shape the conversational culture of the church in a way that honors everyone while taking the wind out of the sails of those who seek to distract from the core mission and ministry. — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Whatever the case, pastors speak up and shape the conversational culture of the church in a way that honors everyone while taking the wind out of the sails of those who seek to distract from the core mission and ministry.
3. Develop a greater base of leaders who are living on mission with Jesus
It’s been said that pastors “preach to lead.” The idea is that the pulpit ministry is how a pastor influences the congregation. The power of the pulpit, the influence of the lead communicator in the church, cannot be overstated. And pastors should honor their responsibilities to know their times and then boldly preach the Word.
The temptation, however, is for pastors to depend exclusively on the pulpit to disciple the congregation. But the pulpit, by nature, puts distance between the pastor and the people. Its one-way communication form doesn’t invite feedback in the moment and, as a result, removes some of the difficulties pastors may face in addressing certain issues.
As we make disciples and develop leaders, we do so in community—up close and personal. So as pastors lead their congregations to maintain an unwavering focus on Jesus and His gospel mission, a key pastoral priority is to personally invest in other leaders.
Both staff and volunteers are eager to follow Jesus with their pastor. And as the pastor pours into them, they’ll reproduce a “one thing” focus that remains vital for gospel impact.
4. Develop a greater capacity to guard your heart
Solomon reminded us that “fear of mankind is a snare” (Proverbs 29:25, CSB). Pastors love people, and we generally want people to love us in return. That good desire for love becomes perverted when we compromise our calling to seek the approval of others.
Fearing rejection, fearing abandonment, or fearing the loss of honor and respect not only scatters our energy in every conceivable direction and draws us into unhealthy conversations and debates, but it also sours our soul to the Spirit’s work in us. We become deaf to His voice. We lose confidence in His presence and power. And we find ourselves split between opinions.Distraction may be the mantra of our age, but the gospel is still the hope for the world. — @darylcrouch Click To Tweet
Instead, with the apostle Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy, we take heart. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (2 Timothy 1:7, CSB). When pastors serve from an abiding intimacy with Christ, we confidently consider everything that distracts us from our gospel calling as “dung.”
We reject any responsibility to control people or circumstances. Instead, we trust Christ who “is before all things, and by him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17, CSB). We rest in His care and remain faithful in the good work He gives us.
Distraction may be the mantra of our age, but the gospel is still the hope for the world. Carl F. H. Henry said, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.” May we return to our “one thing” so that the gospel gets to our neighbors and the nations in time.
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.