Articles

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

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“If I’m going to make changes, I might as well make them now!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm. He was heading into a pastorate from a congregation where, as an attendee, he had come to appreciate high church liturgy. He valued vestments, creeds, written prayers, stretches of silence, and ancient hymns.

Now, he was carrying that love into his first assignment as the pastor of a traditional, North American Nazarene congregation. It was a place where Sunday morning worship included announcements, familiar hymns, an occasional chorus, an offering, a pastoral prayer, a sermon, and an altar call. It was the way they had done church for decades, and it had served them and a long string of pastors well.

On his first Sunday, the people gathered to welcome their new minister. They found the sanctuary remodeled and their preacher wrapped in a robe. Booklets with written prayers and creeds were distributed, and the table set for the Lord’s Supper—except communion looked different.

Several of the saints began to whisper about the new pastor turning their church “Catholic.”

In the blink of an eye, their accustomed form of worship had disappeared—replaced by a style that was foreign to them and a minister who dressed like a priest. It wasn’t long before a portion of the congregation was gone. Shortly thereafter, so was the pastor.

Like my friend, I too value the ancient creeds and practices of the Church. There was nothing wrong with what he did, but everything was wrong with when and how he did it.

Unfortunately, many new pastors attempt to push their programs and preferences on unsuspecting congregations from day one. It may be Ancient-Future, Purpose-Driven, Mini Version of a Mega, Simple, Emergent, Missional, or whatever the latest trend may be. I have decided to stop keeping track.

Unfortunately, many new pastors attempt to push their programs and preferences on unsuspecting congregations from day one.

It’s no wonder church folks are often confused. Every pastor has preferences about how church should be done, and they often conflict with those of the last (or next) minister. It’s enough to make a saint’s head spin.

When given the chance to speak to young ministers, one of the first things I tell them is: “Pastor the church you have, not the church you want.” There is nothing wrong with having convictions about worship, ministry, and church life. And there is nothing wrong with wanting your congregation to adopt those convictions in due time. But problems arise when pastors impatiently impose their own convictions without first getting to know their people. In most cases, a congregation has existed for years prior to a pastor’s arrival. They have a history and culture which the new minister needs to identify and appreciate. More importantly, they are a people who need to be loved and respected.

Bible students are taught to exegete rather than eisegete scripture. Exegesis is the work of seeking to discern what the author intended to convey to the original audience. Eisegesis, on the other hand, is the imposition of one’s personal biases and agenda to make the text say what the preacher wants it to say.

Like scripture, congregations, communities, and cultures need to be exegeted. It takes time and patience to do this. Sometimes it’s difficult and messy, but as incarnational work, it is worth it.

There is no doubt local churches need to change. In fact, many churches need massive change sooner rather than later. But caution and patience need to be exercised. It takes Spirit-led discernment to know when and how to introduce adjustments to the traditional ways churches have done things, and until our people are ready, we must pastor the church we have.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

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