While there are mountains of books and articles that discuss the various elements of church planting, health, development, leadership, revitalization, and any other category we’ve managed to envision, most pastors are just looking for a clear response to a single question–what should I do? Given that I’ve contributed to the aforementioned pile of of resources, I hate to think that simple answers are buried too deep. Or worse, have somehow become a needle in that proverbial haystack.
So on a recent long drive, alone in my truck and weary of my latest Audible selection, I asked that question. If I were a newly-selected pastor, what would I do? In truth, the answers came quickly, in the form of four words we often use to design questions–where, who, why, and how. Let’s start with the first of these.
Where am I? Now, there’s no suggestion in this question that you’ve somehow gotten lost or have wandered past the edge of God’s plan. Instead, this question focuses on what you know about where you are.
Truth is, every place has its own uniqueness, its own flavor, its own challenges, and its own opportunities. So, any sense that some prepackaged approach or someone else’s steps to success are the best place to start actually will undermine your effort to get acquainted with your location. Where are you? It means learning about your environment–and that will keep you busy for a bit.
There are demographics to understand. There is likely a church history to get to know. (Even if you’re a church planter, there’s likely a church history that will affect your efforts.) There are community challenges to understand and reasons for community pride to engage. We “exegete” a biblical passage so we can uncover the truth we need for life. In the same way, we need to “exegete” our community so we can learn what we need to know sooner, rather than through the hard-earned lessons of awkward experiences.
Actually, as I drove I found myself making an even longer list of the “where I’m not” implications. I’m not at my last church or in my last community. I’m not facing the same challenge as the most recent conference speaker I heard or podcast I downloaded. Sure, there are principles to learn from these friends, but there’s no “plug and play” that fits my new community. Truth is, I’m not at any other point in the new church’s history but this one so even the story my new friends have lived cannot define the new chapter. (Never found an author that decided his chapter 8 should be a reprint of chapter 5–nobody wants that.)
“Where am I?” requires listening and a bit of time. I realize we want to make a big splash as soon as possible, but soaking the sunbathers may not be the best way to introduce yourself. Be a listener and a learner. Community needs and congregational abilities are just as important to finding the road ahead as leader passion. You have to answer the “where are you?” without using labels like suburbs or rural church or size categories. Yours is a unique location, one that can be defined differently from any other, and you’ll need to master that definition if you want to be a trusted servant there.
Here’s something to think about. If you don’t know where you are, can you really be trusted to drive? In truth, most congregations today won’t trust you with their futures if you have little regard for their pasts and their presents.
So question #1: WHERE ARE YOU?