Top 5 things I’ve learned from 6 months of being nobody’s pastor

About six months ago, I left the congregation I had been serving to begin service to a regional level of my denomination. This is the first time in almost 10 years that I’ve not actively served a local congregation (in some capacity) on a regular basis, and a few things have brought themselves to my attention.

I’m a firm believer in the Pareto Principle. Most of us know it as the “80-20 Rule”, and it states that 80% of the output is the result of 20% of input. I look at everything this way, constantly trying to pare down the things I’m doing to what is actually effective and beneficial.

Naturally, attending other churches with the kind of insider knowledge I have means that (for a while) I’m looking at what can be improved upon and what is working well. For six months I have been given a perspective on congregational life that few pastors get. And so, in hopes that it will be helpful, here are the Top 5 things I’ve learned about church in the last six months:

  1. Preaching matters. A lot. I’m not saying you’ve got to be Anna Carter Florence or anything, but if you half ass the sermon, shame on you. This is your number one job.
  2. If the folks you serve don’t know how to be hospitable, it’s over. And the bigger you are, the harder it is. Think about it like the way you want a server at a restaurant to behave: attentive to what you need and willing to get it, but not too chatty that they smother you. It’s a fine line and it’s hard to find, but that’s no excuse.
  3. Casual or informal worship is fine. Unintentional and watered down is not. Plus, anything that smacks of a performance? Boo.
  4. All things to all people just doesn’t work. There are a gazillion churches out there. Not everyone is gonna love the kind of stuff yours offers and that’s okay. Do what you do, do it well, and make it easy for folks to get involved. This is particularly applicable to Christian Education programs. Multiple offerings is fine, but come on – Some of us are ridiculous.
  5. Every congregation needs a mission project to rally around. Of course, given my belief in open source methodology, congregations should have a culture of experimentation and permission, but a lot of people are not “starters” and need something to latch onto.

These, in my opinion, are the 20%. They are not earth shattering, but in this changing landscape of whatever church is and is becoming I have to admit that I was surprised by a couple of these.

15 thoughts on “Top 5 things I’ve learned from 6 months of being nobody’s pastor”

  1. I agree with you 100%. All of these suggestions need to be top in leadership discussions. You could add participatory worship to that. Not just the preacher show, the more that actively participate in worship the better. A working partnership between congregation and pastor is important.

  2. You should dedicate some e-ink to describing the best things you are seeing for making it easy for people to participate. Most of the time we are totally unaware of the participation barriers that exist because we overcame them long ago or because we’re pastors or because we came of age before they were barriers.

    1. #4 & #5 were the ones I found the strongest reaction to. There comes a point where no guiding direction is more of a hurt than a help. I’ve noticed in some churches that people feel off balance if there is not a strong vision pointing a particular way.

      As I said, people should feel free to follow God’s call where it leads, but (on the whole) having a central rallying point is helpful. For instance, one church we’ve regularly attended supports a water program and it is a touchpoint for the whole congregation.

  3. Landon,

    I’m surprised at how consumeristic this list comes across. I agree that these are pragmatic ways to appeal to church shoppers but I can’t agree that these are the most important leadership capacities for “this changing landscape of whatever church is and is becoming.” Conversations that focus on attractional models of church are helpful to a certain extent, but they don’t get at the adaptive nature of the current leadership setting. In my experience they often lead to work avoidance, where churches focus on worship style, better preaching, and shinier welcome brochures when other, more difficult work is needed. Competing for an ever-shrinking supply of church shoppers is a losing strategy.

    This list would have fit right in with the Church Growth Strategies class I took from Peter Wagner at Fuller Seminary, right alongside his homogeneous-unit principle.


    1. I agree that competing for church shoppers is a losing strategy. I’m not sure that’s what I’m advocating here because I’ve been a critic of attractional models of church.

      Truthfully, the post could just have easily been titled “5 things I was (even a little wrong) about when I was a pastor.”

  4. I came up with a similar list during a recent sabbatical but think that number 4 is the most challenging. Sticking to “what you do” limits the potential for the diversity that the church is called to exhibit to the world. Going beyond what we do well may make for some messy worship moments even with the best of planning – but I found those congregations more engaged and more engaging.

    1. Well, I’m glad to know I’m not the only crazy person in the world.🙂

      I think I agree with you about worship (I like an eclectic service), but it’s when we get into other areas that I’m finding this to ring true.

  5. Ah, but you have been many people’s pastor these past six months, in a virtual sense through your blog and other writings. #Justsaying.

  6. >>Plus, anything that smacks of a performance? Boo.

    That word has a lot of varying meanings and nuances.

    I’m thinking the word was used here in the Matthew 6 sense of acting a role as hypocrisy…

    1. Perhaps, but I’m referring to anything in a worship service that seeks to draw attention away from God to oneself, regardless of the degree to which it occurs.

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