PUSH TO RESTART
In my recent conversations with pastors across the region, a recurring thread of discussion has risen to the surface: "How do I lead the church forward from here? The pandemic and its after-effects have dropped our attendance and income dangerously low; what can we do to survive and thrive beyond this predicament?” Long-tenured pastors are wondering if they have what it takes to “bring the church back.” Part-time pastors struggle to find the time and energy for people who seem to have lost the fervor and interest they once had in the church.
In my time with the Lord, He keeps pushing me to share with you what I have learned during the “lean years” of pastoring. So, the next few articles are my obedience to Him and I “hope” these simple thoughts will help you find the courage to “Push to Restart!”
My first pastorate lasted almost twenty years and was in the Western Branch section of Chesapeake. We grew, in spurts, from fifty attenders to a high of about four hundred and fifty during that time. When the seventh year came around, I was out of ideas. We hit the proverbial “wall” in attendance and could not get through it. My internal musings kept me wondering if God was finished with me there; maybe I should put my resume out and see if I could find another church where I would be excited and energized again.
I loved the people and the community; I just could not find the motivation to push myself toward the next chapter of our congregational life. In my heart, I did not want to leave; I had led many of the people to Christ and I knew the potential for a great future existed for the church. I just seriously doubted that I would be the one who could lead them there.
A thought came to me from the Lord one morning, and it became the first thought to reframe my thinking:
“SUPPOSE YOU LEFT AND A NEW PASTOR CAME TO TAKE YOUR PLACE. HOW WOULD HE SEE THE CHURCH DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU SEE IT? WHAT ACTIONS WOULD HE TAKE TO GET THE CHURCH MOVING FORWARD?”
Several days were spent answering that question in my heart and mind. In fact, I knew exactly what I would have led the church to do if I were the new pastor.
“SO DO THOSE THINGS.”
We did, and the church “revived” because I revived.
Pastor, ask yourself this question in your post-pandemic setting: What would the next pastor do differently? See the church from his eyes. Every person would be a ‘10’ on the potential scale. The surrounding community would be an open mission field. People would need to be taught to give to support the mission of the church. New outreaches would need to be envisioned and implemented.
The challenge for pastors who have been through so many experiences with a church is to not allow themselves to be jaded or boxed in by the past. A new pastor would have no history, so would have the advantage of naivete towards the ministry. All things would be possible in his sight.
Take a sheet of paper and write at the top: “What I would do if I were the next pastor of this church?” Then, just start writing. Set aside your self-perceived hindrances and doubts and imagine yourself sitting in your chair as a brand-new pastor of your church. Think like he would think. Ask the Lord to help you think it through.
Be wary of falling back into your negative thought patterns and think thoughts of hope and faith (belief) and a future with God in it.
Dream again! Wake yourself up from the sleepy lethargy that has accompanied you lately. Like forcing yourself to wake up from a horrible dream, push yourself to see your situation in a new light.
“Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”” (Ephesians 5:14, NKJV)
The FIRST STEP to RESTARTING is to PUSH YOURSELF BY ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTION.
Having your list is one thing; knowing what to do with it is the second step, and we will consider that in the next article.
Dr. Donald Lynn Hardaway