Tag: pastoral ministry

Picking Up The Mantle of Leadership

prophet-elijah-ascending-to-heaven-on-a-chariot-of-fireSunday I preached on the story of the prophet Elijah and his protege Elisha from 2 Kings 2:8-14. Elijah knew he was nearing the the end of his life, and asked Elisha what he could do for him before he departed. Elisha replied that he wanted a “double-portion” of Elijah’s spirit.

Of course, this is the Elijah who had defeated Ahab and Jezebel’s prophets of Baal, all 450 of them. This is the Elijah that had saved the widow of Zarephath and her son by assuring her that her flour and oil would not run out until God brought rain to end the drought. This is also the same Elijah who raised the widow’s son from the dead. So to ask for a “double-portion” of his spirit was to ask a lot.

In Elijah’s passing of the mantle of leadership to Elisha, there are four things we can learn:

1. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to want it.

2 Kings tells us there were 50 other prophets following Elijah, but Elisha was the only one to ask if he could inherit Elijah’s ministry. Of course, back in 1 Kings 19, God tells Elijah to select Elisha, and he does so by temporarily wrapping his mantle around Elisha’s shoulders. Elisha indicates that he wants this mantle of ministry by immediately ceasing to plow his fields, slaughtering his oxen, and building a sacrificial fire from the wooden plows and harnesses he is using. In short, Elisha wanted to pick up Elijah’s mantle.

2. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to wait for it.

We don’t know how much time elapses between Elisha’s selection by Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and Elisha’s inheritance of Elijah’s mantle in 2 Kings 8. But, however long it took, Elisha had to wait for the time God had appointed for him to assume his prophetic ministry. When Elisha asked for a “double-portion” of Elijah’s spirit, what he was really asking for was that he would be seen as the rightful heir to Elijah’s prophetic work, just like a first-born son would have inherited the material possessions of his father. An heir has to wait to succeed his father, and Elisha waited patiently for God’s timing.

3. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to witness the power of God.

When Elisha asks Elijah for a double-portion of his spirit, Elijah says, “If you see me when I’m taken from you, it will be yours–otherwise, it will not.” But paradoxically, Elijah tries three times to dissuade Elisha from following him. Each time, Elisha says, “I’m going to stay with you.” Unless Elisha sees the power of God, he can’t inherit the mantle of prophetic leadership. While others were intimidated by seeing the power of Israel’s evil kings, Ahab and his son, God’s prophets had to see and embrace the power of God in action. When Elisha sees the chariot and horses of fire, he cries out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horses of Israel!”

4. Once you have picked up the mantle of leadership, you have to wield it.

As Elijah is being carried into heaven, his mantle slips from his shoulders. Elisha picks it up, rolls it up, and strikes the waters of the river Jordan, just as Elijah had done not long before. As he does so, Elisha asks, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” By his action and his prayer, Elisha invokes the power and presence of God as he assumes the prophetic mantle. When Elisha strikes the waters of the Jordan River, the waters part just as they had for Elijah. Had Elisha not wielded the mantle of leadership, he would have never received confirmation that Elijah’s leadership had indeed passed to him.

Leadership succession isn’t always neat or simple. But church leaders can benefit from the lessons of Elisha’s succession to Elijah. By wanting to assume the leadership to which God has called them, by waiting until God’s timing is right, by witnessing the power of God in the transition, and by wielding the mantle of leadership once it has fallen to them, the transfer of leadership from one leader to another will follow an extraordinary biblical model.

Lead, Care, Proclaim

Years ago, LifeWay’s focus on pastoral ministry was contained in three words — lead, care, proclaim.  Lead included church administration with its committee meetings, planning sessions, and member training.  Care involved pastoral care of the congregation, and the pastor’s training of and relationship with caregivers such as deacons.  Proclaim covered the pastor’s preaching and teaching ministry both at Sunday morning worship, and in smaller group settings such as Wednesday Bible study.

To support these tasks, LifeWay (then called The Baptist Sunday School Board) produced periodicals like Church Administration and Proclaim magazine.  I don’t recall a pastoral care magazine, but maybe there was one. My point is these three words summed up the pastor’s work then.  I still find myself involved in these same areas — leading, caring, and proclaiming.

My week seems to be spent in sermon preparation, pastoral care ministry, and administrative matters.  I try to keep a balance of spending an equal amount of time on each.  My office hours are 9 AM to 12 noon Monday through Thursday (I take Fridays off).  I usually spend my office time on the phone, chatting with folks who drop by the office, or working on administrative projects.  That’s my leading time, although leadership happens all the time and in casual settings, too.

Most of my care ministry takes place in the afternoons when I visit the hospitals, nursing and rehab centers, and our members at home.  I can make most of my pastoral care visits in the afternoons, but in other churches I served those took at least two evenings a week.  Evening visits now are usually with prospective members, most of whom have daytime jobs.

In the proclaim area, I do most of my sermon preparation and study at home, but that wasn’t the case when our kids were small.  Changing life circumstances meaning changing our work, study, and leisure routines as well.

I think LifeWay captured the small church pastor’s ministry well in those three words — lead, care, proclaim.  That’s still what I’m about, and I imagine you are, too.  What does your ministry routine involve and how do you allocate your time?

Remembering Why You Said Yes

This article was first published in Neue Quarterly, Vol. 4, Summer 2009.

Remembering Why You Said Yes
by Chuck Warnock

The phone rang at 3 A. M. one Saturday morning.  “Pauline is dying,” her niece said, “Can you come?”  I dressed quickly, told my wife I didn’t know when I would return, and headed out the door.   I drove to the nursing home ten miles away where the oldest member of our congregation lay dying.  At 105, Pauline had outlived her husband, her nearest relatives, her friends, and her neighbors.  Now her time had come, too.  I was Pauline’s pastor.  It was my duty to be there with her as she crossed from this life into the next.  But I knew it was more than just my job, it was my calling.

If you are a pastor, you probably have had a similar experience.  In a time of crisis, you know why you go.  You represent God’s presence, God’s comfort, and God’s grace to those passing through their own dark night of the soul.  Sitting in a hospital with anxious parents whose child is in surgery; or, standing with a widow as she identifies the body of her husband, you know you make a difference.  In those times it is not difficult to remember why we said “Yes” to God’s call to pastoral ministry.  Unfortunately, there are other times in a pastor’s life when the clarity of our call fades, discouragement clouds our memory, and we wonder “why did I ever want to be a pastor?”

I experienced a period of doubt and discouragement in 1990, and I forgot why I had become a pastor.  And when I forgot why I had become a pastor, the next question I asked myself was, “Why don’t you quit?”  And I did.  I resigned the church I started and left pastoral ministry.  I thought I had nothing more to say.  I thought my years of ministry hadn’t made a difference.  I was tired emotionally and spiritually, and I quit because I couldn’t remember why I had begun.  Fortunately, my story doesn’t end there.  In 2003, I stood in the pulpit for the first time in thirteen years.  I had remembered again why I said “Yes.”

The Myths of Ministry

Looking back on my own struggle with God’s call, I realized that three “myths of ministry” contributed to my difficulty.  This is not an exhaustive list, but these myths played a key role in my experience:

Continue reading “Remembering Why You Said Yes”

What your church members want from their pastor

Looking at the Pastoral Ministry section of almost any Christian bookstore, you might get the idea that congregations want great preaching, inspiring vision, and larger-than-life leadership from their pastor. While those extraordinary gifts are possessed by some pastors, most church members want four very simple things from their pastor:

  1. Your time. Your members know you are busy, but most of them want to spend some time with you — a meal, a cup of coffee, a conversation, or a moment where you both connect.  You can’t give all your time to all your members everyday, and they know it.  But make it a point to give some time to someone everyday.  I try to spend my afternoons visiting, calling, or meeting with my members.  My schedule doesn’t always work out, but when it does I am always blessed.
  2. Your ear. People like to know they have been heard and their opinions valued.  You may not always agree, but you can always listen.  Most people want a fair hearing even if the outcome is not their preference.  Really hear what your members are saying to you, acknowledge their comments, and assure them that you appreciate them sharing with you.
  3. Your presence. When people go to the hospital, they need the presence of their pastor to strengthen them.  When family members gather at the bedside of a dying loved one, they need their pastor.  When a father loses his job, or a single mom faces surgery, or an elderly couple makes the decision to move to assisted-living, they need a pastor to talk to.  Your presence represents God, their church family, their faith, and their hope.  Nothing else will do in those times except your presence.
  4. Your prayers. Concerns about family, worries about health, decisions, and mistakes — members have asked me to pray for these concerns and many others.  Take those requests seriously, pray earnestly, and follow-up later find out how you can continue to pray.

Great preaching and inspiring vision are a plus for any pastor.  But the real work of ministry happens in real life situations, especially in the small church.  Spend time with your members.  After all, it’s a compliment to your ministry that they want to spend time with you.