At the dawn of a new year, many churches are adopting new budgets and making plans for whatever will come in this third year of COVID-influenced ministry. There are lots of decisions to be made, and not always enough information to make them. But there are a few things church lay leaders can do — and should do — to support their pastoral leaders in this year ahead.
First, pay a living wage. America is experiencing the most rapid rate of inflation in a generation, which means it costs more to live. Despite the uncertainties of the pandemic, this is no time to skimp on ministerial compensation. A living wage for a pastor should not be based on local schoolteacher salaries or on the lowest salary of the most stubborn member of the Personnel Committee. (Yes, these are real metrics some churches use.) There are easy ways to access data about what other comparable churches are paying. One of the best of these is Ministry Pay, an ongoing national survey by The Church Network. Also, consider that across America this year, companies are giving an average pay increase of more than 3% due to the rising cost of living.
“A living wage for a pastor should not be based on local schoolteacher salaries or on the lowest salary of the most stubborn member of the Personnel Committee.”
Second, show up. More concerning than church finances in the past year has been the slow return of so many churchgoers to in-person worship — even with vaccinations and other precautions in place. We’ve all developed bad habits of sleeping in on Sundays and assuming no one will miss us. Your pastor misses you and would love to see you in your place in the pew. As the pandemic now becomes an endemic, it’s time to go back to church.
Third, stand up to the church bullies. One of the most discouraging things for pastors is to be constantly attacked or thwarted by a few church bullies while other good people just stand idly by with their mouths shut. Most congregational leaders are conflict averse, and that leaves the pastor standing alone. This year, don’t let the church bullies win. That might be the greatest gift you could give your pastor.
Fourth, help rebuild. All churches are in some kind of rebuilding mode due to the effects of the pandemic. It’s not just the pastor’s job to bring people back in. You can help within your own spheres of influence. It’s a well-documented fact that the way to grow a church is through small groups. Be intentional about checking in with others in your Bible study group or other church groups; don’t wait for someone to ask you to help. It is these networks of friendships and caring that will bring life and health to any church.
“It’s not just the pastor’s job to bring people back in. You can help within your own spheres of influence.”
Fifth, be open to new ideas. It is increasingly clear that we are living in a hinge of history, where the Christian church is being remade. The problem is, when you’re in the eye of the storm it’s hard to see where you’re going. My ministry colleague Doug Haney is famous for his saying, “Flexibility is the best ability.” That’s especially true this year. And I’m reminded of something I’ve heard Rick Warren say over and over, especially in the early days of phenomenal growth at Saddleback Church: To find out what works, you have to try a lot of things that don’t work. Innovation happens through trial and error, not through surefire strategies.
For my own part, looking back after 18 months away from church pastoral leadership, I find myself constantly needing to repent of something I got wrong all those years. Being a child of the heyday of Southern Baptist programming and church growth, I tended to think first and foremost about “how” to do ministry rather than “why” we do ministry.
The why is about people, about relationships. Sometimes programming builds relationships, but sometimes it just builds programs that the same people come to — rinse and repeat.
Everything I’m reading and hearing today about church health says the real key is relational. Which ought to be good news for lay leaders who care about their churches and want to help their pastors.
Building relationships doesn’t require a seminary degree or years of experience. That’s something we all can do.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global. For 17 years prior to assuming this role, he was associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.
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