Don’t Look Now, But They’re Just Like You!

No, not your kids. Or your other rellies. It’s your congregation! Those folks who call your church their home. The ones you preach to each week. The ones who are so able to bring great joy and great drama all in the one hit. They are getting more like you every day. The longer you are with them, the more they are taking on your flavour.

That Small Matter of Influence….

Now this is one very scary proposition. It does not claim to be scientific. There are no hard and fast formulae or equations to prove it. But it is an observation of many years:

  • A congregation is profoundly affected in good ways and not so good by their pastor.
  • A pastor’s attitude to God, life, people, ministry and the world in general exercises an influence which should cause us all to reflect a little more than we do.
  • That single word “influence” carries more clout than most of us recognise in a life time.
  • It is safe enough to say that not a moment passes in the pastor-people connection which is without some measure of influence occurring.

Think about this for a while. Who else creates as much interest?

  • The moment a pastoral vacancy is declared, the church immediately starts to ponder what the next pastor will be like.
  • Unless something has gone badly wrong and the parting of the ways has been unhappy, this wonderment about the future is mixed up with a deep sense of loss relating to the impending departure of the incumbent.
  • It is often agreed that “our new pastor may not compare too well with the one we have now.”
  • Anyway, the prayers begin; the Pastoral Search Committee is appointed; the hunt commences; the interviews are undertaken.
  • In the goodness of God the induction finally takes place. In short, this is not just any kind of career we are talking about here.
  • The pastor has been the subject of much anticipation before the first service even commences.

So, is it any surprise that such a person comes to have such an influence?

  • After all, who else has the privilege (and the responsibility) of addressing the same group of people every week (often twice) on a subject of their own choosing?
  • Who else is the primary resource person for a leadership group (even if they are out voted from time to time)?
  • Who else (in most congregations) is the official carer, the listener, the friend, the counsellor, the reconciler?
  • Is it any wonder that this person, above all others, shapes and fashions the hearts and minds of their fellow believers in a manner which is rarely understood and appreciated, even by the pastor personally?

The implications of this are awesome and not to be taken lightly.

  • Clearly the obvious expressions of this influence will be seen early in approaches to worship, the Bible and principles for living.
  • The congregation will become quickly aware of what makes our pastor tick in these areas simply because they are the “up front” dimensions of the pastoral task.
  • The way in which the pastor leads and preaches sends a comprehensive range of signals to the congregation.
  • Without so much as undertaking a deliberate, conscious analysis, the church quickly figures out this pastor’s priorities. They cotton on to the favourite themes and concerns.
  • The tenor of the pastoral prayer fills out the scope of the pastor’s sensitivity, memory capacity and embrace of the world (assuming the pastoral prayer is still offered which is often not the case – and that too is a message!). It is not surprising that people seem to take a particular interest in the content of this prayer.


The Shaping of the Congregation

The point of all of this is that these very same emphases are subtly shaping the congregation….

  • How a pastor responds to the Scripture, articulates Christian responsibilities and relates to people become powerful examples to those who listen and observe.
  • If the pastor is regarded with respect, even affection, that influence is magnified beyond measure.
  • Add to this all the other facets of pastoral duties and the power of such modelling knows few bounds.
  • The more alarming truth is that neither pastor or congregation are really alert to this complex chemistry. Most never think about it despite the constancy of the process.

But these are only the starting points. There is much more yet….

  • The pastor with gifts for evangelism will sharpen the evangelistic edge of the church.
  • The pastor with the large, pastoral heart will unconsciously inject warmth and compassion into congregational life.
  • The pastor with a social justice bias will bring that quality to the fore.

This shaping/influencing process will not happen overnight but it will happen. And it will not only be in these positive ways….

  • A pastor who constantly arrives late for services and meetings, who gives the appearance of being chronically disorganised or under prepared is in the shaping process too.
  • People will lapse into happy chaos, fly by the seat of their pants or be acutely frustrated.
  • The laid-back pastor will produce a laid-back congregation. They may end up having a great time together but there’s no guarantee that much will be accomplished.
  • Those in the church who are committed to planning and preparation will go up the wall or simply drift off. It happens, friends, it happens.

Unfortunately, it can get much worse….

  • The pastor who cannot keep confidences, who engages in unguarded small talk, or who takes shots at others behind their backs is simply advertising their patent lack of wisdom and maturity in neon lights.
  • They should not get too distressed when they are caught up in a maelstrom of home grown disasters.
  • Sow the wind and the whirlwind is there for the asking. Why? Quite apart from raising leading questions about fitness for ministry, the pastor is giving permission (by example of course) that this kind of unacceptable behaviour is actually within the limits.
  • Is it over the top to suggest that the political pastor produces the political church? Or that the dysfunctional pastor spawns the dysfunctional church? Hardly.

A Final Touch….

So, the chips are down. Think carefully about….

  • Your own manner (in both the good and not so good moments)
  • Your throw away lines (they may go much further than you anticipated).
  • Your openness to people (listening, encouraging, embracing)
  • Your conduct in stressful moments (hopefully responding with grace, patience and wisdom)
  • Your handling of criticism (with gratitude rather than defensive, unhelpful reactions)
  • Your care for people (or lack of it).

You are one very influential model with all the privileges and liabilities which go with leadership. You can lift your people to the heights just by remaining true to your Call while still allowing for all the rough edges.

Consider the words of Jesus: “I have set you an example.”[1]  Ponder Paul’s advice to his friends, “Do what I do,”[2] or his word to Titus, “Set an example.”[3]  That is the tradition which is ours. Let’s remember that our primary task is to be setting a sound example. That’s what being a pastor is all about.

Rev John Simpson

[1] Matthew 11:29-30, John 13:35

[2] 1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1

[3] Titus 2:7