“We Have Always Done This…”

First, let me give props to a great friend and fellow pastor of mine, Scott Douglas. Scott serves as the Student Minister at Westside Baptist Church in Murray, KY.  He is a passionate leader who loves Jesus and his family well. He is also a great student pastor who faithfully teaches the Word of God and reaches students. Scott asked me to join his blog series on “cuss words” in ministry. This article was originally published in this series which you can access at http://www.scottdouglas82.wordpress.com. Here are my thoughts…

“We have always done this…” Anybody who has ever been in ministry for any length of time has heard this phrase. It’s how you as a ministry leader or pastor respond that makes all the difference. My prayer is that we would respond with integrity, leadership, and a focus on making a Kingdom impact.

So, if you are leading a ministry of any kind or are a pastor and you are operating in a situation in which you hear “We have always done this…” quite a bit here are some thoughts about what I’m currently learning. I have in no way mastered these things but am in the process of learning them.

Respect tradition.

A huge mistake I see fellow young leaders making in ministry is “bashing” the past. Tradition is not a bad word and not bad in and of itself. I currently serve at a church with a rich tradition and consider that a blessing. In fact we have an entire book written about our church’s history. Embrace the tradition, talk about the tradition, and build upon the tradition. Tradition can become an “idol” when we make that our foundation instead of the Word of God.

 Cast vision.

Churches call pastors and ministry leaders to do just that…lead. That is what they want you to do. Cast a vision that people will reach people, makes disciples, and enhance the Kingdom of God.

The harsh reality is churches that do not change will eventually not exist. Our culture and society is changing at a rapid pace and the church can do one of two things. One, we can embrace where the world is and reach them in that context or two, we can stay remaining doing the “same ole thing” and sit here and ask questions like, “Why aren’t the ‘young people’ coming?” Why is it that churches have a hard time keeping teenagers and college students? It’s because of the way we are going about reaching them is not connecting with the culture they live in. With this being said the church needs balance. Cast a vision that young and old can be excited about. One of the coolest things in local church ministry is seeing a teenager and senior adult excited about the same cause. Cast a vision that embraces this not fights against it.

Build a core team around you.

After casting vision, find people who are most excited about it and build into them. Also keep in mind to not neglect the people who aren’t excited about the vision. For some it may take them longer to be sold on it. Some will never catch on to the vision. For me this is one of the hardest things to deal with. Build a team around you that will stick with you through thick and thin. Build a team not a clique. I, as a leader, need people who are going to encourage me and build me up as I do the same for them.

 Evaluate what is working and capitalize on these things.

In this “we have always done this…” mindset ministry leaders and pastors can easily grow frustrated and be tempted to start with an all-new slate. The reality is we must find the programs, ministries, projects, etc. that are working and see ways that we can capitalize on these. If nothing else, I have learned this is a great starting point.  People are comfortable with what they know. Starting with what is working, add some new elements to it, and go from there.

Don’t expect things to change over night.

People who live in the “we have always done it this way…” mindset will not be receptive to change overnight. There are times I have casted vision, got people excited about it, went to implement it and realized it was going to take time to develop. This is the part where some student pastors leave. We can grow frustrated to a point in which we don’t think things will ever change. It has been said that it takes people 3 years before they trust a leader. I have been at churches where at the three year mark it’s like a light switch went off and people were like, “Man, you are still here.”  Leaders, pastors, hang in there. God placed a call on your life; embrace it.

 Persevere even when it’s tough.

This leads me to my last thought; don’t give up. Persevere when everything in you wants to quit. Remember if Jesus called you to this, gave you a vision that you have bathed in prayer and in the Scriptures, He will use you. Pursue your calling until God tells you to stop and do something else. We, as believers, have the greatest story to tell. We need to tell this story by being culturally relevant, learning form the past, and making a difference for the future.

 These suggestions are so much easier said than done. Have I mastered these things? Absolutely not. That is why at the beginning of the article I said I was learning these things not mastering these things.  From one pastor (or ministry leader) to another- God bless.