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Good Churches Make Good Pastors

While watching the recent NBA Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, one broadcaster openly questioned how good of a coach Erik Spoelstra (of the Heat) was. Noting the professional caliber of his players, the announcer suggested that LeBron James and Co. are easy to coach. Which CONGREGATION_1943leads to an interesting question about the role and importance of a coach. Who determines the overall health and success of a team anyway — the players or the coach?

That question has an interesting parallel in church life. Typically, the senior pastor is viewed as the primary pace-setter and determinant for the health of the church. Churches are a reflection of their pastor, we say. Good pastors make good churches. But isn’t the opposite just as true? A healthy church contributes just as much to the growth and success of a pastor, as a healthy pastor contributes to the growth and success of a church. (By “healthy church” I mean a church that prays more than it nit-picks,makes disciples, initiates ministry, is self-feeding, exercises grace, serves the community, is sensitive to the leading of God, holds its leadership accountable to Scripture, etc., etc.)

Now, a good coach can definitely make an average team better, but a good team can also make an average coach look good. So I’m guessing that both principles are true for the Church as well. A good pastor can help an “average church” articulate its vision, become more organized, serve the community, understand Scripture, forgive more, judge less, and this is exactly what we try to do in the City Central Church, by joining a good community with a good pastor so there is only one vision to follow and one God to pray. But in the same token, a healthy church can make an “average pastor” a better preacher, a better pray-er, more sensitive to God, more outreach-minded, more in love with their spouse, more diligent, etc., etc.

However, when most churches have problems, they tend to blame their pastors, not themselves.

Sure, at some point coaches are the problem and they need to be fired. But at other times, it’s the team that needs to look in the mirror. Sports metrics has established that changing the coach is often not the answer. In most cases it is the combination of players, the level of talent, and a culture of mediocrity / losing that needs changed. Nevertheless, coaches are most often the fall-guys.

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The same is often true of churches. Frankly, some churches are pastor killers. The combination of congregants, the church’s history, expectations, and ecclesiastical polity all conspire to produce a toxic church. Seldom will a carousel of pastors change the spiritual vibe of a dead body. Starting a fire is one thing. Finding the fuel to keep it burning is another. No amount of fiery sermons can ignite a congregation void of kindling.

Meaning, the best churches are easy to coach.

So instead of asking where we can find a better pastor, maybe we church-goers should start by asking how we can be a better church.  For the health and success of a church has just as much to do with who’s sitting in the pews, as to who’s standing in the pulpit.

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Ryan J. Pelton June 26, 2014, 7:50 AM

    Well said from a pastor of a local church. Our church is great because our people love Jesus, serve one another, and our community. Not because of their pastor.

  • Donna Pyle June 26, 2014, 5:07 PM

    You can’t see it, Mike, I’m giving this post a standing ovation. Well said in all respects!

  • Alan R Joiner June 26, 2014, 6:49 PM

    Man, what a great article…

  • Mark Luker June 27, 2014, 9:34 AM

    good read – great parallel between coaches and pastors! I have seen Pastors fired in cases where the church should have been looking at itself…but then again, a good Pastor would have already been leading them to do so right? It’s like the age old question: does the chicken come before the egg?

    • Triston July 27, 2014, 8:13 AM

      It’s never been questionable whether the chicken or egg came first (except by Bible illiterates\ Bible deniers). God makes it abundantly clear in Genesis: The chicken came first.

  • Lex Keating June 30, 2014, 3:20 AM

    I’ve seen it both ways, actually. One of the churches I currently attend (yup, plural) has a pastor who people love to follow. His congregation goes to some trouble to put him in a similar position to Moses during Israel’s first escape from Egypt–“You go talk to the Lord for us. We’ll follow your lead.” Biblically and historically, we can see where that might not be the best option. If you have a good leader, you should follow his lead. This church–paralleling the first-generation free Jews–is content not to move from what the individuals already know. The attitude is very much “we have a pastor who walks with Jesus, that’s close enough for me.” Like you said, Mike, this is hard on the pastor. Not to mention a lie that the congregation tells themselves.

    And I have been in churches where the organization rotates out the pastor every few years. I was close with one of these pastors, and I remember this pastor being very distressed at being sent to “clean up” after the same previous pastor for a third time. By now, a pattern of hurt and outrage had been established at each of this other minister’s churches, and my friend didn’t appreciate doing damage control. Under my friend’s guidance, the church would regain all the ruffled feathers who had left when they weren’t soothed. Bible studies would get started again, and small groups and service ministries would be well-maintained. The church members felt safe coming back. But the lost weren’t reached. We had to wait until my friend’s replacement came to ever hear the saving message of Christ from the pulpit. The “new guy” who followed my friend was able to expand the ministry–specifically to the lost–but part of that was because my old friend had let the congregation be people who worked well together.

    Regardless of which kind of pastor we follow, or which kind of congregation we are, isn’t the first order of business to be in a church where the Lord is free to work? Some of the most informal congregations have neither room nor time for the Holy Spirit’s interruption, whereas some of the most hidebound old sticklers will stop their parades at a mere whisper from God. If we are looking at people to determine the health of a church, aren’t we dooming ourselves to failure? If we want a healthy church, doesn’t the first order of business need to be “all eyes on Christ”?

  • Triston July 27, 2014, 8:17 AM

    Well said.

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