The pastor walked slowly toward the podium as I sat on the stage behind him, waiting to be introduced. Clearing his throat, the pastor nervously shared, “My wife and I are grateful for the opportunity to serve here, but we’ve decided to resign as your pastors.” Gasps from shocked congregants ricocheted around the room, followed by a deafening silence. My initial thought was, Couldn’t he have given me a little warning? I began to dig into my mental archives for an appropriate sermon, but the pastor immediately introduced me as the morning’s guest speaker. Unwilling to call a last-minute audible, I stayed with my planned message: “Never Quit, Never Give Up!”
Later that afternoon the pastor apologized for not forewarning me and confided that he had made the decision to resign prior to the service when a board member issued him a mandate: “Pastor our church, not the community.”
“Dave,” he said, “I’ve tried to guide my church into becoming community focused, but it seems every attempt has resulted in a cry to ‘Circle the wagons and don’t let anyone in or out.’”
This pastor isn’t alone. He represents thousands of leaders who are trying to redefine their church’s focus. They want to join the new breed of ambidextrous leaders who care for their flocks while occupying seats of influence with other community stakeholders. I call them For-Prophet Leaders.
For-Prophet Leaders embrace the vision of the prophet Isaiah. He prophesied that God would make Jerusalem the center of His worldwide rule through a royal Savior who would destroy her oppressor (Babylon). Isaiah’s prophecy is as relevant today as it was nearly three thousand years ago: “Your [church] will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12).
God is raising up the “age-old foundations”: neighborhood churches led by For-Prophet Pastors who are guiding their communities in spiritual, physical, social, and mental restoration. Isaiah’s prophecy remains a perfect vision for imperfect times.
Transitioning from Non-For-Prophet to For-Prophet Leadership
How does a pastor lead a church from Non-For-Prophet to ForProphet ministry? To address that question let me give you seven building blocks. Each is adaptable and scalable for any size church or community.
Jesus said, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest?’ I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35). In a similar way, He might tell each of us, “Look at your community.” Study a demographic survey made by your city management. Go on a listening tour to local governments, nonprofits, civic groups, and businesses. Educate yourself about your community and assess the most pressing needs while gathering an inventory of expertise and resources.
Influence in a community always moves at the speed of relationships. There are no shortcuts to spending quality time with pastors and other community leaders. I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t always easy.
For-Prophet pastors are Kingdom diplomats; they’re building the big “K” not the little “k.” They actively search for ways to elevate other leaders and their ministries.
Position your church-based compassion programs to be feature- and outcome-based entities. Feature-based describes the program and what it does. Outcome-based describes the benefits of the program and desired expectations. For example: Because of your child participating in our after-school tutoring program, they’ll have improved test scores, class attendance, self-esteem, social skills, and future college and job prospects.
While serving in Washington, DC, for more than a decade, I had a front-row seat to the billions of dollars appropriated every year by governments, corporations, foundations, and private donors for programs like those your church has in place or would like to start. By not competing for these resources, you allow entities that aren’t faith-based and/or not as effective as your ministry to receive the funds and to become the recommended social service provider.
For-Prophet Leaders are probably the best positioned in a community to bring honor to stakeholders who work tirelessly to improve the lives of their fellow citizens. Shouldn’t the church lead the way in recognizing government officials, job providers, police, healthcare providers, firefighters, emergency responders, teachers, and other unsung heroes?
Many donors experience giving fatigue from constantly standing in front of a firing squad of compelling causes, all appealing for funding. Donors are now looking for proven models, not causes as much.
As For-Prophet Leaders, if we’re committed to bringing the best possible models of compassion to our communities, then the competition is irrelevant because we’re occupying a seat at the King’s table and setting forth proven solutions to brokenness.
You may wonder whether you can transition to becoming a For-Prophet Leader. I know you can! When Jesus proclaimed, “I will build my church; and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, TLB), He was counting on your For-Prophet Leadership.
Adapted from CityServe: Your Guide to Church-Based Compassion. Copyright © 2019 by Dave Donaldson. Published by Salubris Resources, Springfield, Missouri.