In the spring of 1993, Dr. Carver McGriff retired after 26 years as Senior Pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. When he became Senior Pastor in 1967 there were about 900 members and when he retired 26 years later there were about 3800 members and on average attendance of 1800. Many church consultants predicted that there would be a significant loss of members and income after the retirement of such a long time popular and effective preacher who would be remaining in the same community after retirement.
However, those predictions have not come true. Since 1993 average attendance has increased to 2100 and giving has increased by $75,000 to $100,000 each year. In 1995, 300 new members were received 150 by profession of faith.
One of the primary reasons St. Luke’s did not experience a decline following a long term pastorate is the positive and affirming relationship between the former and the current Senior pastors. As the current Senior pastor I realized that Dr. McGriff and I had exactly the same agenda: he did not want to build a church from 900 members to 3800 members and then see it decline because I came! Dr. McGriff and I have very different styles of ministry but we realize that we work for the same Lord and have become good friends and colleagues in helping St. Luke’s to remain strong. We have breakfast together every other week and he has been a wonderful mentor and exceedingly helpful in giving background and providing support for dealing with many issues which have arisen during the past three years.
Through this expertise with Dr. McGriff, I have come to realize that a pastors predecessor can be one of the most helpful and supportive friends that a new pastor can have in a new congregation. Unfortunately, many new pastors attempt to build themselves up in their new congregation by criticizing and discounting the ministry of their predecessor. Of course every pastor has strengths and weaknesses but it seems wise to me for a new pastor to continually affirm his predecessors gifts and contributions while seeking to discover where his or her own contribution may help to strengthen the ministry of the church. As pastors, we
Another reason St. Luke’s has continued to grow is because it’s very effective staff and wise lay leadership have continued to focus the church on its vision. St. Luke’s vision is to be an open community of Christians who gather to seek, celebrate, live and share the love of God for all creation. This vision reflects the spirit and actions of Jesus who came among us and person open to sharing God’s unconditional love with all sorts and conditions of people. This vision is the real leader of the congregation. Whenever an issue arises in our congregation, we always ask the question “How would an open community of Christians respond to this concern?” When we consistently experienced overcrowding in the sanctuary, we realized that if someone came to worship ad we could not find an adequate place for them to sit, we were not fulfilling our vision of being an open community of Christians. In order to fulfill our vision we have launched a $7.5 million expansion program to build a new 1500 seat sanctuary, new children’s education rooms and a new choir rehearsal area.
A third reason St. Luke’s has continued to grow is it’s philosophy of providing multiple and varied worship opportunities.
Each Sunday there are six different worship experiences. There are three spirited more traditional worship services with inspiring music and preaching; a contemporary worship service in a dinner theater lead by Dr. Linda McCoy, a pastor who has been on staff for 14 years, is attracting about 200-250 each Sunday; a service for Deaf persons and their families attracting 75-100; a Children’s worship service for about 150, and a Singles service at 12:30 p.m. Sunday attracting about 50 persons.
St. Luke’s has also been a permission giving church which encourages lay persons and staff to develop ministries out of their own passion and to meet the needs of people without administration committees. Rather than discussing for months whether or not something might work, we try it as a pilot project and experience itself then it will tell us whether or not something is effective.
Finally, St. Luke’s has continued to grow in worship, education, fellowship and service because there are people of prayer in the congregation who pray for the pastors, staff and lay leadership of the church to help us keep centered in and surrendered to God.
My own conviction is that most conflicts between current and former Senior Pastors is a conflict of egos. When both people can function out of their spirit and not their ego, God can use them to renew the church for the sake of the transformation of the world. Not only that, but miracles happen!