The “golden years” of the church, for many key leaders in churches across the US, were the 1950s. Back then “everyone” went to church – and if someone didn’t go to church, they knew they should! Back then, the pastor didn’t get caught up with trying to reach one generation or another. Everyone “liked” the same kind of worship – and if they didn’t it was because a Lutheran had stumbled into a Baptist church or a Presbyterian got lost and visited the Nazarenes.

Back in the ’50s, the pastor’s primary job was to ensure that everyone in the church was well cared for. They made sure there was a well staffed nursery, Sunday school was fully operational, there were adequate potlucks, worship was good, and that every member got some sort of personal touch on a regular basis.

A week in the life of a busy pastor typically found them in one of four places.

  1. In their office making sure the church was running smoothly (and writing their sermon in between).
  2. In one meeting or another making sure ministries and programs landed somewhere between adequate and excellent.
  3. In the hospital or the rest home visiting the infirm.
  4. In a member’s home visiting with them.

No one worried about church growth back then. No one was worrying about growing their church, because in the 1950s, the members pretty much took care of church growth. The nation was in the midst of a baby boom, and Mom and Dad saw to it that Baby and Junior and Teen came to church every week. There were plenty of kids, lots of moms and dads, and even grandparents were in church – and stayed in church. The church was on autopilot. The pastor took care of the flock and the flock multiplied biologically.

In many (most) churches, if 1950 ever comes back, the congregation is ready! 

But 1960 roared into reality and most of those baby boom kids that filled the church’s youth groups turned into rebellious teenagers who fled the trappings of organized religion. The parents didn’t worry about it at first – they “knew” the kids would be back when they had children of their own. That’s just how it worked.

It didn’t work out that way. The Baby Boomers didn’t return to church – and their children were largely raised outside the church. Many of the Gen-X kids got some church experience because they had grandparents who’d take them and their parents weren’t really anti-church. Many of these families did the CEO thing – Christmas and Easter Only.

But Gen-Xers never caught the habit of their grandparents, so when they left home as young adults, they pretty much didn’t bother to keep up much church pretense. And so their children had virtually no church experience.

Today, over 20 percent of the US has no faith foundation at all – that means they’ve not been exposed to or attended worship services of any religion, let alone gone to a Christian church. And the younger the person, the less church experience they have.

So today, your pastor has a different job than the one many in the church remember. Today’s effective pastor is actually way more biblically grounded and faithful than the pastor in the ’50s, at least in the way they approach ministry. Today’s effective pastor understands that the biblical role of the pastor is clearly defined and demonstrated. In Ephesians 4:11–13 Paul defined the primary task of the pastor (and other church leaders):

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–13)

Notice that the pastor’s primary role is to prepare the church members to do works of service, that is, the ministry of the church. It’s the church members’ job to do most of the things the 1950s pastor took care of. It’s the pastor’s job to recruit, train, deploy, and coach other church leaders to do all those ministries.

Here’s what it looked like in the early church. First, in Acts 2:42–47 we see the results of a church that suddenly grew from 120 to over 3000. Of course the twelve apostles couldn’t take care of everyone, so the church members stepped up and took care of each other and of the church’s ministries.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47)

Notice that the apostles taught and the church members did everything else. But as in all churches, not everything went so smoothly all the time. It turned out that after some time, there was a problem with the first-century food bank. It wasn’t taking care of the Greek widows and their families. Acts 6 shows us how the apostles handled the problem.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. (Acts 6:1–5)

The apostles put the ministry back on the church members. They didn’t step up and fix it. They didn’t start a new program. They didn’t start managing the program or writing procedures. Instead they invited the church to choose some church members who would get the issue taken care of.

The primary job of a pastor today isn’t to take care of the church members. It’s not to manage administration. Today’s pastor has two primary tasks: (1) Raising up and training people like you to do the church’s ministry; and (2) Reaching out to the unchurched people in your community and ushering them into the church by building relationships and having spiritual conversations with them. And yes, that’s your job too – but we know by experience and by biblical example that this is a key pastoral practice.

With this in hand, it’s important for you to support your pastor in these practices – and it’s critical that you and other church leaders find ways to help your pastor hand off ministries that he or she shouldn’t be carrying (such as creating the bulletin and newsletter, updating the website, overseeing VBS, doing hospital and member visitation, etc.). This will allow your pastor to spend more time reaching others for Jesus Christ – and as he or she does, your church will experience increased growth.

Question: What tools and training do you need to be an effective church leader in today’s less-than pro-church culture? Let us know in the Comments section below.