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Part 1 – The Trauma Situation

Just recently I had another pastor discuss with me a terrible situation he was facing. His church was dying. He was heartbroken over the situation. He had served that church faithfully for the past several years, doing all he could to lead the people to reach their community. Unfortunately, the congregation had given up on reaching out to the community, and when the pastor did something to bring the church into the present, the people were quickly frustrated. The situation felt hopeless, and he feared there was no helping the church. It seemed as if the church was destined to die.

The Church Was In A Trauma State

The church was slowly decreasing because of natural attrition, and new people were not joining the congregation. Because attendance was declining, the finances were too. The church had some financial reserves but not enough to carry them through with the debt accrued from the previous building project left by the former pastor. The church was bleeding out, people and resources were going out faster than they were coming in. Without intervention, the church would die soon. The church was in a trauma state.

Something had to be done. But what?

The pastor began changing things. He updated the service, started to meet with people in the community, and worked to improve the children’s and student ministries of the church. Sadly, all were met with opposition from existing church members. The service updates were met with criticism, the new people were not welcomed, and he seemed to be the only person willing to do anything for the ministries.

The church was not only bleeding out; It had a heart issue too. The church was in trauma state.

When a church is in the trauma state, you must act quickly. In the same way, a Doctor must work quickly in the trauma room with a patient that is bleeding profusely and having major issues with their heart, so must a pastor with a church in the trauma state.

Before the pastor can address the issues, he must assess the issues.

For Churches That Are In Trauma State We Must Examine The Heart

1) Do You Want To Change?

The first question is hard for some congregations to answer and yet the answer is so fundamental in moving toward new life.
I have seen the situation time and time again. Pastors who are eager, called, and equipped leave the seminary ready to serve in the church with visions of reaching the lost and serving faithfully. They meet with personnel committees to discuss the future, preach before enthusiastic congregations, and move their families across the country to help where they are called. All with the expectation that they are going to join God’s people on mission.

Only to realize that things are not exactly what they seemed. Fast forward four to twelve months and the situation has changed. The people have moved past enthusiasm into frustration and the church that was ready to reach the lost a few months ago has lost its vision entirely.

What went wrong?

The people did not want to change. If the people are so consumed with the past that they cannot move into to the current, then the church will remain stagnant until it fades into death.

The simple fact is, there are many people in churches that do not want the church to change. They emotionally hold onto the past.

They do not care for the future. They do not want to bother with making disciples or reaching the lost.

This is the church with a heart problem.

2) Are You Willing To Change?

The second question is just as hard as the first, and it too must be answered before moving forward.
While many people will say, “Yes, I want my church to change and grow to reach the lost” the truth is they are not willing to change.

Make no mistake, change in the church comes with a price. Some could find an issue with the new faces that have changed and the fact that they do not know everyone’s name. Others find change hard when it affects the way a ministry looks or works for them. While others are not seeing changes in the ways that they would like.

Let’s face it. Change is hard. Pastors would do well to understand that when implementing changes in their churches.

However, change is also a necessary part of life. We do not continue to use horse and buggy, and we do not continue to listen to eight tracks. The world has changed, and the church has to change with it. The church cannot continue to work in the nineteenth century when we are in the twenty-first century.

The point being, we as the church must be willing to change the way we do things. If we are not willing to adapt to share the gospel with an ever-changing world, we have a significant heart problem.

3) Can You Trust Your Pastor Through The Change?

In my first pastorate, I once had an older man tell me, “Son, you have to earn my trust.” While I understood the sentiment, I had to ask the man, “exactly how can I earn that trust?”

I had been the man’s pastor for a little over a year, and he was frustrated over a few small changes that the staff had made to the service. While I knew that the church services had not changed for decades and that this small change was a hard change for him, I also knew that he needed to trust me if we were going to start making moves to reach the next generation in our community.

Church members must be willing to extend trust to their church leadership.

There is no secret here. The church cannot function if the members are always questioning the method or integrity of the leadership. Therefore, something must be done. If a person cannot trust their pastor to seek God’s vision and implement that vision for the church, they shouldn’t be a part of that church.

When a pastor goes to a church they are brought in by a group of church leaders who have prayed over that decision, they are confirmed by the church body who have prayed over that decision, they have prayed over that decision, and finally they are voted in because the congregation believes that the pastor is God’s answer to those prayers. If a person cannot trust their pastor and his leadership then ultimately they are not trusting in God’s direction.

I fully understand that pastors are not perfect and that there are some who have done immoral things. However, God has a plan, and He places His servants in positions to fulfill His plan. The pastor is God’s under-shepherd, leading His people according to His plan. Churches must respect God’s will and plan for His church.

If a congregation cannot trust their pastor, there is a heart problem there.

 

What to do when faced with a dying church is not a fun or popular topic to discuss but it is a topic that needs to be discussed. We must be willing and ready to ask the questions needed, assess the situation, and make the changes to reach our communities.

In the future, I will be discussing more questions to ask your church to promote more church health. Please subscribe to recieve the future articles.

Last week I wrote a quick blog on the types of questions a pastor interviewing with a search committee should ask in order to dig deeper into the identity of the church.

As I was writing that, I felt that there is a need for questions to be used by pastoral search committees.

In my limited experience with search committees I have found that they are made up of lay members that occupy positions of authority within the church. In most cases these individuals may be educated in the secular job world but are not thinking through the important questions they need to ask a potential pastor. Therefore, I have written 45 questions that every search committee should ask a potential pastor in an interview.

  1. How did you come to know Christ? Describe for us the situation and how your life has changed since.
  2. How were you called into the ministry?
  3. What is your view of the Bible?
  4. What is your method of Preaching? (Topical, Expository, Blend, Etc. – This should tell you something regarding the previous question.)
  5. What is your view on God’s Election?
  6. What is your view of Women in Ministry?
  7. What is your view on the Spiritual Gifts?
  8. What is your view of using those gifts in worship?
  9. What is your view on Baptism?
  10. What is your view on the Lord’s Supper?
  11. What is your view on Deacons and Elders?
  12. What is your view on Evangelism?
  13. When was the last time you personally lead someone to the Lord?
  14. If you were to come to our church, how would you encourage the people to practice evangelism?
  15. If you were to come to our church, how would you lead our church to reach out to our community?
  16. What is your view on discipleship?
  17. When was the last time you discipled someone?
  18. If you were to come to our church, how would you lead our church to practice discipleship?
  19. What is your view of missions?
  20. What missions experience do you have?
  21. If you were to come to our church, how would you lead our church to participate in missions?
  22. What is your view on Spiritual Disciplines?
  23. If you were to come to our church, how would you encourage the people to practice spiritual disciplines?
  24. Describe for us your devotion time with the Lord? (Time, Place, Frequency, Practices, Etc.)
  25. What was the last Scripture you memorized?
  26. What is your view on Church Discipline? Describe a time when you had to lead out in church discipline.
  27. What role do you think children play in the church?
  28. What role do you think teenagers play in the church?
  29. What role do you think families play in the church?
  30. What role do you think the elderly play in the church?
  31. What role do you think the small group ministry plays in the church?
  32. What do you believe is the role of the Pastor in the church? Describe your ideal pastoral work week.
  33. How do you think the Pastor should interact with the other church staff?
  34. Would you describe yourself as a team leader, a mentor, or a boss when it comes the other church staff? Why?
  35. If you have taken a spiritual gifts inventory, what are your top 2-3 gifts?
  36. If you have taken a personality test, what are your dominant personality traits?
  37. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  38. How involved have you been or would you like to have been in convention life?
  39. If you were to align with a convention, which one would it be and why?
  40. What was the last continuing education you attended? When was this? Why?
  41. What was the last book you read? When was this? Why?
  42. What do you believe is your greatest strength in ministry?
  43. What do you believe is your biggest weakness in ministry?
  44. Does your wife support your ministry?
  45. How does your wife support you in ministry?

This is by no means a comprehensive list. So feel free to add to it.

If you were to add other questions, what would they be?

Every once in a while I get a call from a fellow pastor friend who is nervous about going before a pastoral search committee. After receiving such a call recently, I kept thinking through the kind of questions I would encourage them to ask in order to learn more about the church.

So here are thirty questions that would help you dig down to the true identity of the church.

  1. What brought you to this church?
  2. What are the 3 best things about your church?
  3. What do you think a visitor would say was the best thing about this church?
  4. What are 3 problems your church is facing that need to be corrected?
  5. What do you think a visitor would say was the worst thing about this church?
  6. What has been the biggest conflict your church has faced in the last 5, 10, 20 years? Was it handled in a biblical way?
  7. What direction has the church gone in the past 5, 10, 20 years?
  8. In your opinion has this been a good direction?
  9. What is the churches involvement in evangelism and community involvement?
  10. If your church was gone tomorrow, how would the community be effected?
  11. What is the churches involvement in missions?
  12. If your church was gone tomorrow, how would the world be effected?
  13. What is the churches involvement in discipleship?
  14. If your church was gone tomorrow, how would the younger generations of the church be effected?
  15. What is the community’s opinion of the church?
  16. If your future pastor felt lead to adjust a ministry or implement a new ministry, how would the congregation respond to that?
  17. If your future pastor felt lead to adjust a ministry or implement a new ministry, how would he go about implementing that?
  18. What do you believe is the most divisive issue facing your church?
  19. How did your previous pastor handle conflict?
  20. What type of preaching style did your previous pastor use? (topical, expository, blended)
  21. Are there any topics that you would encourage your future pastor to avoid in the pulpit?
  22. Are there any topics you would encourage your future pastor to preach on in the pulpit?
  23. If you could tell you future pastor one thing that this church needs in order to grow, what would that be?
  24. Do you see any opportunities in your community for the church to get involved in?
  25. What do see as the vision for the church in the next 5, 10, 20 years?
  26. What did you love the most about your previous pastor?
  27. What did you like least the most about your previous pastor?
  28. Was there ever a time when you felt your previous pastor dropped the ball? What happened?
  29. What do you believe the congregation is looking for most in the next pastor?
  30. What have you been told to avoid with your next pastor?

Do you have any that you would add to this?