Background Passages: Matthew 20:26; Matthew 25:14-30
I belong to a church that began its ministry in 1954. Since its doors opened, South Main Baptist Church, Pasadena, TX, two pastors have served the congregation. The late Dr. B.J. Martin pastored the church for 27 years before giving way to Dr. Ron Lyles in 1981. In a few days, Dr. Lyles celebrates his 35th anniversary with our church. Six decades. Two pastors.
This stability of pastoral leadership is certainly not a record for service at the same church. Other pastors served their congregations for longer periods. Yet, I think it says something about these two men of God.
What is the measure of a great pastor?
People look at a number of metrics to determine the vitality of pastoral ministry. We are, after all, a performance-driven culture. Some might look at church membership, Sunday School attendance, outreach totals, the number of baptisms, or the amount of congregational giving. Those should be important inputs. They are not, however, the important impacts.
Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, said you measure the impact of a pastor, not on metrics as those above, but on his ability to be a “kingdom builder.”
A kingdom builder, according to Warren, is someone who…
- lives for his great purpose,
- lives by great principles,
- lives on great power and
- lives with great people.
Warren says our purpose for living as Christians is two-fold. First, our purpose is to spread the gospel of Christ to a lost world, bringing others into a saving relationship with God. Great pastors internalize that purpose and lead a church in a mission-minded focus, not just within the walls of the home church, but by establishing and supporting mission work at home and abroad.
Secondly, that great purpose calls us to move beyond evangelism to make disciples of those who place their trust in Christ. Making a commitment to Christ is a simple matter of faith. Living the purpose-driven life he requires daily is difficult unless someone teaches us how to live and relate to the world as God’s people.
In B.J. and Ron, I found men with equal zeal and commitment for spreading the gospel of Christ and for growing those wish to walk with the Father. Their passion proved in what they proclaimed from the pulpit and what they practiced as the daily pattern of life. The ministries they established in our church and our community shared the love of Christ in word and deed, touching not just the soul, but also meeting the physical, social and emotional needs of life.
Great pastors draw strength and wisdom from the foundational principles set forth by God in his scripture, according to Warren. A great pastor lives by these principles, letting them guide his every word and action. Both of my pastors made deep theological study an essential part of their preparation for ministry. You sensed their fidelity to scripture when they preached and taught. Yet, they made sure they grounded their heavenly theology with an earthly purpose…always rooted in the practical matters of life.
These gifts of teaching and preaching would have made limited impact if they are not wrapped in a cloak of love. For 35 years, Ron has lead our church to make to promises to all who join our congregation…to love them and let them love us in return. It is not a trite slogan, but a real promise of congregational fellowship designed to ensure that we care of each other in every way.
Warren said the power by which a pastor moves and serves rests in the presence of God’s spirit in his life. It is this Spirit who provides the discernment needed to guide, lead and counsel a congregation. Both men who have served as my pastor allowed the Holy Spirit to speak and work through them. Their ability to understand the needs of our congregation testified to the way the Spirit moved in their lives. They spoke the right word at just the right time. Provided new ministry outreach to fill a void. Comforted the hurting when they needed it most. It seemed God always put them exactly where they needed to be with the right word and touch.
Finally, Warren believes a pastor is a kingdom builder and a great pastor when he worships beside and with his people, holding himself and others accountability for the work of God in the church and in the community. He provides spiritual encouragement, building up the body to face a world that more often than not turns its back on God.
I have been encouraged by the studied approach taken by my pastors over the years as we dealt with contemporary social issues. Our church, under the leadership of our pastors, always tackled thorny issues of the day, but it was done after much prayer and acted upon with thought, compassion and grace.
Powerful sermons delivered in the past by both men resonated as a gospel of conviction and not the gospel of convenience often proclaimed from other pulpits. God’s people need to hear spiritual truth that makes us squirm a little in our pews. Both men spoke the Word of God with such passion that it dared their listeners to pick up the cross and carry it further down the road toward Christian maturity. I have been challenged, confronted, forgiven and encouraged. I have been allowed to serve and find my place of service both in my church and my community. I have been given opportunities to participate in mission outreach activities at home and abroad, allowing God to use me in whatever way he sees fit.
Yes. Without a doubt. My pastors, Dr. B. J. Martin and Dr. Ron Lyles were and are kingdom builders. Physically, they could not be more different. Spiritually, they could not be more alike. Both could preach. Both could teach. Both could take God’s word and translate it into a practical pattern for living in ways that even I could understand.
What is the measure of a great pastor?
If your measure is kingdom building, toss out the statistics and look to the heart. I can point you to two men made a difference in my life. Two men who encouraged me and countless others to think and live as kingdom builders.
My kingdom builders.
“Well done, good and faithful servants. You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Matthew 25:21