You have heard the stories of people who saved and invested a few dollars a week over 30-plus years and can now do whatever they want in life because of the compound interest. Frankly, these stories bother me at times, even though I don’t begrudge people for reaping what they sow. I just realize that at almost 50, I have missed the boat. Week after week, they saved and invested, made gains, and re-invested the gains, while seldom (if ever) making withdrawals.
As I watch pastors who have achieved longevity in ministry, I see a parallel principle at work in how they sow and reap relationally. These stories encourage me, but they also spark desperation in me to make sure no pastor under my care misses this boat.
Rev. Lloyd Brock is one such pastor. Thirty-three years ago, the church entrusted a young Rev. Brock with forty-five souls in Shelby, North Carolina. Week after week he invested in these lives, saw gains, equipped them to invest in others, and seldom, if ever, made relational withdrawals. People grew. The church grew. He is now 13 years into his fourth pastorate in Pekin, Ill. The church has grown from 400 to 900, completed a major building project, and planted 2 churches.
At this point, Lloyd and his church are able to take new ground in multiple directions in rapid succession. This would be a lofty lifetime aspiration for me. We should not be discouraged when others achieve that to which we have only aspired. It proves what is possible! Regardless of the age and experience of a pastor, the souls under our care matter enough to merit our absolute best investment. What we can learn from Pastor Brock’s journey can help all of us thrive over the long haul. What follows are the recurring themes I gleaned from conversations with Pastor Brock, along with my own observations of his ministry.
Establish the Foundation and Then Build on It
There are no shortcuts that will enable a person to do anything consistently if his or her heart is not sold out to it. Seeking the heart of God for people is foundational in becoming a pastor who genuinely values people. People can feel the difference between being genuinely loved and being “schmoozed.” As people become convinced that they are valued, they tend to open increasingly to the message and mission.
Work Hard on Connecting
A casual observer may conclude that Lloyd is simply a relational savant. He can greet every person in the building by name every Sunday while remembering to wish a happy birthday or anniversary to a couple of dozen of them. He introduces every new member to the congregation by name, complete with interesting biographical tidbits.
How does he do it? He decided early on that it was important for people to feel known, so he made it a priority and developed personal habits and organizational systems to get it done. He spends the entire hour before worship greeting every volunteer in the building and nearly every attender. He studies the church database and records notes from his conversations with people. He uses people’s names when he sees them and quizzes himself on any names he struggles to remember. He spends ten minutes memorizing each week’s birthdays and anniversaries before each Sunday. He asks new members to introduce themselves during membership class, asks follow-up questions, and takes notes.
This connection is merely the starting point. Pastor Brock ultimately wants to connect each person to Jesus and to the church. As these initial connections are made, he is very up front and very intentional about his desire to connect each person to Jesus. As people invite him into their lives through the church, through his community involvement, through visitation, or through funerals, Lloyd brings Jesus. After all, they wouldn’t invite a pastor into their lives and not expect him to bring Jesus, would they? Pekin First is full of families whose first encounter with the church was Pastor Brock’s presence at the chamber of commerce, the hospital, a community event, or a funeral.
One of the remarkable elements of Lloyd’s countless conversations each week is that he doesn’t do much of the talking. He is listening to people and to God. He told me once that during every conversation he has, he is praying for God to give Him the response this person most needs in that moment. He tends to take notes later on matters that linger in his mind. Listening is also a critical discipline in staff and board environments.
Slow Down Decision-Making in Order to Accelerate Progress
Lloyd intentionally slows down decision-making in order to ensure good decisions and maximum unity. Lloyd says that if he cannot get his leaders together on the plan, he’ll never be able to keep his whole church together during the implementation. This slowing down is not a passive reaction to opposition. It is taking time to do the hard work of listening, providing transparency about motives and potential downsides, incorporating feedback, revising proposals, and ultimately building consensus. While not everyone on the team may agree with the final decision, everyone is heard. Once the decision is made, everyone is committed to help make it a success.
The increased unity that results helps speed up implementation. Over time, the accumulated effect of this approach has been a trusting environment that allows increasingly bigger proposals to be approved and implemented with greater ease and frequency.
Learn to Build Relationship Stamina
Relational ministry takes energy. Lloyd believes that if pastors have the desire, they can build relationship stamina over time, just as athletes can strengthen muscles and improve endurance over time. Some would be surprised to hear that Lloyd is not an extrovert. He spends a couple hours alone every Sunday morning preparing to invest the rest of the day in people. As his capacity for connecting with people relationally has increased, so has the number of people available to lead and serve on teams. This increases the ability to do church well.
Do Church Well
An essential part of loving people well is giving them our very best. Lack of resources and talent may cause our ministry offerings to be simple, but our love for people should cause us to give them our very best. Lloyd and his teams think through how best to help their people experience what is being communicated on a given Sunday and how best to facilitate their response. Every component of the church experience needs to be done with excellence so that each person can experience and respond to God. And they are responding! Pekin First has reported more conversions over the past three years than any Nazarene church in USA/Canada.
Perhaps the era of the shepherd-pastor is not over after all. Even if what I learn from leaders like Lloyd does not produce the same visible results in my ministry, I will still reap a great reward from following in his footsteps. It has been said that the most important outcome of anyone’s ministry is the kind of person they become in the process. If I can learn to cultivate healthy relationships in ministry, I will become the kind of person who thrives as a pastor, and more importantly, as a person.