In my theological education, I was taught that the minister was the answer person. He (and it was always “he”) was the expert you accessed for answers on life, doctrinal issues, and relationship concerns. I often struggled with that concept. I stopped attending a Sunday School class at one church where we were members because the teacher always turned to me and said, “Tell us what this passage means.”
During my time as a denominational worker, I was encouraged to use the resource model for working with churches. This approach was based on, “Tell us your situation because we have an answer for you.” This usually meant a one-size-fits-all program that was generated in Nashville, Atlanta, or Richmond. The denominational person was the answer person.
Unfortunately, I took this model into my work as a state leader with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. As I sat down to talk with pastors, I began to realize that I did not have all of the answers for what they and their churches were experiencing. Often the church was in decline and the pastor was burned out, looking for a way out. I felt frustrated that I could not do more
Being trained as a coach broke my old paradigm and gave me a new way of looking at people and churches. I learned that the person that I was coaching knew more about their situation than I did and, with a little bit of encouragement, could come up with a strategy to address their greatest needs. They were resourceful and just needed to unlock their gifts, values, and creativity. As a coach, my role was to walk alongside them in the process of discovering and executing an action plan, encouraging and helping to refocus as needed.
In my work with churches, I have come to adopt a similar approach. As I learned more about the missional church model, I realized that the Spirit of God could work among the people of God to provide a way forward. God had placed them where they were for a specific purpose. Each congregation is uniquely gifted to do something in the Kingdom. My role is to help them to go deeper, discover that purpose, chart a way ahead, and encourage their work.
I wish I had known then what I know now: God is at work in individuals and churches. The way forward is for the individual or church to get in touch with what God has in store, to find appropriate encouragement and support, and to press on. It’s not all up to me.