It has been more than 60 years since I graduated from Theology at Avondale College. During this time I have worked as a pastor-evangelist in every conference in Australia and New Zealand. Just before retirement, I was pastor of the Waitara church in Sydney for 16 years, during which we baptised 235 souls and re-baptised a further 18. From these experiences I would like to share some suggestions on how a pastor can be both loved by his members and successful in soul winning:
If church members work as a soul winning team it will take the focus off themselves and their own problems as well as build up your membership. In order to achieve this, the pastor must take the lead and be seen as a soul winner himself.
In every church try to follow the counsel of your senior church elder. The elder has been put in that position because he/she has the respect of the majority of the church members. Share with him/her your dreams and plans for the church. Accept the elder’s advice. It could save you many pitfalls.
Act, dress and speak like a minister. We live in a much more relaxed world today concerning these things. However, people still expect a certain standard from those in responsible positions in the community. An even higher standard is expected of those in ministry, sometimes referred to as “people of the cloth”. The time to “dress down” is when a church working bee is being held or you are mowing a disabled person’s lawn, etc.
Fidelity to church doctrines and standards
As a Seventh-day Adventist minister you are paid to uphold the teachings and standards of the Church. To do anything less would be dishonest. If you have doubts concerning any of these things make it a matter of prayer and further study or seek out those who can help you. Our teachings are Christ-centred and Bible-based. Enjoy preaching them with confidence and joy. Our people love to hear the old truths that made them Adventists in the first place and they love to hear their minister upholding them.
Be positive and optimistic
No church group is perfect. However, if you speak positively of your church as one that you are proud of or that it has caring and loyal members you will set up a standard and bring out the best in the members to uphold this church image.
Being part of a family/team
Members love to feel they are part of a caring family and team. The pastor is responsible for creating this and he/she can do it with casual remarks in meetings or in private.
Get to know your members and their families as quickly as you are able. Connect with whenever possible, either at home, before or after meetings, during church lunches or contact them via SMS or emails. Take a genuine interest in their welfare. As you get busy you will have less time to visit members at home, and will have to use the other methods, especially in a large church.
If you receive a call that someone is seriously ill or there has been an accident, drop everything and go straight to help those in crisis. There are no exceptions to this rule. Often you do not get a second chance. To do this you will need to make yourself available at all times—day or night. You can educate your church members as to the times you prefer to receive calls, but they will appreciate knowing you will always be available to them for emergencies. You will find that members will rarely abuse this arrangement but will love feeling they have a shepherd they can depend on in emergencies to care for the flock.
Thank your members
Take every opportunity to acknowledge and genuinely appreciate the work done by your church members. The quarterly business meeting gives you the opportunity to thank (not flatter) many of your hard working church officers. But do not overlook visiting your children’s Sabbath School classes, Pathfinders, youth meetings, etc, and later tell their leaders how much you appreciate the hard work and preparation they put into their work. Deacons, musicians, etc, must also not be overlooked in this regard. Remember they are all unpaid volunteers. You are the one paid to be their servant!
Attend and support their meetings as much as possible. Take time to single out young people and ask them how they are going or what their future plans are. If they are sitting exams or facing a crisis, pray with them—often right on the spot where you are talking to them. The parents and older members will really appreciate your ministry if you do this and they will forgive you for all other manner of sins or shortcomings!
This is a very debatable subject but is one that can affect the spirituality and tone of the whole church. Sometimes it’s better handled by not dealing with the specifics but to suggest we need music that angels can sing along with and that will not drum up demons. Also, stress that music is for worship and not entertainment or self glorification. We are to “worship in the beauty of holiness”. Be patient; changes do not come overnight.
If possible, it’s a good thing for a pastor to be at every church service and be there early. It encourages those leading out in these meetings and sets a good example for the rest of the church. Often on these occasions you can pick up problems threatening the church and can deal with these “grass fires” before they become “bushfires”!
Organise your church
Plan to hold business meetings each quarter and monthly church board meetings. Make these meetings spiritual. Giving a report of inspiring soul winning successes locally or abroad at the commencement of these meetings with a prayer session to follow sets an excellent tone. Then review what has been achieved and lay plans for the future.
If church members work as a soul winning team it will take the focus off themselves and their own problems as well as build up your membership. In order to achieve this, the pastor must take the lead and be seen as a soul winner himself. Get after the back-sliders, especially the children of members who have lost their way. Follow up any interests given to you. Encourage those who are already involved in soul winning outreaches. Have them tell their experiences to inspire others.
Preach Christ-centred, biblical sermons to inspire and challenge, with an appeal at the end. Choose other speakers who will also “feed your flock”.
Mid-week meeting/prayer meeting
It can be the greatest feature of the week outside of the Sabbath services and a vital asset to one’s soul winning program. One of the early features of the program is having a sharing time for prayer requests. However, include (with discretion) in this the contacts made and the progress of interested persons during the past week. Record on a chalkboard the names of those needing prayer. The congregation then breaks up into groups of two or three (at the most) to pray for these names. The next week this board can be brought out again and the names discussed, with the answers to prayer and the need of further prayer. Following this prayer time a Bible study is presented by the pastor or a guest speaker. It is good if it can be done in a series with handouts so those attending feel the necessity of continuing to attend. Visitors and interests can be invited to these meetings.
Equip members for soul winning
Run a Bible marking class to help your members become more effective in knowing how to find texts and conduct a Bible study. Help them to make a set of charts that are effective but inexpensive. Give doctrinal review sheets to members to use with those they have interested and studied with to help them come to a decision for baptism.
Keep your members constantly supplied with cards for letterboxing, Signs magazines, tracts, etc. Have a video lending library with a special librarian to deal with this outreach. Such videos help ground members in the faith as well as introduce interested people to the truth. Talk about this work during the announcements and mission promotion before your church service.
This will be a little more work for you but no-one can manage the list of interests more effectively than the pastor. You can then delegate to members how they can help to care for these interests. It’s a good idea to try to link church members with interests—who may need transport to meetings, help with children, etc.
Plan to have regular visitors’ days, in which you have special speakers or music both in Sabbath School and church, to invite your interests to. Try to get your interests into the habit of attending Sabbath School as soon as possible. Also, plan to have guest speakers periodically to conduct evangelistic series, which will reap your interests and help them make decisions for baptism. You may need to have a special evangelism fund to cover the expenses of such programs but members are usually very happy to support such a fund.
Have them as often as you possibly can—even for one candidate. At baptisms interested people attending your church will often make their decision for baptism. It can be a joyous occasion and celebration for the members.
Avoid as much as possible any involvement in financial arrangements with members. “Neither a lender nor a borrower be.” You cannot be in debt to any member and still have an effective and impartial ministry. If you produce tracts, booklets and evangelistic equipment, cover your costs but do not make money out of the members.
Every church has its difficult members and situations. Take the promise, “Cast all your care upon Him; for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Repeat the line in the hymn which says, “Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.” This is easier said than done! Also, when problems arise, do not always imagine it’s all “their” fault! Go to those you can trust in the church and ask them how the situation could be improved. Listen carefully. If they make suggestions where you could improve the problem, be humble enough to follow their advice. It may even mean you have to say sorry but all it will cost you is your pride. In its place you will grow and enjoy your ministry more. Some situations, only time will heal. Write this slogan where you can read it often: “This too shall pass.”
Finally . . . remember God called you into ministry. The souls you’ve won are evidence of this. He who called you will continue to enable you. Never give up learning, reading, studying. You’ve been called into the ministry of no ordinary denomination. This Church was raised up on time to give a last warning message to a dying world. That message has never been more relevant than now. You are seeing the fulfilment of prophecies our forebears would have loved to witness. The work you are doing is one the angels would love to be allowed to do and it will go through to eternity. This world knows no greater calling or privilege!
Bruce Price is a retired minister and writes from Queensland.