In the year 2020 I had vision. Not that kind of vision, more of an image. I was standing alone on a stage and the church was packed. Every single person was yelling something, something they wanted from me. And the confounding thing was, every individual person wanted something different. The resulting sensation was something between completely overwhelmed and entirely fruitless.
Of course, 2020 is an extreme example. But having lived the experience of being a lead pastor in our historical moment I can tell you, it can be an inhuman thing. Which is why the ministry of Practical Shepherding states that 50% of pastors don’t make it five years, and 80% don’t make it ten. Unless you are from one of the rare churches where leadership responsibility is well-distributed—and expectations are realistic—your senior pastor probably has way more on his plate than he can handle.
A senior pastor is often more or less handed three buckets: preaching, organizational leadership, and shepherding. Any one bucket would be enough, but all three is like, well, trying to carry three full buckets without spilling them, setting them down, or getting your hands lacerated in the process.
Now, this may seem like a negative way to start this talk, but what I’m doing is trying to help you understand what is impossible to understand unless you’ve lived it. If you have an understanding of your senior pastor, then—like a good missionary—you can contextualize missions well to him. Not to mention have great compassion for him, even if missions doesn’t seem on his radar.
To use missionary language, think of a senior pastor like a “person of peace”. He often is the gateway to a much wider field. Missions as a singular ministry will almost always only impact part of the church. But the vision of being a sending church—where every member is sent locally and some are sent globally—that has the power to impact the entire church. And your senior pastor can become a statesman for that vision. How? Four steps.
1) Pray for him
The greatest gift that you can give your senior pastor is to pray for him. And not just for his passion for missions, but for his soul, his family, and his ministry. The reality is, you cannot change his heart. To think or act like you can will likely (1) take advantage of him and/or (2) frustrate you. But you know who does have the power to cultivate his heart? God! So talk to God about your senior pastor. No matter how long it takes. And you will find that it also frames a posture toward him that will allow you to do the second step:
2) Care for him
According to the Barna research group, in 2015 72% of pastors felt “very satisfied” in their jobs. Fast forward to 2022, another study was released that found that 42% of pastors have considered quitting the ministry altogether in the past twelve months. Does that include your pastor? You probably wouldn’t know. Why? Because it’s usually not safe for a senior pastor to say “I’m struggling”. I will tell you this, that percentage included me, and my consideration turned into reality just this past November as I resigned from my own pastorate.
What I’m getting at is, genuinely care for your pastor. As a former missions pastor, I well know how easy it is to want to “go after” your senior pastor, to “pound the table” for missions. And you may have the kind of pastor that responds to that well—so good contextualization for you would mean pounding the table. But in general my encouragement is to be a person (or a team) who seeks to build up your senior pastor rather than being yet another entity that puts frustrated demands on him. Let him be pleasantly surprised that you are a safe place for him rather than a source of guilt that is stereotypical of missions mobilization. In other words, let your advocacy be built on the credibility that comes from a relationship.
What does that practically look like? Well, that brings us to the third step:
3) Feed him
Yes, I mean literally. Take him and his family to an international restaurant (or give him gift cards to them), and plant seeds of God’s heart for the nations along the way. There’s something powerful about food and culture. But I also mean this figuratively. The majority of senior pastors have almost no missiological education—at best, one introduction to missiology class. So that means their understanding of global missions is likely most informed by their denominational affiliation or their church’s historical practices (perhaps malpractices). Just as Upstream is a source of healthy missiological education to you, be that to your senior pastor. And do it in ways that resonate with him:
If he’s a reader, feed him books.
If he’s a listener, feed him podcasts.
If he’s a visionary, feed him vision.
If he’s a preacher, feed him stories.
If he’s an organizer, feed him structure.
If he’s a fighter, feed him conviction.
One of things in particular that I find appeals to the heart of any senior pastor is the vision that sending allows him to expand the fruitfulness of his ministry to both local and global at the same time. 3 John tells us that when we send well we are sunergos—“fellow workers for the truth”. A senior pastor exponentially multiples the impact of his church when he doesn't just approve missions dollars, but is a statesman for the sending of people to multiply disciples and churches. That’s motivating!
I only know one thing more motivating than that, and it’s the fourth and final step:
4) Send him
If at all possible, send him and his family overseas—paid in full, with preaching breaks on both ends of the trip, to a trusted missionary in a strategic context. And if you’re able, go with him. Let him personally experience what God is doing among the nations and be changed in the same way that you see other short-termers come back changed. If you can’t send him overseas, then bring missionaries to him. Those who have been sent can make a lasting impression on him.
So there you have it, go with a vision for your senior pastor. Aim for him to experience the sensation of being completely overjoyed and entirely fruitful—as the statesman of a sending church. And all in large part because you prayed for him, cared for him, fed him, and sent him.
This post was originally delivered as a "TED Talk" at Upstream Sending's Sending Church Gathering.