Leading an Established Church is a Lot of Fun

Sam Rainer

August 21, 2016


Leading an established church is not the trendiest of ministry endeavors. If the cornerstone on your church reads “est. 1961,” then I’ll venture a guess that you have more khakis and blazers on Sunday morning than vintage t-shirts and Wayfarers.

Most established churches aren’t trendy, but they are a lot of fun. Obviously, the primary calling of the church is gospel work, not having fun. And leading some established churches can be tough. I’ve been forced to resign without cause by a group of people I thought were my friends. I’ve been the target of malicious rumors. I’ve been to the point of exhaustion. Ministry can be hard, but if you aren’t having fun, then you’re not a joyful church leader.

What’s so fun about the established church?

Places to discover. My childhood church in St. Pete, Florida had a pipe organ. Since my dad was the pastor, my brothers and I were often left to explore the church after school. We had a lot of fun crawling around the pipe organ chambers. At West Bradenton where I pastor now, there’s a secret door behind a library shelf leading into a kitchen few people know exists. Why is it there? Who cares! It’s a lot of fun. I don’t know of too many church plants building secret passageways from the library into the kitchen.

History to learn. Established churches have a history, typically with lots of colorful characters. I pastored a church with a previous pastor who was put in jail for holding services during the 1919 flu pandemic. The scope of this post can’t cover all the other crazy things he did during his tenure. A church with history is fun to lead if you take the time to learn that history.

Stories to uncover. Not only do established churches have a history, the individual members are full of stories if you’re willing to dig to get them. I’ve heard stories from a man who was good friends with Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. I’ve heard heroic war stories and miraculous stories of healing. Just recently, I went to lunch with a planetarium scientist who held a NASCAR license and who once played guitar with Elvis. He doesn’t wear skinny jeans, but he’s pretty cool.

Quirkiness to enjoy. The more churches age, the quirkier they become. My first church—a Baptist congregation—had crucifixes inside. When I inquired about them, I was informed the only place to buy Christian items was a Catholic bookstore. Another church I pastored called the newsletter “Manna” because 100 years prior the pastor couldn’t come up with a name, so he just went with “What is it?” The name stuck.

Gospel work to continue. My favorite part of leading an established church is the generational impact of the gospel. A church with 200 years of history will have four, five, and six generations of people who were saved, baptized, married, and buried at the church. Church plants are critically important. We need more churches. But equally important are the established churches with decades—if not centuries—of gospel work. God will call some to start something new. I pray God calls just as many to continue the work at established churches.

Sure, established churches can come with baggage. But there’s also a lot of fun things in that baggage. It’s all about perspective.


2 comments on “Leading an Established Church is a Lot of Fun”

  1. Dixon says:

    Most churches and ministries today are what we might call “blended, step or broken families.” By that I mean the founding pastor/minister has been replaced and the result is a family that looks like, and acts like, a blended (broken) family or if you prefer, a stepfamily or remarried family. The “father” has been replaced by a “stepfather.”

    In a broken family the stepchildren (congregation/ministry) tend to initially resent the stepfather. They normally feel like the stepfather is the cause/reason “real dad” is not there. As a general rule, children want their biological parents to be together and a stepparent is the “enemy” who keeps this from happening. That normally results in the stepchildren resenting the stepparent.

    It usually takes about five to seven years for a stepparent to be accepted and gain some semblance of control of the stepchildren. In fact about one third of the stepchildren will accept the stepparent fairly quickly, about one third will take some time before they accept the stepparent and it is not unusual for about one third of the stepchildren to never accept the stepparent.

    The sooner you understand and accept that the step kids are hurting, and the sooner you start ministering to their pain, the sooner they will accept you and your leadership. Once they accept you, they will begin to start loving you.

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