Balancing the Tensions of Leading an Established Church

Sam Rainer

August 13, 2017


As you lead an established church to greater health, you will have to demonstrate a great deal of balance. Being an established church pastor is an exercise in paradox. Look at a few of the tensions you must keep in balance.

Spiritual and Pragmatic. You must give priority to prayer. You must be open to new methodologies that will help your church become healthier. You will need to be a consumer of the latest practical writings on church health, but you must also be aware that only a sovereign God can send real revival. You must depend totally on God, but not take lightly the counsel of godly men and women. You must ask: “What works?” but you must realize that tools are only for a season.

Tenacious and Flexible. Because you are the pastor of an established church, longer tenure is very important. Unless God clearly calls you to another ministry, you will need to be tenacious about your calling, even in the most difficult of times. Satan would love to see you so discouraged that you are ready to give up.

Yet while you must be unswerving in your commitment to your church, you must demonstrate an abundance of flexibility in dealing with your members. The roles that you will be asked to fill may change ten times in one day. At the end of the day, you may not know if you are coming or going!

Action-Oriented and Patient. Established churches need pastors who take initiative and lead people to new challenges. Churches must be shaken from their complacency to see the possibilities of God. But established churches also need pastors who have patience, who can wait on God’s timing without much frustration, especially when it seems that nothing is happening. Established churches need pastors who have the wisdom to know when to move or when to wait.

Sensitive and Tough-Skinned. Pastors, don’t you love it when you have just been through a round of criticisms and a well-meaning church member tells you to get your act together? “Pastor, you just have to have tough skin. You can’t let everything hurt you.”

Yet before the week is over, you may be taken to task for your insensitivity for not visiting someone. That particular church member may even articulate that you are just not sensitive enough. Such is the tension that is, and will continue to be, a part of your life. Certain occasions will call for you to have the hide of a rhino, while others will demand you be sensitive and caring.

Ambitious and Content. You must have a desire to see your church grow, to reach people for Christ, to reach new heights. You need to set ambitious goals and challenge your members to meet them. You must believe that the God you serve is a God of miracles, and that He will work miracles in your church.

You must also be content with what may seem to be like the pace of a snail. And you can’t be discouraged because your church is not like the larger and more active church in the community. You must be ambitious, yet you must be content. It is a paradox. But you’re in good company. The Apostle Paul dealt successfully with that same paradox. If you are doubtful, read both Philippians 3:14 and 4:12. He did it. So can you.

Traditional and Contemporary. You must lead your church to reach a contemporary world. Some of the methods must change if that possibility is to ever become a reality. But you must be willing and even eager to hold on to some of those traditions that really matter.

Your church is to “become all things to all people,” so that by all means some might be saved (1 Corinthians 9:22). But your church must not conform to the pattern of the world (Romans 12:2). You must lead your church to be in the world but not of the world.


8 comments on “Balancing the Tensions of Leading an Established Church”

  1. Great wisdom. Thank you! This is my first church as pastor (was a missions pastor before this) and I am coming up on two years. God has taught me more about the “fruits of the Spirit” than I have ever known before, but it has been worth it! We are starting to see movement in change and missions.

  2. John Harms says:

    Good stuff brother. I was trying to figure out which one was the “most relevant” and I couldn’t pick one. The biggest obstacle I see for ministers starting out is them not being patient but the rest is equally on point. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pat and Billy Batdorff says:

    This gives your church family a lot to think about and pray about. So glad you are so opened and share like you do. Bless you Pastor Sam as you serve our Lord and your flock.

  4. Nick Vipperman says:

    Living in the tension of this right now.

    Appreciate it.

  5. Troy Allen says:

    Good thoughts, Sam. Having pastored established churches for nearly 20 years I agree that these things are needed and necessary. The prayer aspect can never be overstated for the life of the church or the life of the pastor. Keep up the thoughtful work. Maybe this will show up on the podcast soon?

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Good thought. We just might make an episode out if it. Thanks!

  6. Chris Frith says:

    WoW! I can’t tell you how relevant this is to our lives. Thank you! I was just telling someone the other day that I feel like we’re moving at snails pace, which is frustrating for me personally, but I keep asking God for wisdom & patience. Going to print this out and put it somewhere as a reminder for me. Thanks again!

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