The Great Commission Tension a Pastor Faces

Pastors go through some very strange emotions during the course of a week.  Having been in pastoral ministry for 25 years, I’m still learning how to process the various ebbs in flows, not just in a church but in my own heart. 

By tension, what do I mean?  Do I mean that I am under stress?  No, I’m not trekking there. What I mean by tension is this:  two competing views on how something should be done that should be leveraged, not resolved.  I borrowed this from Andy Stanley’s talk on The Power of Tension a number of years back and I hope you will have time to watch it sometime. 

But I’m not Andy Stanley.

And he’s not the pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church—I am.  Therefore, I shall land here a bit and share with you the tension a pastor faces.

Ministering to the people inside the church while wanting to reach those outside the church.

“That’s a tension, you say?”  Uh, yeah!   Huge tension (I’d use all caps there, but that’s rude).  How is this a tension?

I was called by God through ARBC to pastor this church.  Every day, I thank God for this privilege.  We have a wonderful cross-section of ages at our church that few have in Denver. That’s a good thing, by the way.  I love being among them, loving them, preaching and teaching them the Word numerous times a week, and ministering with them in various aspects during the week.

So where’s the tension?

The tension is, we are surrounded by people who do not know Christ.  Many haven’t even considered Christ.  For a church of lifelong believers living and moving in church world for most of their lives, this may seem incomprehensible.   Many of the things we often take for granted: 

  • where books are in the Bible
  • what certain words mean
  • what certain programs accomplish
  • what our distinctives are as Baptists
  • the need for missions and the Great Commission

These things are so ingrained in our church world culture, that we do not realize that most folks outside the church (1) know what a Bible, (2) what a Baptist is, much less a Christian, and (3) what the Great Commission is.  In fact, like it or not, the word ‘Baptist’ carries both good and bad baggage (“Wasn’t Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist Church?”).

Thus the tension:  ministering meaningfully to those inside the church so they grow, while developing a culture in the church where we go and reach others for Christ.  With this, other mini-tensions break out:

  • How do we create atmospheres in the church that help us grow, but also provide an atmosphere where the unchurched and unbelievers may come and fell welcomed and at home?
  • How do we create a culture where our worship times not only connect with the Word of God but also connecting with the city where God has placed us without being gimmicky and watering down the Word and losing focus on Christ?
  • How do we provide a wonderful connection time at our building, without the building being the only connection time?
  • How do we provide ways for teams to meet, without the meetings totally dominating the week that outward ministry cannot take place? 

These are things that pastors think about.   If we trying to resolve the tension, then we would choose either or:  all in with ministering to those inside, or all out in reaching the culture.  That’s not a good option.

If we leverage the tension, then we work to maintain a balance and let each area work and balance that tension to make sure we do not lean too far one way or the other. 

The pastors at ARBC love this church.  We realize that this church is Christ’s and we are connected with His Kingdom.  We search the Scriptures, teach the Scriptures, love our people, and connect with the place that God planted us.   As we connect with our city, we must evaluate what must change in our church. …

… which may provide a tension within a church member:  leveraging the culture we love in our church with reaching the unchurched in our culture. 

Something to think about—that’s what we pastors do.

[Originally blogged on April 29, 2014, with needed updates.]

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