Pastors in America are Failing Their Congregations

The mail just arrive and  I just read the story of a young pastor in Pennsylvania giving props to his seminary in an interview conducted for the seminary’s constituents. Somehow, though I have never attended this particular seminary, I am on the mailing list. Here’s one of the questions in the interview:

What are you and/or your congregation doing in terms of evangelistic outreach to the community? What discouragements, lessons, or encouragements have you experienced?

Before I give you the answer of the young pastor (name, location and seminary will be withheld because his answer I think would be typical of most young pastors of churches fresh out of seminary or most older pastors who have been with their church for many years), I want to examine the question.

The question deals with the activity of “evangelistic outreach to the community.” Let’s not lose that focus. Here’s the pastor’s answer. I have numbered the things his church does for easy reference.

As a small church, we have not done as much as we would have liked. But here are a few things. [1] I send out a monthly theological article called Proclamation to around 500 local homes.
[2] We air our sermons on a local public access cable channel (for free).
[3] A brother in our congregation regularly uploads sermon clips on
[4] Once a year, our city organizes and event called “Pioneer Nights” which features shows, music and food. We set up a media table to talk with folks and distribute videos of practical sermons preached at our church along with books and CDs.
[5] Last year, we took a few Saturdays and made house visits to the neighbors closest to our church. I believe this was profitable although only a few of our families were interested in participating.

First, I want to commend the young pastor for what he is doing. What he IS DOING is far more than most churches. But, notice how pastor-centered and preaching-centered the young pastor’s response is. Asked about what the church and he are doing to reach out evangelistically to the community, four of the five things he mentions are of him preaching and somehow hoping people either come to hear him preach the gospel or somehow find ways to get copies of messages to others at one time a year event.

There is no mention here of building relationships with non-Christians, no mention of equipping the saints to befriend and give testimony of the supremacy of Christ, no evidence of engagement in the communal life of a neighborhood, no backyard BBQ’s to meet the neighbors, no stories of neighbors in for dinner, or parties attended with neighbors, T-ball games coached, library book sales attended, no policeman ride-alongs, no volunteer associations in the community, no attendance at High School basketball games. Nothing of this nature is on his radar screen.

It is not surprising then to hear what the pastor’s next reflection was.

One discouragement is my own failure to lead evangelistically outside of the pulpit. I believe evangelistic zeal and practice are as much caught as they are taught.

Accurate and sad. But not uncommon. Here is a gifted young pastor with a wonderful family and good theology who is making little headway in equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). All over the country, young pastors and old pastors, pastors who are loved by their congregations and pastors who are tolerated by their congregations are failing in exactly the same way. 

The good news is that he knows that “evangelistic zeal and practice are as much caught as they are taught.”

Pastors, you will fail at your primary task of equipping the saints if you are not personally engaged in sharing your faith. But get out into the community, engage with your neighbors on their turf, have your five closest neighbors over for ice-cream or pie on five successive weeks, get out and coach a team in the community, do some of your sermon prep in a local coffee shop, sacrifice something of your convenience for one of your neighbors and these experiences will begin to filter into your preaching and set the example for your congregation. They will do something else too. They will open up whole new vistas of opportunity to preach the gospel in the community for both yourself and for the congregation. Just do it.

Learn to get intensely locally focused.

2 thoughts on “Pastors in America are Failing Their Congregations

  1. A few years ago I was leading a churchplanter assessment center and we were discussing the discipleship plans that the candidates had presented to us. I wasn’t so much struck by what they were doing but by what I was doing — my discipleship plan is much the same as the pastor you discuss here: Namely, hoping people show up to hear what is happening when I teach/preach. I have been trying since that moment to become more intentional in meeting people outside of my normal sphere of influence and using non-public proclamation forms.

    But I need to tell you that it is the hardest thing that I have ever done …

    Thanks for this, Marty. As always, you hit the nail on the head!



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