What Part Does Your Senior Pastor Play?

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If you want to become a church of groups…what part does your senior pastor play? More to the point, does your pastor need to lead a group in order for group life to become a deeply held value in your church?

[quote]Although I’ve written a 4 part series on The Role of the Senior Pastor, I want to clarify something and then propose an alternative principle.  First, a clarification.  In my recent list of the top 10 axiomatic beliefs of group life I identified the idea that your pastor needs to lead a group, as an axiomatic belief that needs to be debugged.  Note the distinction I’m making.  In my mind, you’re never going to have real impact without the express engagement of your senior pastor…but leading a group is not a requirement.  Being part of a group…certainly.

Now to the alternative principle.  You’re never going to truly get traction on the idea that people need to take a step out of their comfort zone (rolling into their parking spot, strolling into the auditorium, sitting and listening for 75 minutes, and then rolling out of the parking lot in time for the next opportunity to consume) unless it is modeled by the most visible person in the organization.  All the announcements in the world won’t persuade the unconnected to try something that seems as risky and inconvenient as group life.  What will persuade them?  The express engagement of your senior pastor.

Admittedly, for many of us it is out of our control.  Few of us are the senior pastors of our churches.  Most of us are on a staff or we’re key volunteers charged with giving leadership to the small group ministry.  That said, let me point out a few important ideas that may serve as conversation points with your pastor:

  • When you survey the church landscape you’ll discover that where there is a high percentage of group involvement there will also be a high level of senior pastor engagement.  The best example is Saddleback, where Rick Warren is a relentless advocate of the importance of group life.  Other high profile pastors to look at would be Bill Hybels, Craig Groeschel and Andy Stanley.  Listening to their messages will provide a glimpse into how engaged they are personally with the process of encouraging people to take the risky and somewhat inconvenient baby step of trying a small group for themselves.
  • At the same time you can look at many other high profile pastors and find only infrequent reference to the importance of community in the process of life-change.  The gulf between the two sets of pastors and the accompanying percentage of small group participation is unmistakable.
  • Back to Saddleback, another element of the prominent role that must be played by the senior pastor is as chief spokesperson.  Note that the chief spokesperson is not Steve Gladen.  Although Gladen plays the part of small group pastor at Saddleback, Rick Warren is the one doing the talking.  When they’re preparing to launch groups through a campaign (like Life’s Healing Choices) the charge is visibly led by Rick Warren.  Behind the scenes, Gladen and his team are doing the planning and preparation, but the very visible front man is Warren.  Grandstanding?  No.  Smart.  The masses do not know who Gladen is.  They know Rick Warren and the largest number will follow him.  The same is true in your church.
  • Another important note concerns how frequently group life is mentioned by the senior pastor.  Again, at Saddleback it truly is a constant, every week, all-the-time part of the conversation.  While there are seasons during the year when group life references reach a fevered peak, it has been my observation that you can’t be there on the weekend without hearing about its importance.  Actually…it was my wife’s observation.  We’d been attending Saddleback for about 4 or 5 months and were moving slowly along with the crowd exiting the auditorium.  She said, “I see now why it is so different here.  I see now how Saddleback has more adults in groups than they do at their weekend services.  It is because they never stop talking about it.  Rick Warren never stops talking about it.  He never moves on.  And he’s the one doing the talking.  He’s relentless about the importance of groups.”

That’s the part that your senior pastor must play…if you want to be a church where nobody stands alone.

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