Leading an established church is not the trendiest of ministry endeavors. Most established churches aren’t trendy, but they can be a lot of fun. Obviously, the primary calling of the church is gospel work, not having fun. And leading some established churches is more tough than anything else. I’ve been forced to resign without cause by a group of people I thought were my friends, and 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, before our renovation, there was a secret door behind a library shelf leading into a kitchen few people knew existed. Why was it there? Who cares! It was 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 that had 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, but 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. I have a church member friend who was a planetarium scientist and held a NASCAR license and who once played guitar with Elvis. Let’s just say he has good stories to tell.
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.
Posted on January 19, 2022
As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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Quirkiness comes in many forms. I got tired of everything being done from the pulpit, so I had one of our men build two steps. I placed one on each side floor level. I had solos and scripture read there. It gave a good and different look. Of course, the message from God’s Word remained central from the pulpit in the center.
Danny R. Von Kanel, author of “Built by the Owner’s Design” (The Positive Approach to Building Your Church God’s Way}
Sam, thanks for this article. This is a refreshing way to look for the brighter side of pastoring existing churches. We often get too focused on the negatives of established churches to see the beauty of the same congregation. This article was a good challenge for us to look at the same situation with a different perspective.