Developing and sustaining the church’s vision
and equipping members to learn, grow, and serve
In one sense, everyone who is a follower of Christ is called to be a leader, in one way or another, to one or more persons. In fact, Jesus commissioned all of his disciples to make new disciples for him indiscriminately by baptizing and teaching others (Matt 28:18–20). A disciple is one who follows another who teaches him or her in his or her ways. Thus, the teaching process of Christian disciple-making places all Christians into positions of leadership within the lives of those for whom they labor in ministry. Those who witness for Christ are leading others through their witness to follow in their footsteps and become disciples of Jesus.
Furthermore, all of the disciples of Jesus together are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession" (1 Pet 2:9 ESV). As such, every believer is a priest or minister with the mission to "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:9 ESV). Every member should be involved in the mission of the church to advance God's kingdom, making use of their spiritual gifts.
However, in a more specific sense, God calls certain ones of his disciples who compose the body of Christ to fulfill offices of leadership in the church. The apostle Paul wrote, "It was he [Jesus] who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11 NET). These offices of leadership were special gifts that Jesus gave to the church when it was birthed on the day of Pentecost to nurture and grow it (Acts 2). Therefore, the Holy Spirit equips particular members of the church with spiritual gifts of leadership that enable and empower them to carry out the crucial responsibilities of leadership. This unique call to leadership in the church in no wise makes those who have this vocation of any different quality than members with other kinds of spiritual gifts. These are matters of responsibility and division of labor, not rank and file.
I am deeply convicted that God has called me to serve the body of Christ as a pastor-teacher and that the Holy Spirit has given me the spiritual gifts needed to enable me to lead his precious, beloved people. It has been a transformative experience for me to serve in pastoral leadership professionally, personally, and spiritually. I count it a great privilege to have led (and continue to lead) local manifestations of Christ's visible body and feel joy and gratitude to God for choosing me to serve him in this way.
The primary responsibility of church leaders is outlined in Eph 4:11–16 NKJV.
"11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."
A. Empowers Church to Strategically Pursue Mission
God instructs those whom he has called to leadership in the church not to do all the work of the ministry alone and single-handedly (an impossibility!) but to invite all the members of the church to partner with them (1) outwardly in the gospel commission given by Jesus (Matt 28:18–20) and (2) inwardly in the edification (i.e., nurturance, discipleship, communion) of the church. For members to accept such an invitation, the church must have a clear and specific vision that is shared among all of its leaders and members. Therefore, part of the work of the pastor is prayerfully discovering God's vision for the church, creatively casting that vision, charismatically inspiring the church to "see" its full potential in Christ and desire to share in that vision, regularly communicating that vision, and carefully designing and implementing strategic plans and assessing that implementation for needed change so that God's vision may be realized among its members.
Many of the leaders of God's people in the Old and New Testaments understood the power of vision. For example, Moses, who had received God's vision through divine revelation labored ardently to cast and communicate that vision of the Promised Land to Israel. Joshua strived enduringly to fill the "shoes" that Moses left behind, to cast God's vision for Israel in the settlement of Canaan. God's vision for Israel to be free of overbearing oppressors was passionately communicated by its judge Deborah, who inspired Israel, against all odds, to defeat Jabin and Sisera and their powerful military. The apostle Paul perseveringly cast God's vision for the early church to be a unified family of both Jews and Gentiles despite strong persecutory opposition from outside and even inside the church. The responsibility of vision-casting is difficult but necessary to mobilize the church to fulfill its potential and pursue God's purposes for it.
Very recently, I began an extended process of vision-casting at the Knoxville Grace Seventh-day Adventist Church and will begin the same process for the Lenoir City Seventh-day Adventist Church in March of 2022. Over one weekend, I took them through the "Introduction to Stronger Churches" Workshop materials produced by the Multiplication Network.
Then, I had us fill out individual questionnaires of the "Take Your Church's Pulse" diagnostic tool for assessing present church health.
This was followed by leading the church to discover God's vision through a strategic planning process, using some additional resources from the Multiplication Network, as well as some that I have created. Here are some of the resources that we are utilizing.
Thus far, we have discovered the core values of our church and will be soon writing out shared vision and mission statements along with S.M.A.R.T. goals for the next three to five years.
Beyond this, I meet with my church boards and personal ministry councils for evangelism and discipleship planning for the next year in preparation for our conference's evangelism subsidy application process. Here is an example of the fruit of these planning sessions: 2022 Plan for Evangelism and Discipleship for the Knoxville Grace/Lenoir City Church District.
B. Makes Wise Decisions
Leaders are often confronted with challenging situations in ministry that require difficult decisions. When faced with such decisions, I'm careful to follow a process that aids in making such decisions that align with the apostle James's definition of heavenly wisdom: "17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere" (Jas 3:17 ESV).
First, I labor with God in fervent prayer for divine wisdom and his guidance to see the situation with his eyes. "5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (Jas 1:5 ESV).
I also take sufficient time to reflect on all the circumstances involved, trying to understand the situation from all angles, brainstorming possible ways forward, and weighing the pros and cons of those options.
Often, I turn to trusted individuals for counsel and advice in order to gain a more objective look at the presenting situation. These include my wife, some of my family members, my inner circle of close friends, leaders of my church, other pastors, and my ministerial directors, Rick Greve and Victor Maddox.
As an employee of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I believe that I have an ethical duty to make decisions that are in harmony with my denomination's beliefs, values, and policies. To maintain my integrity as a pastoral leader, I also take time to review church and conference policy (where applicable) and consult the latest editions of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual and Minister's Handbook.
Finally, I strive not to make decisions in my ministry unilaterally. I work with my leadership to plan and implement needed decisions, especially those that are difficult.
As an example, the 2019 nominating committee of the Knoxville Grace Seventh-day Adventist Church expressed the desire to nominate women to the office of local church elder. Understanding that this is a controversial matter for many in my denomination at present and that this local church is more traditional in its thinking, I immediately recognized that I would need to handle this decision with care. Before doing anything with this request I spent time in prayer on the matter, as I wanted God's will, not my will or the church's will, to be done. I reflected upon the possible ways forward and how each of those may positively or negatively impact the church. I researched the history of policy in my denomination regarding female leadership and thoroughly acquainted myself with the present policy. See the following document I compiled from this research: General Conference Policy regarding Women as Local Church Elders. I learned of the proscribed process for addressing this matter in General Conference Executive Committee Minutes, 272-846N, The Sixth Meeting of 1984 Annual Council, October 14, 1984, 2:30 pm, 84-386–387, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1984-10.pdf, and decide to follow it carefully. However, before I implemented this process with the church, I consulted my regional ministerial director for guidance and approval to lead the church through this process.
I began implementing this process by making the nominating committee's request known to the church board. Together we decided, first, to survey our congregation to understand how they feel about women serving as local church elders before doing anything. The results revealed that there was a large majority (between 75–80%) who felt favorable toward female elders. However, since the minority included a few key leaders, the board decided to hold off any decision at that time but to continue praying and preparing the church for possible future action.
Over the next year, we experience a lot of transfer growth that changed the makeup of the church. The 2021 nominating committee raised the matter again. (There was no 2020 nominating committee due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) A few representatives of that committee made a request to the church board to call a business meeting to discuss the issue of female elders; the leadership embraced this request and arranged such a meeting on November 20, 2021. See the Agenda. I introduced the item by stressing the importance of ecclesial unity and Christian courtesy when discussing difficult topics. Then, I shared the denomination's policy history and opened the floor for discussion. The conversation went healthfully, as different members expressed their differing views on the issue. Then a motion came from the floor to comply with the present denominational policy by opening the way for female elders in the church; it was seconded. A vote by secret ballot was held that resulted in an acceptance of the motion. To promote fellowship and unity, a church social followed the meeting to eat, talk, and play table games together. All of these efforts successfully upheld God's will for the church all the while maintaining love, unity, and fellowship despite holding diverse perspectives.
C. Champions Adventist Education
I recognize the positive impact that Adventist education can have in the lives of children, youth, and young adults. My own personal experience in attending an Adventist academy played a pivotal role in my conversion to Christ. For more information, see My Spiritual Journey. Our school system is more than just another option on the educational buffet for strong academics. Adventist education is holistically transformational for body, mind, and spirit, being part of the mission of our denomination to share the everlasting gospel and the three angels' messages (Rev 14:6–12) with the world, especially with young people.
Understanding the value of what our church has to offer through its educational system, my wife and I have advocated for our nephew (who previously attended a nonfaith-based private school) to receive an Adventist education. Our effort has afforded that opportunity for him over the last two years, so far enjoying second and third grades at our local church school.
While my experience in pastoral ministry has not given me an opportunity to lead a church that operates a school, I did have the privilege of working with Peter Kulakov at the Lakeview Seventh-day Adventist Church from the planning phase to the ground-breaking ceremony of building a new early childhood education center in Powder Springs, Georgia.
The Knoxville Grace Seventh-day Adventist Church has always had a heart for reaching young people since it began in the early 1980s. It once had a small church school on its campus, which became the present-day Heritage Academy in Monterey, Tennessee. Understanding this, I have begun conversations that I hope will lead this congregation to become a constituency church for the local K–10 church school, Knoxville Adventist School, in Knoxville, Tennessee.
D. Equips, Motivates, and Empowers Every Member to Identify and Use His/Her Spiritual Gifts
The apostle Paul noted that the primary responsibility of those who have been given spiritual gifts of leadership for the church is "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up of the body of Christ," that should result in "unity of the faith" (Eph 4:11–12 ESV). This should incorporate an understanding of each member's spiritual gifting and deployment in ministry in areas that accord with those gifts (1 Cor 12:1–31; 14:1a). Over the years, I have developed an eight-session workshop with an accompanying workbook to motivate and equip members to discover their spiritual gifts and learn practical ways of personal witnessing. See "Sharing Your Faith" Workshop.
It is my ministry practice to share spiritual gifts inventory questionnaires/surveys to newly baptized members and invite them to fill out an online that I created to get them "plugged into" our church's ministry. Click here to see an example of this Church Ministry Interest Survey from the Knoxville Grace Seventh-day Adventist Church website.
E. Models Servant Leadership
In my study of the metaphorical uses of the Greek word κεφαλή (kephalē; "head") and its cognates in the New Testament, I learned that occurrences in the context of discussions regarding church leadership refer exclusively to Jesus Christ (Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col 1:8; 2:19; cf. 1 Cor 11:3; Col 2:10). Five of these occurrences are quotations of Ps 118:22–23, which was viewed as a messianic prophecy that was applied to Jesus (Matt 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; and 1 Peter 2:4, 7). Therefore, the pastor is not the head of the church; Jesus is. Christ is the good Shepherd of his people; the pastor is simply an undershepherd, whom Jesus made steward and servant of his sheep. This biblical teaching on church leadership leads me to affirm in full the statement of the Seventh-Adventist Theological Seminary titled "On the Unique Headship of Christ in the Church."
Some of my favorite leadership passages that guide my theory and praxis of servant leadership are as follows:
"1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (1 Pet 5:1–4 ESV; emphasis added).
"42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'” (Mark 10:42–45 ESV; emphasis added).
"24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves'" (Luke 22:2427 ESV).
"1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:1–11 ESV).
Jesus said that, in the kingdom of heaven, "16 '... the last will be first, and the first last'" (Matt 20:16 ESV).
Here is an article that has been most formative in my ministry for understanding the nature of church leadership: Darius Jankiewicz, "Serving Like Jesus: Authority in God's Church," Adventist Review 191.7 (March 13, 2014): 16–20.
My Model for the Hierarchy of Servant Leadership in the Church
F. Inspires Excellence
One of my personal and professional core values is disciplined excellence. See my Core Values.
I seek to inspire excellence among my congregants by modeling it in my own life and ministry. Everything my hands find to do, I try to perform to the best of my ability without shortcuts and encourage each of parishioners to see their potential and chase after it with all of their heart, mind, and strength. I work to ensure that what I do represents the highest quality. A core belief of mine is that there is no stopping place.
I realize that my pursuit of excellence likely stems from my "Type A" personality that lends itself to perfectionism. The strength of that tendency is my strong work ethic and high quality of service and fruit that I can provide. It drives me to never be content with the status quo and propels me forward to experience dynamic growth and development personally and professionally—hence, my corollary core value of intentional growth. See my Core Values.
However, at times, this pursuit can be frustrating and even paralyzing for me. I can find myself to be overly critical of myself and my own work and have difficulty allowing myself to feel the satisfaction of a "job well done." I have this enduring sense that nothing reaches a place of being fully completed but can always experience some improvement in one way or another. Another challenge of excellence is that it is time-consuming and very tiring. Thus, a demanding vocation, such as pastoral ministry, requires careful balance, good time management, and regular self-care. My strengths in organizational skills help to mitigate this issue to some degree, but I realize I need to grow in allowing myself to have more time for rest and self-care.
G. Supportive Team Player
As a Protestant believer, I am convinced that the church is a priesthood of all believers (1 Pet 2:9), and, thus, I am not the only minister of the gospel. I am only one among many. For this reason, I work to create a team mentality with my church leaders and members. I encourage all of my parishioners to call me by my first name, Matthew, instead of using titles, in order to create an atmosphere of comradery and equality as we serve in ministry together. I also try regularly to remind my elders that I too am an elder and that the only difference between them and me is that I'm paid from the tithe to be an elder full-time and have received formal theological training to help me do that competently. And, after every church board meeting, I affirm my leaders for their diverse ministries, thank them for the opportunities I've had to bless them, and express my feelings of gratitude and privilege to serve God with them side by side.