Idea Day East is now history, and what a FANTASTIC day is was! It was a privilege to welcome about 100 Bible-believing, good-spirited pastors (and some of their wives) for a full day of fellowship and idea sharing.
Together we spent eight hours covering six broad topics of church ministry—Evangelism, Media, Financial Stewardship, Ministry Growth and Development, Discipleship, and Sermon Preparation. Through out the day, hundreds of great ideas were shared, but there was a common thread that developed in the theme.
Pastor Kurt Skelly said that the clear, overarching theme of the day was simply “making disciples.”
The room was filled with a very diverse group of pastors, but the common denominator was the excellent and biblical spirit. To a man, a gospel-loving, encouraging spirit was pervasive. There wasn’t a hint of comparison, competition, or self-righteous criticism. The entire day was edifying to pastors of all ages and churches of all sizes.
This was the most profitable and encouraging single day of ministry investment that I have ever experienced. By the end of the day, my heart was full and my mind was racing with fresh vision.
There is no way to document the incredible ideas and values shared during the day, or to pick a “best idea”—simply because it wasn’t like that. What was “best” for me, in my present ministry context, probably wasn’t “best” for any one else. Yet I want to share a quick list of my “take-aways”—ministry lessons that I gleaned from simply listening and watching the interaction.
Here’s what I took away…
1. Ministry is done in many different cultural contexts in American local churches. The gospel never changes. God’s Word and our fundamental doctrines are unchanging and non-negotiable, but every church is very different culturally and contextually—by God’s design. We all serve in different places with unique people and unique needs.
2. There are many different ways to accomplish the same biblical objectives. Ideas that work for a church of fifty won’t necessarily work for a church of 300 or 700. There is no “box” that every church must fit into practically, and each pastor is called to follow God’s leadership individually in the place he serves. The litmus test is never the opinions or traditions of others, but rather the truth of God’s Word, and within the bounds of that truth, there is great liberty to structure ministry in ways that are effective to your context.
3. There are many godly men with good spirits and gracious hearts. Sometimes the loudest voices are the most combative, critical, and carnal. The indiscriminate grenade-lobbing over social media can, at times, be disheartening. It’s greatly encouraging to discover that those negative voices are a “hostile minority,” and there are many more good-spirited encouragers who simply aren’t as loud or hurtful—they are simply occupied by engagement in front-line, biblical church leadership.
4. Ministry requires both organic processes and mechanical processes. Some presenters focused on detailed organizational processes—which was very helpful. Other presenters focused on the more organic work of God, and the relational health of a thriving church. The balance of the two was helpful—both organic ministry as well as organized processes are essential. Some pastors are gifted in administration. Others are gifted in relationships. Both are vital, so a wise pastor will play to his strength and compensate for his weakness.
5. Every local church has a unique identity and organic development in God’s grace. We heard from pastors 25 to 75 years in age, and we saw a unique work of God unfolding through each different pastor in each unique ministry. Why was this encouraging? Because every now and then I come across someone that tries to tell me there’s only “one way” to do ministry. This simply isn’t true. Core values don’t change in a biblical church, but ways of accomplishing those values will grow with the church and develop with the unique community.
6. Every size church is valuable, vital, and powerful in its own context. A.W. Tozer said, “There are no small churches.” He was right. Size is not a sign of health. A small church isn’t necessarily failing and a large church isn’t necessary succeeding. There are too many variables and nuances to God’s unique work in each place. Fulfilled and blessed is the pastor who finds his own place and leads his unique church to its own God-appointed potential, without comparing or competing with any other pastor in any other place.
7. Every stage of church development is precious and significant. The church sizes at Idea Day ranged from 30 to 2,000 in attendance. It was simply awesome to hear of small churches taking their next faith-steps. It was also exciting to hear of God’s blessing in larger churches. The pastors rejoiced with each other, regardless of ministry size, and pastors of all ministry sizes had ideas to contribute.
8. Challenges of ministry are never unique or impassible. Many pastors communicated present challenges they are facing. I’m sure some of the lunch-time conversations and break-time connections related to “how did you deal with this?” kinds of questions. Personally, it was helpful for me to speak with pastors who have been down the road ahead of me. Their advice and encouragement reminded me that God is leading, even through challenges.
9. Pastors need to get together if only for friendship and encouragement. Pastors often feel “alone” in the challenges and burdens of ministry. This isn’t the case, and being around other pastors in a strengthening environment is immensely helpful to the soul. Simply put, we need friends, and when we come together with a spirit of humility and grace, good encouragement happens in all of our hearts.
10. Hearing what God is doing in other places inspires vision. This is the understatement of the post! Being around these men, hearing their ideas, and sharing in their stories was invaluable. Together we learned, God doesn’t just do something special in a few places. He blesses His Word and the gospel in every place! His work unfolds powerfully in any place where He is preeminent.
11. Friends don’t measure you, evaluate you, or compete with you. Just as some of the loudest voices are negative, so also are they often competitive. In some environments, pastors simply feel “on trial”—as if they are being evaluated to pass some unspoken inspection. Their “place in the club” is contingent upon adhering to the “culture of the club.” It was refreshing to be around a godly group of men of all ages who were simply together for friendship and encouragement in a Christ-centered way. It was non-toxic and refreshing.
12. Every pastor is unique to God’s calling and God’s purpose unfolding in his life and local church. Nearly a hundred men, as different as night and day—in personality, in age, in background, in college experience, in education, and in multiplied others ways—but they all found common ground in the fact that the gospel is still powerful to reach the lost and transform hearts. Wise is the pastor that, rather than despising personality differences, can accept them and even appreciate them in the larger tapestry of God’s work around the world. While God’s truth is absolute, God’s kingdom is diverse. In terms of pastoral personality and ministry function—diversity is God’s idea. Uniformity is a denominational idea.
It was awesome to be with humble men who minister with a biblical agenda. Over the centuries, one of the worst things to happen to the advancement of the gospel is denominationalism—the idea that one controlling “ideology” or “philosophy” of ministry should prevail and all should come under the banner of that “denominational camp.” Denominationalism derails local church ministry.
Within the bounds of pure biblical doctrine, God is doing amazing things through very different people and in very different cultures (every missionary understands this.) It makes me thankful to pastor an independent church, and to have godly friends who value the gospel over the petty things that divide Bible-believing Christians.
God blesses His Word, and He blesses leaders who exalt Him and choose to love and “get along” with the rest of His family.
Idea Day East was about how to more effectively use God’s Word to build disciples of Jesus Christ. This is the mission of my life, and this day was rich with strong ideas to implement biblical truth in local church ministry.
To all who attended or participated—THANK YOU! I was deeply blessed to attend!
(Special thanks to Pastor Josh Teis and his team for their efforts, and to the EBC staff who labored diligently to make the day possible!)