Every pastor I know has been asked the question. I was asked the question when I was a pastor. It’s the question that pastors can all relate to sometime in their ministry. It elicits grins, eye-rolling, and occasionally frustration towards those who should know better. Someone (hopefully new to the church and the faith) is curious about what a pastor does when he’s not preaching or teaching.
“What do you do all week?”
Last week, a pastor of a very involved church in the association asked me the question. He wasn’t asking because he thought I was idle all week, but because he was anticipating getting the question from members in his church about what the staff of the association does all week.
I appreciate the question, because defining the day to day work of the association staff is difficult. Some of the work that the team does is initiated by the team, and some is done in response to the needs of our churches. The exciting part of the work for me, and what makes it challenging to summarize in a clear and concise way, is that the work varies dramatically even from day to day. Sure it can be organized into categories, but let me see if I can give you a sense of what I mean.
Any Given Week
What follows is a sample of questions I have been asked over the course of the last week:
Our pastor of 30 years just announced his retirement, can you meet with our pastor search team and help us understand what is ahead?
How can our church be involved in helping smaller churches in our immediate area?
Our church has another few months of savings before we have to close, can you give us some options?
Can you recommend a missions pastor?
Can you help our church get connected to churches in Houston who are still dealing with Harvey-related rebuilding needs?
Can you help me re-think the committee structure of my church
What is the state of church planting in Houston, and where can our church begin wading into those waters?
Can you make a map of our membership and recent visitors so we can better understand where our people are coming from and show it to prospective pastor search candidates?
Our church has been meeting in a hotel and badly needs to share space with another church. Can you help us find a partner church and make an introduction for us?
It's All About Relationships
Every person on the UBA team is highly trained and professionally competent, but we can’t serve our churches unless we are relationally connected across the city. The essence of an association is that churches gain strength by working together. So when a church asks me about reorganizing their committee structure, they will gain not just from my training in organizational behavior but also from my ability to connect them to other churches that are well-organized. A portion of my job is gathering and redistributing information for the betterment of our churches, all the while helping churches collaborate together.
There’s another aspect to the relational side of my work. These are questions or confidences that come to me less frequently but still come on a regular basis.
Our church recently lost our pastor and only staff member suddenly, and we have no good processes in place—can you help?
I feel that my time at this church is done; how do I end well and move on in a healthy way?
I can’t tell anyone else this, but I hate my job. What should I do?
Our church is moving toward multiple campuses, but we need to look at demographics, structures, and get connected to other churches that are doing it well. Can you help us?
Our church wants to reach an unreached people group, and we know it’s going to take time. Can you tell us what it will take?
Our church is talking about merging with another church. Can you help us through the process?
Without relationships, these questions don’t get asked. Now mind you, I’m not suggesting that I had previously gained the trust of everyone who asked these questions. Some asked the questions because I was a neutral third party, I was available, and because I took the time to stop by and say hello. Relationships take time, and they often lead to work that takes a lot of time.
Weeks Lead to Weeks
Helping churches and pastors build and work through processes takes a lot of time. In general, learning and change management takes time. So when the UBA team is faced with questions like these, with numerous churches at the same time, you can imagine that staying busy is hardly a problem we face. And as soon as one church completes their pastor search process, determines the location of their next campus, a pastor receives the care that he needs from a trained professional, or two churches have successfully completed the difficult journey of merging, there are more than 500 churches in UBA with their own questions waiting in line.
Every staff member at UBA could’ve written this blog using different questions. Other team members would’ve written about building processes to teach healthy, multiplicative, church planting through a Hispanic cultural lens. Some could write of leading teams of volunteers to Huntsville prison and teaching Bible storying techniques so that inmates can plant churches and make disciples within the units. Other team members would’ve written about connecting pastors to legal advice so that their new church is properly documented or helping an urban church cast a bold new vision for the future. And that’s still aside from trainings that we conduct. These can be anywhere from understanding our city, breaking the cycle of domestic violence, spiritual disciplines, and Bible study methodology (in Spanish).
So if you ask me today, “What do you do all week?” and then again next week, the answers will probably be different. It’s just one of the many reasons I love working for UBA. But like everyone else on the team, I love churches, I love bringing them together, and I love helping them share the love of Jesus effectively. It takes all of us working together to reach our city. It’s why we’re better together.
Josh Ellis is Executive Director of Union Baptist Association. He has a PhD in Leadership Studies and has served on the UBA staff since 2005. With both practical and scholarly knowledge, he leads the association into innovative collaboration for the sake of strategic gospel advancement.