Paul Norton: Whose Future Leader Are You Preparing?

My friend recently said to me, “You’ve moved more in five years than I have my entire adult life.” I laughed because it is true! When we moved to Ohio, my wife and I decided to try “country living” and we bought a house on 5.25 acres. Over a two-year period, we realized we were not made to play Green Acres and moved back “into town” to be city slickers.

The goal was to buy a 1,600-1,800 three bed, two bath fixer to fit our American version of a minimalist household for a family of five. We end up buying this hoopty of a house with the goal of going all Chip & Joanna Gaines on it. We redid or had someone redo everything (including the removal of the carpet in the bathroom…who does that?). The home was wonderful inside! It was close to the church, excellent for hospitality, and well appointed.

The backyard however needed help. We had fencing on two sides of the yard and not on the other two. One day I came home to find this delivery on my front porch of a red bag with what look like dead sticks hanging out of it. Apparently, my wife decided to fill in all the missing fence lines with hedges. To save money, she had ordered dormant starter plants that flourish over time.

She was so excited and proud of her solution! She had meticulously measured the yard prior to ordering and now began planting these sticks. They received special dirt and fertilizer to ensure the best environment possible to flourish.

I gave her such grief over her sticks in a bag, but I must admit that they took and quickly began showing signs of life.

God then created some excitement and chaos in our lives by answering our long-term prayer request regarding foster care. Our journey began with the desire to foster one child, under the age of two. God took us to being open to siblings sets. Our first placement is a set of three sisters ages two and under!

The blessing of becoming a family of eight overnight created a difficulty…our perfect little house was literally out of room(s).

We began to pursue a new home and listed our beautiful fixer. When we were discussing the fence situation with our realtor it hit my wife that she would never get to see her beloved hedges come to fruition. All her effort, nurturing, and care would be for the next owners’ full benefit.

All the backstory is to illustrate a point I think about often as a pastor- whose future leader am I preparing? Whose future leader is our church investing in and crafting? I am going to focus upon the issue of vocational staff or key leadership roles, but the reality is much broader.

Consider this, if we believe that the Godhead specifically gifts men and women within the Church for the Gospel mission and Christian edification, then why do we limit that focus to “what they can do for us” currently? Isn’t it incumbent upon us to consider where they will be and who they will be after they leave the ministry we are at?

I understand that there is great importance in staff culture, synergy, and aiding the church when hiring someone, but should the focus only be along those lines?

Story time with Paul:

His name is Jim. I worked for him upon graduating from college. He allowed me to teach twice a week, do financial administration, and fill the pulpit regularly while he was away. He risked a lot to let an energetic, goofy young man grow in ministry.

His name is Brent. I had the privilege of working for him during college as a weekend and summer intern then again as an assistant pastor. He taught me the behind the scenes world of church administration for a congregation of 250 or less. He had me prepare Bible study material for a quarter at a time. He had me plan and execute capital improvement projects. He took me on tough shepherding visits. He talked through so many ministry items on a practical level every Monday. He sent out and supported our family when we took on our first church revitalization effort. He was patient with a stubborn know it all who he knew would turn out ok over time. He still takes my calls, gives me guidance, and is an undeserved friend.

His name is Dale. I have never worked for him as staff, but he was the pastor of the church where I became a follower of Christ and understood my gifting in the local church. As a teen, he spent time talking with me about my ministry future. He allowed young men to preach in the pulpit twice a year as teenagers though the congregation ran over five hundred each week. He led the church to support me in a summer mission internship as a single man and heavily supported our family during our first revitalization effort. He has always taken my calls, proactively mentored me, and been an undeserved friend.

Behind these three men were churches- churches that invested in me while enduring me at the same time. Intentionally or not, those congregations allowed God to shape me into the pastor I am today. Our church currently benefits from their willingness to shape a future leader.

Whose future leader are you shaping pastor and how are you directing your church in such an outlook? Though every church polity, size, and programming are different, let us consider four easy ways to craft valuable leaders in the present and prepared leaders for the future.

Have a goal with your staff and leaders- Is our outlook short-term with us or long-term for them? At our church, we seek to adhere to the mantra of “come, grow, and go”. We seek to hire young, teachable couples for a five-year commitment with the goal of sending them out to plant a church, lead a revitalization, or go to the mission field. After they leave, we want to keep the lines of communication open, so they know they always have someone in their corner.

Communicate the larger purpose to the flock- Have we stated our goal to the congregation regularly and even made application to them? Whenever possible, let us speak to the congregation about being a “beyond the walls” type of church. This includes sending out staff and members to plant a church (even if relocation is needed). It could also include sending members and assisting other plants or revitalization works in your area.

Go all in- With these future leaders, let them serve, grow, and fail forward…let’s even risk getting burned. We imperfectly seek to have staff members and their wives get involved in a variety of ways at our church- annual budgeting, event planning, speaking, leadership meetings, counseling, etc. Beyond getting involved, this philosophy should touch their pay scale and benefits to help the next ministry they will serve in.

Celebrate when change happens- Whenever possible, celebrate their next step and highlight it with the congregation from time to time in the future. Acts 13:1-4 is a phenomenal passage about the Holy Spirit sending out leaders for a new Gospel endeavor. That said, a seismic shift occurred in the life of the church at Antioch. Is our church ready to celebrate such a “separate me out” moment?

Again, this can be our focus for any vocational staff position in the church, but it is equally as true for the membership of our congregation as God may direct their path in an unexpected way in the future.

From time to time, perhaps my wife will creepily drive by to hedge stalk the current owners of our old house. Should God give us many years here, she might even get to see the lasting impression she made on that yard.

I wonder, when my time as a lead pastor comes to an end, how many sticks in red bags myself and our church will have seen become the hedges they were intended to be?

I would love to hear from you about what you are seeing God use you and your ministry to produce in future leaders.

Paul Norton

Lead Pastor

Faith Baptist Church

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