I have had the privilege of being the lead pastor at Northstar since we opened the doors in 1998. Even though I’m 14 years older now, with two grown children, some wrinkles and a few gray hairs, I love what I am doing more than ever. And the same passions and convictions which led me to start Northstar are the ones which continue to drive it and grow it with divine force.
We began the church by being passionate about mission and seeing lost people come to know, love and embrace Jesus as Savior. It has alway been our prayer that Northstar would continue to grow healthy and strong and increasingly become a base for the ministry of the Gospel both here in Panama City and beyond. I feel invigorated every day I spend a Northstar. I constantly seek to become a better servant of God. And, that starts with my teaching.
I teach four times on Sunday morning. I don’t always make it, but my intention is to try to get out into the foyer after each message. I try to do this as a means of meeting people now that we have grown out of the “everyone knows the pastor” phase in our history.
Standing in the foyer after one service, several people walked up to me and said, “I enjoyed your sermon.” Presumably, the folks who did not enjoy my sermon did not want to offend me by telling me that it was average or bad. But, this got me wondering: How effective is our teaching? Teaching must be more than a talking head on a stage, addressing a passive audience. Will the teaching be a turning point in someone’s life? Will it result in a climatic experience? That is what preaching is meant to do. That is what you find in the Bible and in the subsequent history of the Church.
When we started Northstar, I wanted a style of teaching that was more than simply “What.” “What does the Bible say?” Our goal at Northstar is not just “What,” but “So what?” and “How?” “How does the teaching series apply to your life ?” “How would you start doing what God’s Word says to do in that verse?” “What needs to happen for you to start obeying what is being taught here?”
But something happened on the way to becoming a large church. The demands on the pastor slowly increase and accelerate. Before long the pastor is considered the church’s head “everything” and is wearing many hats. At first the pedal to the metal is manageable, but then it stretches out week after week and month after month. In too many cases, the pastor has to do far more than he was ever called for or even trained to do. Then the staff of two doubles and doubles again. But, as the church grows, and while the workload is spread over more people, the pastor is still the one stop shop for everything church related. That is not to suggest serving in that way is a burden. As in every facet of life, it is hard to do one thing very well, if you are concentrating on many things. It is a simple matter of balancing our priorities.
The point is, I believe the greatest thing I can do for the people who attend Northstar is teach the word of God faithfully and creatively each week, But to do that, I need to stubbornly guard my preparation time. Yes, I can do other things such as casting vision, be a counselor, solve problems, but if I am not teaching the Word of God with power each Sunday then the church suffers. Flipping that around, if I teach the Word well each Sunday, other things may struggle for awhile, but the church will be healthy and other leaders will arise to do those things.
Surprisingly to me, considering the size of our church, I feel relatively balanced, and I think that is because of the leadership culture in our church. People in our church really do see a host of pastors, small group leaders, every bit as capable to solve a problem or address a church issue as I am. I have the freedom now to return most of the phone calls and emails that come to me. That’s in part because people from the church don’t email me as much anymore–because we have leaders they can talk to, including our new Executive Pastor, Lance Young. We hired Lance to do most of the things that I used to do, so I can better concentrate on one critical responsibility, teaching.
God always accomplishes His plan. In my life He used this experience to make me even more dependent upon Him. This year I’m allowing Him to work out the balance and direct my “schedule” more so than ever before. Although change is afoot, I am at peace because I’m not trying to juggle it all. With God, my week has become much less wobbly.
So walking through the foyer in the future I hope to hear comments like, ‘Marty that was a thought provoking message” or “life changing” or “I was challenged and empowered” or “I’m leaving a different person than I came.”
In fairness, we have heard those things. But, I believe God is telling me we can still do better. Although it will take me some time to get acclimated to being more hands off, I am excited about immersing myself in the study and preaching of God’s word.