Christian ministers sometimes fail to consider the perspectives of the people they serve, often to their own demise. The process behind such neglect involves an unfortunate mindset in which a minister, with his education and training, thinks that the input from a layperson is at best naïve and, at worst, inept. These assumptions are false. People without professional, academic theological training can indeed think biblically (we believe in the perspicuity of Scripture, don’t we?), and can often provide insight into a church’s history and cultural health that would take a pastor years—even decades in some cases—to decipher. The bottom line is that ministry leaders should indentify the attentive observers and strategic thinkers, and listen to them. Getting the view from the pew is critically important. Steve McGill is a deacon at Good Hope Baptist Church in Iva, SC, where I have been doing some interim preaching over the past few months. The first time I walked into the auditorium at Good Hope, I knew it had a story that I needed to learn, and Steve (along with others) has assisted me in understanding the history, culture, sensitivities, and needs of the congregation. Indeed, without gaining the “view from the pew,” even my best intentions would be ill-informed, poorly honed, and possibly harmful to the church’s future.
Steve is one of several attentive observers and strategic thinkers at Good Hope. He maintains a blog (stevemcgill.wordpress.com) that I heartily recommend. Below you will find his answers to a few questions on leadership, church culture, change, and evangelism. I hope our conversation not only gives you insight into these matters, but prompts you to seek the view from your own pews.
Chuck: Good Hope is historic and rural, but it feels much more like a new church plant. Good Hope offers contemporary worship, home groups, and a remarkably simple church format (worship, connect, serve). How did the transition happen and what were the costs?
Steve: I wasn’t there in those days, but GH was essentially a dying church when former pastor, Robbie Garrett, came. He introduced a blended worship style and began to attract some younger families to the church. That’s when my family and I connected with GH. Robbie began small groups and we went through a couple of “Purpose Driven” seasons as a church using video from Saddleback. He also brought a Celebrate Recovery ministry to GH. Robbie moved on to other callings and the pastor that succeeded him, Jamie Duncan, continued and accelerated change. Under his leadership, we hired a great young worship leader named Jonathan Fowler and we went from blended worship to truly contemporary music. Jamie was responsible for incorporating many of the “simple church” philosophies at GH. Not everyone embraced change, so there were seasons that tested the staff, leadership, and membership of the church. Some church people moved on to other churches in the area. GH came out of the process bruised, but better. That might be considered a cost, but I believe it was absolutely essential for us to be the church we are now.
Chuck: It appears that Good Hope meticulously maintains a very healthy church culture. By in large, the church trusts its leadership, supports its staff, and complaining seems to be minimal (at least compared to many churches). What are the keys to maintaining a healthy church culture?
Steve: I think ultimately every organization reflects the heart of its leadership. Healthy leaders attract other healthy leaders and dysfunctional leaders attract dysfunctional leaders. I think it is hard to overestimate how much this influences organizational culture from top to bottom. I see this dynamic in church for sure, but the principle plays out in sports, business, politics, you name it. Perhaps the biggest difference is that I believe it is God’s role to move (or remove) point leaders and we should be very careful in that.
I’d also say that we have older lay leaders at GH that are willing to give up control and decision making to new and young leaders, instead on holding tightly to control everything.
Chuck: Over the past few years, Good Hope has recorded a remarkably high number of baptisms. What has fostered such evangelistic fruit?
Steve: Jamie was passionate about introducing people far from God to the good news of Jesus and getting them to go public in baptism. Josiah and Kelly Jones have led a very fruitful youth ministry at Good Hope for years, as well. We have been allowed to reach out and connect with people that just don’t feel welcome or comfortable coming to a more traditional, formal church. Many of them were hurting people with lots of problems, and God just brought them to Himself. All of their issues didn’t go away, however, and certainly not everyone baptized at Good Hope is a faithful, serving member. I think we’re learning that our job is to share the Gospel, love people the best we can, offer them a place to be learn and grow in their relationship with God, and trust the outcomes to the Holy Spirit.
Chuck: Good Hope is currently searching for its next pastor. From your perspective (understanding that you’re not speaking for the entire congregation, or even the search committee), what are the essential qualities Good Hope needs in its pastor?
Steve: Well, the first requirement is someone that loves and follows Christ and that has God’s heart for other people. I think our “sweet spot” would be someone theologically conservative but pretty progressive in their methodology. We aimed younger than I think most churches would when looking for a senior pastor. We agreed that our new pastor should either have a seminary education or have a bachelor’s degree and be willing to pursue more training. This really isn’t a big deal for me, but I’m fine with it and it is a conservative approach. I am a firm believer in point leadership and, in a small church with one full-time staff member, you better be a good leader. I wanted someone that has actually led something somewhere. And finally, we’d been spoiled by listening regularly to a very gifted communicator in Jamie Duncan. Our committee reviewed a lot of audio and video clips (in fact, having those available was a requirement) and we were very unified in the kind of teaching/preaching that we wanted at GH. I would describe it as Biblical, practical, informal, relational, and challenging to both Christians and non-Christians.
Chuck: Excellent, Steve. Thanks for your view—from the pew!
Dr. Chuck Fuller comes to Anderson University with 13 years of experience in pastoral ministry, serving churches in Kentucky and Indiana. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from Campbellsville University, and an MDiv and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in Christian preaching, with additional studies in systematic theology and philosophy. Before arriving at AU, Dr. Fuller was pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and adjunct professor of Christian preaching at Boyce College of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, Dr. Fuller has served on committees and boards of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Married to Jessie, Dr. Fuller and his wife have two children–Kaylen Marie and Ian Charles. Jessie holds a Bachelor of Bible from Ozark Christian College, with a concentration in deaf ministry. Currently, Jessie works as a stay-at-home mom and brilliant culinary artist.
Homiletical theology comprises Dr. Fuller’s primary research area, as demonstrated in his recent book, The Trouble With “Truth Through Personality”: Phillips Brooks, Incarnation, and the Evangelical Boundaries of Preaching. Dr. Fuller also presented a paper, titled “The Pulpit at the Precipice of Heresy,” at the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Homiletical Society.