Revitalisation in Buckingham
Why would a church overstaff their ministry team? Mark Herbert says Long Crendon Baptist Church deliberately employ a large staff team to galvanise them for mission outside of their immediate context. Most recently it’s led to a church revitalisation in nearby Buckingham, as Mark explains.
Long Crendon Baptist Church meets in the commuter village of Long Crendon, 20 miles east of Oxford. The church has existed since 1802 and by God’s grace has always been faithful to the gospel. Today, the Sunday gathering is 240 people and we employ three full-time pastors, a part-time children’s and youth worker and three part-time administrators. We also have a women’s worker who serves on a voluntary basis. People often comment that this is a bit indulgent, particularly given that some churches don’t even have one paid worker.
But we are consciously overstaffed in order to influence gospel work beyond our own context. We may be a ‘village church’ but we have an ambitious vision, recognising that we cannot only rely on large city-centre churches to resource gospel ministry elsewhere. Overstaffing is indulgent if resources are all channelled internally, but it is vital if churches are to have an impact further afield.
As our church has grown, the three pastors have focused on different areas of ministry, meaning we work on less overall, but add greater value to the things we specialise in. It’s also a wisdom call, given our limitations in terms of head-space! This model means we work side-by-side as co-pastors.
My responsibilities concentrate around the more outward-facing ministries and I’ve found that by focusing on this, I’ve been able to think more intentionally about how we develop this side of our church’s vision. It has been encouraging to see the benefits.
Historically, part of this ministry has been to regularly send preachers to support local churches.
One of them is Buckingham Evangelical Church, where we committed a preacher every month in recognition that they had no pastor. Yet, the more I thought about this, the more I recognised that we were helping maintain the church, but not helping them move forwards in a meaningful way.
If you support another church in a similar way, perhaps you can recognise this? Growth requires consistent energy and leadership time, not just pulpit-filling. We therefore had two choices:
- Maintain the status quo – helpful but short-sighted in impact
- Increase our support for a season
We decided to opt for the latter. With a bit of internal juggling, I was released to give a day a week to this church for nine months. This time was used primarily in three ways:
- Providing some more consistent preaching – initially I preached every Sunday for eight weeks and then our other preachers filled two out of every four Sunday’s. Buckingham then had to find the others.
- On the weeks I was preaching, we had lunch together as a whole church and a training session to think through missional questions more deliberately.
- I also started some midweek evening training to help grow leaders across the church and develop ministry-teams in the knowledge that when a pastor was eventually found, this would help him to hit the ground running. We thank God that a pastor is now in place and James Pope’s induction takes place in September 2018.
As I reflect on this journey, I have become convinced that it could be an effective model for other churches to consider.
Revitalisation doesn’t always have to involve someone leaving their home church and becoming a pastor in another. There are more creative ways of working but (as we have found) this requires flexibility on all sides. This model also means that we could potentially repeat this revitalisation journey with another church.
I also found that coming in from the outside had many benefits.
Firstly, I knew the church and had a strong relationship with them through regularly preaching there. Because they trusted me, I could be quite provocative and challenging. Of course, this needed wisdom but, in some areas, proved to be very fruitful. Some members of the church needed to believe in themselves and be ‘given permission’ to take some risks. Secondly, outside eyes meant I could see (often simple) things that can get missed by those on the inside. Thirdly, by offering a day a week but not becoming the pastor, it helped the church to avoid becoming reliant on me – people had to step up and lead. It also protected me from having a ‘saviour-complex’ – my role wasn’t to fix the church, but to support them.
As you reflect on our journey, I’d challenge you to consider if you could do something similar. Our story won’t be your story, but I pray it might inspire you to think big and, increasingly, outside of your immediate church context.
As you do this, here are a few questions to consider:
- What relationships do you have with other local churches? (N.B. none = unhealthy!)
- Could you find ways to deliberately ‘overstaff’ in order to expand your vision?
- What can you put in place to ensure overstaffing doesn’t become indulgent but serves a gospel end?
- If you are a struggling church, why not reach out to a larger church for some help? Start by inspiring them with a vision.
After all, we are not building our own kingdoms but the Lord’s Kingdom.