By Carol McEntyre
In Matthew chapter seven, Jesus says that there are two kinds of builders: wise and foolish. Wise builders, construct their houses on the rock; while foolish builders construct their houses on the sand. When the rain comes and when the wind beats against the houses, the houses built on the rock stand firm, but the houses built on the sand collapse.
At bedtime, I often read another version of this story to my four year old son; it’s about 3 little pigs who build houses. One pig builds with straw, one pig builds with sticks, and one pig builds with bricks.
In this version, an ominous big bad wolf, huffs and puffs and tries mightily to blow each of their houses down. Only the house of bricks survives this big blowhard. Thankfully all three little pigs find refuge within its walls.
In Jesus’ version of the story, anyone who hears his words and does them is a wise builder and anyone who hears his words and doesn’t heed them is a foolish builder. James Harnish’s book, You Only have to Die: Leading Your Congregation to New Life, uses these two stories to talk about a question that every pastor needs to ask him or herself: what kind of builder are you going to be?
My experience with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Fellows program has helped me realize the importance of this question. One of the tasks each of the fellows was asked to complete was to form a Ministry Support Team. This team is made up of 3-4 individuals within the congregation who are willing to serve as a sounding board. The members of this team are people who represent different areas of the church community. Each person offers an important perspective about the church and its history. While this collaboration can seem like common sense, I am grateful to the Fellows program for helping me make this a priority.
The church that I pastor, First Baptist Church, Columbia, MO, is 190 years old. The church has a very vibrant and progressive history. I knew when I came to First Baptist that I wanted to honor the church’s history and to acknowledge that God has been at work here long before I arrived. Yet, as a newcomer to this congregation, I found myself asking the question, “How do you honor a history you are just learning?” Reading about a church’s history can only take you so far-I needed the perspective of those who had lived it.
Matthew chapter seven tells us that wise builders heed Jesus words; my guess is that wise builders also seek wise counsel. My Ministry Support Team has certainly served in this role. They know the history of the church and have helped me understand it. One of the first questions that I asked the Ministry Support Team was, “What has God been doing here?” In essence, what is the rock that has been built on over the past 190 years? This has allowed me as a new pastor to understand the context in which God has called me to share in ministry.
It can be easy for pastors to see a new church through the lens of their own past experiences. This can result in changes that are more about the ministers own style and preference, rather than God’s ongoing work. As tempting as this is, building ministry on a personality is like building a house on sand (or out of straw or sticks). It won’t last.
My experience with the Fellows program has helped me focus on making good choices in ministry. Listening to the church and my Ministry Support Team helped me prioritize my responsibilities and determine which of my dreams and passions for ministry were a fit for First Baptist Columbia.
I am grateful for a good start, and for the work of the Fellows program to invest in young pastors as they seek to faithfully answer God’s call.
Carol McEntyre, a CBF Fellow, is pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia, Missouri.