The following is an edited transcript of the audio.
What's your advice for a new pastor who comes into a church that has wide-ranging theological differences in the congregation and leadership?
My first advice is, up front, make crystal clear where you stand on issues that look like the others in leadership don't have them. And make sure the people know what you consider important in your preaching and what you plan on saying, so that they don't say after you're there, "Whoa! We didn't know you believed that about eschatology, or about the death penalty, or divorce, or child-rearing. We didn't know you believed in spanking [or bigger things, like reformed theology]."
So, right up front, make sure they know.
If they welcome you, then begin to build a unified leadership. Teach the leaders that are there; and if on important matters they're not with you, then in the end I think you need to pray them out and pray more people in. And I say "important matters."
The principle here really matters. The strategy is, take your time. Take ten or fifteen years to do it. But the principle is: Do you believe in the importance of a unified leadership theologically?
There are a lot of churches who simply don't think that's a good idea. They don't think that being of one mind as a pastoral staff and as an eldership matters on lots of things.
I think it really matters. I think the teaching office of the church should speak with one voice. The elders are the ones charged to be apt to teach and to teach, and, it says, to guard from error, and to correct people. Well if you have the elders, one correcting this way and the other another way, the church will come to believe that theology isn't really very important and that doctrine doesn't really matter here.
So I would say:
- be clear up front;
- pray earnestly that the Lord would bring truth;
- emphasize the central important things;
- show that you are dependent utterly on the Bible and not anybody else's theology;
- be expository in the pulpit;
- and meet privately with leaders to try to get them on board. And over time, if they don't get on board, say to them, "You know, this isn't going to work in the long run," and try to work out some real amicable way to become unified in the end with new leadership.