For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.
In this video, Bryan Chapell suggests some helpful questions to ask when gauging the maturity and needs of your congregation.
The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.
If we’re shepherding a church, that takes into account that we’re dealing with different kinds of people and their situations are going to vary. I think it’s always the task of a pastor to be looking forward and backward. He’s asking, “What have we covered?” and “What do we need to cover?” for two or three different purposes.
What do we need to cover to bring people to faith? I sometimes need to ask “are there people who don’t know the Lord?” Always in a healthy church there are going to be mature believers, but hopefully there are seekers and hopefully there are children either of age or understanding. And so I need to determine how I should explain to some people what is this gospel, what is this good news, what is true repentance, what is turning to faith in Christ. All of that is saying I need to bring some people to faith.
I also think we need to always be asking “How do I bring people to maturity?” And so I’m looking at what subjects have we covered in the last few months, in the last few years, what did the previous pastor cover, what’s the history of this church. And as I’m saying “what have we covered?” then I also need to address “what do we need to cover?” and that’s looking forward.
Now what do we need to cover has a number of issues that come into mind. The issues of my age will change so I have to say what are the present issues of the culture and at least the quotation that’s attributed to Martin Luther. He said, “You can be faithful in all matters but fail to address the very issue of your time and at that very moment become unfaithful to the gospel.” So we have to say what are the present issues that are going on, what are prevailing sins in the congregation? You know there are some acceptable sins that almost any congregation begins to say this isn’t really bad, we accept this in people. What is the nature of what we accept? Is it that the judgmentalism, is it the gossip, is the materialism that we just accept but is actually undermining the gospel and faith and maturity in us?
So I have to consider that and finally I think I have to not only look at present issues and prevailing sins but just what is the time that I will have with people. And so I think of pastors who may be in churches where they have people for multiple generations that they are facing and there are other pastors who are at a college campus, near a military base, or in a professional youth culture. They may have people for two years, what would be a curriculum as it were that they want people to take from this place to be mature believers wherever God is going to call them next?
So it’s different obligations, I think, which means the words of the reformers long ago, “I always need to consider the necessities and the capacities of my hearers.” What do they need to hear but at the same time what are they capable of hearing? How much time do they have? How mature are they? How rebellious are they? What is their knowledge-base to start with? What is their educational level? All those go into not just what they need to hear––I can just be that pastor who says “Let me just pour out all this information; here’s what you ought to know.” Well, wonderful, but that’s not all God is saying. Even Jesus said, “I have more to tell you, but you’re not ready to hear it.” And so the pastor is saying, “I know what you need to hear, but I need to be assessing what you’re capable of hearing to make prudential, pastoral, shepherding decisions based upon bringing people to maturity.” At the same time the pastor is assessing what can they absorb given knowledge or hardness of heart, or even gentleness of heart, softness, sensitivity. They may be too fragile in the moment. What can they hear as well as what they need to hear leads me forward in understanding what I should be talking about.