“Location, Location, Location!” The phrase has morphed from a real-estate maxim to a local church maxim. Increasingly churches believe that the pastoral candidate’s location and social-economical upbringing determine his ability to lead their church. Those potential pastors that share the southern congregation’s affinity for Alabama football are placed in the keep pile. Those who grew up eating clam chowder on the New England coast are stuck in the do not call pile. And if the outsider pastor some how sneaks into the church office and manages to place his name on the desk, church members reserve the right to disagree with and to discount the Pastor’s leadership because he is not “really one of us.”
On the flip side of things, Pastors are quick to pursue churches that are located close to their old stomping grounds. I recently heard one pastor jokingly note that most men will boldly follow the Lord’s call, provided God keeps them within a 200 mile radius of their mother-in-law. Sadly, the joke is not too far from the truth.
First, I definitely applaud men for wanting to maintain extended-family relationships. The man who ministers close to home is inherently just as godly as the man cutting his way through the amazon jungles. There is no coloration between risk, hard conditions, distance and godliness.
Second, I affirm that Scripture’s emphasis on raising up local leaders. Paul tells Titus to appoint elders in the churches in Crete. Paul too regularly raised up men to led local churches (Ti 1:5; Acts 14:23). I applauded my former church, The Bible Church of Little Rock for modeling these Scriptures. The Senior Pastor BCLR , Tim Senn served as my youth pastor a few decades ago. And the current Youth Pastor of BCLR is one of my fellow youth group alums. Churches should be in the leadership development business.
Third, I understand that moving a family of 8 from California to Maine or from Colorado to Mississippi can be cost prohibitive for many small churches. Some churches will have to limit their search range geographically because God has providentially limited their resources.
Back to the Question:
But the overarching question still remains: Is location and the pastor’s familiarity with a churches culture a right and meaningful measure of one’s pastoral ability? Does a pastor have to live, breathe, and know his people’s cultural idiosyncrasies to be an effective minister of the Word?
The answer is a resounding, “No!” To be an effective pastor, a man must be a godly expositor, a man devoted to both obeying and teaching the Word. A quick examination of the Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 reveals that the effective pastor is the one who is above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, hospitable, gentle, upright, holy, disciplined, the husband of one wife, able to teach, and manage his family well. He is not a drunkard, quarrelsome, a lover of money, violent, arrogant, quick-tempered, or a recent convert to Christianity. Notice Paul mentions nothing about the man’s origin or cultural identity.
Paul cares little about where the elder comes from because effective ministry does not depend on cultural awareness but upon gospel awareness. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
To know people and to know how to minister to people, Pastors need to be overly familiar not with the culture but with the Word. The Scriptures contains all that the pastor needs to reach, encourage, and admonish others. The Bible address every heart attitude in every location. D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones smashes the assumption that time and place matter when he writes:
But man himself has not changed…look at the major social problems confronting us today, and you will find all of them in the Bible; theft, robbery, violence, jealousy, envy, infidelity, divorce, separation, perversions, all these things, are in the Bible.
The problems facing small town America in 2018 are the same problems that New York City faces in 2018, and that Abraham faced thousands of years ago. To understand people and how to minister to them and to know how to bring truth to bear on their lives effectively comes, one needs to learn the Scriptures. The most qualified pastor is not the one who grew up within earshot of the church, but the one who loves God, obeys God, and teaches others about God.
Because God is sufficient for all our problems, men raised in Boston can faithfully lead churches in Alabama. Georgians can lead churches in California. Nevadans can pastor churches in France. And Koreans can effectively pastor churches in Mexico. Because the Gospel is the power of salvation, men no longer have to fear and should never limit their ministry to cultural boundaries. Location means little. God means everything.
Location, Location, Location should never be the cry of the gospel-centered church. Her cry should be HOLY, HOLY, HOLY! Do you agree?