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Knowing church’s characteristics can help avoid pastoral mismatch

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–After 30 years of ministry, Gene Mims has seen how mismatched pastors and congregations cause both to flounder. That’s why he wrote a book that explores seven popular church styles.

The book is titled The 7 Churches Not in the Book of Revelation, but has nothing to do with end times theology. Released June 1 by Broadman & Holman Publishers, it explores churches’ dominant characteristics.

Understanding the characteristics of a church can help pastors to adjust their leadership style to fit a church and also help churches avoid calling the wrong pastor, Mims said. Checklists help readers categorize their churches.

“This is a resource for laymen and pastors alike to help identify who they are,” said Mims, president of the LifeWay Church Resources Division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. “I hope it becomes a resource for seminaries, because it was born in a seminary classroom. It would be ideal for young pastors going out to a church staff to consider.”

The inspiration for the book came three years ago. Mims was traveling to Los Angeles to teach a leadership class at an extension campus of Golden Gate Theological Seminary.

Meditating on how to explain why many leaders struggle to lead churches, he recognized that congregations come in a series of sizes and shapes. Each fits into specific, sensible categories, he said.

Reflecting on his experiences, he came up with these seven descriptions:

— A Family Chapel, where relationships are key and the pastor serves as a chaplain. This is the most common kind of church. Despite technological advances and changing worship styles, people still love to be in relationship with others, he said.

— A University Church, with the pastor as professor and instruction the key.

— An Arena Church, that features lots of “experiences” and the pastor as performer.

— A Corporate Church, presided over by a CEO pastor.

— A Machine Church, where activity is most important and the pastor is the manager.

— A Legacy Church where the most important thing is the past, with the pastor acting as curator of memories.

— A Community Center, which has an issues-based orientation and the pastor serves as prophet.

Mims knew he had struck a chord when students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds enthusiastically discussed his ideas. By the second weekend of the short-term class they brought in other examples and testimonies illustrating his teaching.

“It was fun,” he said. “So much about church styles is written negatively. I didn’t want to do that. Churches have dominant characteristics that are shaped by strong and positive pastoral styles. A pastor has tremendous influence, but we often don’t stay long enough to see it through.”

The book discusses how a pastor needs to adjust his style to a church’s dominant characteristic. But the veteran minister cautions: that doesn’t mean to “go with the flow” forever.

A pastor can’t just walk in and expect change to occur. First he must build relationships and trust before a congregation will follow, he explained.

Mims said trust comes from preaching, teaching and interacting with members so they can observe how a leader reacts to pressure and disagreements.

“You’ve got to accept people for who they are; that’s where you start,” he said. “Pretty soon that trust level begins to build, and they’ll do anything for you.

“The people of God will follow a preacher, but you can’t follow anybody you don’t know and can’t trust. That’s just human nature. It’s not negative. It’s just reality.”

Currently interim pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville, he hopes the book will help guide young pastors. He could have avoided heartache in earlier years if he had followed the teaching he gained through experience, Mims said.

“Most churches don’t recognize their identity, which is a mistake,” he said. “They keep flip-flopping between pastoral styles and skills. I think it’s important to recognize what you are today and what you want to be in the future.”

The 7 Churches Not Found in the Book of Revelation is available through LifeWay Christian Stores, the online store at www.lifewaystores.com and other Christian stores.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker