Remembering What Drove Me in Doing Church

This article was written by Jimmie Sheffield, Assistant to the Executive Team at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

I am strolling through memory lane again. Last month I wrote about changes that affected the way we do church in the last sixty plus years. In this article, I want to share what has motivated me in my ministry and how that changed through the years.

When I was young in the ministry, I went to college and seminary. I learned from great teachers how to do church. When I graduated, I thought I should organize and do church the way I learned in classes.

How that played out in my early years of ministry was that I felt motivated to help a church dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “T’s.” It primarily involved organizing the Sunday School according to the best practice. Sunday School must have the right number of classes with the right number of members, the appropriate square feet per person, and classes organized with the appropriate leaders.

My motivation was to get all classes and departments organized properly, according to the rules. If so, the church would automatically grow.

As I got somewhat older in ministry, my motivation turned to making sure we had the right programs for our church. If the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Resources) came out with a program, I thought we should have that program in our church. If the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) came out with a new evangelism emphasis, I just knew we had to implement that program in the church I served.

Also, during this period of my life, I had the privilege of working at the Baptist Sunday  School Board in the Church Administration Department. My assignment was church organization with an emphasis on church committees. I even conducted a research project on church committees. When I left the Baptist Sunday School Board and went back into church ministry, I felt that if I could just get the right number of committees and train them to do their work, the church would definitely experience church growth.

A few years later, the church growth movement began to impact churches. Of course, I began to think that the church I served should become part of that movement. I was motivated by the latest church growth fad.

In 1986, I joined the staff of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. I served as the associate executive director for almost eighteen years. Part of my responsibility was the coordination of all the work and ministries of the convention departments. Our main emphasis during this time was on training pastors, staff, and lay people. If we could just get everyone trained properly, the Kingdom of God would certainly grow exponentially.

Since 2003 when I officially retired, I have been working for the ABSC on a part-time basis. One of my primary assignments has been interim ministry including the Intentional Interim Ministry (IIM). During my part-time job, I led six churches through the IIM process. At that time, I felt these churches would certainly have a great future after going through the process, not because of me but because the process was very intense and has the possibility of preparing a church for their next pastor. I just felt that this process was very helpful. It was an answer for many churches during the interim time.

Somewhere along the years of my ministry, I began to ask questions of myself. What was my motivation for ministry? What was driving me as I worked to help churches? As I analyzed these years of ministry, I suddenly realized I put a lot of trust in programs, organizations, training, and planning. It dawned on me that there was a missing element.

I cannot tell you exactly when it dawned on me that the missing element was developing relationships. It is the most important driving force a leader can have. This involves a leader’s relationship with God and with others. In my ministry at the ABSC, I began to develop relationships with the other workers in the convention. I purposefully would try to know people better – their families, their hopes and aspirations, their needs, their hope for the future and much more. I also began to focus on developing relationships with pastors and other church leaders.

You can have the best programs, the best organization, and the best planning process; but if you do not develop good relationships with other leaders, you will probably not be too successful. Developing good relationships with other leaders takes time. One must make a real commitment to this responsibility.

I really think this is a biblical truth. If you take time to read and study the scripture, you will find the teaching related to “one another.” The basic teaching is “love one another” (John 13:34-35, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:11 and many more).

The other relationship that must be developed is our relationship with God. This is accomplished by being obedient and through one’s prayer life. How I changed in my approach to prayer will be the subject of next month’s article. Stay tuned for more memory lane strolling!

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