Leading Beyond the Walls: Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched

Leading Beyond the Walls: Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched

by Adam Hamilton

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Good pastoral leadership is not a "by the numbers" proposition. It is a matter of heart and soul, of devoting the whole self to the vision God gives for the congregation in which one serves. Yet neither is it purely intuitive; it requires hard, careful thinking about the directions and details of the path down which God calls. When Adam Hamilton became pastor of


Good pastoral leadership is not a "by the numbers" proposition. It is a matter of heart and soul, of devoting the whole self to the vision God gives for the congregation in which one serves. Yet neither is it purely intuitive; it requires hard, careful thinking about the directions and details of the path down which God calls. When Adam Hamilton became pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, its membership consisted of himself and his family. Ten years later the church averages between five and six thousand worshipers per weekend. Throughout this remarkable period, Hamilton learned many serious lessons about both the broad visions and the specific details of pastoral leadership.

Bringing a depth of analytical skills often lacking in visionary leaders, in this book he goes beyond simply telling the story of Church of the Resurrection. He shares the questions that he learned to ask about the largely unchurched population to which Church of the Resurrection has reached out. Further, he demonstrates what he learned by listening to the answers to these questions, and how doing so has made possible a number of strategically crucial decisions the church has made. One of those crucial decisions was to make more traditional forms of worship and praise the center of the congregation's life. The result is that the example of Church of the Resurrection offers pastors and church leaders (especially those in mainline denominations) the realization that they need not completely change their liturgical and theological identity in order to reach out to the unchurched.

Drawing on his own experience, as well as the detailed research on the characteristics of highly successful congregations he undertook during a sabbatical leave, Hamilton offers pastors and other church leaders solid, substantive thinking on steps that congregations can take to become centers of vibrant outreach and mission.

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Leading Beyond the Walls

Developing Congregations with a Heart for the Unchurched

By Adam Hamilton

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2002 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4267-2305-6


A Biblical Model for Leadership: The Shepherd

The purpose of this book is to encourage effective leadership in the local church, which in turn will develop dynamic congregations. The pastor plays a critical role in the leadership and success of the church, so I will begin by focusing on the heart and mission of the pastor. At the same time I will propose that the calling of pastor goes far beyond one single individual in the church and is, in fact, a calling that belongs to all church leaders, lay and clergy.

I'll begin with a simple question: What is a "pastor"? We know what an auto mechanic is. We understand what a dentist does. But what is a pastor? Interestingly enough the word only appears once in the entire Bible, in Ephesians 4:11 where we read of the five (or four, if pastor and teacher are synonymous terms as some suggest) leadership offices of the early church: "It was [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers" (NIV). While the office is assumed throughout the New Testament, it is nowhere else specifically mentioned by name in the Bible.

The etymology of the word, however, would suggest that the idea behind it runs throughout the Scriptures. The word comes from the Latin, from which our word pasture also comes. It meant "to feed" and was usually applied to one who took care of animals, particularly sheep. And thus its connection to the word shepherd, a word that appears frequently throughout the Bible.

In the Old Testament we learn that God is a shepherd to Israel—tending the Israelite people, providing for them, guiding them, protecting them. But in addition to God's role as the chief shepherd, God appoints and calls certain people to act as shepherds of God's sheep. The concept of leadership was synonymous with shepherding the people of Israel. In Numbers 27:17 we find Joshua being called a "shepherd" as he became Moses' successor. During the period of the judges God considered the tribal leaders shepherds. Later, David himself was called to "shepherd" Israel.

Clearly, shepherd-leaders are important in accomplishing God's purposes in the world, not only in ancient Israel, but to the present day. God can work in amazing ways, but often God's mighty acts are accomplished through leaders, who are willing to act as God's shepherds.

Through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, however, God condemned the "shepherds of Israel" who failed to care for God's people. Ezekiel 34 demonstrates what God expected of the shepherds by reading what they failed to do:

Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd. (34:2-5, emphasis added)

These shepherds were both the rulers of Israel, and priests and prophets. They had all missed the mark. Later God promises that, "I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd" (34:23 NIV). The Gospel writers clearly portray Jesus as fulfilling this prophetic expectation.

Pastors, staff members, and church leaders are among today's shepherds in the church. We are all called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the chief shepherd, who demonstrates to us what shepherding is meant to look like.

Both the heart of Jesus and his ministry are summarized for us in Matthew 9:35-38:

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (emphasis added)

Notice what this passage teaches us about Jesus' ministry: First, he went where the people were and did not wait for them to come to him. Just as he approached Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, or ate in the homes of "sinners," Jesus did not wait for people to come to him. He took the initiative to go to those who were lost. Shepherds go to where the sheep are.

This is a key role of the church leader. We are to develop relationships with sheep, both those in our flock and those who are lost. We are to go to where they live, where they work, where they are. This includes the obvious pastoral calls to the hospitals, visitation in our members' homes when there is a death or a trauma, and follow-up with the unchurched who visit our churches. But it goes beyond this. Church leaders and pastors are to go into the community, getting to know and building relationships with unchurched people and caring for those who are hurting. For some this may mean joining a civic group, or volunteering in the schools, or serving on a board or agency that is not related to the church. For some it will be volunteering in inner-city ministries or working in the prisons. One pastor I know became the captain of the local volunteer fire department. This resulted in ministry opportunities with lost persons that few pastors could even imagine.

Notice in our passage from Matthew 9 that Jesus' ministry involved teaching, preaching, and healing. As we know from reading the Gospels Jesus taught and preached by using stories that nominally religious people would understand. He preached "good news," words of encouragement and hope for people who were oppressed. And he healed broken people, those who were physically, emotionally, and spiritually wounded. Church leaders and pastors are to be about these same ministries today.

Verse 36 is profound in that it notes two characteristics of Jesus' ministry. First, Jesus saw the crowds. He looked at these people and didn't see them simply as masses, or as irritants, but saw them as human beings, as the very reason for his ministry. I have heard pastors say, only half-jokingly, "I would love being a pastor were it not for having to work with people!" I understand the humor and have felt this way myself at times. But Jesus, despite being constantly surrounded by people who each wanted a small piece of him, still looked at these masses and saw them as individual people who were loved by God. The second thing I love about this verse is it reveals the heart of Jesus, for when he saw the people, he had compassion for them, for they were like "sheep without a shepherd."

We frequently have people attend our church who do things that are troubling. Some are rude to our staff. I have received several reports of persons offering certain inappropriate hand gestures as they fight for parking spaces on Sunday morning. Some let their children cry in worship. One Sunday we found a vial of cocaine that had fallen to the floor in one of our rooms. Don't misunderstand, most people don't act this way at our church, but each one who does is a visible reminder that the church is reaching lost people, for lost people act lost! Their lives have not been transformed by Christ yet. But when you demonstrate compassion and care for these sheep, loving them and gently offering them Christ, amazing things can happen. This is the role of biblical shepherds, both pastors and church leaders.

In Luke 15:4-7 Jesus leads us even farther down this path when he tells the parable of the lost sheep. Notice the heart and the actions of the shepherd:

"Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."

The shepherd rejoices at finding the lost sheep! And when he comes home he calls together all of his friends to celebrate! Imagine the church where all of the members celebrate every time another lost sheep comes back to the fold! That is exactly what Jesus tells us is the case in heaven. Once more we discover that shepherds who follow in the footsteps of Jesus are those who have a heart for lost sheep. I've mentioned this already in the passage from Ezekiel, but it runs throughout the ministry of Jesus. As I will note elsewhere in this book, Jesus was quite clear about his ministry when he said in Luke 19:10 (a passage every church leader should have committed to memory), "The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

In John 10 Jesus offers the wonderful discourse in which he tells us he is the "good shepherd." His words paint a picture for us of the difference between a hired hand and a true shepherd,

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep." (vv. 11-15)

At times pastors and church leaders can see themselves as "hired hands" but the true shepherds look at the sheep from God's perspective—we love them, feel responsible for them, seek to protect them, and we will sometimes make significant sacrifices for them. In fact, it is often our acts of sacrificial love on their behalf that inspire the sheep to follow our leadership.

Among the last of the Gospel passages, we read of Peter's reinstatement following Christ's resurrection in John 21. Here Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" When Peter responds in the affirmative, Jesus gives him his commission: "If you love me then feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my lambs" (see vv. 15-17). This passage clearly links our love for Christ to our work as shepherds. Our work in caring for and feeding the sheep is an expression of our love for Christ; our work is an act of worship.

The shepherding role of the church is not simply relegated to the senior pastor, but is shared by all leaders of the church. Senior pastors play a critical role, and this book is written in part for them. But every leader in the church should be seeking to shepherd the flock. Paul the apostle captures this in his final words to the leaders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:28. Here Paul addresses the "overseers" or "elders." These titles were used to describe all of the leaders of this church, not simply the pastor, if indeed they had just one pastor. Note what Paul says to these leaders in Acts 20:28, "Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son" (emphasis added).

Our role, then, as church leaders, is to shepherd God's flock as we seek, in the words of Ezekiel, to "feed the sheep, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed, and seek the lost."

The remainder of this book will seek to offer insights, ideas, and strategies for how you as shepherds can effectively discharge these responsibilities, and in the process, develop local congregations that are alive, dynamic, and able to transform your community and world for Christ.


Three Questions You Must Answer

In 1990 I was sent as a mission pastor to start a new congregation in the south part of the Kansas City metropolitan area. I remember spending the summer before we launched Church of the Resurrection wrestling with three questions:

1. Why do people need Christ?

2. Why do people need the church?

3. Why do they need this particular church?

Without an answer a church will flounder. Without deep conviction about the responses to these questions, a pastor will never lead a congregation to change the world. But when a pastor, a church leader, or a congregation is clear about the answers, and able to inspire others about the answers to these questions, the power of the church begins to be unleashed.

I'd like to take a few moments to consider the answers to these three questions.

Why Do People Need Christ?

Why do people need Christ? This question strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith. Your picture of who Jesus is will determine in large part how you answer this question. The New Testament offers us a multitude of portraits of Jesus that together help us understand his identity. He is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the Good Shepherd, and the Savior who lays down his life for the sins of the world. He is the Resurrected Lord, demonstrating his power over sin and death. He rules and reigns in the hearts of his followers and in God's kingdom eternal. He is the "image of the invisible God," and the Word made flesh. He is the way, the truth, and the life. And these are just a handful of the biblical pictures of the identity of Jesus.

Though you may clearly articulate a biblical Christology, you still cannot answer this question until you consider the human condition. This question is first a question about human need and the human condition. Why do we need what Jesus offers? To answer this question one could spend a lifetime studying sociology and cultural anthropology. Or you can read the newspaper, watch the news, get to know people, and understand yourself. Here's a bit of what you may discover:

The deepest problems facing our society are, at core, spiritual problems. We read of teenagers killing one another and know that a society that produces an increasing number of these kids is in trouble. What is wrong with us and how might Christ be a part of God's solution? We live in a world consumed with possessions; people often go to any lengths to "gain the whole world." How does faith in Christ help people not to lose their souls in such a world? A young gay college student is beaten to death by his fellow students. An epidemic of compulsive gambling follows the wave of new riverboats in town. Racism divides a city. What is the answer? Is it more legislation, tougher laws, more police, or lawyers or judges? Perhaps, but the real solution must address the condition of the human heart; it must break hearts of stone, transform hate into love, and offer healing and deliverance to those who are slaves to ideas, or their upbringing, or their addictions.

Now, here's the conviction that I came to be seized by: Jesus Christ is the solution to the deepest longings of the human heart. He is the answer to the most serious problems that plague our society. When Jesus is Lord and the Holy Spirit enters the heart of the believer, we find the empty places filled, and the dark sides of our soul transformed. We are in the process of becoming "new creatures in Christ." My personal experience is that a relationship with Jesus Christ changes everything in our lives; it makes all of life more rewarding, joy-filled and hope-full.

Why do people need Christ? Because without him we will always be lost and our lives will never realize their God-given potential. He opens the door to a whole new world for us. He enriches every life he touches. He changes the world one person at a time, as his kingdom expands across the globe.

This leads to the second question with which I wrestled:

Why Do People Need the Church?

Why do people need the Church? I have intentionally capitalized Church for I am here speaking of not one specific church but the idea of church—a gathering of Christians who worship, serve, and grow together. It is important to ask this question for there are many in our society who would say that they "believe in" Jesus, they simply do not see the need for "organized religion." They say that they can worship "in my own way" without being connected to a church. In a world where such views are so prevalent, pastors and church leaders must have a fundamental conviction about the absolute necessity of the Church if they are going to lead the Church.


Excerpted from Leading Beyond the Walls by Adam Hamilton. Copyright © 2002 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Adam Hamilton is senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the fastest growing, most highly visible churches in the country. The Church Report named Hamilton’s congregation the most influential mainline church in America, and he preached at the National Prayer Service as part of the presidential inauguration festivities in 2013 and was appointed to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Hamilton is the best-selling and award-winning author of The Call, The Journey, The Way, 24 Hours That Changed the World, John, Revival, Not a Silent Night, Enough, When Christians Get It Wrong, and Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, all published by Abingdon Press. Learn more about Adam Hamilton at AdamHamilton.org.

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