by Todd Morikawa, Pastor of Kailua Baptist Church in Kailua, Hawaii
Praise the Lord for the doctrine of sanctification. But let’s be honest. If there was one thing about the work of the Spirit that many of us would change if we could it’s this: the speed. Holiness tends to come so slowly. When it comes to the pace of the Holy Spirit in bringing change to our local churches, sometimes it feels like we are watching a glacier.
When Paul says “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), we often assume he speaks of individual sanctification. But of course, he writes to the local church. What’s true for the individual is also true for the church: God promises to complete his good work. This is great comfort for pastors who care to cultivate greater health in their church.
Change hasn’t come quickly at Kailua Baptist where I pastor. But allow me to share two snapshots with you:
2009 | Kailua Baptist is congregational-governed (sort of), committee-led (sort of), with senior pastor and elder-like-deacon leadership (sort of), functional egalitarianism in certain areas of ministry, and only a semi-high view of the pulpit. The biggest issues on people’s minds when I got here: “please bring back the altar call” and “please have us pass the offering plates around again.”
2019 | Kailua Baptist is Reformed, elder-led, with healthy congregational government. Hopefully always reforming for the glory of God.
While it feels like the Holy Spirit still has a long way to move us, here are just a few lessons I have learned over the years, and would encourage every pastor to think about:
Make the gospel the most important thing in your church on any given day.
Paul says it is of first importance (1 Cor 15.3). Make it feel that way. No matter how unhealthy the church is, you want any Christian to be able to walk into a worship service and feel gospel unity with you.
Never make secondary issues seem unimportant.
From church polity to church discipline to complementarianism—anything addressed by Holy Scripture must be taken with utter seriousness. You want to teach the whole counsel of God in such a way that people feel like you think they are in disobedience to Scripture if they really are in disobedience to Scripture.
Be intentionally pragmatic.
Be patient. By God’s grace you can patiently teach Christians to agree with the Bible. That is the pragmatic aspect to pastoral ministry. You can forgo immediate action now to lovingly woo the sheep to adhere to the word of God at some point. It may not all happen in your timing, but trust that the Lord has granted these particular sheep for you to shepherd. The sheep will follow the great Shepherd’s voice. Sow the word now, love your people, watch God’s Word do the work. You can be pragmatic as long as you are intentionally nudging people with the Word.
Pray for like-minded believers to come to your church. When they come, pray with them for change. Ask like-minded pastors and churches to pray for your church. I know for sure God used the prayers of Immanuel Baptist Church to help change Kailua Baptist Church for the good. And tell yourself that every single frustration in your church is an opportunity to pray.
I know that families have left our church over the years because they disagreed with me on certain issues. I would guess half of them would still be here if I had loved them better. I would also guess they might all have called for my job if I had loved them worse. Preach your heart out on Sundays, and then visit all those who oppose your ministry during the week, just to love on them.
Wherever your church is at, you can trust God in two things. First, Jesus says, “the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10.4). Just keep giving them Jesus’s Word, and expect fallout from the unregenerate, expect God to save some of them under your ministry, and expect even the most immature sheep will eventually love the voice of the Shepherd.
And second, you can trust God wants your church to be healthy more than you do. Jesus loves His bride. The Holy Spirit dwells in the church! This is more important to God than it is to you, so He will make good things happen when He sees fit. Be patient — “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD” (Lam. 3:26).