Young pastors in a denominational system need a certain kind of district superintendent. While a pastor agrees to serve a particular local church, she/he also joins a district of churches. I used to under-value the role of a district superintendent expressing thoughts like, “I don’t need or want a paper-pushing, policy-shaping district superintendent looking over my shoulder” and “a washed up pastor-turned-district superintendent has so little, if anything, to offer a young and energetic pastor like me.” And then I experienced a district superintendent who wore the role with such wisdom, grace and vigor that my mind was forever changed. This DS (district superintendent) provided services that profoundly and directly shaped me and indirectly but significantly impacted the local church I served.
Supplication: The DS faces with St. Paul “daily the pressure of concern for all the churches.” This “pressure” drives the DS to pray for the churches and the pastors under his/her care. The ultimate drive of the DS is to get past the administrative paperwork, policy making, and procedural protocols to a posture of prayer. The bottom line is that DSs who consistently and passionately pray for their pastors, shepherd those pastors well. If you are called to be a pastor to pastors, go ahead and begin to contact those pastors and pray with each of them over the phone.
Support: The DS can be a buffer between the local church pastor and her board. When there is conflict, the DS steps in not to take sides but to build a reconciliatory bridge. The DS celebrates the faithfulness and fruitfulness of the pastor in the presence of the board. If the board is stingy when it comes to compensating the pastor, the DS steps in with the facts like “churches of your size in this region pay their pastor twice as much as you pay yours.” When the pastor experiences some sort of personal crisis, like the death of a loved one, the DS provides the ministry of presence. Pastoral ministry can be lonely and is almost always rigorous. A supportive DS can ameliorate some of the challenges that pastors face.
Strategy: Good DSs are constantly reading, observing and discussing best practices for the local church. They are building a storehouse of strategies to help the local church pastor when needs arise. They are not merely focused on where the church was or even is but where the church is heading. They are able to insightfully analyze the trends in culture that should be adopted and/or confronted. They are resource gatherers whose primary focus is to help the local church pastor lead faithfully and fruitfully. They spend more of their time on vision and strategy then on “administrivia,” though the latter must be done by someone for the sake of efficient stewardship.
Stop-Gap: A stop-gap is an improvised and immediate fix that can suffice until a long-term solution is identified and secured. Most young leaders, or at least this use-to-be young leader, wanted to go from problem to solution without considering some of the incremental steps needed to get there. When the local church is bursting with growth, we think “let’s build a new sanctuary.” A wise district superintendent advises “let’s add a service or two and raise funds to build.” When there is minor conflict the pastor commits with full force to “confront that guy head-on and excommunicate him from the local church,” the DS advises “why don’t you fast and pray past the heat of the moment and then respond with a spirit of reconciliation.” In other words, a DS helps the pastor, at times, get past the latter’s plan A to identify a plan B or C that is more realistic and sustainable.
It may seem odd that someone like me, who has never been a DS, would postulate what it takes to be an excellent DS. The little I know concerning what it takes to serve effectively as a DS comes from observing a DS who served so well. Harry F. Wood, former DS of the Penn-Jersey District of the Wesleyan Church, offered the supplication, support, strategy, and stop-gap I needed as a young pastor serving in his district. I used to think that the best thing a DS could do for a pastor was stay out of her way, until I experienced a DS who embodied the role so valiantly. Thank you, Harry. Thank you, Lord.