I was assigned this 27-year old text for a DMin class for two reasons; because it’s a good book, and because it was written long enough ago so that I can appreciate that some challenges are perennial. It was written by James Means, a long-time faculty member at Denver Seminary. Here’s the back cover, which explains what the book is all about:
This is a good book. Means rigorously organizes all his chapters with detailed headings and sub-headings. Indeed, one gets the impression the book began life as a series of bullet-pointed lecture notes tucked into a battered portfolio. The advantage is superior organization. The downside is a relentless series of hammer blows that smite the poor pastor with his own inadequacies. Each sub-heading brings a fresh swing of a nail-studded 2×4 to the head.
At the end, the pastor might be inspired. But, he may be demoralized and staggering from the cumulative blows of Means’ sub-headings. Some pastors would finish the book ready to quit. What sentient being is equal to the principles herein? Has such a man ever existed?
To be clear, Means wrote an excellent book. Its downfall is that the cumulative weight of “an effective pastor MUST DO THIS” over several chapters is crushing. This is a good book that is best considered a reference work. Or, perhaps the pastor should ration his chapter readings.
However, because I am a bi-vocational pastor with insufficient time to do all I must do in ministry, perhaps I am just grumpy. I generally do not like “how to be a better pastor” books.
Rather than cover each chapter, I will highlight some areas which I think are particularly important.
In his first chapter, “What’s It Going To Take?” Means tackles leadership competence. This, Means argues, is the key to effective ministry. He organizes his discussion around an effective pastor’s character imperatives, then his requisite skills. Here are his character imperatives:
- Personal integrity.
- Spiritual vitality. “Few things are more tragic than pastors who hang onto their credentials and pulpits, but who have long since lost spiritual legitimacy. Such burned-out relics have nothing to offer the people …”
- Common sense. “Clergy who lack common sense rarely succeed at anything worthwhile.”
- Passion for ministry.
Here are the character skills:
- Scriptural expertise. “Pastoral ministry consists chiefly in the diagnosis of spiritual disease and the prescription of biblical directives for cure.”
- Cultural sensitivity. “We must figure out the cultural characteristics of our ministry locale, draft a strategy for the penetration of the community with the gospel, muster resources, and lead churches toward effective ministry in their communities – whatever cultural traits and peculiarities we encounter.”
- Relational aptitude. “The tragic three-years-or-less cycle of pastoral turnover indicates interpersonal bumbling, among other things. Botched relationships about many a promising ministry.”
- Communication skills.
- Leadership ability. “Pastoral leadership includes organizational skills, critical thinking, analysis of problems, strategic envisioning, galvanizing a constituency, and enabling groups to achieve worthwhile objectives.”
Means’ advice is timeless and relevant. His point about cultural sensitivity, which he later terms “culturally informed exegesis,” is especially prescient. I believe this is the most critical part of pastoral leadership; the ability to adapt to the community where you are. The capacity to discard or re-image models to fit your ministry reality; to best connect with the people to whom you are ministering. “The basic categories assumed in the Christian story are no longer taken for granted,” and pastors must understand the culture so they can lead a congregation to reach it effectively.
Do you have a plan to make a plan?
Perhaps the most practical thing a pastor can do is to make a plan; to figure out (1) what Jesus wants a local church to do, (2) what your congregational resources are, (3) what your community is like, and thus (4) how you plan to do what Jesus wants with what you have.
I never saw a pastor model this for me. I did see pastors preach faithfully and love their people. But, I did not see a deliberate plan to do what Jesus wants. Means’ fifth chapter, “Ministry Minus Method Equals Madness,” lays out a plan to do just that. He presents principles for both (1) pastoral philosophy, (2) church philosophy, then (3) presents some models.
This chapter was particularly interesting because the other pastor and I had just formulated our vision for the congregation before I read this book. Means explains, “Competent pastors and successful churches owe their effectiveness largely to their sense of identity: they know why they are, what they stand for, where they are going, and how to get there.”
Here are his reflective questions to help pastors figure out the principles, beliefs, and values they bring to the ministry:
- Relationships. “Wise pastors decide carefully the degree of transparency and intimacy that should characterize their ministry. Sometimes it becomes necessary to struggle vigorously against the natural inclinations of one’s personality.”
- Change. “To what degree should pastors aggressively seek change or preserve the status quo?”
- Preaching-teaching. Means suggests pastors figure out rather quickly what kind of preaching they will do; exposition, encouragement and exhortation, verse-by-verse commentary, people’s needs, contemporary topics, or entertainment? “[C]hurches that stumble along in mediocrity usually have pastors with no discernable philosophy of preaching.” This is a simplistic and shallow observation.
- Role definition. Play to your strengths, and know your weaknesses. Fail to do that “breeds mediocrity, disappointment, and failure.”
- Time Management. “A worthy philosophy of ministry not only clarifies primary and long-range responsibilities, but also dictates how time is managed so that those duties ate fulfilled honorably.”
- Leadership style. “To what degree and on what issues should pastors be autocratic, participatory, or laissez-faire?”
These are good, timeless principles. They are a bit abstract and theoretical because context is a significant factor in each of these propositions. I think the “preaching-teaching” comments are off-base. A pastor must use each style in his pulpit ministry and seek to improve where he is deficient. There should be no one, single model of preaching; even the selection of text will largely determine how you frame the message.
- Declaration of mission. Means suggests churches understand their mission as five-fold, encompassing worship, evangelism, edification, fellowship, and social concern. “Some churches may add or subtract from this list and most churches place a greater emphasis on one or two of these than on the others.” Means offers no justification for the social concern category; an issue I shall address later.
- Adoption of goals. Once you know your mission, you can produce goals to make these missions happen.“Spiritual leaders must exercise care that these basic goals do not become either so general as to be meaningless or so numerous as to be overwhelming and self-defeating. No church can do everything well.”
- Priorities achieved by consensus. “The determination of philosophical priorities flows from decisions about church goals – or ought to.” Means warns, “[a] church sets itself up for disaster when squeaky wheels decide priorities contrary to established church goals.”
- Clear governmental structures. “The particular government structure does not seem to matter as much as does its clarity and functional efficiency.”
- Unanimity of values. Means suggests this is the most difficult aspect of a church philosophy. “Church values are shared beliefs about what is important, good, useful and rewarding.”
- Efficient methodology. This is an awkward umbrella category into which Means stuffs five other criteria, in a manner analogous to the Grinch stuffing the Christmas tree up Little Cindy Lou Who’s chimney.
Interestingly, Means never suggests churches search the scriptures to figure out what a congregation’s mission is. I will discuss that further, below. Rather, he assumes his five-fold mission criteria rather casually. Otherwise, Means lays out an enduring and ageless framework for helping churches implement a mission. The approach is logical and realistic, if again a bit abstract.
Models to consider
Means then briefly presents what this looks like in four different churches. He notes, “Each of these four church philosophies emphasizes one of the missions of the church … an exact balance probably is impossible and perhaps undesirable.”
- Evangelism philosophy
- Fellowship philosophy
- Worship philosophy
- Teaching philosophy
This section is less helpful than it might be, and the labels are simplistic. If a church is not doing evangelism, is it really a church at all? If brotherly love is neglected, but a congregation boasts a stellar teaching ministry, is it still a church? Means cannot answer these questions, because he has not examined what a church is, or its mission. His caveats about the difficulties of a perfect balance are helpful, but not good enough. The models he presents are over-corrections to one mission at the expense of others. There is imbalance here, not balance.
Means understood the state of the church. But, he is disadvantaged because he did not explore the mission of the church from the scriptures at all. The closest he comes is this:
Obviously, the ideological mission (but not the methodological mission) of the church is biblically mandated, though the differing scriptural interpretations of diverse traditions results in significant variations.
The great irony is that, while Means argues against pragmatism, he unwittingly abets it by not presenting a scriptural case for a church’s mission. A pastor with a deficient ecclesiology could fashion his own mission statement (derived from who knows where), then use Means’ principles to design and implement an action plan to confirm him in his flawed mission statement. In short, Means’ book is more an action manual than a theological foundation. It cannot stand on its own without a robust ecclesiology.
John Hammett has observed:
… understanding the doctrine of the church is especially important to contemporary North Americans, because their pragmatic approach to church life, their concern to be relevant to their culture, and their desire to see their churches grow leave them vulnerable to the danger that their churches will be shaped more by those concerns than by the design and of the Lord and of the church. Indeed, how can churches be what God desires them to be if people do not know what he desires them to be?
Means should have devoted a chapter to briefly present a case for a congregation’s core missions, then used that as a springboard to build a philosophy of ministry. This deficit is especially clear by Means’ casual assertion that “social concern” is a mission of the church. He defines this as “action in the community and world to bring about a more equitable and just society.”
Is it a church’s job to accomplish this task? This is not an easy question, which is why a church must first search the scriptures to figure out what its job is. Means adopts a cultural transformation model via-a-vis the church and society, whereas dispensationalism takes what Scott Aniol calls a “sanctificationist” view.
In other words, a traditional dispensationalist philosophy of culture does not understand a church’s role towards culture to be one of cultural redemption the mission Dei, ‘work for the kingdom,’ the ‘cultural mandate,’ or any missiological or eschatological motivation. Rather, dispensationalists view the church’s exclusive mission as one of discipling Christians to live sanctified lives in whatever cultural sphere to which God has called them. This is the extent of the church’s so-called ‘responsibility’ toward culture, and anything more than this threatens to sideline the church’s central mission.
Charles Ryrie agrees. So does Michael Vlach, who notes this issue is really about one’s theology of the kingdom of God. Others are free to adopt the cultural transformation model, of course, but they ought to do so self-consciously. The theological foundation for “mission” is the piece Means misses. And, because he otherwise focuses so much on mission and philosophy of ministry, this is a critical gap.
The great need today is for pastors to consider (1) what their job is, (2) what the church’s mission is, and (3) how to best carry out that mission and make it happen. Means’ book is an excellent guide to that last consideration.
Means’ book is perceptive and well-nigh prophetic. His advice is sound and his forecasts for the future are correct; particularly his chapters titled “It’s a Small (and Scary) World After All” and “Syncretism, Pluralism, Eclecticism: What a Ride!” In short, he understood what was coming. Or, rather, Means understood the perennial dangers the Church always faces. Martin Luther, in the preface to the Small Catechism, exclaims:
Good God, what wretchedness I beheld! The common people … have no knowledge whatever of Christian teaching, and unfortunately many pastors are quite incompetent and unfitted for teaching. Although the people are supposed to be Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments, they live as if they were pigs and irrational beasts, and now that the Gospel has been restored they have mastered the fine art of abusing liberty.
The dates change, but the song remains the same. Means’ foresight about the specific shape the perennial challenges would take in those two chapters was accurate, and are still relevant today.
 “The most compelling requisite in pastoral ministry is not new programs, bigger budgets, superior technology, state-of-the-art buildings, more talent, or better marketing, but leadership authenticity and competence,” (James Means, Effective Pastors for a New Century [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993], 18).
 Ibid, p. 23.
 Ibid, p. 24.
 Ibid, p. 27. This is the classical description of a pastor’s job. In a more recent tome, Harold Senkbeil advocated for the same model. “I would contend that the classical approach to the care of souls is not only the best approach for our conflicted and confused era, but it’s the single best way to address the actual needs of real people in whatever location or generation pastors find themselves,” (The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart [Bellingham: Lexham, 2019; Kindle ed.], KL 1213).
However, Means’ contradicts himself in a later chapter on the pastoral role, and provides a frankly intimidating list of performance expectations: “pastors must be spiritual leaders who model discipleship, oversee the spiritual health of the church, guard and communicate scriptural truth, facilitate vision, strategize locally and globally, and develop congregational synergism and joint ventures to advance Christ’s kingdom,” (Effective Pastors, p. 98).
 Means, Effective Pastors, p. 29.
 Ibid, p. 31.
 Ibid, p. 33.
 Ibid, pp. 164-166.
 Josh Chatraw, Telling a Better Story (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020; Kindle ed.), p. 1.
 What Means calls “congregational identity,” (Effective Pastors, pp. 165-166).
 Ibid, 100.
 Ibid, 104.
 Ibid, pp. 104-105.
 Ibid, p. 105.
 Ibid, p. 106.
 Ibid, p. 108.
 Ibid, p. 109.
 Ibid, p. 110.
 Ibid, p. 111.
 Ibid, p. 112.
 Ibid, p. 119.
 Ibid, p. 107.
 From his ch. 5, “Ministry Minus Method Equals Madness,” (Ibid, pp. 100-121).
 John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005), 11.
 Means, Effective Pastors, p. 108.
 Scott Aniol, “Polishing Brass on a Sinking Ship,” in Journal of Ministry & Theology, Spring 2020 (Vol. 24, No. 1), p. 31.
 “People get sidetracked when they attempt to impose kingdom ethics on the world today without the physical presence of the King. The Christian is responsible to practice church ethics, not kingdom ethics. Church ethics focus on the church; kingdom ethics focus on the world,” (Charles Ryrie, The Christian and Social Responsibility [Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1982], 22.
 “As those who live between the two comings of Jesus the Messiah, the church should avoid two extremes concerning culture and society. The first is acting as if the church has no relationship to these areas. The second is to see the church’s mission as transforming the world before the return and kingdom of Jesus,” (Michael Vlach, He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God [Silverton: Lampion, 2017], 542).
 Theodore Tappert (ed. and trans.), “The Small Catechism,” in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959), 338.