I’ll never forget the first time I saw Pastor Victor preach.
He finished leading a worship song, put down his guitar, turned to his congregation and said “Who here is responsible for cleaning the church this week?” Everyone looked at him, terrified. “Because when I got here it was a disaster.” No one dared raise their hand, so Pastor Victor began to berate everyone there. I had never seen a pastor talk to his church that way before.
After publicly admonishing his congregation, he picked up his guitar, and started into the next song, praising Jesus.
Throughout the rest of the service, I was in shock. I felt saddened, and worried for Victor and the future of his church.
There are pastors in the world right now who need the gospel as much as anyone else.
But many local, national pastors, like Victor, walk alone. They’re ruled by fear, flogging themselves and others, and leading their churches down a similar path. They don’t have the gospel-centered training and resources to love their people well. And so their churches end up either driving people further away from Christianity or slowly drying up.
That’s why, at Serge, as we think about growing the church around the world, we believe in not only planting new churches, but also providing gospel-centered mentoring and training for pastors of national churches that already exist.
As my wife likes to say, I “re-boot” churches. Because as I come alongside national pastors, and bring them back to the root of Christ’s gospel – the Holy Spirit changes them inwardly – and that is manifested outwardly into a harvest of healthy churches and new disciples.
A pastor’s pain affects the entire church.
There was a woman in Victor’s church who told me she was raised in the church, but she had no friends there. Then she left and went to University where hardly anyone was a Christian, but she began to develop friendships anyway. With hardly any believers in her life, she eventually stopped going to church.
She said the only people who showed her friendship were the people who didn’t know Jesus.
In Chile, stories like this are all too common. One of the biggest heart cries of the church there is to be holy. You can have a pastor struggling in active sin and he will preach a holiness he doesn’t have.
Because of this pressure to seem holy in the church, despite their reality, people in the church didn’t know each other and everyone walked alone in their struggles. But they still went to church because “that’s what Christians do.”
For Pastor Victor, gospel renewal changed everything.
When I first met Victor, he was one of the angriest pastors I’d ever seen. His reputation was “Be careful around Victor, you don’t want to set him off.” He was right and everyone else was wrong. He was duty-bound and always reminding everyone of their obligations.
I felt for him because I’m the same way!
But after coming alongside him for over a year, discipling him, and taking him back to the gospel, bit by bit, Victor began to see that he wasn’t exhibiting Christ’s compassion but instead judged others by their sin. And that he had not been teaching the gospel but instead a type of moralism.
Those things began to break him.
Just 5 months later – on his 10th-year anniversary celebration of pastoring at his church – he stood up in front of his congregation and said, “Why are any of you still here? This has got to be the worst church in town. And I’m convinced I’m the worst pastor. I’ve failed you.”
His congregation was shocked – and amazed.
This confession and humbling began a work in Victor and the congregation that continues to this day. He’s relaxed, loving, generous, and quick to laugh. Very others-focused.
And now, when you walk into his church, there is an air of love and peace. People arrive early to hang with each other. Afterward they hang out for a long while – so long that the pastors have to kick them out because they have to do other things! It’s a beautiful sign that the gospel is changing hearts because they are starting to enter into community and fellowship.
We’re also seeing new people come to church. The wounded, the lost – drawn in by the messages of the gospel and Victor’s willingness to share his own brokenness.
“Before being mentored by [a Serge missionary], my relationship with others was difficult. I thought that being a good Christian meant to obey a mountain of rules – which led me to continually judge others’ lives, blind to my own sins.
I’m certain that ‘Christianity’ has been taught all throughout Chile, but before now, I had never heard the gospel before. And I’m a third generation pastor.” – Pastor Victor
That’s the power of gospel renewal for pastors.
It turns fear into joy, self-righteousness into Jesus-righteousness, and a dry, distrustful church, into a healthy gospel community that leads people to Christ.
And one of the most amazing things is, Pastor Victor is not just teaching at his own church – he is reaching out to two other churches and mentoring other pastors. Without language and cultural barriers, he is uniquely equipped at reaching his own people.
My goal is to equip as many current and next-generation leaders as I can – then get out from behind the wheel – so that they can take this passion for the gospel all over Chile and other parts of the world.
At Serge, we desire to see the church flourishing in places like Chile, Japan, and Ireland – where moralism and a cultural Christian identity have been placed above the gospel.
That’s why we proactively come alongside struggling pastors. Through Serge’s gospel-centered mentoring, discipleship programs, and resources, ministry leaders and believers in the US and around the world are coming spiritually alive.
And as these pastors are transformed, there is a ripple effect to their whole families, congregations, and whole communities.
In order for a pastor to feed the broken and weary around the world – they must have an invitation to the table as well. We must not let them walk alone because God never intended for us to walk alone.