Pastor offers advice on how to make changes in a church

FORT WORTH Having walked through the process of revitalizing a dying church, pastor Garrett Kell offered six principles for leading change in a church during a 9Marks conference in Fort Worth, Aug. 16, designed for pastors in their first five years of ministry. 

Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., said his first word of counsel was to pray. 

“Brothers, do you pray?” Kell asked. “I don’t mean do you pray during your service or do pray over your meal, but I mean do you, in the quiet of your closet, in the solitude of your study, do you ask him who holds the keys of life and death, do you ask him, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do with your church? How do you want me to lead your church? How do you want me to love your church?’”

Because pastors and churches are embroiled in a spiritual battle, they must use spiritual weapons, he said. 

“Prayerless pastoring is a form of unbelieving pride that trades God’s wisdom for our own,” Kell said. “Prayerfulness tempers our ambitions so we don’t run over people or outrun God. Prayer cultivates courage and quiets anxieties as we battle against people’s opinions of us.”

Second, Kell said, pastors must wisely choose which hills are worth dying on. While some are worth dying on immediately, such as gospel issues or what the church believes about God and his Word, others are important but require patience and slow application. 

“Everything we do is important, but not everything is equally important,” he said.

Third, pastors must study the sheep that God has given into their care. Kell urged pastors to ask questions and listen to their church members. While pastors shouldn’t be enslaved to people’s opinions, they should be attentive and willing to apologize when they make a mistake.

“Remember, brothers, that God’s people are not a project,” Kell said. “They’re not just a bunch of people to be manipulated into your little system of what you think a perfect church is going to look like. Rather, they’re the beloved bride purchased with his blood.

“A loving pastor is the most welcomed preacher. How you lead people with love outside the pulpit will warm their hearts toward you when you are in the pulpit. Brothers, lead God’s people toward change with love and instruction.”

Fourth, Kell said, pastors must “teach people toward maturity.” 

“If you want to change something, teach on it over and over and over,” he said, adding, “Let God’s Word do the work; it changes people. … Open the Bible, and show people from the Bible what God’s Word says about his church and about them.”

Fifth, pastors must be willing to consider what God might want to change in them first. 

“There is nothing like leading a church that will expose our idolatries and insecurities,” Kell said. Pastors must walk in repentance and humility as they lead the congregation toward change.

Finally, Kell instructed pastors to pace themselves with perspective. Too many pastors either steamroll church members or leave them behind when working toward change.

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in the short run and underestimate what we can do in the long run,” he said. “Love your people with the long view, and God will change your church.”

To watch a video of Kell’s message or other messages from the 9Marks First Five Years Conference, visit  

Texan Correspondent
Keith Collier
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