A Three-Legged Stool



By Rev. Tim Massengale

The sharp knock at the door jarred Pastor Mark North from an afternoon nap.  He had been up past 1:00 AM with an emergency hospital visit and then had gotten up for morning prayer with his men’s group.  After some afternoon visitation he had sank wearily down in his easy chair and drifted off to sleep.

Groggily he struggled awake and answered the door.  There stood his very good friend, Elder Vernon Baker, who was also pastor of a neighboring church about fifteen miles away.  Bro. Baker was in his early sixties.  Of all the pastors in his area, Bro. Baker had been the most supportive since Mark had accepted the pastorate of his small, rural church a little over five years ago.

“Bro. Mark,” Bro. Baker said with a slight grin.  “Sorry to drop by without calling first.”  Then he peered closer through the screen door.  “Oh, my, did I wake you?  I’m so sorry!”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Mark replied.  “I needed to get up anyway.”  He glanced at his watch.  “I have to pick up the kids from school soon.  It’s a good thing you woke me.  Another ten minutes they would have been calling.”

“Well, then don’t let me keep you.  I just wanted to drop this off.  I’ve been working on it for a while and felt it was time to share it with you.”  He handed Mark a round disk of light colored wood.  It was highly polished, about a foot in diameter and several inches thick.  The edges were rounded and smooth.  On one side, three large holes had been drilled deep into the wood.

Mark eyed the piece quizzically.  “Uhhh…thanks!  What is it!?”

Bro. Baker grinned broadly.  “You’ll see.  I’ll bring you some more of it tonight after your Bible study.  Can we meet briefly after service?  Privately, in your office?”

“Sure!”  Mark was still quite puzzled.  “Yes … of course.  Tonight…”

Bro. Baker gave a slight nod and was still grinning as he turned and walked briskly back to his car.  Mark stood looking after him, then looked again at the object he held.  It appeared to be solid Oak.  He shrugged and went back into the house to get his keys.  He’d have to hurry or he would be late picking up his son and daughter.


Stool Leg Number One

Later that night, true to his word, Bro. Baker was waiting for him at his office door following service.  The two churches had mid-week Bible study on different nights.  It was not unusual for Bro. Baker to drop in, usually after service had already started, and then take him and his family out to eat afterwards for a time of fellowship.

“Thanks for meeting with me, Mark,” he said.

Mark nodded and motioned him inside to one of his chairs.  Mark removed his suit jacket and hung it over the back of his desk chair.  Opening a small refrigerator under his credenza, he reached for a Diet Coke.

“Thirsty?” he asked.

“No, thanks,” Bro. Baker replied.

Mark popped the top and drank long and deep.  With a sigh he eased down on the sofa and loosened his tie.  They talked briefly about the service and the lesson.  Mark didn’t hurry Bro. Baker.  He knew he would get around to what he wanted when he was ready.  It didn’t take him long.

Reaching into the inside pocket of his suit jacket, Bro. Baker took out a simple tapered dowel rod, about a foot in length, made from the same light Oak wood as the top.  When Mark saw it he instantly responded.

“I thought that was a stool top you gave me.  I noticed that the three holes were drilled at sloping angles.”  Mark got up and picked up the Oak disk that was lying on his desk.  Taking the stool leg, it slipped snuggly into one of the holes.  The end of the leg had a bright chrome cap with a rubber tip.  It looked very well made.  Gripping it, he twisted it into the hole until it reached the bottom.  Only then did he notice that a word had been carefully carved into the stool leg.  The lettering was large, neat and professionally done, running lengthwise up half the length of the dowel.  Mark read it aloud.

“ORGANIZATION.”  He glanced at Bro. Baker.  “It says ‘organization.’

“Yes, I know.  I made this stool just for you.  But I don’t have the router templates to do lettering like that so I took it to a wood shop and had them carve it on the leg.  Hope you like it!” Bro. Baker said.

“Oh, yes!  Thanks!” Mark then paused.  “But I’m guessing you had this made for a reason.  And I am also assuming that there are two more legs to follow.”

“You guessed right,” Bro. Baker said with a grin.  “This is a three-legged stool.  It’s made of good wood.  You can jump up and down on this one.  It’s quite strong.

Mark nodded.  He set the one legged stool upside down on the coffee table.  He knew Bro. Baker. He loved and respected him.  He pastored a great church, one of the largest in the district.

“Mark, you have been here a little over five years.  You have seen some good growth. Your people love and respect you.  When you took the church it ran less than forty.  I noticed on your Sunday School attendance board in the vestibule that you had seventy-seven last Sunday morning.  You are doing a lot of things right!  You are to be commended.”

Mark nodded but said nothing.  He knew Bro. Baker had not come just to pay him a complement.


Building A Ministry Team

“Well, last month you may recall a conversation we had.  You said that you felt the church was struggling; that the church had experienced little or no growth this past year.  I could tell you were getting frustrated.  So I went home and asked the Lord how I could help.  This is what I felt impressed to do.

“I have found in my own ministry that there are three critical keys to successfully building a church.  All three are essential.  Like the legs of a stool, if any of these three are missing, the stool simply will not stand.  Are you following me?”

Mark nodded.  “Absolutely.  And, of course, the first leg is ‘organization.’”

“Exactly.  Mark, you need to start building yourself a good leadership team.  These will be lay leaders from your local church.  You have several now.  You have a Sunday school director.  You have a Youth Director.  Your wife is your Ladies Auxiliary director.  I think you also have an Outreach director, too, don’t you?

“Uhh, I guess.  But we haven’t been doing much there lately.  We used to do some door knocking, but we haven’t done that for a while now.  Interest sort of faded away.”

“Right.  Well, that’s a good start!  But you need to keep going.  I have a list for you to consider.  With your current size and people, you could probably support about ten or twelve ministries in your church.  I have found the following to be essential in my own church.  Perhaps they would work for you, too.”

Bro. Baker took a list from his coat pocket and handed it to Mark.  Mark studied it carefully:  Ladies Auxiliary, Men’s Ministries, New Convert Care, Music, Youth, Prayer and Missions, Sunday School, Home Bible Study, Visitor Follow-up, Outreach, Promotions, and Bus Ministry.

“This is good,” Mark said.  “But I think we do a lot of this now.  Only many of these areas are duties within my current departments.  Right now Outreach is supposed to be doing visitor follow-up, home Bible study, new convert care, door knocking, street evangelism, promotions, and so on.  I just need to get my leader to be more faithful in doing all of it.”

“Exactly,” Bro. Baker cut in.  “But currently it’s not being done — most likely because you have too many major ministries under a single volunteer worker.  A full-time person would be hard pressed to do everything you have just mentioned.  Visitor follow-up is too important to allow anything else to distract from that key responsibility.  Your visitors are your future church. You need to appoint someone to oversee just that ministry alone.  When you see the job description for Visitor Follow-up you will understand why.  It’s a challenging area of ministry.  The same holds true for Home Bible Study and New Convert Care.  They are huge responsibilities.  Mark, your saints are volunteers.  It will be challenging to get them to be faithful in just one single area of ministry.


Training Your Team

“Okay,” Mark replied.  “I see what you mean.  So, I will start praying about who I might ask to oversee each of these ministries.  But I don’t see how this will accomplish a whole lot.  I’m struggling to get the few leaders I now have to be faithful.  If I’m having trouble with the four I have now, how will things improve when I have twelve?”

Bro. Baker leaned forward in earnest.  “Mark, organization is more than just asking someone to accept an area of responsibility.  What we are talking about here is delegation.  For delegation to work, you not only have to ask them, you have to train them.  I have discovered that once I have selected a faithful, dependable person to put over a ministry, and they agree to do it, I must then train them in what to do and how to do it.  You are asking people to do a job they have never done before.  Quick question:  do your current leaders have a well written job description that explains in detail the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of their position?”

“Ahh…no, not really.  We just talked about it at length and they made a few notes.”

“Well, that’s certainly better than nothing.  But a well written job description will detail not only what they are responsible for, but will also give some insights as to how to do that job.  It acknowledges that your outreach director has never been an outreach director before.  So they need some training in order to be a success in their area of ministry.

“So will you loan me a set of your job descriptions?”  Mark asked.

“Glad to!  But you will have to revise them considerably to fit your church.  Job descriptions are a reflection of your priorities.  You will need to make them your own.”

Mark nodded.  “Okay, I’ll do it.  Anything else?


Managing Your Team

“Yes.  And this is my final point for tonight.  Your organization, once you have your leaders selected and trained, must be managed.  Organization is a ‘noun.’  Management is a ‘verb.’  Management is what you do to your organization in order to make it work for you.”

“So what’s involved in management?” Mark asked.

“I have found four simple steps that work well in my church.  First, we have an ‘Annual Planning Retreat.’  This launches our year.  I get away with my leaders and we pray together and brainstorm plans for each ministry for the coming year.  We evaluate each ministry and how it might be improved.  We try new things.  We don’t let the ministry become old and stagnate.  We discuss problems and come up with solutions.  It’s a team effort.  My leaders come back from this weekend all charged up and excited about the coming year.

“I then ask each leader to hand in a ‘Departmental One-Year Plan.’  This is a written outline of the goals and plans for their department for the coming year.  I tell them that I want to know what they are planning to do within their departments for each month of the year.

“We then meet at the church once a month for at least an hour-long ‘Monthly Planning Council.’  At this meeting we look at the One-Year Plans and what is coming up over the next few months.  We do the detailed planning to help each planned activity succeed.  This is where we implement the plans we made at the retreat in a step-by-step fashion.”

“You meet every month with your leaders?” asked Mark.

“Yes,” Bro. Baker said emphatically.  “Every month.  I have found this to be absolutely essential for several reasons.  It unifies us into a ministry team.  It keeps us focused and productive.  Each department gives me a simple written report.  This meeting is as much for motivation as it is for accountability.  I also do leadership training at this meeting.  Of the four elements of the management process, I feel this monthly meeting is the most important of all.

“Finally, I have a ‘Weekly Tag-in’ with my leaders for a few minutes on my Bible study night.  I meet with them for prayer in the prayer room.  Then, about five minutes before service starts, I gather them in a circle and pray with them.  I then ask if they are having any problems with their various assignments that I gave out at the monthly council.  I check off as things are done and offer suggestions if they are struggling in any area.  The entire weekly tag-in takes about three minutes.  But it really helps motivate and improves communication.  You see, these are all volunteers.  They need feedback.  They also need to hear me say, ‘good job!’


Your Turn Now

Mark was busy making notes on the ministry list that Bro. Baker had given him.  He glanced up when the elder pastor paused.  “Good!  I like it!  Keep going!

“No,” Bro. Baker shook his head. “That’s enough for now.  You have one leg on that stool.  It’s an important first step.  I’ll keep in touch with you over the next few months as you start this organizational process.  You will find it takes time.  But six months from you now will hopefully have a great team of leaders in place and then we will add the second leg of this stool.  We’ll take this process one step at a time.”

Mark sat for a moment slowly nodding his head.  “Thank you!” It came out as only a whisper.  He cleared his throat.  “I have been praying for months for some direction.  Thank you!  I am confident that this is the direction that I have been asking God for!”

Bro. Baker stood and they embraced.  The old man smiled and gripped Mark’s shoulder.  “I have faith in you, son.  I will be more than glad to help any way I can.”

With that, he said good-bye.  For now.  Until the next time.