Monday, April 02, 2007


I don't do a lot of just personal stuff but will today. This past week-end I had a rare open date in my schedule and was thrilled that it coincided with the fortieth birthday/anniversary of Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth Texas where Mary and I were privilaged to serve as pastor for several years in the late 70's-early 80's. We were invited back to share in the celebration and we had the opportunity to hear Dr. Carroll Marr, the present pastor, preach the morning message. He is one of those rare pastors that is NOT intimidated by former pastors, in fact, uses me to fill his pulpit often when he's on vacation and he knows I'm free. He and his wife are two of the better leaders in any church anywhere.

There was an all afternoon Saturday reception for former staff and members with some pictures, displays and historical items of days past. The church was formed by a merger of two congregations, Westcliff and Evans Ave. Both pastors stayed to serve the newly formed Southcliff with Frank Minton of Evans Ave. serving as Senior Pastor and Frank Moore of Westcliff serving as Co-Pastor. This was, as you can imagine, a very innovative step for that time. It probably wouldn't be a bad idea in certain places today.

Southcliff was then served by Daniel Vestal, who was and to this day is, a very dear friend of mine. I followed Daniel and I was followed by Dr. Hal Brooks who is now with the Lord. Then came Charles Stewart and finally, some nine years ago, Carroll Marr.

I have to say that it was a good bit more fun than I felt it could be. The Sunday morning service was a GREAT celebration of those forty years and Carroll's message was a REAL challenge to make the future just as innovative and risk taking as the past had been. His passage was Matthew 28:19-20 the commission to all of us. It was a unique look at the birth/life/death cycle of not only people but churches. He showed how that decline/death cycle can be turned around to new life and growth when people are willing to be innovative and willing to take risks trusting God's empowerment for the task. Southcliff is already doing that under his leadership and I see nothing but real growth in their future. What a blessing to see.

As I've reflected on the week-end, one comment made to me stands out for this post. One of the ladies there those many years ago and still actively involved, as was/is her husband, said this and I'll try to quote it to get it before you. "The staff [present staff at Southclif] is so unified it reminds us of when you were here and everyone could see how much you guys loved each other and served each other as well as the congregation."

It got me to thinking. Were I to have to choose the biggest blessing of my fifty years of ministry, forty of which were spent in the pastorate, I would say it WAS staff relationships. I'm going to name some people who served with me at Southcliff as an example and, for those left out, know it is only the length of this post that won't permit listing all.

James Robinson, pastor of First Baptist, Durant Oklahoma was a youth minister at Southcliff with me. Dave Clippard, the Executive Director of Missiouri Baptist Convention was with me as Evangelism pastor. Rick Shephard, now with the Florida Baptist Convention, was with me. Ric Hunt, Charles Starnes, Mike Carlisle with NAMB, Jeanette Travis, Tommy Snelen, [who is also with the Lord now] and the list could go on.

Why list people on staff? To make this point. These people are family. These relationships go on today. They are as important to me as my family, because, in a real sense, they are my family. Were I to need them or they me, a phone call/e-mail would be all that is necessary for that need to be met. I remind you, these people have not been with me in a church setting for over twenty-five years.

But in honesty I must admit the greatest pain /disappointment I've faced in all these years of ministry is ALSO staff relationships. I've faced failure with staff that ranges from strife-gendering to adultery and almost everything in between. It is certainly true that a staff cannot lead a fellowship to where they ARE NOT. So it is obvious something happened with some that did not happen with others. Some shared a common bond that, for whatever reason, some others could not/ would not share. What is that common bond?

I boil it down to four attitudes to which a staff must be committed. Those are a positive attitude, a loyal attitude, a servant attitude, and a respectful attitude. It is the willingness to embrace these attitudes and hold each other accountable for them that enabled the relationships of the staff at Southcliff , and other churches we served, that have lasted through the years, to be what they are today. It is those attitudes that the woman was remembering, without being able to articulate them. And I might add, those attitudes are present at Southcliff today as well.

One of my real blessings of ministry today is passing those attitudes along in principle form, with definition, illustration, and biblical foundation, in pastor's conferences, church conferences, staff retreats, and other times. These have always been well received and, it appears at least, a real help in the present day, but the point of this post is, to go back to the place it all came together was a week-end worth celebrating.

Happy birthday Southcliff Baptist Church and many more to come for you and your fine pastor, Dr. Carroll Marr, and the great staff that serves with him there. Thanks for the invitation.



Kevin Bussey said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I am grateful to serve on a staff where we respect one-another. I really appreciate your words to our staff back in Jan.

Thanks for your example to those who follow you.

Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

What a joy that must have been for you and Mary to celebrate with the Southcliff family. I know you relished the opportunity to "recreate some memories" of your time there as Pastor. It is good to hear of you speak fondly concerning James Robinson, Dave Clippard, Charles Starnes, Tommy Snelen, Rick Shepard and Mike Carlisle. All of these folks are special memories to KaJean and I as we reflect back on our time at Southcliff with you as pastor. Actually, Southcliff was the application icing on the cake of our time at seminary. I was not aware that Tommy had gone on to be with the Lord. Mike Carlisle was my field education supervisor. We even came across Al Gilbert in Virginia.

When you speak of your staff at Southcliff I remember my field education times and being allowed to attend your staff meetings. They were enlightening, refreshing and candid times of ministry. The staff today in any ministry must be committed to Christ, competent for the task, and complimentary, not competitive, to each other as your four attitudes state.

I'm glad you were able to revisit the memories that allowed some of us to build on. We have our cherished memories of Southcliff as well. I'm thankful they are more than just memories but rather building blocks of a standard held very high in the name of Jesus.

Thanks Brother Paul,
Steve in San Antonio

P.S. On a different note. Are you and Mary coming to San Antonio in June for the SBC annual gathering? I believe our church here is doing the registration. We plan to attend and hopefully have another reunion with you great folks.

Paul Burleson said...

Kevin and Steve,

Both of you are kind to comment. Kevin, It WAS fun in January, but it takes a pastor with an openness like you have to pull it off. May your tribe increase. Steve, I answered on an e-mail to you. Thanks again, both of you guys.

Guy said...


Never having had the pleasure of meeting you or hearing your messages, I wonder if you would be willing to give a short paragraph (if possible) on what a pastor, new to a church, should do to foster great staff relations? What would be a couple of first things to do?

God bless


Paul Burleson said...


Great question. But one that no few words could adequately address. However, I think I'll try. :)

I can only speak to what I've done in my pastoral ministries. I have not ever assumed I would bring staff with me. I've always believed the people there were there because of Providence. I also think nothing is harder on an existing staff than for new pastoral leadership to be called.

Having said that, there is, of necessity, a need to be together from the gitgo. Amos 3:3 addresses that quite well. We will be walking together for sure, or at least trying to, so some kind of agreement must be worked out.

So I first meet with the staff BEFORE I accept a call and share my philosophy of ministry. I explain that my calling, if it happens, and I accept, will mean the church has acepted that philosophy to some degree. But I let them know that I do not change things quickly or arbitrarily and that the congregation has final word on whether things are going God's way or not. I explain that a part of my philosophy is that I pastor the staff so they can pastor the people assigned to their respective ministries. I will be there FOR them as they are there for the people.

After I arrive on the field I take the staff on a retreat and teach the four attitudes mentioned. I share with them that their personality is theirs' and their uniqunesses are theirs'...but...all of us must share and be committed to those four attitudes.

If after a few months, there is a problem, those four attitudes are the measuring stick for us all. If, for whatever reason, a staff person doesn't believe he/she can embrace or abide by those... It is understood and I help them find a place that matches their gifts, calling and philosophy.

My main concern is that it is never to be a personality thing or an "I'm the boss" thing. It is a "team" thing for me.

This is probably just enough to perhaps cloud the issue but maybe it answers some of your question.

Thanks for asking.


Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

In your comment above you spoke to the congregation having final word on whether things are going God's way or not. In some of the circles I associate with I hear the phrase we are an "elder led church; it is biblical." I have tried hard to get them to clarify this statement and I always seem to leave with a negative taste in my mouth. Would you be so kind to speak to this please or do you have any thoughts on the matter. Thanks much.

Steve in San Antonio

Paul Burleson said...


Unfortunately, many people, generally Elders, have the idea of Elder-led as being Elder-controlled. I do not and I don't believe the scriptures do either.

I have had the privilage of being an Elder in two fellowships. One where I was an Elder but not the teaching Elder. [Pastor/teacher] The other I WAS the Pastor/Teacher and what we called the first among equals.

For me, the Elder is fulfilling a giftedness in the Body that is assigned by the Holy Spirit. His annointing gives an authoritativeness that comes from a godly life and the truth of scriptures. That authority is not inherent in the man nor the office, but because of the Spirit's annointing. He is assigned by the Spirit as is any other person gifted in a ministry to the Body. We need each other, we look to each other in different areas, and we serve each other in our unique area.

Jesus is the Head of the Body and the rest of us have our place/ministry/function in the Body as part of it and are to be seen as under the Lordship of Christ.

If an Elder isn't, there are biblical ways of dealing with him. If one teaches heresy, there are ways of dealing with him too. No one is above the Body speaking about his/her ministry and all is to be done for the edifying of the Body.

Jesus is very jealous, in a godly fashion, for His Bride. No elder, member, minister, should ever have any desire except for the best for the Body. This is all close on the heals of a desire to exalt the Lord and the obeying His Word.

Too little said in too short a statement, but maybe it will help.


Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

Thanks for the clarification and the confirmation for my part especially "no one is above the Body speaking about his/her ministry and all is to be done for the edifying of the Body." It is after all HIS body of believers. We are to handle and treat with care and prayer. Thanks much.


bryan riley said...

What an excellent tribute, Paul. One question/clarification... based on my experience in organizations... many think of loyalty as near blind loyalty to the one leading... in Christian living that is absolutely true but it must be the One leading, Jesus Christ, and never to a single man or woman.

Paul Burleson said...


I'm thinking your reference is to blind loyalty to a Pastor. If that is your question, my comment in answer to Steve Miller above would state where I would fall on that kind of misquided loyalty. Thanks for your comment and my best to your new work. Good to hear from you.