By Sam S. Rainer III
Pastor A has a top-ranked podcast, a book deal from a well-known publisher, and 150,000 Twitter followers.
Pastor B is the secretary at the local Rotary Club, is the assistant football coach at the middle school, and recently joined a bowling league.
Both pastors have influence. Both are doing God’s will. Both enjoy their callings.
I will make a bold statement: Pastor B’s local influence is ultimately more vital to church health than Pastor A’s national platform.
I certainly don’t want to diminish the power of national platform. Many church leaders use such influence to the glory of God. I also don’t want to imply that those with a national platform neglect the potential of their local influence. Many church leaders manage both local influence and a national platform. However, I do believe it is more important to consider what you do for those directly in your path, those God has placed in geographic proximity to your ministry.
So, what is the difference between local influence and national prominence? Why would local influence be more essential to your church?
Fame and celebrity initiate change from a distance. National prominence inspires people to move in a certain direction. Indeed, many Christian movements started with a notable person leading the change at a national or global level. But the change is always created from a distance. You don’t know the leader; you’re simply moving with the crowd. Change at the national level is less likely to stick, less likely to have staying power. Many national movements ended up having the life cycle of a fad because they lacked local influence. Change at the local — grassroots — level is more likely to stick because of personal engagement with the leader. The church needs an army of local pastors. The church does not need an army of national platform leaders.
It’s noisier at the national level. More people are competing for the same space and attention. At times, this competition can be downright annoying. I could point out several examples in the evangelical complex, but I’ll be nice. The most prominent example right now is trumpeter Trump and the Republican primaries. There are a lot of horns blaring, and it’s hard to concentrate.
Most people care more about their backyards. Every local church has a global gospel mandate. Additionally, a church that loses her heart for God’s global mission will lose her heart for the local mission. But here’s reality: People pay more attention to their own backyards. It’s why local papers still exist. And it’s why Craigslist is possible. National prominence can create big movements. But local influence is more acute and nuanced. A national leader will never understand the complexities of your neighborhood. But you do, which means you’re the best person to reach your neighbors.
Discipleship must be local. Can someone with a national platform help you become a better disciple? Sure. Can you make a disciple completely detached from the local church? No. Local pastors with local influence are needed more than prominent thought leaders, and these pastors are more essential to the health of local churches.
So, here’s what all this means: You should work harder and longer on your local influence than your national platform. I fear many pastors are pouring too much energy into building quasi-national personal brands than they are understanding the dynamics of relationships within their churches.
Your church is more important than your platform. The bride of Christ will make her way to heaven. Your platform won’t last beyond your obituary.
Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research, a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog.