Home Pastors Articles for Pastors Learning to Fight Fires

Learning to Fight Fires

The small group gathered in City Hall sat with anticipation.

Most of us were waiting for what was little more than an agenda item; agenda item number six to be exact. That agenda item recognized bright young men who were to receive probationary appointment as firefighters for the city. One of the young men had been attending our church for a couple of months and it was a joy to see him begin his career. I am quite confident that many of the family and friends gathered to support these men experienced the same joy.

Secretly, I expected something more.

Totally ignorant of the process, I thought a bit more fanfare or pomp would have occurred. I was wrong. The agenda item was read. The candidates were recognized. The vote was taken. Approved. Then, there were smiles all around. The whole process took less than five minutes. I screamed out, “That’s it?!” At least I did in my head. With that, the small group that had gathered in the meeting room quickly made their way to the exit. Their faces showed that they resonated with my bewilderment. Our confusion came from the reality that these men would now make a career out of running toward danger while the rest run in the other direction. Surely they deserved a bit more city-led celebration than this.

In some respect that same thing can be said for pastoral ministry. As pastors, we are often called to approach danger while others are running in the other direction. Here are three things about leadership that pastors can learn from firefighters.

#1—Some fires are really just false alarms.

Pulling up to one of my churches, I saw some members gathered outside. Approaching the door, I was informed that someone thought they smelled gas inside the church. This led to a 911 call. A short time later, the blaring sounds of a fire truck echoed in the distance. Fully dressed firefighters, emergency vehicles and the fire chief descended onto our small church. Taking a quick tour of our building, they checked vents, rooms, meters and the furnace and found nothing. It turned out to be a false alarm. One of the firefighters told me that the small electronic device he was holding in his hand would have definitely signaled him if something was wrong.

As a pastor, you will have many false alarm conversations. Members will demand to speak with you about a pressing issue. You oblige only to find that the issue wasn’t as critical as you thought. This can both help you become adept at gauging false alarms and callous toward those who ring them. Firefighters don’t take chances. If there is a possibility of an emergency, firefighters will at least show up and take a look. Even when you know something in your church might be a false alarm, the people you lead will appreciate the fact that you at least showed up to take a look. They will also be more willing to trust you when real emergencies occur.

#2—Some fires can be contained.

Several western regions of the United States are known for wildfires. Many of these fires burn with such speed and intensity that they cannot be extinguished only contained. One of the methods of containment is creating a control line around the fire. Control lines are areas that don’t have flammable material in them. The idea is to limit the damage created by the fire and increase the ability to extinguish it.

As a leader, you won’t be able to outright extinguish every major issue in your church. Some of your decisions will lead to irritations, discomfort and misunderstandings. Some of your choices might even spark fires. A fire can begin raging, but you can look for the opportunity to build control lines. Personal devotion, quality preaching, visitation and adequately applied administrative skills can act as control lines. These things won’t prevent fires from burning, but they can reduce the amount of time that they do burn.

#3—Some fires aren’t safe to fight.

Generally, firefighters won’t enter a burning building if the structure is unsound. Structurally unsound buildings could collapse at anytime and would put firefighters in even greater danger than they normally experience. Firefighters make their best attempt to fight these fires from the outside. These are scenarios in which the building will be lost and the only hope is to rebuild.

Think about the issues you are currently facing in your church. There are some, if you attempt to face them head on, that could cause more harm than good. Consider if it would be better to use your leadership energies to rebuild after the issue has run its course than to try to fight it from the inside. The fight itself may destroy the church and your leadership. With this in mind, choose your fires wisely.

Take a few moments to assess the state of your church (or churches). Where are the false alarms? What fires can be contained? What fires should you let burn and work on rebuilding afterward?