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Gary Burke: why Ministry Advantage matters

by Roger Villeneuve

By Jan Woltmann

It’s a perennial question pastors and church leaders ask themselves: What would happen to this ministry or this church if I got hit by a bus? It’s not intended to be a morbid question; rather it’s a hypothetical one that teases priorities into sharp focus. At least one Canadian MB pastor in rural Alberta can answer with confidence: “I can get hit by a bus tomorrow, and I’m convinced this church is rooted enough to continue in a solid direction.”

Gary Burke is the lead pastor of Linden (Alta.) MB Church, a faith community of 220 people located an hour’s drive northeast of Calgary. Burke has pastored the 82-year-old church for four years. This fall, he and four other pastors from across the country will be the first Canadian MB coaches for Ministry Advantage (MA) – a customized coaching program offered by the Canadian conference that equips pastors to lead more effectively.

Gary Burke

So, why can Burke make such a bold declaration – one that reflects both strength and sustainability? Because MA is helping him develop a church that is increasingly “anchored in a purpose – not a personality or a program.”

That purpose was solidified for the Linden church in 2006, when they engaged in ReFocusing, a Canadian conference revitalization process aimed at promoting church health. The endeavour helped clarify God’s call for the congregation. It built trust, says Burke, and a sense of shared purpose and ownership that “paved the way for the effectiveness of Ministry Advantage.” With the help of MA in 2009/2010, Burke recognized that his primary task was to help the church take next steps to fulfill its discovered purpose and stay focused on its calling.

While this may sound simple and straightforward, it is anything but for most pastors, Burke says.

“I need to be pushed,” he explains, “I don’t naturally think about how to take strategic steps to move the church forward; rather, I’m thinking about this Sunday’s message or the couple I’m counselling this week.”

One of the biggest challenges pastors face, says Burke is prioritizing leadership development:

“we say our mandate is to equip the saints for ministry, but when we get into day-to-day life, we run around doing a lot of ministry and not equipping for ministry. Our job is to lead in a way that can handle growth – not just growth measured by numbers, but growth defined as movement toward the mission.”

What kept Burke on track when faced with these all too familiar and formidable obstacles was a weekly call from his MA coach. In his estimation, this regular connecting point was and is the key to success. It proved to be a very practical, positive way to “keep the big picture stuff on the radar,” he says, and to keep him accountable to systematically move in that direction with the adaptable tools MA provides.

The homework required for his weekly coaching call became the work he presented to his leadership team, and is becoming the framework for training ministry teams. And though some weeks he understood the value of the “homework,” other weeks he was less inspired. During these times, encouragement from his coach reminded him “this work mattered because it was building a culture that was becoming more intentional about following where God leads.”

Which is why Burke opted to be an MA coach this year: it will keep him actively thinking about what he’s learned and applied in his context, instead of putting it on the proverbial back burner. He looks forward to the mutual growth and development that will take place with his future mentee, but most of all, he hopes MA will be a tool that leads pastors where God is calling them to go.

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