Looking back, Dr. Michael Pawelke believes that his heart for training and equipping leaders came from his experiences in the local church. The current President of Briercrest College and Seminary and this year’s speaker for Ministry Leadership Day with Heritage Theological Seminary, says that he finds himself often reflecting on his sense of call into ministry.
One past experience that he says has shaped the way he leads today was the valuable discipleship he received when he was young from one Sunday School teacher at his local church in Toronto, Ontario. For Pawelke, it was how this teacher took the time to teach him the Scriptures and freely give of his own time to walk with him that continues to form the way he leads and teaches others to lead.
“While he never used the words “disciple” or “reproduction”, this relationship shaped my values and practices such that I have always sought to build into the lives of a handful of others in a more significant way,” explains Pawelke.
He also recalls a time while church planting where he says he hit a wall and began a year of reflection, learning, and healing that brought clarity to his call to “love, lead, feed, and seed” disciples through his ministry.
“It was then that I began to own the responsibility of not only reproducing disciples but also of developing leaders,” says Pawelke. “And, because I love the local church so much, I wanted to produce leaders for the local church and Christ’s kingdom work.”
As he continues to serve and equip leaders in the local church, Pawelke has had the opportunity to walk alongside pastors and church leaders as they face the challenges that have come from the COVID-19 pandemic. He states that this unique time has not only impacted the way leaders shepherd the local church but has also impacted the leaders themselves.
Pawelke says that though he has watched some church leaders creatively serve their people and communities in these times, he has also witnessed leaders respond in a variety of ways that reflect the struggles of leading a church during times of turbulence and crisis.
From the emotional toll of the additional work that is depleting leaders to the preoccupation of working with government restrictions while watching important, routine ministry be displaced – Pawelke says that it has all left church leaders exhausted and discouraged with not much left give to their people at the end of their days.
“This takes different forms and is likely due to a number of factors – inability to gather, difficulty knowing how their flock is doing, challenges in maintaining a sense of community, or fear for the wellbeing of their most vulnerable,” he explains. “Many leaders feel deeply for their people, but simultaneously feel limited in their ability to engage.”
As church leaders continue to serve in light of the pandemic, Pawelke points leaders to the hope for all pastors when they reset their focus on God’s call on the Church and His promises to be faithful through whatever the Church faces.
“The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are paramount. The mission of the Church should come first,” says Pawelke. “We also see from history that Christianity’s message and efficacy transcends politics, culture, and natural disasters.”
“It has worked, and can work in every imaginable political context, during war, in times of famine, and during times of peace. Let’s stay the course.”
As he prepares for Ministry Leadership Day 2021, Pawelke says that he is looking forward to not only teaching fellow leaders, but also the opportunity to connect with people during the question-and-answer times.
“I want to hear from others on what is occupying them. I know the phrase is overused by our political leaders, but we truly are in this together,” he says. “I derive such energy from simply being with other leaders of like passion and like challenges and only wish we were together in person.”