Sometimes I’m ensnared by a subtle trap that lays in wait for the hapless church consultant. When pastors and church leaders pay attention to whatever bit of advice or wisdom I may have to share, I’m lulled into the mistaken notion that I’m the expert.

Recently, and thankfully, I was disabused of this silly notion. I was reminded that I’m a servant. Those I serve are the subject matter experts in their own churches. I just happen to be there to help them focus on a few issues.

Tom, a Children’s Pastor at a large church (not his real name) and I meet often at a local coffee house to chat about his ministry. Ours is an informal mentoring relationship so there’s plenty of give-and-take but he doesn’t hesitate to ask for advice and I don’t hesitate to give it.

Several weeks earlier we had brainstormed a variety of ways to look at a Children’s summer program through “missional eyes.” Tom left that meeting with head spinning and mind going a hundred miles an hour. Our most recent meeting was to discuss his thinking and, if needed, begin working on specific plans.

As Tom unpacked his thoughts, I was reminded once again that we consultants aren’t the experts. The pastors we serve are.

Upon careful reflection (after our previous meeting) Tom realized that “prime time” for the group he wanted to reach wasn’t the summer daylight hours. After listening to the kids he wanted to reach and reflecting back on his previous experience with summer ministries, Tom came to the conclusion that Friday evenings were the optimum for reaching the largest number of kids with the greatest ease. They’re all begging for something to do and someplace to go. Their parents are looking for a safe place for their kids.

The chances of a church consultant realizing this are almost nil. We’re not the “subject matter experts” on the people our clients are trying to reach, so we need to be very careful with the advice we give.

Rather than telling our clients what to do, we are better off helping them learn how to think. Perhaps that’s why my colleague Gordon Penfold says it’s not up to us to tell pastors how to evangelize specific groups. It’s up to us to help pastors think about contextually appropriate evangelism.