11 Things That I Have Learned In 11 Years As Lead Pastor
Every year at this time, I take some time to think about the journey that I have been on as Lead Pastor here at Good News. I became Lead Pastor on January 1st, 2010, so today marks eleven years that I have had the privilege of leading the people here.
One of the things that I often do is think about what I would go back and tell myself about the road ahead. Here are eleven of them. One for each year that I have been leading here.
1. You still don’t feel capable to lead a church.
I remember as the clock rolled around to midnight on January 1st, 2010. I felt he excitement of the unknown opportunities that lay in from of me, but that was quickly overcome by the thought that I really have no idea what I am doing. I felt a burden come over me like I had never experienced before. I finally understood what Paul meant when he talked about the weight of the churches upon him. And just when I think that I have an idea of what it means to lead a church, something comes along to remind me that I still don’t know what I am doing. Thankfully it is the Lord’s church, and He takes responsibility to build it.
2. People are more important than programs.
It’s easy to get caught up in doing the work of leading a church. There are services to lead, activities to plan, and programs to run. All of these things can be good, but not when you neglect the people under your care. The people are what matter most. If we are careful, we can get caught up in the same mess that the Pharisees got caught up in. Jesus had to remind them that Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The same is true of our programs and activities. The point of all of the things that we do is to minister to the people.
3. No one will become a disciple by accident, you have to have a plan to make disciples.
I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to make this evaluation. I just thought if we had our services and classes that disciples would be made naturally. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It took me way too long to evaluate the “product” that our church was producing. We weren’t producing disciples. We were producing religious costumers. If I could go back and change just one thing, it would be to implement a discipleship path on day one. It’s hard for me to think about all of the time and energy that I wasted on things that weren’t producing disciples of Jesus, but there is nothing that I can do about that now. The one thing that I can do is focus on making disciples today.
4. Nothing in your life will cause you more pain than being a pastor.
Pastoring is personal. As a pastor, you get attached to everyone in some way. You pray for people. You weep for them. You give everything that you have to help them in every possible situation that you can think of and you sacrifice a lot to do that. But people are human. That means that they make mistakes and fail just like I do. People turn on you. Friends leave. Family members will forsake you. Some people will literally try to ruin your life. When you love people and open up your heart to them, you make yourself vulnerable. And that means pain. But there is no other way to pastor people than to open your hearts to them. That means being hurt again and again.
5. You cannot spend too much time developing leaders.
This is similar to what I learned about making disciples of Jesus, but more focused. I am only one man. And one man can only do so much. If I want to reach more people, I need to learn to multiply myself. If one person can reach 100 people, I have to have five quality leaders if I want to reach 500. I’ve done my share of mentoring over the years, but if I could start all over again, I would heavily invest my time and energy in developing more leaders.
6. Dream big and then dream bigger.
Unfortunately, I have spent too much time in the realm of what was possible for me and not what is possible for God. Don’t be afraid to pray for and work towards God-sized dreams. God wants people to be reached with the gospel of Jesus. Jesus wants to and promises to build His church. Don’t let a lack of faith and personal effort limit what God can do. Scrap all of those dreams that you have and make them bigger! After all, nothing is impossible with God!
7. Make the hard decisions sooner.
You know the decisions that I’m talking about. That change that really needs to be made. That person that has to be dealt with. That problem that needs to be taken care of. And as much as you wish that they would, none of these things will take care of themselves. You dread the discussions, the fallout, the inevitable exodus, but pushing them off will not make them any easier. So just rip off the band aid and get through it. You will be glad that you took care of things sooner rather than later.
8. You will feel like quitting often.
The burden, the pain, and the busyness add up. People leave. You make mistakes. You get tired. You wonder if you are making a difference. Different things at different times will make you feel like giving up. You are not alone in feeling this way. Moses, Paul, Elijah and others felt like giving up too. God gave them what they needed to continue on, and He will do the same for you.
9. Ministry friends cannot be overestimated.
It took me way too long to find good ministry friends. I’m not like the church leaders in my area, which makes me an outcast here. Ministry can be a lonely place. If you have never led a church, it’s so difficult to understand the ins and outs of the job. Thankfully, my wife and I have found a great group of ministry leaders. If only I had found them sooner, I might have not sunk so low during the lows and had the encouragement to make much needed changes. I am not alone in ministry. I just needed to look a little harder.
10. Follow Jesus, not tradition.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with traditions as long as those traditions aren’t elevated to a place that they don’t belong. But sometimes we lean on tradition instead of on Jesus. Jesus commanded us to follow Him, not church tradition. If a tradition helps us follow Jesus, then great keep it. But if it hinders us from following Jesus, then follow Jesus not tradition.
11. Nothing in life will bring you more joy than being a pastor.
Just as nothing will bring you more pain, nothing will bring you more joy than being a pastor. I have a front row seat to the best times in peoples’ lives. I am often the first one called when someone is expecting a baby, and more often than not I am the first one, besides the parents, to hold a newborn baby. I get to be there for weddings, graduations, and many more of the happiest days that people have. Even greater than that is the spiritual life-change that I am witness to. It is such a thrill to listen in as someone calls out to Jesus for salvation. I get to wade in the water of baptism as people make a commitment to follow Jesus. I get to walk step by step with people who are turning their lives back around for Jesus. There are a lot of hard things about what I have been called to do, But the blessings that I receive far outweigh all of them.
What are the things that you would go back and tell yourself about the journey that you have been on?