I have been a lead pastor for ten years. The church I planted, The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN, turns ten years old this January. I started at twenty-five years old. I had a few undergraduate college credits and less than a few years ministry experience. I had two things going for me:
- A hunger and love for Jesus I wanted others to experience and
- enough naiveté to believe I could plant a church God might use to further His glory and ransom His people.
In our ten years, we have planted two campuses we eventually launched as autonomous churches. We reach over 800 unique people per month. God has blessed our church, and by His sheer grace, has developed us into a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, and mixed socioeconomic church that is making a difference in our community.
However, there are many lessons I have learned over the years I wish I could have grasped sooner. I could make a longer list, but these rise to the top, and I pray they will help you too.
1. Leadership Is Indispensable
When I felt called into full-time ministry, my heart was quickened by thoughts of preparing sermons, discipling people, seeing lost people meet Jesus, baptizing new converts, reconciling marriages, seeing light bulbs turn on as the gospel became real and beautiful to people. However, I have learned over the years that if I want to see those things happen, and frequently, how I lead is vital. Leadership is the often forgotten, rarely taught element that foils most pastors’ dreams of ministry fruitfulness. Our seminaries rarely address it. Many tribes within the subculture of Christianity mock it. But as John Maxwell says, and I believe to be true, “everything rises and falls on leadership.” This includes your ministry.
My conviction as a pastor: every local church deserves to be well fed and well led. As a pastor, I recognize that leadership is indispensable to my work. I must cast vision, set goals, develop leaders and teams, create strategy for accomplishing our goals, conduct meetings that get things done, equip and delegate, and foresee obstacles and help us overcome them. Without good leadership, the church will spin its wheels, lack direction and focus, and not reach its full redemptive potential. So lead, and let your conviction for leadership’s importance grow.
2. You’re Going to Make Mistakes
We know this in our minds, but we deny it in our hearts. We fear making mistakes, which often paralyzes us from stepping out in faith. We fear being seen as a failure, so we quiver at the idea of making a mistake. Pastor, you are not perfect. Regardless of the planning and preparation you put into something, it may not work. You can plan an event nobody shows up for. You may preach a sermon no one responds to. You may handle criticism by going on the defensive or attack. Mistakes happen. Do not let mistakes paralyze you with fear. Do not let mistakes steal your joy and motivation to fulfill your calling. Do not let mistakes define you. Acknowledge your mistakes and drive forward.
3. Never Stop Growing
This one grows out of the previous two points. Too many pastors see finishing school or seminary as the finish line for learning. It is not. We should never stop growing. A regular part of our weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual schedule needs to have intentional growth opportunities planned.
Read and/or listen to something weekly. This can include books, podcasts, or blog posts. On a monthly basis, try to link up with a pastor or mentor, even if by phone. These conversations help us to keep learning. Quarterly opportunities could include visiting another church to learn from the staff or pastor. For annual learning, attend a conference or retreat to grow as a man, pastor, and leader. The speed of the leader is the speed of the team. If you are growing, so will your team, and so will your church. Build these routines into your schedule and calendar as non-negotiable.
4. Be Yourself
This lesson is so important. We have to learn to be who God created us to be. It is not honoring to God, good for my people, or true to myself to attempt to be John Piper, Bill Hybels, Matt Chandler, Andy Stanley, Mark Dever, Pete Wilson, or Perry Noble. I am not those guys. While there are things about each of them I appreciate and would love to developed in myself, I must avoid copying them.
Early in ministry, because I was eager to “do well,” I sought to emulate men like I mentioned. But over time, I have learned the greatest way to be successful is to be who God has wired and gifted me to be. Unashamed and unapologetic.
5. The Local Church Truly Is the Hope of the World
Charles Spurgeon’s most popular sermon at conferences was entitled “The Church: The World’s Hope.” The longer I pastor, and the more tragedy, sin, and hurt I see, the larger my conviction grows that without the local church and the gospel she carries, this world has no hope. Local churches carry the only message that can reconcile sinful man to a holy God. There isn’t a business or widget being sold that can do that. If the church doesn’t fulfill our mission, nobody can do it for us. If we are saddened by the moral decay of our society, we change it not by politics, but by gospel transformation. This happens as the church fulfills her calling. The local church truly is the hope of the world.
Those are my top five lessons in the last ten years of pastoral ministry. I pray they can inspire and encourage you. In the comments section, share your thoughts on my list and provide some of the lessons you have learned.