I was recently on the phone calling a ministry friend for a partnership effort and he asked me a question out of the blue, “So, what have you learned in the past year or so? What has God been teaching you?”
It caught me off-guard as I have not really been asked that question in a while! I had to think about that for a moment.
In transition for the past 2 years or so in a new ministry setting and as a new Senior Pastor, God has taught me many lessons.
Here are 10 lessons that I have learned as a new pastor in the past several years.
1. Be Known for Being a Lover of God and Lover of People.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39).
I often forget, at the heart of leadership is not what I do, but it is who I am.
When we talk about leadership strategy, we often go to what we can contribute and DO rather than who we ARE. “For the LORD sees not as man sees man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (2 Sam 16:7).
Our hearts truly do matter to God. If our hearts are not set in the right place to love God and love people, the ministry will eventually become all about methods or projects of a giant to-do list task.
For when we are absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8) in heaven, we will not face God and tell Him how many things we have done on earth.
2. Godly Leaders Model What Their Expectations to Others.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1).
I remember becoming a new Senior Pastor and my first thought was, “I wonder what Richie would do if he was in my shoes?” Yes, look to the Word of God and to the way Christ will treat others, but I looked at my mentor who disciplined me before.
In ministry, a lot is caught rather than taught. Godly leaders can model their expectations to others and people begin to follow that pattern naturally.
The longer I am in ministry, I am reminded that leadership is so much more than an organizational chart. For instance, young people do not get excited somehow to fill a position or get a title in church. Volunteers want to make an impact for the kingdom of God!
Therefore, be inspired by servant leadership! Do not be the star of the ministry. Model what Jesus has done by getting down on your knees and wash the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-7).
3. Visionary Leaders Must Continue to Cast Out the Vision.
“Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint.” (Prov 29:18).
Vision is a fancy way of saying, “Where are we going?” People at the heart of it are always looking for direction to follow leaders.
If a pastor leader does not give direction by saying, “This is the way to go! This is who we are as a church” then what will eventually happen is that someone else will lead and cast the vision for you.
Good leaders can give a clear picture of where people are going by vocalizing the vision regularly.
4. Committed Follower of Jesus who Continues to Grow Every Day.
I’ve learned how important this is as a leader. Not because I was in bible college or seminary I was required to read, but more so as a pastor how I must continue to grow as a lifelong learner.
An effective leader always is seeking to grow and learn by asking good questions. Not just to “follow” (Matt 4:19) Him but to be “growing” in Christlikeness (Rom 8:29).
What does that look like? “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his interests but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:3-4). So that ultimately, our attitudes are to be like Christ himself (Phil 2:5).
Ministry is not about building a platform so that people will recognize how great I am. Instead, the ministry is dying to self and becoming a servant. As Jesus himself said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).
5. Courageous Leadership Means Overcoming Discouragement.
I remember going to weekend pastor’s retreats and hearing how pastors struggle with the temptation of quitting on Mondays. That is a real thing. The emotional drain and discouragement of ministry can taunt a pastor and can even destroy one’s ministry.
My first encouragement to young pastors is, “Don’t quit on a Monday” Life in general, it is not wise to make decisions when feeling tired or discouraged.
If you haven’t experienced this already, people will leave your church. This is an inevitability for all pastors, one category that you will experience. It is hard not to take it personally, but one thing I’ve learned in a decade of ministry is this; Stop talking people out of leaving the church. Too often, when people change their minds and stay they will eventually make a much bigger deal afterward and cause more chaos in the church.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1). Isn’t that comforting good news for our souls?
A strong courageous leader must learn to overcome past mistakes and failures in Christ.
6. Effective Leaders are Go-Getters for God’s Glory.
First, if you are feeling a sense of calling to ministry but are lazy? You are not called to pastoral ministry.
“The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns.” (Prov 15:19), “Through sloth, the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks.” (Eccl 10:18), “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess 3:10). As Scripture has made it evident, laziness is a sin.
Now, I understand people speak of “I want to protect myself from ministry burnout” Biblically speaking, yes God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th (Gen 2:1-3). However, God placed Adam in the garden to take care and work. Therefore, work is not evil but is God’s provision and is a good thing!
As Paul Washer said it well, “The Christian ministry is difficult, and we must not be lazy or trite.” Ministry is not for the faint-hearted. We must be go-getters for His glory.
7. Communication is Key to Success in Pastoral Leadership.
“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Cor 5:11). As pastors, we must persuade and communicate effectively with others!
“Here’s the game plan folks!” If I do not communicate what truly matters to the church, their personal preference and opinions will rise to the surface.
“This is what a win looks like!” A successful leader is always leveraging leadership to point to the goal of their existence and communicate with clarity. If not, the leader will simply be just taking out fires and never get to the real purpose they exist for in the first place.
Communication is key with leader-follower relationships. Continue to emphasize the point and repeat it repeatedly.
8. Assessing Always the Most Effective and Efficient Priorities of the Ministry.
For immature people, everything is a 911 and must need immediate attention. Leaders must rise above the occasion and wisely make decisions on behalf of the people.
I am reminded of this truth as a father every day. “Read your Bible” Well, if my children don’t see dad spending time and prioritizing God first in life, they can tell instantaneously that I am living a double life.
This comes with organizational skills as well. When priorities are not set right, you will simply have to wing it. No! Prioritize your priorities and tackle those daily.
If leaders do not learn this principle, ministry will crush your heart. You will find yourself constantly putting oil in the squeaky wheel and never get to the main thing. As the old saying goes, “Keep the main thing the main thing!”
Effective leadership often is the battle of pointing to the values one has set. Priorities of life should dictate the demands of ministry. Not the other way around.
9. Contagious Leaders are Passionate about Soul Winning.
I have seen these over the decade or so of ministry, where the more people get involved in ministry and the business of life where leaders lose their evangelistic zeal for the lost.
“We are passionate about evangelism!” communicating is one thing, living it out is a whole nother thing.
If as a church we want to make much of Jesus, how can we make evangelism a little thing before God? This does not make sense at all!
Be a cheerleader marching into a victory for soul-winning! People need to hear more words of encouragement more in this area. Partner with people in the pew and get into the work of evangelistic outreach! God will cause the growth (1 Cor 3:7).
10. Good Leaders Make Hard Decisions for Healthy Change.
Nobody ever likes to change. Only babies like change! But as leaders, we must make hard decisions.
That means whether a staff position or a volunteer position, you may have to fire people because the person may be in the wrong position and lacks the gifts set to accomplish the task.
I remind young seminarians getting ready for vocational ministry to not overestimate what they can accomplish the 1st year of their ministry. The first year is where you will figure out the lay of the land and feel the temperature of ministry.
No one wants to come in and be simply fighting in a war. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for war and a time for peace.” Else then, you will be experiencing your 1st year of ministry elsewhere!
Now, changes must take place, but you must take time. I often say to be wise, be kind, and to kill them with kindness. As Proverbs says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov 15:9).