7 Surprises Since Becoming a Pastor

senior pastor

I haven’t been a pastor throughout my career. In fact, I spent most of my career to this point in the business world. (I realize that makes me an odd duck in many pastor circles, but it’s actually served me well in my ministry roles.)

Coming into ministry later in life, after being a church member, deacon and Sunday school teacher, has given me a unique perspective. I’ve seen ways the church interacts with the pastor I simply had no idea of before I was a pastor. A few surprises have occurred, probably especially when interacting with other pastors who are now my peers. Thankfully, I’ve been in churches that mostly support me as pastor, but I interact with pastors in caustic church environments everyday. Even so, they are some similarities it seems with all pastors. And some of these, or at least the degree to which they exist, has been surprising.

Here are 7 of the biggest surprises in being a pastor:

People don’t understand the role – The old adage that the pastor only works on Sunday…I’m surprised how many think something similar. They may not think Sunday is the only day the pastor works…some can catch on that the message actually has to be written…but they don’t realize the weight of other responsibilities the pastor deals with on a weekly basis. It really is simply an innocent misunderstanding of what’s involved in the position of pastor. (It may seem a contradiction and yet this next one is equally true.)

Various opinions of how a pastor should pastor – Some think I should be the only speaker the church has. Some think I should make every hospital visit. Some want me to do more administration. Some believe I am the resident counselor. Some think I should know every detail of every ministry and every event on the church’s calendar. You get the idea. As diverse as the people of a church are exists the range of opinions here. Thom Rainer recently wrote an interesting post on this issue and how many hours a week accomplishing expectations would mean a pastor should work. Read it HERE.

People lose their filter when talking to a pastor – It amazes me what people feel comfortable telling a pastor. It is beyond the expected confidentiality issues one expects. It could be criticism of the pastor or gossip about someone else, but many don’t hold back their opinion no matter how harsh it may be. And they don’t clean it up before they present it. I had a pastor tell me recently that one man in his congregation blasts him every Sunday about something in a very hurtful way, yet this man claims to be one of his biggest supporters. The pastorate appears to be a “safe” place to unload raw, gut honesty. Unfortunately, however, I think some people believe the pastor has no feelings or is expected to be “tough enough” to handle the jabs and process the rumors.

The job is never finished – I guess I knew this, but not to the degree I do now. Job security is in the fact that the job is never completed. There is always one more thing I could’ve done when I go home at night. Lives keep falling apart. People keep sinning. Marriages are in trouble. It could be overwhelming, and I could refuse to rest and neglect my family if I wasn’t disciplined, and if I didn’t have a keen awareness that Jesus is ultimately in control. My heart goes out to (and it is part of the motivation of this blog) pastors who haven’t learned or aren’t practicing this discipline or this truth.

Everything isn’t always as seems – People are hurting. Many of those hurts are hidden. You can’t “judge a book by the cover” when it comes to people. There are always two sides to an issue. Everyone has a story and it isn’t always the story you are thinking. Being a pastor has taught me it is unfair to judge people by what you think you know until you know the whole story. I’ve better realized the importance of extending grace before I know, and even if I never know, the full story.

Sunday is coming – Every single week. I never realized how fast the weekend comes around until I became a pastor. Don’t misunderstand…I’m glad it does, it’s my favorite day of the week, but I just never realized how fast it does so until now.

Some people love their pastor – And, I’m so thankful. It’s amazing how supportive and encouraging some people can be. I honestly believe they would do anything for Cheryl and me. Most pastors have people like this in their church. (These are Kingdom-building people!) I know, especially from some of my pastor friends in especially difficult situations, that these type people keep a pastor going some days. If you’re one of those pastor supporting types…on behalf of all pastors…THANK YOU!

Those are a few things I didn’t know, as well as I do now, before entering the pastorate.

Pastors, any you would share?

5 Common Derailments in Ministry Leadership

Man alone

One of the hardest things I do in ministry is interact with those who are no longer in ministry, but wish they were. They’ve been derailed. They messed up and got caught or the guilt got the best of them. In my experience, it usually takes the first of these for the truth to be known.

You should first know that I’m huge on applying grace, but the reality is that we lose good, effective ministry leaders because they begin to make dumb mistakes. From watching this process over the years, there appear to be some common reasons this occurs. My purpose of this post is to expose some of them, hopefully to catch some before its too late. Do any of these apply to you?

Here are the 5 most common derailments in ministry leadership:

Thinking it couldn’t happen to me – It can. It can. It can.

Refusing to listen to others – In my experience, God will attempt to rescue those in jeopardy. Refusing to listen dismisses the voice of God.

Overestimating personal value – Pride goes before the fall.

Underestimating the worth of others – Genuine humility is a protector of character.

The slow fade – It never starts at free fall. Allowing temptation to become little sin and little sin to become big sin. That’s where it always starts.

That’s what I’ve seen. Do you need the warning?

You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. No temptation has seized you except what’s common to man. When tempted, God provides a way out.

Perhaps this post is one way.

I’m praying for you. I’ll even be a safe place if needed, but I’m hopeful you’ll find one. Don’t be a statistic. Be an overcomer of temptation!

The Blindfolding of Experience in Leadership

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Many times, as leaders, we are blindfolded by the experience we have gained over the years.

We assume everyone knows what we know, but we forget what we once didn’t know.

This realization is one of the major fuels of this blog. I feel what I’m writing is elementary in the field of leadership.

But what is elementary to one is high school or even college to others.

I’m not at all saying you can stop learning. That’s a dangerous thing for a leader to ever do. I’m saying to be conscious of the fact that if you are a leader, chances are you’ve learned a few things along the way to getting where you are today.

Remember leader:

You have experiences they don’t have.

You have knowledge they don’t have.

You have information they don’t have.

It may come from experience, training or simply by position.

The key to growing leaders around you is to share what you know. Generously invest in those hungry to learn. Mentor those who are trying to follow you. Be honored they want to know something you know.

Be a people builder.

The more you invest, the more it expands your ability to lead, the more it develops others, and the greater your legacy as a leader will be.

Do You Want a Leader or a Manager?

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I was talking with a board of a Christian nonprofit recently who wanted my help as they begin their new search for an executive director. It’s been a difficult decade of instability and ultimately decline. They want to grow again. They want vibrancy to return to the organization.

They have had several executive directors during the time who haven’t stayed very long. They can’t figure out why the turnover is occurring and why they can’t grow as an organization.

They kept using the term “leader” in describing what they wanted and have tried to find in a new director. They’ve tried to find people who want to lead, because they want to grow again, but they don’t stay long. What’s the problem? What are they doing wrong? That was my baseline question.

I knew I had to discern some the culture in order to answer their original question. After further talks, I don’t know for sure why the previous directors left. There could have been many reasons, but in hearing their vision, what they want in a director, and the culture of the organization, it was easy to diagnose their problem. They were approaching their search process in the wrong direction.

I told them as gently as I knew how:

You don’t want someone to lead. You want someone to manage.

Many times we hire a leader when really we want a manager…and vice-versa. When we do there is always a misfit of culture and expectations.

The truth is they didn’t want an executive director to lead them towards a renewed, even God-given vision. They wanted a person to manage the complicated and man-made operations they currently have in place. I wasn’t trying to be cruel, but to help eliminate future disappointment if they know in advance what they are looking for in a new person.

In any organization, it is important to know the difference. Do you want a leader or a manager?

(By the way, this happens in churches sometimes too by the expectation placed upon the pastor that may or may not fit the pastor’s wiring and experience.)

Leaders lead change.
Managers guide systems.

During our discussion, it became apparent to me that the previous new directors came and were quickly warned by the board or discovered the hard way, what couldn’t be touched. They were handed stacks of policies. They were directed to the path of continuity. And they expected that the organization would grow again if current structures, which have worked previously, were managed well.

That, in my opinion, is the organization’s problem in keeping directors. They did indeed find leaders, but they expected them to be managers.

If you want someone to take what you already have and keep it running. Get a manager. The best you can find. With a pure heart. Good intentions. Great training. Let them go to work maintaining what you currently have. You’ll be happy.

If you want someone to take you to new places, even better places than you’ve been before, find a leader. Let them lead. Get behind them and hold on tight, because it will be a bumpy ride, then you can celebrate the new when it comes.

I am not pretending it will be easy to go the leader route. It won’t be. It will be tense many times. Uncomfortable. Stretching. Maybe even miserable at times. Change is hard. Managing existing is always easier than leading to new. It just makes a difference what you are looking for in the new executive director and if you what type expectations you place upon him or her. And, (this was the harder part of the discussion) you may have to change who you are as an organization, as a board, and what you are willing to do to embrace change, before you find the next director.

It was a hard conversation. Thankfully it ended well. But, they didn’t ask for my management expertise. (That’s limited anyway.) They asked for my leadership advice.

So, my bottom line leadership advice is they will have to change what they are doing (in how they allow a new director to lead) to get what they claim to want.

Have you made the mistake of hiring a leader when you were really looking for a manager?

The Power of One

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I ran my first and only marathon a few years ago. I’ve run lots of halves, but only one full. I hope to do another this fall.

I chose the Huntsville, AL marathon because it was small, flat and low on fanfare. I know some runners who love the interaction with people in a race. That is their motivation. For me, however, running is what fuels this introvert with renewed energy. I run for personal down time, not for fellowship. Races simply give me a goal for which to train and compete.

I wasn’t able to finish my training schedule prior to the race. I had too many interruptions and so I ended up only running 18 miles and my last long run was 6 weeks prior to the marathon. I know how important training is, so I considered dropping out, but decided to push through.

I was great for the first 21 miles, but 22 miles in I hit rock bottom. I had had enough. I wanted to quit.

As I said, there’s little fanfare on this course, so few were cheering on the side of the road. It had been a few miles since I had seen anyone cheering. Everyone running near me was equally struggling. A few chose to quit.

Just past the mile 22 marker, on the sidewalk, stood a young Boy Scout in uniform. I spotted him in the distance. He looked to be about 10 years old. As I approached him…panting…aching…miserable…he ran out into the street towards me, ran with me for a few steps and chanted:

“You can do it! You can do it! Keep going!”

I don’t know what it was about that little boy’s enthusiasm, but it was the charge I needed. I didn’t finish strong, but I finished. I went another 4 miles and crossed the finish line…running!

I had finished my first marathon!

It was a reminder to me that sometimes it just takes one voice. One voice in a crowd. One positive word. One voice that says you can when everything in you and around you says you can’t.

It’s the power of one.

Is there someone you know who could use a little encouragement? You may be the sole voice in a sea of negativity. You may just make the difference. You could turn a bad day into a good one. You could reverse a failure and produce a success.

Be that one in someone’s life today.

Look for opportunities to be the power of one.

Have you ever had the experience where one voice made the difference in your story?

10 Ways to Remain “Favorite” Pastor

Celebrity

I’ve read that leadership expert Peter Drucker once said the hardest jobs in America (not necessarily in order) are President of the United States, university presidents, hospital administrators and pastors. I talk to struggling pastors weekly. Having been in the business and political worlds, and now as a pastor, I definitely know the hardest job I’ve ever done is being a pastor.

Yet every pastor I know wants to do a good job. They want to be successful in their Kingdom building efforts. At the same time, they also want to be liked. No one likes to be unpopular.

I was talking recently with another pastor how hard it is to pastor effectively and make everyone happy. (Actually, he admitted he was a people pleaser and I was telling him how impossible that will be long term.) To illustrate the point in a humorous way, we began to cite examples of ways to keep people happy that triggered this post.

So let me say this is written sarcastically. On purpose. Sometimes it’s easier to say the hard stuff if I say it in a humorous way. (Or at least what I think is funny) And there are some serious issues addressed here that many pastors face. But, after all, I want to be the favorite pastor too, so I’m keeping it lighthearted in my approach.

Here are 10 ways to remain favorite pastor:

Never turn down a social invitation - Sacrifice your family time. It’ll ruin your family dynamic but keep the church happy.

Don’t talk about money – Jesus never did, right? Don’t be meddling.

Never mention sex – Good Christians don’t. They just don’t. They don’t even think about it.

Stick to the sins everyone else is doing – Don’t mention things like gossip or gluttony. Those are too personal.

No challenges please – We don’t want our toes stepped on and definitely don’t want to leave with homework. Or at least give us some homework passes. Please.

Preach “feel good” messages – That hard stuff to hear…who needs it?

Wear the right clothes – Like Jesus did, right?

Don’t buck tradition – Especially the ones that were started by pastor so and so. You know the ones.

Play everyone’s favorite music – Every Sunday. (You miracle worker.)

Don’t lead…just preach - Give us your “best” message every Sunday, but don’t take us anywhere new.

Pastoring is a tough job, but remember, our calling is not to be popular. It’s to be obedient. And, not to a crowd, but to a King.

Ever tried to be a favorite pastor? Do you have any you’d add?

7 Ways to Make Decisions Fast

ideas spinning

There are those moments in leadership when you have to make quick decisions. Decisions which impact others. Decisions that will be hard to reverse. Decisions which you would usually spend days, weeks or months deciding…have to be made now. There is no choice. There are the decisions that you wish you had more time to make, but you don’t. Every leader I know has those moments.

What do you do?

First, my experience is that this is a rare occurrence in leadership. Many times you feel you have to move faster than you real do and my advice is to try not to make quick decisions any more than possible. Proverbs says, “haste makes mistakes” and that’s true. There are times, however, when, as a leader, you simply have to move forward. So, when you do, here are a few ways to make better quick decisions.

7 ways to make decisions fast:

Pray – Sentence prayers work. Ask God His opinion on the matter. He cares about the smallest details of your life. He may be doing something bigger than you can imagine, however, so He may allow you freedom to choose knowing that He will work things for an ultimate good. Ask for His input first though.

Check your boundaries – Hopefully you have certain lines you will not cross. Does this decision cross any of them? If so, wait. If not, you’re freer to move forward.

Take the emotion out of it – Emotional decisions are seldom rational decisions. Do I need to say that again? If you haven’t considered the black and white decision, if there is one, do that first. As much as possible, try to remove your personal agenda and your emotional response from the answering of the question at hand.

Phone a friend – Moments like these are why you need people in your corner who can quickly speak truth into your life. I have a few friends who always take my call. Before I “pull the trigger”, I’m pushing the speed dial.

Pull from past experiences – You may not have made this decision, but you’ve made other decisions in your life. Try to pull in as close a parallel as you can. Glean from your successes and your failures.

Don’t let fear dominate – Fear is always a part of decision making, especially if it involves a risk of any kind. Fear can sometimes be a protector, so don’t ignore it, but don’t let it be the dominate decider either. The hardest and scariest decisions are often the most needed.

Trust your gut – You’ve made good decisions before…haven’t you? Or even if you feel you haven’t, you probably knew the right decision to make, even though you didn’t make it. We have a sense of right and wrong that allows us to know when we are making blatant errors. So, go with the gut that says, “this is the right decision.” Many times you’ll be right.

Those are a few suggestions. Keep in mind, you will make mistakes this way. When you have to make quick decisions, you will get burnt at times. I’m not pretending you won’t. But, there are times where a quick decision is needed. That’s leadership. Don’t shy away from it simply because of the timing.

How do you make good decisions fast?

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed that, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post. (I always note that this post is written about my experiences for people who may currently need it.)

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. That’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize that God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success – Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner struggle – I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ – Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself – The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences that God brings a new opportunity my way. That is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord…Here am I…send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call – After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences? What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

10 Tensions of Every Leader

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Being a leader isn’t easy. There are tensions with every decision a leader makes. I was thinking recently about some of those tensions.

Here are 10 tensions of every leader:

Displaying confidence without being arrogant.

Being inclusive without simply accommodating.

Making bold decisions while building collaboration.

Showing strength while displaying compassion.

Controlling energy towards a vision but allowing individuals to chart their path.

Funding dreams and curtailing needless expenses.

Celebrating victory while not resting on current success.

Honoring history while pushing towards the future.

Creating structure but allowing the freedom to create.

Learning from other leaders but being who you were uniquely wired to be.

Do you have some to add?

10 Things You Can Do Today to Improve as a Leader

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Read the Bible – The Bible is a tremendous resource for leadership development. Jesus is the Master Leader. And there are plenty of other examples of men and women who, unlike Jesus, were sinful people like you and me. Of course, for me it’s THE source of my foundation, but even if you aren’t a follower of Christ you can learn from the leaders in Scripture. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the flaws within every leader either, so you can learn from people who recover from failure.

Read a leadership book – There are many good leadership books to choose from, but if you aren’t sure where to start, choose a John Maxwell book. Any of them. Safe choice every time. You might read THIS POST for some specific books I recommend.

Find a mentor – The best mentors in my life have been people I admire whom I have invited to speak into my life. This has included pastors, business leaders and politicians. I look for character first and then competency in an area in which I want to grow personally. (And, yes, there are politicians who qualify.)

Go to lunch with fellow leaders – I usually have 2 or 3 different groups of leaders I meet with periodically. These are peers. They are at similar places in their career of leadership. Some pastors. Some not. We learn from each other.

Join a civic club – I am not in one, but have attended and spoken to them many times. It’s a great option to put you with other leaders in the community. I have, however, always been active in the community. Most communities have formal leadership programs, often through the chamber of commerce. Ask around. There are leadership principles nearby if we are intentional to seek them.

Ask for input from those you lead – I promise the people you are trying to lead have suggestions. They won’t often share them unless they are given permission. You have to be bold…and humble…enough to ask.

Analyze current conditions – Few leaders stop to see where they are currently. What’s working? What’s not? What needs tweaking? What needs killing?

Reflect on past mistakes – The best teacher is experience. Most likely you’ve had situations in the past that God can use to prepare you for what you are currently facing. Or you’ve watched others make mistakes. Take time to reflect and learn.

Write some goals – It amazes me when I hear leaders who don’t have written goals and objectives they are currently trying to achieve. Writing something puts it in your schema. You are more likely to have the goals at the front of your mind. When that happens you’ll be a walking sponge of new ideas to accomplish them. You will learn as you go because you are living with your current objectives closer to your mind.

Subscribe to a few leadership blogs – People are talking leadership these days. Have you noticed? Participate. Listen. Contribute to the discussion. You’ll learn along the way.

What are some ideas you have to improve as a leader…today?