The Hidden Gems of Longevity

Almost 17 years ago I graduated from Bible College with the ambition and dreams that so many new graduates possess. I was ready to take on whatever came my way and change the world in the process. Now over a decade and a half into full-time vocational ministry, I’ve come to learn how unrealistic and ambitious my view of the future was back then. Ambitious not because I worked toward things that were impossible, but ambitious in how I viewed the times and seasons of ministry.

You see, one of the great misconceptions of young leaders, and specifically young pastors is the tendency to overestimate what can be done in the short-term and underestimate what can be done in the long-term. As Bill Gates famously stated: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

As a result of this misunderstanding, along with the continuing blurring of the line between how church leadership and business leadership is viewed, moving from one church to the next is no different than transferring from one business or office to another. But there are hidden gems that a pastor will only discover when they have planted themselves in one place for an extended period of time. And so here are five ministry gems I’ve discovered after 10 years of consistent ministry in one place. I am hoping and fully anticipate that after more decades, my treasure box of gems will only multiply.

Quick results, a big splash or a few powerful sermons can create buzz, and maybe even a little momentum in ministry, but credibility is only earned over time. Why is credibility so important? Because credibility is the sum of time + progress + integrity. Credibility becomes most important through the trying times. When the storms of ministry come, the waves of resistance arise, which they will, credibility is ultimately what leads the ship forward.

I would argue that true, genuine transformation happens most effectively through the avenue of relationships. And the depth of the relationship affects the depth of the change. You can build a relationship in a short period of time, but deep, truly meaningful relationships happen over the span of extended time. Time where you weather the difficult moments and celebrate the good moments. History establishes depth, and depth is only found through longevity. And with that depth God is given the tools He needs to establish generational change that is difficult to see happen in a short window of time.

With years behind a pastor, their voice becomes louder. I don’t mean audibly, but organizationally. This is what makes it so difficult to follow a long-term pastor. You walk in with a voice that could never carry the same weight and clout of the pastor that precedes you, because you don’t have the years behind you. A magnified voice ironically allows you to lead change more effectively. It’s ironic because most pastors walk into a church wanting to change everything early on, but a pastor can lead change way more effectively when years have magnified their voice organizationally.

Sounds a little sci-fi, but it’s true. When a pastor is leading a church toward growth and effectiveness consistently over a period of time, they begin to develop this superhero skill of seeing through circumstances, obstacles and even disappointments. It’s because the years behind them provide a different perspective of momentary setbacks. They are able to still see a bigger picture, even in difficulty, because they’ve lead over a bigger stretch of time.

One of the joys of pastoring is seeing God do the impossible. Seeing God transform that person that everyone else has given up on. The culmination of that transformation is often found in baptism. There is nothing better than getting to celebrate with the person that has committed their life to Christ and now is taking the Biblical step of baptism. But that’s where longevity gives you the opportunity for layered celebrations. You see it is awesome to celebrate a meaningful moment of baptism, but it’s an even great level of fulfillment and celebration when a pastor gets to later perform that person’s wedding. And even later gets to dedicate that couple’s first child. Then one day, gets to baptize that same child. These are the layered celebrations that can never be experienced by a pastor simply ‘passing through’ but are experienced when someone has put roots down and been consistent over an extended period of time.

As I close, if you find yourself early into vocational ministry, maybe on staff at a church, leading a church revitalization or planting a new church, these are all gems I pray you one day get to discover for yourself. They won’t be found this year or next year, but gems you’ll see emerge over decades, not years. So when you are looking at greener pastures or more enticing ministry roles, remember that the gems of longevity are experienced when you bloom where you’re planted, not when you move where you’re wanted. Make the most of the places God puts you, and strive to pastor with a longview of ministry, where you’re committed to plant, water and see God bring the increase.

Leading Change: Listen

A few weeks ago I began walking through the five important steps for leading change.  Here are the five we are walking through (click the links to see the previous posts):

  1. Identify
  2. Listen
  3. Adjust
  4. Roll-Out
  5. Celebrate

This second step to ‘Listen’ is generally the step that most people skip-over and ignore.  Consequently, so many lead good, valuable, potentially beneficial change, but it’s met with resistance, backlash and sometimes fails to be implemented.  Some of that resistance (not all) can be avoided by not just identifying the vision behind the change and the stakeholders most affected, but by also taking the time to listen to what those stakeholders think or feel about the potential change.

When speaking with or communicating with those stakeholders, clearly communicate the what (the change that could be happening) and the why (the vision behind it) with the key stakeholders/users. When communicating hold the desired change loosely. Remember, these are the people that will be most affected, and consequently become the highest priority.  Here’s a short side note on this:  Depending on the impact of change to a stakeholder/user, the closer they are or more affected by the change, the better it is to talk in person.

Once these items are communicated, then sit back and listen to what they have to say. When listening, it is important to focus on:

Their concerns with the change. 

Possible blind spots you have missed.

How this change affects their values, goals and processes.

Keep good records of all the beneficial feedback you receive during this stage because it could become incredibly beneficial in the next step of ‘Adjusting.’  

One final thing I want to mention.  Change by it’s definition means that you’re looking to implement something different than what is.  That means that your key stakeholders may not be fully on board with what you’re looking to change.  Recognize the difference between listening and agreeing.  Listening to feedback does not mean you will agree with or move forward with every suggestion or ounce of feedback you receive.  Filter all that you hear from stakeholders through the grid of your ultimate vision.

Leading Change: Identify

Last week, I shared the five steps to Lead Change and today want to dive into the first step: Identify. Before you will ever see intentional, productive change take place in your organization or church you have to ‘Identify’ what change you are wanting to implement.  In this step it is important to be clear on the what and the why behind it.  In other words, don’t just settle for “I want to update the worship at my church.”  You need be able to answer the ‘why.’  Why is that important?  Why should that happen now?  Not just what, but also why. Once you’ve clearly identified your ‘what’ & ‘why’, you need to now identify a clear timeline for implementation, your ‘when.’  At what point are you hoping to see this change implemented?  Make sure you take into account all four of the steps (I’ll explain those more in future weeks).  The bigger the change, the slower the process will need to be, and the more listening you will need to do.  This timeline doesn’t have to be a fixed number of days or months.  It can be abstract.  The more complex the change, though, the more specific your timeline will need to be. Finally, you should identify ‘who’ the primary stakeholders/users will be.  In other words, who will be most affected by this change?  This usually (not always) has very little to do with a person’s position or title, but individuals that will regularly be using the tool or experiencing the effects of the proposed change.  You can identify your ‘what’, your ‘why’, your ‘when’, but if you neglect the ‘who’ you are guaranteed to experience an uphill battle the entire way toward change.  Remember that every change affects a person.  That doesn’t mean we hold off on change because of people (we’ll get to this more next week), but you should at least identify who is going to be most affected by the change. As a point of discussion:  Which one of these is often most difficult for you to identify?  The What?  The Why?  The When?  or The Who?

Leading Change – The Five Steps

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing a simple process I put together for our staff at Calvary that has helped us in making some significant changes over the last 7 years.  I will dive deeper into each of these steps in future posts, but here are the Five Steps for Leading Change:

  1. Identify
  2. Listen
  3. Adjust
  4. Roll-Out
  5. Celebrate

As a foundation for these five steps, the most important thing a leader can grasp when hoping to lead change in their church or organization is this simple idea:

HOW your organization arrives at change is more important than WHEN your organization experiences the change.

In other words, the journey is more important than the destination.  In the coming weeks, we’ll look at each of these five steps in more depth and how you can begin to put them into practice as you lead those God has entrusted to you.

Four Questions Regarding Community Engagement

I recently did a Breakout Session at a local Church Leadership Conference on the topic of Community Engagement.  Below are some of my notes that I hope will be a good resource for those that are currently leading in a church context!

1. Is your church providing what your community actually needs?

  • It’s one thing to want to bless your community, but you can have the heart to serve and bless your community and actually do neither if you are providing something your community doesn’t actually need…or perceive they need.
  • Are you as a leader or pastor in tune with what your community needs?  This means you need to be in your community, hearing the needs that are present.
    • Being part of community events
    • Being part of community organizations (Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, etc.)
    • Being present on local community social media groups.
  • Evaluation Questions:
    • What does your community complain about the most?
    • What are the barriers that keep your community from becoming something better?
    • Who/What does your community hate or dislike?
    • If resources weren’t a problem, what would your community get excited about?

2. What would happen to your community if your church ceased to exist?

  • Would your community even realize it, outside of a little less traffic in and out of your parking lot on a Sunday?
  • The church has unfortunately relinquished its role in society because we’ve migrated into these little huddles of protection where we strive to not be ‘tainted’ by society.  But the reality is we will never affect our community if we are not in the center of the mess.

Matthew 11:19,

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

  • Evaluation Questions:
    • How is your church pushing your way back into the conversation of your community’s problems?
      • If the end goal of your church is to simply have a service every Sunday, you will never fully impact your community and the words you share every Sunday will be empty and hollow.

3. How are you setting up your church to be able to bless your community?

  • You need to consistently cast vision.
  • Service needs to be modeled from the platform.
  • Be intentional about mobilizing people to serve outside the church.
  • Budget for blessing.
    • Tithe your income toward missions and local projects.
    • Receiving a benevolence offering on Christmas Eve.
  • You will never become what you don’t intentionally plan for.
  • Evaluation Questions:
    • How are you developing a culture of service and generosity within your church?
      • Through your leadership?  Through small groups? Corporately?

4. What do community leaders think about your church?

  • Chances are good that your community leaders are a microcosm of what the rest of your community thinks about your church.
    • The best way to find out the answer to this question is to ask it.
    • Meet up with your community leaders and ask how your church can serve them…what your church could do to better bless the community.
    • Use these opportunities to develop relationships with the leaders in your community.  
  • Change will happen most effectively in the context of relationships.

Leading In Season

In Matthew 9, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the growing Kingdom of God and makes a reference to something that any resident of Western Pennsylvania is very familiar with…knowing the changing seasons.  In some parts of America, the annual seasons are more static.  In this part of the country, though, we have four very distinct seasons.  And because of that, it’s always important to be aware of the season you’re currently in.  After all, you’d look pretty funny trying to shovel snow in August or going swimming in the middle of January.  Instead, when you clearly understand the seasons, you are able to make the most of each season you find yourself in.  You’re able to ski in the winter, and go bike riding in the summer.  While each season has it’s ups and its downs, every season presents its own opportunities.

And with this understanding of seasons, Jesus makes this amazing statement in Matthew 9:37-38:

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”” 

You may have read that verse a million times and most will focus on the importance of going out to reap the harvest, but what if this verse isn’t just about ‘reaping a harvest’…what if it’s really about being aware of your season to lead well? Let me explain.

If you’re at all familiar with farming practices, you would know the harvest only happens during a certain season each year.  In one season you plant, another you water, and then another you finally harvest.  Each season has it’s place and is necessary for the next incoming season.

When you translate this idea to the context of leadership, it’s not just a nice approach to leading, but it becomes pivotal to leading well.  This is because no matter how talented a leader is, no matter how persuasive or charismatic, a leader cannot create a season.  God is the one that establishes the seasons, and he has created leaders to guide others toward maximizing each season.  Just as a farmer doesn’t fight the seasons, but responds to the season, so a leader shouldn’t fight the season they’re in, but respond accordingly.  Thus, in a season of harvest, leaders reap the harvest, in a season of planting, they prepare the fields to plant well.

This is why a leader’s prayer life and ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit isn’t just a good idea, but it is crucial to leading well.  A leader leads at their best when they grasp the season God has them in and the season God is leading them toward.  When a leader can identify their season, they can properly lead their team, equip their team, and make the most of each season God leads them into.

You see, seasons are not isolated periods of time, but every season builds upon the previous season.  The winter is crucial to kill off weeds and underbrush to prepare the way for the new growth of spring.  The summer is key to the growth of plant life that leads toward an abundant fall harvest.  Each season a leader leads others through effectively than prepares them for a prosperous following season.  So with all of that said, here’s the big idea:

A leader’s greatest role is to identify the season God has them in, and to lead others effectively through it.


Leave it All On the Field

Growing up playing sports, there’s a statement that coaches will often make to their teams when it’s all on the line…at the end of the game when something big is at stake, they’ll often challenge their team to “Leave it all on the field.”  In saying this, they’re really saying, hold nothing back, give your all, go all in.  It’s a great challenge, because the reality is once the game is over, you can’t go back and change the outcome.  It’s finished.  Once you walk off that field, the score is set and there’s no going back.

Today, I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a woman from our church that has actually been part of Calvary from the beginning.  She was the wife of our founding pastor, and over the course of the last 43 years, she has impacted the lives of countless hundreds, if not thousands.  As I was preparing for this special service, it got me thinking.  How often, in life and in ministry, do we hold back in order to keep something ‘left in the tank’?  I know it can sometimes be so easy to simply coast to the finish.  But, I want to be a leader that bucks that trend.  I want to be one that leaves it all on the field.  I want to be that person that at my funeral others can say I held nothing back…I left nothing in the tank, but left it all on the field.  I gave my all to my family, and to the ministry God calls me to.  It may not be a championship game on the line, but it is someone’s life…it is the life of your son or daughter, or the life of that hurting person that walks through the doors just before you’re about to grab lunch with someone.  As leaders, it’s time we leave it all on the field.  It’s time we hold nothing back.  Our world is in desperate need of parents and leaders that hold nothing back.  That give 110%, not for the recognition, but for the impact their able to make in another’s life.

And the really cool thing is, when we leave it all on the field, God picks up what we have given, and not only blesses it, but multiplies it exponentially.  One life becomes two, two becomes four, and so on.  You have the opportunity to impact countless numbers of lifves, but it won’t happen by holding back…you have to leave it all on the field.

The How and Not Just What

As a church, we are passionate about Leading people into an overflowing life with Christ.  Our desire isn’t that we simply tell people about Jesus, but that we take people along on our own spiritual journey toward Christ.  It’s not simply what we say, but it’s also what we do.  This applies beyond just sharing our faith, but also how we lead others.

You see, how you lead, not just what you say, will lead people to Jesus.  As leaders, we can oftentimes have a lot to say.  From vision casting, to email updates, to simply our conversations with those we are leading.  And communication is key to leading others, but what if not just what we said, but how we led pointing people to the Savior of the world?  This is actually what Jesus himself said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   In the context of leadership that means, how you lead, not just what you say. 

How you lead will either magnify or mute what you’re saying.  If your words contradict your approach, your words lose all value and volume in someone’s life.  You can tell those you’re leading they are valuable to you, but if you treat them like they’re expendable, your words won’t mean very much.

On the other hand, the leader that truly does care about those they’re leading, not just in words, but also in their actions is making a statement to their team that speaks volumes.  That because leadership isn’t just about what you’re saying, but how you’re leading.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself about how you’re leading a team:

  • Do your words back up your actions, or do they contradict one another?
  • How are your actions, not just your words, leading your team to Jesus?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to align both what you say and how you’re leading?

Stop Managing and Start Leading

There has a lot that’s been written about the difference between leading people and managing people.  While there can be necessary expressions of both in any leadership role, I believe when it comes to leading as a follower of Christ, one should be far more common than the other.  And when it comes to leading within the church, one is crucial, while the other could be terminal for any church.  You see, God hasn’t called us to manage people toward Christ, but to lead them toward Christ.  So what’s the big difference?  Relationships.

When we take the approach to lead people, as opposed to manage them, we communicate that they have value as a person, not just a cog in a wheel.  Leading people puts the priority on the relationship, while managing them puts the priority on the task.  That doesn’t mean the task isn’t important, but the relationship is more important.  God didn’t call us to be pastors/leaders to accomplish more tasks, but to reach more people.

Within the context of church leadership, it is a tragedy when we undermine the greatest vehicle of change God has given us, relationships, just to accomplish a task.  What if we could slow down, step back from our long list of tasks, and get our priorities straight?  What if we started to recognize people not as a means to an end, but the end itself?  The reality is we could accomplish far more if we were willing to invest in the relationships around us, instead the responsibilities we can delegate.  This week, rather than trying to be more efficient or accomplishing more (which can both be important in context), try valuing the people around you more.  Stop managing and start leading.



Now & Later

The older I’ve gotten and the longer I’ve been in leadership roles, the more I’ve started to realize this tension that exists in any decision or direction I’m leading.  The tension is between what I’d like to see now vs. what I’d like to see later.

The younger I was, the more I seemed to give into the pressure to see the results of my actions “Now.”  But as I’ve matured, I’ve learned this invaluable lesson:  If you can be patient in the now, you can get a far better result later.

This isn’t an excuse for laziness by any means, but it’s deferring the ‘reward’ so to speak to see something happen that couldn’t happen in this instant.  Maybe for you, it’s putting in the long hours on a project to see the results later.  Or with your diet, it might be giving up that sweet treat now, so you can be healthier later.

In a very fast paced culture, the pressure can easily push us to want instant results.  But the reality is, an instant result will never bring the quality of results that a consistent, long-range effort brings.  Whatever you’re working on, leading others toward, or hoping to accomplish, be patient in the now, so you can see a far better result later.


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