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 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.

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.


How Can Good Friday Be Called Good?

In our journey toward Easter, the celebration, the fun, the joy in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, so often we can miss the weight of a day like today…the impact of Christ’s death on what we refer to as Good Friday.

In the first century, as this day happened, it was anything but good. Christ would suffer one of the more gruesome deaths, be ridiculed as a criminal, be treated as less than human, be beaten, and left to die a painful death. And as horrible as this was, it was by no means a surprise. The prophet Isaiah had spoken of this very event thousands of years before.  His words are recorded in Isaiah 53:4-5…

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…”

Christ willingly endured this pain and took this journey toward death, to take what was bad and make it good. He hung upon that cross, moment by moment, pushing himself up time and time again to grasp another quick breath of air, prolonging the inevitable…his eventual death upon that wretched tree.

And the moment would come as Christ breathed his last…the Messiah, the One that claimed to be the very Son of God would no longer have life in his lungs. His physical body hung their limp, no longer possessing the energy and vibrance that characterized Christ’s life on earth. This moment was one of amazing sorrow for his followers…they had put their hopes, their dreams, their desires into his hands, and now he was gone.

Things had been so different with Christ.  He wasn’t like the other religious leaders…he spoke with such authority, he displayed the power of God with such grace. But now he was gone.

Life had become so full, freedom had become so real because of Christ, but now his followers wondered if their lives would drift helplessly back to the way they once were?  It was a tragic moment of sorrow, of questions, of uncertainty. The moment Christ breathed his last was anything but good.

But the cross wasn’t the end that some had suspected, it was simply the beginning. Only hours after Jesus would die upon that wretched cross, the gospel writer, Matthew gives us a glimpse at what would be done with Christ’s now, lifeless body. We read this account in Matthew 27:57-61…

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.”

Joseph was not only a wealthy man, but he was a man of great influence as a member of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin. We read elsewhere that Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, who was also a follower of Christ and member of the Religious Leadership. These two men would proceed to wrap their arms around Christ’s lifeless body, lifting him from the cross that had taken his life, and with such love and care, they took him to the tomb owned by Joseph.  They had to move quickly as dusk was approaching, which would mark the beginning of the Sabbath, a day which no one was permitted to work.

They soon gently laid his body into the recently carved tomb, and wrapped his body in linens placing a mixture of burial spices, myrrh and aloes, upon his body. Standing back in this solemn and lonely grave, they would be the only ones to see the true finality of Christ’s death. He was now wrapped in burial cloths and placed within that tomb…this was the final statement of his death. His body no longer carried life, but was now clothed completely in death. Joseph and Nicodemus would slowly walk from the tomb, sealing it with a boulder…a giant, unmovable stone, further solidifying the death, the loss, the disappointment of Christ’s death.

This was a sad day for the thousands of followers that had watched Christ heal the sick, had heard him teach throughout the country sides, had experienced his compassion as he looked upon the hurting children of that region…their hopes of a new Israel, of a reformed faith, would seemingly die with this man known as Jesus.

For us on the other side of this moment, we forget the pain that Christ’s followers endured for the few days he would lay in that grave.  But every tear that was shed, every sorrowful and reminiscent conversation that would be had, would make what Christ was about to do even that much more powerful.

The Apostle Paul would later write in one of his letters to the church in Rome about a core characteristic of God that was at work in this moment, but was definitely not visible when Joseph and Nicodemus would look upon Christ’s body wrapped in that robe of death.

Paul wrote about how God so often takes what is clearly bad, and somehow transforms it into something overwhelmingly good. For Paul, it may have been a farfetched statement, but it wasn’t simply his words, it was a description of what God had already done and would continue to do.

And these words were not simply for the First Century, but  they ring true for our lives today. You see, we have all had moments when we’ve experienced the final blow of life’s circumstances.

  • When we’ve lost our job, and our family’s only source of income is gone.
  • When that significant other we have loved and were convinced would spend the rest of our lives with, walks out on you.
  • When the words of those closest to you become like daggers cutting straight to your heart.

These are the moments when hope can be lost, when the future can be dim, when everything around us is screaming that our dreams are over.  That the very idea of dreaming and hoping is simply the work of child-like naivety.

These are the moments when life can be described as anything but good. And into moments like these, into moments like Christ’s followers experienced on that dark Friday, Paul’s words become a shining beacon of hope piercing the darkness.

Here’s what Paul would say in regards to what is seemingly hopeless and lost in Romans 8:28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

How can today ever be called good? How can a day be called good when the Savior of the world was murdered by the malicious envy of the religious elite? How can the moment when death has wrapped its tentacles around Christ’s body be called good? It can be called good because it wasn’t the end.

In all things God is working for the good. In your life, that pink slip is not the end. In your family, that devastating news is not the end. In your relationships, that helpless moment is not the end. In your finances, that empty moment of despair is not the end.

You see, the same cloth that was wrapped around Christ’s body would only days later lay beneath his feet as he walked out of that empty tomb, conquering sin, death, and the very grave that held him.

The linen that Joseph and Nicodemus would wrap around Christ’s body may have represented the finality of Christ’s death, but it would only further magnify the impossibility of Christ’s comeback.

Whatever situation or circumstance you might find yourself in today…you may call it bad… you might call it unlucky… you might call it depressing, but the good news is God gets the last word…what you might see as bad or unfortunate, God is working…God is redeeming…in spite of your circumstances God is still working all things. And on a day that we now know as “Good Friday” take heart in the midst of your pain, your sorrow, your struggles, because Good Friday represents the redemption that God can bring even into the most impossible of situations.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Taking the Relational High Road

One of the things that is so amazing about God’s creation is how diverse he has made us all.  Some of us love exercise, others love video games.  Some of us love being around large groups of people, others enjoy their alone time.  God has made us all very different, which makes relationships even more valuable.  Relationships have the ability to enrich your life and to transform it.  At our church, we often say that “Relationships are the vehicle for transformation”, and it’s true.  So much of what happens in ministry, happens through the avenue of relationships.

Now in leadership, and ministry especially, it can become so easy to sometimes forget about the relationship with the people you’re working with.  I have watched far too often as people are seen as nothing more than ‘pawns’ or ‘cogs’ in the giant ministry machine.  We use people to get to our desired end, neglecting the relationship, or basing the relationship solely on productivity.  The tragedy that happens when people become ‘objects’ rather than ‘friends’ is we begin to treat them as such.  This affects both our care for them and our communication with them.

The moment this is never more evident is when things aren’t going your way.  When circumstances aren’t working out in your favor, it can be easy to start seeing those around you as nothing more than ‘objects’ to help you solve your problem.  And when this happens, our relational communication with those people takes a hit.   You see, with a friend you have difficult conversations face-to-face, not via text or email, and especially not on their Facebook wall.  But when a person is just an object to you, face-to-face, relational communication is no longer valuable.  My challenge to you as a leader or ministry leader is this:  Take the relational high road.  Allow those you’re working with, serving and caring for to always be seen through a relational lens.  Treat them with respect.  While you probably won’t agree with everyone, do your very best to honor everyone.  Here are a few tips with this in mind:

  • Have the hard conversations in person, not through digital communication.
  • When you’re leading people, see them as real people, not simply pawns who are there to serve you.
  • Even with your digital communication, don’t simply share info, but make sure you’re also fostering your ongoing relationship.  (“How are you?” and “Thank you very much!” can go a long way.)

Choosing to Compare

When it comes to leadership, playing the comparison game can be dangerous.  I’ve never seen anything good come from comparing what you’re doing, and what God is doing through you, with what someone else is doing in another place.  It usually results in either pride or guilt…neither of which God wants for you.  This is why God has uniquely gifted you and your team to accomplish the unique vision he has for your location, not for somewhere else.  But there is a type of comparison that can actually be really healthy.  The healthy way to compare is when we compare our current selves with our former selves, or our team now with where our team was.

In fact, this type of comparison is what drives progress, improvement and growth.  This is comparing apples with apples, as opposed to apples to oranges.  It’s taking what you have done and holding it up to what you are doing, which gives opportunity to tangibly gauge growth and progress.

In fact, when we don’t take time to compare like this, we can run the risk of stagnating…continuing the ‘same old, same old’ and never developing beyond where we already are.

On the other hand, when we do compare, we’re able to celebrate progress.  And progress is often difficult to notice in our day-to-day activity.  But when we step back we see the growth that has taken place.

Not only that, but when we compare, we’re able to identify areas of needed growth.  There might be areas of weakness that you’ve become oblivious to, but seeing where you are now in comparison to where you’ve been, can oftentimes open your eyes too much needed change.

And the last thing that can happen when we compare, is we’re able to further clarify where we’re going.  If you’re leading your team into mayhem, your trends will show it.  If you’re leading your team to a place of greater growth, the trends will show it.

Comparing can be a dangerous and destructive thing.  But when you compare yourself with yourself, or your team with where your team’s been, it can be a very healthy and rewarding activity, and one that can lead you to an even greater place of growth!

Take sometime right now and compare where you were last year, or where your team was last year.

  • What can you learn from where you’ve come?
  • In what you see, what needs to change today?
  • What can you celebrate, and how can you celebrate it?

What If Revival Wasn’t Necessary?

In the Christian world, we are so often praying for revival.  We pray that God would move in our midst…that God would transform the broken…that God would bring life to that which is dead.  We so often long for revival, even to the point of tears.  Our hearts break for the lost, and our longing is for more of God.  What incredible prayers have been offered in the name of revival!  But what if revival wasn’t necessary?  What if it’s ultimately not what a broken world needs?

What if rather than simply praying for revival and longing for revival, we became the revival?  What if we put our prayers to action?  What if God is wanting to send revival to our communities and to our nation, but he’s just waiting for someone to do something beyond just praying about it and talking about it?

I know these are big questions to ask.  And in asking them I don’t intend to presuppose revival is completely our responsibility, because God is sovereign and moves as He chooses.  But God can only ‘revive’ those willing to be the change, not just wish for the change.  That’s the ultimate purpose of ‘revival’ anyway.  It’s not to simply fill altars with people praying and crying out to God, but to reach those that are far from Him and see their lives miraculously transformed!  

For that transformation to happen, and revival to truly take place in our community, maybe, just maybe, it’s not so much our lack of prayer, but our lack of participation with what God is already doing?  That’s not to diminish the huge importance for every Christ follower to be in prayer for our world.  Instead, let it be a caution to not simply pray for God to change our world, but to step out and be the change our world needs.

That is true revival.  That’s something that no church service or prayer meeting will do.  That’s what Jesus called his followers to thousands of years ago…not, “Pray and I’ll make disciples…” but Go and make disciples…”

And if that’s the case, then maybe our world doesn’t need another ‘revival service’ but it needs you…it needs you carrying the love and hope of Jesus Christ throughout it.  It needs you willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the hurting.  It needs you willing to put feet to your prayers, and love the unlovely.

Let’s stop waiting for the next big revival to reach and change our world, and let’s start being the revival our world so desperately needs.

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