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.

The Core of Church Leadership (Part 3)

This is the final post in a series of posts where I have been going through the three main goals of a ministry leader.  You can read the first two posts here and here.  The three items we are looking at are:
  1. Love People.
  2. Lead with Vision.
  3. Live with Excellence.
More often than not in ministry circles, the idea of ‘Living with Excellence’ is understood, but very understated.  What I mean by ‘Living with Excellence’ can be summed up in 1 Timothy 3:2-3, “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach…” As leaders and especially leaders in a church, we are called to not just ‘Love People’, ‘Lead People with Vision’, but our lives should reflect the message we proclaim.  We are called to live lives of holiness, above reproach.  What that means is this:
  • There is NO QUESTION to our character.
  • Our lives become a clear reflection of Christ…this includes our words, actions and attitudes. (Phil 2)
  • We set a high standard that others we lead can see and strive to follow.  (1 Cor 11:1)
Now the problem is, this goes in complete contradiction to our human nature.  Our human nature is not to live according to standards, but according to our desires.  It’s a struggle that we all face…each of our struggles may be different, but as Christians, and especially leaders, we are called to set the pace of holiness.  To live not only godly lives, but ones that are without question.  How do we do this?  Here are a few tips:
  • Practice Accountability – the power of secret sin is in its secrecy.  We don’t need to tell everyone our struggles, but we should tell someone.  Be accountable to a mature believer that you know will ask you the tough questions.
  • Prioritize Your Time with God – our lives will be a direct reflection of the time we spend with our Savior.  The more time, the greater the reflection.  Make your time with God a priority each day.
  • Position Guardrails – Guardrails keep us from going off the cliff on the road and can do the same thing in our lives.  Position guardrails, or safety measures in your life, to protect you from making detrimental decisions or placing yourself in compromising situations.  If you had an issue with pornography, create a guardrail by not going on the internet when you are alone. As a church we have created certain guardrails.  For example, we would not allow a male volunteer to be alone with a female child or teenager.  It’s not that we don’t trust the volunteer, but we want to create a guardrail that keeps us ‘above reproach’.
So who is holding you accountable?  How is your time with God?  What guardrails do you need to put in place for your life, or marriage, or ministry?   

The Core of Church Leadership (Part 1)

Over the next few posts, I wanted to pass along a few items I recently shared with our staff regarding the focus of ministry leadership.  As leaders, and especially ministry leaders, there are so many expectations and responsibilities that can pull for your attention and energy.  But when you look at the core items, there are really three simple things that we need to do to be effective:

  1. Love People
  2. Lead with Vision
  3. Live with Excellence

First, I want to focus on the idea of ‘Loving People’.  There are all kinds of structures and processes we need to have in place to minister at greater capacities and with higher levels of excellence, but when you boil it down to the basics, we exist to love people.  You can have the “Greatest show on Earth” on a Sunday morning or the most thorough discipleship track in the world, but if you forget the priority of loving people, you’ve missed the mark.  In the always stressful world of ministry, our priorities can very easily be sidetracked or hijacked.  Whatever your ministry, no matter how large or how small, remember that ministry is not simply about processes or programs, it’s about people.  Care for people.  Respect people.  Love people.

Christ makes it clear in John 10 that the greatest trademark of His disciples isn’t found in their style. size or necessarily structure, but it is found in their love.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”


So how are you making it a priority to “Love People” in your ministry?  Both those you serve and those that serve with you?

10 Survival Tips from Donald Trump

I came across these ten tips from Donald Trump recently on the Leadership Now blog. Great stuff – enjoy!

    1. Pay attention to national and international news and finance coverage at least several times a day, preferably hourly. In volatile times, vigilance is necessary.
    2. Absorb, assess, and then act. Knowledge without action is impotence.
    3. When a tsunami hits, there’s no time for procrastination. Keep your momentum in tune with the times.
    4. Avoid your comfort zone — it’s probably outdated anyway.
    5. If you’re honest, you should know the questions that should be asked, as well as the answers. That’s probably why there’s so much confusion out there today.
    6. Remember The Blitz. That can put things into perspective. Things may be tough and getting tougher, but we’re not being bombed day in and day out either. If you don’t know what The Blitz is, use your time wisely to study WWII to find out.
    7. Is your life half empty or half full? Half is better than zip. Count your blessings.
    8. Realize that fear is the exact opposite of faith.
    9. Resolve to be bigger than your problems. Who’s the boss?
    10. Don’t negate your own power. Whatever you’ve been dealt, know you can deal with it.

      And I would add one of my own: When the world seems like it’s coming to an end, remember, you know the One that brought about it’s beginning.

      You can read the rest of the post here.

      Outcome-Based Leadership

      Tony Morgan had a great post today on how we lead others.  Here’s a short excerpt:

      I was talking with a friend about a familiar passage of the Bible. It’s called the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Jesus told this story. He told lots of stories. Read it.

      I’ve probably read that passage a hundred times, but this new learning jumped out yesterday. Consider the “master” in the story. His reaction to all three servants is very interesting. When the servant with five talents doubled his money, the master said, “well done.” When the servant with two talents doubled his money, the master said “well done.” The master didn’t hold the servant accountable for how the money was invested. The master held the servants accountable for the results.

      But the master’s response was different for the servant with one talent. That servant just buried the money. In this instance, not only did the master acknowledge the poor outcome, the master also recommended an alternative plan. “You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers.” It was only after identifying a poor outcome that the master was concerned with the execution.

      You can read the rest of the post here.

      In what ways does this affect how you lead?

      The Zoom Button

      Just about any digital camera made today has a zoom function. It allows you to zoom in on a specific detail or zoom out to see the big picture. I wish it was just as simple to do the same thing in leadership. To be honest, one thing I am personally striving to work on is my ability to zoom in and zoom out as a leader.

      This is a vital skill for any leader to develop. There are moments when you have to be zoomed in to see the detail of a situation or event. But you have to just as quickly be able to zoom out and see where that detail fits into the whole. The more responsibility you have as a leader, the more it will be necessary to zoom out. This is often where the leader/pastor of a smaller organization/church can get stuck. They allow themselves to be so involved in every operational detail that they lose the ability to zoom out and see the big picture.

      Vision is a necessity for the growth of any organization and progressive vision is not possible when you’re zoomed in. When you’re zoomed in you become so overwhelmed by the detail that you can’t even comprehend exerting enough energy to progress. It is crucial for every leader to zoom out periodically and see the panoramic view of their organization. This allows them to see where they’ve come from and where they see their organization going.

      How about you – how’s your zoom button?

      Relational Leadership

      A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet with the new student body president at Central Bible College and we were discussing different styles of leadership.  There are those that strong-arm their power onto others and then there are those that lead through relationship.  I tend to do the second and I think it’s actually more effective.  Now there are situations where you need to switch between these, but for the majority of situations, I think leading through relationship is most effective.  Here are some thoughts on this approach to leadership:

      • A leader that builds relationships with those they lead is depositing into a relational account that one day will reap exponential benefits.
      • Building relationships as a leader doesn’t mean you spend hours with everyone you lead – it simply means you present yourself as approachable and relational.
      • The leader that leads simply out of position or title will see those they lead accomplish no more than what is asked of them.  The leader that leads through genuine relationship will see those they lead consistently exceed expectations and go the extra mile.
      • Leadership is biblical.  Leadership is God-inspired. Therefore leadership should reflect the character of God – to be effective, leadership should flow through relationship with genuine love and concern for those you are leading.

      Do you see the benefit of leading relationally rather than positionally?

      Pride & Power

      I have discovered something interesting about leadership. As you lead others there is the human tendency to vear from this path I know is right. This path allows me to gain favor with others. It opens doors of influence. It even allows me the opportunity to fail occasionally but continue leading. This path is the path of humility and authority.  Finding that appropriate balance between these two characteristics can be a challenge, but it’s imperative.

      As a leader it is very easy to allow the accolades or accomplishments to puff you up. Before you know it, rather than having vision for the future, all you see is your huge head! That’s why humility is so important. Humility is defined as “freedom from pride and arrogance”. As a leader we can’t afford to have pride obstruct our view of reality. Find that healthy balance of humility. Don’t be a push-over, but be accurate in your view of who you are as a leader.

      On the other hand, we have authority. If you’ve ever worked with a ‘power-hungry’ co-worker or boss, you know how difficult authority can be. If we overestimate the authority we really have, we run the risk of losing our effectiveness as a leader. Just as we must have an accurate view of who we are as a leader, so we must have an accurate view of our authority as a leader.

      Remember this: Authority is earned. Humility is proven. Continue down that path of humility and authority. As you walk down this path of humility and authority, keeping a healthy balance of both, turn around and you’ll see a mass of people walking stride for stride right behind you.

      Leveraging Your Weaknesses

      When I was a youth pastor one time I decided to try to lead worship in my normal worship leader’s absence. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly David Crowder! I had practiced my guitar and knew the songs, but honestly, it was ugly. I have realized that singing or being musical is not something God has created me to do.

      As a leader, our weaknesses can oftentimes be extremely obvious. In fact, the higher up we get in leadership, the more obvious those weaknesses become. Look at all the Presidential candidates right now – they’re being picked apart. That’s part of leadership. The truth is, we all have weaknesses. There’s not a leader on the planet that doesn’t have some blaring weakness. So what sets certain leaders apart? Leveraging weakness to become strength.

      Knowing your weaknesses allows you the opportunity to do a few things:

      1. Develop strength in the area you’re weak. Oftentimes, when an athlete breaks a bone or pulls a muscle, following months of rigorous rehab, they can come back even stronger then they were before their injury. Realizing your weakness gives you a focus for what to work on.
      2. Delegate and empower others. This allows you to involve others in your pursuit of excellence. By definition, leadership is leading others. What an opportunity! Surround yourself with quality individuals that fill your weakness gaps.
      3. Look for the positives with your apparent weakness and exploit them. Let me give you a personal example. Being a single youth pastor right out of college, many asked me how I could possibly be effective without a spouse? For me, I took that as a challenge. That apparent weakness actually turned out to be one of my greatest strengths. I had more time than most to pour into my students. My attentions weren’t split. I worked harder and longer than any youth pastor you’ll encounter. I don’t say that to gloat, but to show you that what others might consider a weakness can actually be a strength!

      If you’re feeling like you’ve been buried in a pit of weaknesses as a leader, let me give you a suggestion.

      Take out a piece of paper and make four columns. In the first, list all the weaknesses you feel you have as a leader. In the second, number those weaknesses you feel you can work on, starting with the most important. In the third column, identify weaknesses you can empower someone with to become a strength and list the individual. And in the final column, look at the remaining weaknesses and process what the positives are in those weaknesses. Then think through how you can exploit those positive aspects. It may be a good idea to involve a respected mentor/friend in this process to give a valuable outside perspective.

      With that said, now it’s just a matter of leveraging those weaknesses to become strengths. It’s not easy, but those your leading and the cause you are working for will be forever impacted.

      Whining vs. Wearing

      As leaders we are all guilty of occasionally stepping back and whining about our situation. It happens to the best of us! One interesting thing that takes place when we do this, though, is we separate ourselves from the very situation we are complaining about. This can be good momentarily. But in complaining we aren’t really doing anything to improve the situation, we are just dwelling on the negative. When we step back to whine, what we need to do is ‘clothe ourselves’ with the very cause we are working for. ‘Clothing Yourself’ with the cause conveys the idea of immersing yourself in that cause. Where it’s not about how hard you have to work or how much it’s an inconvenience to you, but rather the fact that you get to invest in this cause. Instead of you becoming a part of the cause, the cause becomes a part of you!

      Next time you get in that whiny mood, try this: Step back and evaluate, “Why did I start investing into this cause in the first place?” Re-establishing your purpose will go a long way in helping you press through difficult circumstances.

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