I recently celebrated five years as the associate pastor at my church. While I’ve attended church my entire life, I can safely say that the last five years has carried more excitement and drama than all of the years before. The highest highs and lowest lows have all come in the last five years.
While I can write about the experience of being a pastor, I don’t think you can really understand the unique experience without, well, experiencing it. Even if the me of today wrote a letter to the me of six years ago (and invented time travel technology to get the letter to him), it wouldn’t really matter. I don’t think I would have understood.
But, looking back, here are a few things I wish I would have KNOWN experientially, not just cognitively:
I Wish I Knew I Needed Better Ministry Before Trying to Have a Bigger Ministry
19 Therefore, go and make disciples…
The mission of the church isn’t to merely grow the number of people, but to grow the number of disciples. While growing the number of people grows your potential for growing the number of disciples, it’s not guaranteed.
Depending on which church world circles you run in, most likely there is a big focus on growth & numbers, or growing disciples. One side seems to focus on promoting Sunday attendance, the number of converts, and the number of baptisms. On the other side, there is a focus on depth of knowledge and maturity. Picking one or the other seems to miss the entire point.
We want to be GROWING the DEPTH and NUMBER of DISCIPLES.
I wish I knew that I needed a ministry which could grow disciples before masses of people started to show up. My first year as a pastor was filled with events that drew in massive crowds. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a ministry that was prepared to make disciples out of the crowds. Therefore, we saw a lot of people come in and quickly go out with little life-change.
I Wish I Knew I Needed Infrastructure to Maximize Outreach Opportunities
When I threw my massive outreach events, I gained a small amount of influence on a large amount of people. However, I didn’t do anything to maximize that small amount of influence. Essentially, these events were just promo events for my ministry and church.
I needed an easy and obvious next step for students who showed up to these events.
I needed to connect students with leaders.
I needed to better promote future events.
I Wish I Knew How Hard Leading Through Tragedy Would Be
Over the last few years, my church seems to have had a disproportionately large amount of tragedy. For the size of our church and our community, we’ve faced far more death than I ever expected.
Perhaps I could have taken a few more classes at Bible college which could have given me a few more answers to the hard questions I’ve had to answer over the last few years but, in reality, textbook answers wouldn’t have made much of a difference. No amount of classroom time prepares you to talk to someone who just lost a parent or child. No amount of reading informs you about how to comfort someone whose very young child is going in for surgery.
On the surface, I’m not a particularly emotional person. However, I’m also not very good at separating myself from others’ emotions. I feel the weight of tragedy around me, and I don’t naturally distance myself.
I Wish I Knew Ministry is About People Not Programs
This one is probably the silliest!
- I know ministry is about people and not programs.
- I know the dangers of having a program driven ministry.
Still, I find myself naturally drifting towards being a program director, not a pastor.
Those that know me know that I am highly introverted and socially very awkward. Around people I know, I can be very chatty. When I have a position of authority, I am very comfortable talking to groups. However, when dealing with people I don’t know as well or uncomfortable environments, I tend to be more of an observer.
Therefore, I tend to drift towards environments where I build programs instead of pour into people. In church world, there’s always ways to be busy preparing for programs. Sunday comes once every seven days.
But the ministry of the church isn’t to run programs, it’s to turn people into disciples. It’s to love and shepherd God’s people. Programs can help make disciples, but they can also distract from making disciples.
I Wish I Knew How Easy It Would Be to Use “Faith” to Thinly Veil Ego
If there was one point which I feel pastor/church culture needs to get real about, it’s recognizing how much that we do in God’s name is actually done in our own names.
- I’ve been at a conference where an up and coming celebrity pastor proclaimed his desire for HIS CHURCH to grow to 100,000 people through their aggressive multi-site strategy.
- I’ve seen people shrug off their failures without pausing to consider that the reason something failed was that, despite all the spiritual jargon used to justify a risky new direction, the reality is that ego drove the direction.
- I’ve used spiritual jargon to rationalize trying to grow my ministry for the sake of feeding my ego.
As leaders in the church, it’s so easy to use ministry to feed ego. But, inherently, this leads us to make choices where we are more faithful to make ourselves famous than making Christ famous.