I love pastors. Through this blog and my personal ministry, God has allowed me to partner with dozens of pastors, helping them think through life and ministry issues. I’ve learned many pastors struggle to find people who will invest in them and help them grow as individuals, leaders and pastors. In my current job with Leadership Lexington, I get to spend my days thinking of how to assist pastors and the Church.
I frequently have pastors – or other leaders – ask me for my “best advice” for those in leadership positions. I have to be candid that it’s a difficult request. I’ve learned so much through the pastors who have invested in me and by experience. It’s hard to summarize all I’ve learned over the years – especially by trial and error. It could probably fill a book or two, but certainly more than one blog post!
Over the years I have put some thought into the question and come up with a lists of random encouragement I would give to all pastors or leaders to answer the question. While addressing pastors, I know wisdom is transferable to other fields. Change a few words and I’d give this advice to any leader. Periodically, I update this post and bring it forward again.
12 words of encouragement for pastors:
Keep Jesus the center of focus in the church.
You’ll never have a money problem, a people problem, or a growth problem God can’t handle. You know that. You’d teach that to the people you’ve been called to shepherd, but life (and the enemy) has a way of stealing our devotion. You’ll have lots of doubts, lots of seasons of ups and downs, and lots of dry spells in your own walk with Christ, but when Jesus is the center of your ministry – when your greatest success is found in your obedience to Him, you’ll always be successful in ministry regardless of what the numbers say.
Choose your friends wisely, but make sure you choose friends.
Don’t attempt to lead alone. Too many pastors avoid close friendships because they’ve been hurt. They trusted someone with information who used it against them. Finding friends you can trust and be real with means you’ll sometimes get injured, but the reward is worth it. And, it’s cliche, but to find a friend – be a friend. Make sure you have a few friends who you can turn to on the darker days. They will come.
The church can never love your family as much as you do.
Your family needs you more than the church does. They can get another pastor. Your family doesn’t want another you. You’ll have to learn to say “no”, learn how to balance and prioritize your time, and be willing to delegate to others in the church. I’ve blogged several times on the power of saying no. It may be harder in the role of pastor than any other role I’ve held in business, government and the church, but it’s a necessary word to remain healthy and effective as a leader.
If you protect your Sabbath, your Sabbath can better protect you.
You’ll wear out quickly without a day a week to rejuvenate. God designed us this way. Take advantage of His provision. Take time to rest. You may not rest like everyone else. For me rest doesn’t always mean doing nothing. It usually means I’m doing what I want to do, but can’t because I’m working. Bottom line is you regularly need time away from the demands of ministry. Lead your church to understand you can’t be everywhere every time. You owe it to yourself, your family, your church and your God.
You have influence – use it well.
The pastorate comes with tremendous responsibility. Your words are powerful. It’s easy to abuse or take for granted. Don’t do it! Humility welcomes the hand of God on your ministry. Use your influence for Kingdom good more than for personal gain.
No amount of accountability or structure can stop failure if a heart is impure.
“Above all else, guard your heart.” (Proverbs 4:23) Avoid any hint of temptation. Look for the warning signs your heart is drifting. Allow others the freedom to speak into the dark places of your life, but, more than anything, keep your heart saturated with God’s Word and in prayer.
Let God lead.
If you can dream it, God can dream it bigger. Don’t dismiss the seemingly ridiculous things God calls you to do. They won’t always make sense to others or meet their immediate approval, but God’s ways will prove best every time. When you ever stop being encouraged towards the seemingly impossible you may need to question whether you’re still walking by faith.
So let God take the lead. You can do some things well. God can do the impossible. Whom do you think should ultimately be leading the church? You’ll be surprised how much more effective your leadership will be when it’s according to His will and not yours. This will take discipline, humility, and practice.
Your personal health affects the health of the church.
Take care of yourself relationally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This, too, requires discipline, balance and prioritizing, but if, to the best of your ability, you strive to be healthy in every area of your life, as a good shepherd, your people will be more likely to follow your example.
The people in your church deserve authenticity.
As a leader, you set the bar of expectations, so your authentic actions encourage people to be transparent with you and others. When you’re authentic you help eliminate unrealistic expectations people may place upon you. Don’t be someone you’re not. Be someone worthy to follow, but make sure you’re living it – not just teaching it.
Learn to think before you speak.
This sounds so simple, but it is a hard lesson for some pastors. We are asked so many questions and to weigh in on so many topics. It’s easy to always have the answer. The best answers usually come after we’ve taken time to analyze Scripture, listen for the voice of God, and seek the wise counsel of others. It’s much harder to take back words said in haste than to discipline ourselves to think through a response. Telling someone, “Wait, let me get back to you on that” is a good phrase to have in your vocabulary.
You’ll never make everyone happy.
Part of leadership is making decisions. With every decision comes different opinions of the decision you made. If your goal is to make people happy you’ll end up being very unhappy – and very unproductive. Everyone will suffer as you strive to be popular, but flounder in effectiveness. Don’t make it your goal to make people happy. Make it your goal to lead people to greater obedience. Find your satisfaction in God’s glory.
People only know what they know.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made (and make) in leadership is assuming everyone will be on the same page as me – or they understand what I’m trying to communicate. This is unfair to people who don’t have the vantage point I have or who don’t even view the world as I view it. The more I grow as a leader the more I realize one of my greatest needs is more and better communication.