I left my tenure as a local church pastor over three years ago to become the district superintendent of EDA Move. A few weeks back I wrote about some things I would change if I were a pastor again. Now, you’ve heard the statement that goes, “experience is the best teacher.” For the most part, I’d say I agree with that. Unless you mean… MY experience alone is the best teacher.
The truth is, when it comes to making mistakes, I would rather learn from someone else’s mistakes and pains and failures and the things they wish they could do over, rather than me and my family and my ministry having to go through all of those things.
Experience is a great teacher, but I want to learn from the experiences of others as well as my own. It’s with that in mind that I share ten more things with you today. These are things that I would do differently if I were a local church leader or pastor again today.
1. GO ON VACATION WITH PEOPLE FROM MY CHURCH
You might be thinking I’ve lost my mind and forgotten what it’s like to be a local church pastor. Trust me, I get that. Sometimes you need to get as far away as you can from responsibility and from those you’re responsible for. I’m not saying you don’t need to do that! However, I discovered a few years back that taking planned vacations with members can be relationally and spiritually enriching for everyone – including the leader.
I have friends who go with people from their ministry to Israel every year or two and they love it! It works for them and for those they lead. One pastor in our district is taking his wife along with a host of people from their church on a Family Life Cruise this coming January. Other pastors I know go to a Christian camp for a week. I would be doing this kind of trip-taking, that’s for sure.
2. USE A VISION FRAME
As a pastor, I loved discussing ideas and strategies with our staff and elders, but I could’ve done much better providing big picture clarity with our leaders and congregation if I had used a tool like Will Mancini’s Vision Frame. This tool is in a book co-written with Warren Bird, entitled God Dreams. For people like me who are good at generating ideas and providing inspiration but need lots of help with connecting dots and helping people see their place in the big picture, this tool is a gift!
3. EMBODY OPTIMISM
In a world that is as angry and divided as ours, it’s helpful to remember that it is into such a world that Jesus came. Instead of defeat, remember, He saw opportunity. The Romans were in charge and the Jewish people were very divided, many of them living void of hope or faith in Yahweh. They were like sheep without a shepherd. But Jesus looked around and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest (Mt. 9: 37-38).” Wow! He’s basically saying that against a crazy bleak cultural backdrop, “This leadership team we have here isn’t big enough for what God is about to do. Pray, guys, we need more workers to come help us!”
Optimism and pessimism are both contagious – I want to spread optimism.
4. MEMORIALIZE “GOD STORIES”
On so many occasions people would share their stories with me and I would wish that I could have recorded it because their words needed to be seen and heard by everyone else just as they shared it with me. With technology as it is now I would intentionally ask for permission to try to capture as many stories as I could on video so we could share them with the church family.
5. RESIST THE COMPARISON TRAP
When I was younger, this was occasionally a struggle for me. Mostly, it was a struggle when I was in the midst of challenges. Learning from others is always a good thing, of course, but comparing ourselves is a trap of the enemy. Just don’t do it.
6. CELEBRATE THE WINS OF OTHER MINISTRIES
I used to do this privately with other pastors and leaders in our community, but I wish I would’ve taken some time to do it with our church family on Sunday. I think people in local churches would be encouraged to know that we’re on the same team with other churches that are doing well, and that when one of us wins, we all win! I would rejoice over the successes of other ministries locally and globally to make sure our people know how big God’s family really is.
7. SHARE THE STRUGGLES OF OTHER MINISTRIES
Let me tell you why I will always be grateful for Times Square Church, as well as the EFCA Family. When Superstorm Sandy hit Staten Island, the need of our community was overwhelming. The need was way too big for any one church to accomplish much on its own. In order to help us do our part, Times Square Church donated over a quarter of a million dollars in money and gifts for our efforts. We received that and more through the EFCA Family. Because of that generosity, we were able to help hundreds of families and several other local churches. One church that was flooded and homeless for six months used our facility for worship every Sunday night. I’ve never seen the Church be the Church as I did in that season of struggle. It was beautiful and I’m glad that our church family got to see it, too.
8. 21 DAYS OF PRAYER
Many would say that we were not just a church that prays but we were a praying church. That truly was one of our ambitions. However, I felt like we could’ve done so much better at praying together corporately. I’ve got some friends in different parts of the country who can testify that since they’ve begun having 21 Days of Prayer their ministry has changed. They have seen the power of God in response to their prayers as a church family. They do the 21 Days efforts in January and again in August. They do it early morning in their sanctuary and they stream it live so people who have to commute can listen and participate while on their way to work.
You’ve probably heard the quote, “Little prayer, little power. Some prayer, some power. Much prayer, much power.” These 21 Days of Prayer efforts affect the culture of the congregation for the entire year. And likewise, the churches are seeing it as true, “Much prayer, much power.”
9. MAKE CONFERENCES WORK FOR THE TEAM
Too often, we attended good conferences, but we missed the immediate debriefing and interaction that would’ve maximized the use of what we gleaned from the conference. We just went to the conference and then went back to normal with very few adjustments. Many leaders make this mistake. It’s why some have given up on conferences; they think it’s a waste of time and money. In truth, I’d say it’s probably as much of a wasted opportunity by the leader as it is anything else. When you go to conferences you should plan an immediate debrief time to talk about what you will do with what you’ve learned. Then you should create a simple system for following up on the takeaways that you want to act upon.
10. TALK TO A COUNSELOR REGULARLY
I discovered the need for doing this in my eleventh year of ministry in NYC and the only thing I can say is that I wish I had done so much sooner! Counselors know how to ask beneath-the-surface questions that help you work through things that need to be addressed. There is no shame whatsoever in seeking help to work through issues that are affecting your life and the lives of those you lead. I thank God for gifted men and women who’ve given their lives to help others deal with the hidden things of the heart. According to Solomon, nothing is more important: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT).
Did you miss Eddie’s first post: 10 THINGS I WOULD CHANGE? You can listen right here…