10 Hard-Won Lessons About Ministry Leadership

These lessons are the fruit of reflecting on 21 years of pastoral ministry.

At the end of my 21st year at New Life Fellowship Church as lead pastor, our staff did a half-day exercise around the turning point lessons we had learned over those years. (A number of us in the room had been there since the beginning.). Over the next several weeks, I refined those lessons and, with the help of our elder board, edited them down into 10 hard lessons.

Here are those 10 lessons birthed out of difficult labor, costly mistakes and painful suffering. My hope was that future generations at New Life (and your church) would prayerfully re-read before God and not repeat our mistakes.

When I unexpectedly found this document buried in my files, I was amazed at the timelessness of these hard lessons. My hope is that you will be reflective before God around your mistakes as well, taking the necessary time to capture insights, reflect theologically and deeply learn the lessons that come out of our failures. I’m convinced it is one of God’s primary means to move us into a deeper level of maturity.

1. Character is more important than gifting. When we have overlooked issues of character, and humility, in particular, we have paid a price. (The power of God really is made perfect in our weakness.).

2. Do not rush. When decisions were made quickly, without pausing to pray, think and process implications, we had regrets. Seeing the Promised Land without taking the time to discern the pillar of cloud and fire on how to get there is foolishness.

3. Leaders need to take responsibility and initiative for their own growth and development. As leaders invest time in personal growth and development, they shape all those who look to them for leadership.

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4. Clarity of vision brings about unified leadership and unified leadership reinforces the vision. This takes a lot of inner work, high differentiation and significant time to get your core team on the same page with you, but the ripple effect is powerful and far-reaching.

5. Extended Sabbatical rest releases new, life-giving initiatives from God, enabling leaders to serve out of a cup that overflows. Rich fruit and change has always resulted in the larger work in, and through our pastor/leaders when they have stepped away for longer periods of time to be with God, and to listen to him for an extended period of time.

6. Face the truth and act on it, even if it hurts. Walking in truth requires great courage, humility, along with a bountiful supply of grace and power from God.

7. Enforce your values, being careful not to dilute them. When we compromised on them out a desire to grow quickly, we paid a high price. Our integrity, long-term mission and effectiveness were all damaged.

8. Bridging race, culture, class and gender barriers requires we remain open to new learnings, be self-reflective and consistently question our current assumptions. We are all beginners in addressing the massive divisions that have separated peoples inside and outside the church for thousands of years.

9. Be faithful to your charism (i.e., grace) that is uniquely yours from God. Eagerly learn from other streams and ministries, but be content in your particular gift from God.

10. Intentional mentoring of individuals is key to bearing long-term fruit and stability. This requires time, patience, perseverance and a laser focus. Leading organizations and ministries are important, but nothing will ever take the place of life-on-life discipleship.

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This article was originally posted on EmotionallyHealthy.org and is reposted here by permission.