The Bumpy Road to Church Leadership
I was eighteen years old when I accepted God’s calling to Christian ministry. I had grown up in the church, and I thought I had a pretty good idea about what it meant to serve the local church. In central Kansas there are no mega churches. I expected that I would go to school to learn how to preach and run a church and then simply be called to a church where I would serve and do just that. My grandfather was a pastor of a rural church, and I had a great example of what church leadership should look like. As it turned out, I still had a lot to learn.
I was encouraged to pursue a Christian education in college and seminary. As a newlywed and then a new father trying to work full time and go to school, that education took many more years than I ever anticipated. While in seminary I began working as an intern in the media department of a mega church. I had always loved technology and found a perfect marriage of ministry calling and personal giftedness in media and television production. In this setting I began to learn about the workings of a mega church, how it operated, how decisions were made, and how organizationally it handled both good and bad situations. I also quickly realized that I wasn’t learning any of this in seminary. My seminary training was invaluable but also not completely sufficient in preparing me for full-time ministry, especially in the mega-church setting.
After a couple of rough transitions, I began serving as the media director at Shiloh Church in Jacksonville, Florida. In this new position, I noticed that the smaller staff allowed for closer interactions with the Sr. Pastor. He recognized my ministry calling and included me in the pastoral discussions of the church. This setting taught me much more about the organization and calling of the church. In this environment I was challenged and given the opportunity to grow. In my 8 years at Shiloh my role has changed three times, and I currently serve as the Executive Pastor.
My ministry journey has been much more exciting than my 18-year old self ever imagined. I had no grandiose plans, and I would not have envisioned that God would provide this kind of an opportunity for a small-town boy like me. I’m incredibly grateful to my pastor for his trust in me and allowing me to mature on the job.
Now that my kids are growing older, I often find myself trying to impart little words of wisdom to them. Along that vein I’d like to share a few things that have been helpful for me to remember. This is in no way a list of steps that will definitively result in success, but hopefully you will find them to be an encouragement in your place of service.
First, trust God. There are no easy ministry jobs. In fact, I’ve been fired a couple of times. Those situations never caused me to question my calling or doubt my faith. Philippians 1:6 has served as a constant reminder that God is still working on me, and He will complete that work. It’s not my strength or intelligence or determination that engages this process. It’s God’s work. All I am required to do is have faith in Him.
Second, work hard. Leadership in any church must directly correlate to servanthood. Show up on time, take responsibility, and get the job done. Don’t make excuses or pass the blame. Simply do your work as if you are doing it for the Lord. Colossians 3:23 says it best. No matter what kind of work I am doing, I must do it for God alone and not for men. This means that much, if not most, of our hard work will go on behind the scenes where only a few will see it and even fewer will appreciate it. Rest in the fact that you don’t work for men, you work for God.
Finally, (because every Baptist seminary grad knows how to make three good points) never stop learning. If you are blessed to serve in a leadership position, you will undoubtedly find yourself in situations where there is no clear best answer. You will be challenged in ways that you never thought possible. We must constantly be learning and growing. The best place to start is the Word of God. You need to know your Bible, not just the parts you like to read. You might be surprised how many leadership lessons are laid out in the pages between Genesis and Revelations. Read books written by Christian authors and by leadership experts. My all-time favorite leadership book is John Maxwell’s 360-degree leader. Challenge yourself to read regularly and with purpose. We also need to learn how to evaluate what we’ve learned and then apply it. Knowledge alone is good, but finding a way to put that knowledge to work is the goal.
I pray this glimpse into my story is a help to you. I am where I am because God placed me here. My path to church leadership was definitely a bumpy one, but I’m thankful for every minute of it.