Wow, it’s hard for me to believe, but I started my 25th year at this congregation last month. I have loved…most of my time here. Let’s be honest, serving a church in one location is like being married; You love each other deeply, but you have your ups and down. I believe that’s a good thing for all involved. It forces you to grow in several ways.
As I have ministered here, I have learned some valuable lessons that have allowed me to stay and continue to be effective in this congregation. I would like to share some of those lessons for you to reflect on. Whether you’re a minster, leader, or member; I think you can gain some perspective from this blog post.
Don’t treat the church as a stepping stone.
I will be honest here, when I first came to our congregation, I thought I would be here about five years, gain some experience, and then move on to bigger and better things. I wasn’t alone in that thinking. I will never forget when an elder told me in a meeting “You preachers come in, push us to spend all kinds of money, and then take off and leave us holding the bag.” At first, that really hurt me, but as I thought about it, he was exactly right. Our mentality of moving on to something better (church or preacher) has hurt ministry in the long run. When you move to a church or when a preacher comes to your church, have a mindset of we’ll be together for life.
Love, love, love
This should be a “duh” but I have been to enough churches, and talked to enough Christians, and have had my heart broken enough times to know that isn’t the case. If you are going to last long, you have to love the people you minister to. Sometimes that is going to be so easy and sometimes that is the hardest thing God has ever called you to do. I have mourned deeply as I buried friends of mine who have gone on to their eternal reward. I have also dealt with funerals of “friendemies” that I really wanted to celebrate more that was appropriate at their passing. I have enjoyed building close personal relationships with some of our members even though I was terrified that might bite me in the end. Most of the time it never has. You will find there will be people you love as Jesus loved his closest disciples, and there will be people you love because God has told us to love everyone. Treat every member with the same respect and honor, and cherish the relationships that move beyond that foundation to become close personal friends.
This is important to remember. It’s easy to fall into complacent routines and just go through the motions of ministry. DON’T DO THAT!!! One of the biggest compliments I have received here was from one of our elders. He said that I have been here for almost 25 years as a preacher, but my sermons still seem fresh and relevant to him. I deeply appreciated that statement even if he didn’t know how hard I have worked to maintain that freshness. Find ways to stay fresh; keep reading, change up preaching and teaching styles; attend lectures and other events for new ideas and practices, listen to podcasts of other preachers, and continue to study. Here is something that too many preachers fail to utilize and yet is so important to longevity; USE YOUR VACATION TIME. You need to have time to rest and revive mentally as well as spiritually. The church needs to hear other voices besides your own from the pulpit. They will either appreciate the change or appreciate your return!
Stay focused on the mission
If there is a danger to long term ministry; it’s losing focus on what matters as the day to day mundane keeps pulling you away from ministry. While you need to visit the old people, put out fires, change the light bulbs in the bathroom and the million other things a small church minister ends up doing; they aren’t really your mission. You mission from God is to equip the saints for ministry and to share the good news with the lost. Churches will let you babysit them as much as you are willing to do so. If the church is being the church, the old will be visited and the light bulbs will get changed without you.
Develop Godly leaders
Really want to stay a long time? Build up Godly men and women to lead. Nothing is better that a great eldership and I have one of the best right now. Several years ago, I was really burned out because I was covering all the things that the deacons were letting slide. I was frustrated, angry, and ready to move on. It didn’t help that I am also a control freak. In one of our elder’s meetings I was venting and they stopped me and said, “Let them fail, we’ll deal with it. It isn’t your responsibility.” It was the best thing they could have ever done for me. I began to learn to let go of my need to control everything and we all began to mentor our deacons in a meaningful way. Those deacons are now growing and some may soon be elders. Women need to be developed as leaders too. Many areas of ministry happen because Godly women step up and help accomplish those needed areas. When we use women in a Biblical way; we gain so much more support and workers in the kingdom.
I could continue with this list very easily, but these five areas will make the biggest impact to staying someplace for a long time and being effective. What advice would you add to this list?