Seven years ago, we were unanimously elected (which is a miracle for church people to ever agree on anything that much) as the new lead pastors of NWLife (known as Fairwood Church at that time). I have often described myself as a “rookie pastor,” having never been the lead pastor before.
In many ways, I still feel like a rookie – I’m learning the ropes, and I’m well aware that I am not an expert on anything.
I don’t know if I can keep using the “rookie pastor” thing as an excuse any longer – now that it’s been seven years. And while I don’t know everything, I am learning some things…
So here are seven things I’m learning in seven years as a lead pastor:
1. Time flies when you’re having fun. Also, when you’re old. The picture at the top of this post was taken in 2009 – about two years into our leadership at the church. What strikes me most about the picture is my daughter Ashah. She looks so young! Time moves quickly. Things (and people) change, a lot. Because of this, I want to be fully present in the now. I don’t want to be so fixated on and anxious about what’s next that I miss out on what (and who) is before me right now.
2. It’s not a contest. It’s a Kingdom. Building the church is what Jesus promised to do, remember? “I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not overcome it.” My job is to love and serve people – the people inside the church, and the people outside the church. If I do my part, Jesus will do His (actually, He will do His part anyway, with or without my participation – He doesn’t need me, He wants me). So, it is a privilege and a joy to participate. I’m not trying to win some “Church of the Year” award; I’m trying to stay faithful in the task that has been entrusted to me.
3. Never allow the praise, or the criticism, to intoxicate you. When you’re a lead pastor, both praise and criticism seem to go with the territory. What’s funny is how they often swirl around at the same time. Just yesterday I received one e-mail criticizing my leadership as a pastor – and another e-mail thanking me for being such a gracious leader. There are probably bits of truth in both e-mails. Hopefully, I can learn from anyone – even my fiercest critics. And hopefully, I can say “thank-you” to my fans without getting a big head.
4. Grace makes a messy church. And I think Jesus likes it that way.
5. People matter. Period. All people do. Friendly people matter. Grumpy people matter. Poor people matter. Rich people matter. Addicts matter. Recovering addicts matter. People who are fun to be with matter. Annoying people matter. Conservatives matter. Progressives matter. Even the paranoid preppers matter. Straight people matter. Gay people matter. People of other religions matter. Atheists matter. Sick people matter. Healthy people matter. Can you think of any other categories? Good, because they matter too. It’s not “For God so loved _______(specific people group category).” God doesn’t just love certain people groups. He loves them all. “For God so loved the world…”
6. I’m not the brand. It’s not “my” church. The truth is, this church will carry on someday without me. In fact, it might even do better when I’m no longer in the lead role. NWLife has a great team – we are blessed with an incredible staff who love the church and who love us. Two summers ago, when we were gone for six weeks, the church continued on without us (which is so healthy). It’s easy to be a narcissistic leader and make everything about me – but that’s not the way of Jesus. In fact, today’s Bible reading (from our church’s Bible Reading Plan) is in Philippians chapter 2, which says:
Love one another, and work together—unified in purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2.1-5)
7. It’s time for a new photoshoot. For real. Because kids change and grow up so quickly.