30 Lessons from 30 Years
Christ Church (here) just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Since I am the founding pastor and Rector, I have been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting for the past few weeks. I am so very, very thankful for the opportunities I have had there. It has been a tremendous experience and, by God’s grace, I trust it will continue.
As I have reflected over these past few weeks, I made up a list of learnings and lessons from the past three decades. Most of these will not be new to most readers. And some of these I still struggle to learn as a leader of this parish. But for what they are worth, here are 30 lessons from the past 30 years. (Most of these have been learned the hard way or read or discovered through day to day ministry. I have embraced some of these ideas from other people and have long since forgotten their source. I apologize.)
Here they are:
- There is no secret sauce or magic pill that will make a church grow or prosper. Generally speaking, growth is a by-product of other non-measurable things. This makes it hard to ‘make’ numerical growth happen.
- Congregations have their own culture; a parish-wide attitude and way of doing things. People may come for the program, location, music, or the preaching…but they will stay or leave because of the culture.
- To that end, programming and small groups are seldom the front door for visitors and new members. It’s the Sunday experience of worship! Worship is what your people will invite their friends to.
- Momentum. With it, you can do much. Without it, you cannot do much. Pray to have it…and then keep it.
- Good music will cover a multitude of bad preaching. But good preaching will almost never cover bad music. In other words, to turn a phrase of Jesus’, if your music is weak, how great is that weakness.
- Pastoral connection, the art of being with people in their homes or over coffee, providing prayer and spiritual support…this practiced art will cover a multitude of inadequate preaching and sour notes. Whenever I have doubts, I get out and see people.
- Preaching guides the church. The pulpit is the prow of the ship.
- Jesus played with children and taught adults. We tend to do just the opposite: we play with adults and teach children. Adult ministry is key to a healthy congregation.
- However, in our child-oriented culture, the children will usually determine where the parents go to church. Don’t let children’s ministry suffer!
- You will never need the space that you do not provide for. In other words, if your church has a crowded problem and you do nothing about it, the problem will go away. Sadly.
- The Rector’s job is easily summed up in one phrase: Provide and Protect. Provide for the parish (clear vision, pastoral leadership, supported staff, ample resources, adequate space, etc.). Protect the parish (against scandal, erroneous teaching, divisions, malfeasance, etc.)
- Raising resources and teaching biblical stewardship cannot be delegated. The leader needs to learn how to ask. Most people need to be asked routinely and don’t mind to be asked respectfully to fulfill the needs of their church.
- The long-term pastorate is a double-edged sword. It is easier to make changes because you have the trust of the people. It is harder to see the changes that need to be made.
- Younger leaders have incredible energy and vision and need to be placed in positions of leadership and influence. Practice a kind of ‘reverse-mentoring’; let the younger teach the older.
- You get more of whatever you pay attention to. If you need more prayer in church, pay attention to it. Preach, teach, lead, witness, write, and focus on it. It will increase. Same with money, volunteerism, evangelism, and outreach, etc.
- Denominations mean little these days. But Anglicanism is not a denomination. It is a heritage and it is trending now. Embrace the heritage, invigorate it with passion, and turn it loose.
- There are at least six areas of ministry that need constant attention in every church. (Worship, Evangelism, Discipleship, Communication, Administration, and Pastoral Care). The good news is that there are not many more…but there aren’t any less.
- Staff costs should not be considered overhead. Don’t let the vestry categorize it that way in the budget. Staff are the ministry-delivery system. And nursery and children/youth costs are never expenses; they are investments.
- Sometimes my prayer habits are lacking…but my prayer life is strong because of my intercessors. I am thankful for the men and women who pray for me.
- Clergy should take their scheduled day off and their vacation time away. It sets an example for the parish and provides opportunity for other staff and volunteers to develop their leadership.
- A church grows large because it is growing smaller. The large moments of celebration are supported by many more smaller moments of prayer, fellowship, support, and pastoral ministry.
- The bible is the greatest book that is seldom read. Be an expert in it. Teach and preach it exclusively. Show people the riches and rewards of diligent study and careful reading. Most people really do want to know what the bible says…even if they are going to disagree with it.
- A vision is like a North Star. It guides and directs the whole community…and it must be looked to often.
- People love to be led and not steered. But they need to know where they are going. This is what is meant by the saying, “When there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
- Never surprise a Vestry or ask them to make a quick decision.
- People love change…it is just that they do not like to be changed. Include them in your thinking and vision.
- Lone Rangerism will kill your effectiveness and rob your joy. Find a senior leader you can look to, seek out, and confess sins to.
- Remember W. H. Griffith Thomas’ great adage about preaching: “Think yourself empty; read yourself full; write yourself clear; pray yourself keen; then into the pulpit, and let yourself go!”
- Always write thank-you notes to people who are doing the right thing. They will do more of it!
- Making a list of things you think you understand or have learned is seldom a good idea. It is often not complete, satisfactory, or wise.
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