This month marks ten years since I transitioned from being an intern at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas to taking the role of Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Lenoir City, TN. Well . . . “Senior Pastor” was a funny title. There was a part-time secretary and myself on staff when I got to the church. 69 people were in attendance and I was so excited to pastor them.
Over the years, I have pastored three churches, and served as intentional interim pastor at one church. I have served small, medium, and large attendance churches. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned over the past decade:
- Saying “no” is necessary and ok.
This article is going live the week before Easter 2018. This is literally the busiest week of the year for me.
I was kindly asked by a church member to attend a dinner event one night this week. I would have loved to go, but I needed to say “no.” Every time you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to something else.
As time has progressed over these past ten years, I’ve learned it is necessary to have a strong backbone and say “no” from time-to-time.
- Most church members are really loving and nice.
Often, at pastors’ conferences, you hear this consoling spirit of “poor us” kinds of attitudes. The truth is, most church members are really sweet. All pastors have served as undershepherd to some stray sheep. We’ve all heard sheep that proverbially bleat and distract. For the most part, though, church members are loving and respectful.
- Pastoring a large church doesn’t take all of your problems away. It presents different types of challenges.
I grew up in large churches, and that’s where I am most comfortable. For some reason, I used to think that if I could pastor a large church, I’d have less problems. That’s simply not the case. The challenges are just different.
- Most families are more messed up than their façade indicates.
Year after year, it never ceases to amaze me how a family that seems so well-put-together is, behind the scenes, completely dysfunctional. I’ve learned over the past decade that pastors need to more intentionally teach biblical conflict resolution for the sake of saving families.
- The financial struggles of churches stem from the debt load congregants are carrying.
Most church members (and Americans, for that matter) live paycheck-to-paycheck. Their debts are piling because student loan debt is awful, people think car payments are necessary (they are not . . . you can buy a $1,500 car and it’ll get you to work), they take trips they can’t afford and put them on a card, etc. More people need to be taught stewardship. This has become clear these last ten years.
- Porn is killing families.
Over this decade of pastoring, I’ve met with so many families falling apart due to porn. The ubiquity of cell phones has made porn more accessible. Sadly, it is not addressed often. The culture, however, addresses the need for sex all day every day.
- The internet is still the wild wild west, and churches are not even close to figuring out how to leverage it for missional impact and local church growth.
I really think we are on the verge of a revival that will stem from leveraging the internet for Great Commission impact. However, how that is done is still a big question mark.
- Pastoral care is underrated.
At my goodbye reception for Church of the Highlands, a microphone was passed around the gym. It was so encouraging to hear how I had impacted peoples’ lives. The number one thing people kept mentioning was when I visited, called, wrote them, officiated a loved one’s funeral, etc.
I thought it’d be about the growth strategies implemented or financial stability we experienced, but when you get down to brass tacks . . . people want to be loved and have their pastor simply care for them.
In my short tenure (thus far) at Brushy Creek, this has continued to be proven true. Pastoral care is underrated.
- You can accomplish less in a year than you want, and more in a decade than could ever be imagined.
Looking back, I have accomplished way more in my first decade of pastoring than I thought I would or could, but there was not a single year that reaped the impact I wanted. This is a life lesson to pastor with the marathon mentality.
- It is hard to explain to non-pastors about the weekly grind of sermon preparation.
After preparing 500ish Sunday morning sermons, the thought of that much prayer, reading, research, writing, editing, etc., is exhausting. The only profession that gives as many “speeches” is politics, and most of those folks repeat very similar speeches at every location, plus they have speech writers.
Working on a sermon is an unending trickle from the head to the heart. I love it. It is one of my favorite things to do in life. It is also the biggest grind of my life. After ten years of pastoring, this has become more and more apparent.
These last ten years have been such a blessing. I pray the next ten (if the Lord tarries) make an even greater impact for the Lord’s Kingdom.