For the first 13 years of ministry I led from a chair other than the first chair. As a worship pastor I had an inherent public influence (to this day I believe this position is the 2nd most influential position in the church after the Lead Pastor), but I had to earn influence in private. It is one thing to have influence from your position "down" to those whom you have been given authority over, it is entirely something different to be given permission to influence those "above" you. For the last 5+ years I have been blessed to be the Lead Pastor at Live Oak Christian Church. Upon arriving at the church in August of 2008, the economy tanked, the town/area the church is located became depressed, and the 4 year-old-church-meeting-in-the-high-school's weaknesses were exposed ... with a new, young leader (ME) and a board of Elder who weren't prepared for the fallout. Needless to say, I found myself wondering, "Why did I ever leave the second chair?!" But it was in those years that I learned some incredibly valuable leadership lessons, some through the wisdom of others, some through what I had seen in the leaders I had been around, and ALL through trial by fire! If you're a new leader, I hope these will help you out.
1. ESTABLISH YOUR HABITS This is the one I wish I would have learned sooner. Once you begin leading a church, you better have your good habits firmly in place! Quiet time, prayer time, daily planning, physical fitness ... as the demands of your church grow, your time will become precious, and if you're habits aren't rooted, they will be the first to go under the crush of pressure and urgency.
2. BUILD TRUST Do you make changes quick, or do you wait? Do you forge ahead, or do you hold back? This seems to be a big debate among leaders, but here's the bottom line: making changes of any kind requires the trust of the people under your leadership. If you make big changes or numerous changes quickly, you are going to go into "trust debt." People will follow you, but at a cost. If you take your time with change, you are going to eventually spend your "trust currency" when the time comes. The point is, either way, build trust. Build the trust of your leadership first, your team second, and your church third.
3. SURVEY THE LANDSCAPE Take a good look around. Now, take another look! So many young leaders get lost in the beginning of their influence because they are trying to change something from where they just came instead of where they are! Or, worse yet, they are trying to push an agenda or a mindset that fits them, but not the people they are leading. Get to know the landscape before you start leading it!
4. PICK THE RIGHT FOUNDATIONEvery building needs the right foundation. It is, without question, the part of construction that you must get right! As a church, the foundation is already set from a Biblical standpoint (read Colossians 1 and the first few chapters of Acts); what I'm talking about is "who" and "how" you're going to be. What is your vision? Your values? What is your church uniquely positioned to do? What are your people gifted for and passionate about? Answering these questions will take a lot of the previous step (survey the landscape), and a lot of time, but getting this right is crucial to the rest of your leadership!
5. DEVELOP A PLAN Not just a list of goals, but a plan. Not just a "wish list," but a strategy. Grab the people who are invested in this ministry with you and ask them to pour into the plan. Pray it up, write it out, pray it up some more, get insight and buy in from the people who have the most to gain and the most to lose ... then pray about it AGAIN! This step takes a leader a maddeningly long amount of time! Be patient - it will pay off. The plan isn't just about results and outcomes, it's about transformation and ministry. It's about developing a process through which people will gain access to and understanding for life transformation. It's no small step!
6. SEEK WISE COUNSEL Strategies are great, and plans are important ... they are also changeable. How many structures end up being the exact replica of the first draft? This is a great time for you to pull in people who aren't as close to your ministry as they are to you. Let people speak into you. Let people guide you. Let people build IN you. Let them pray about your plan, analyze it, and shoot holes in it. Trust the people you trust and let them honestly evaluate your plan ... then humbly listen.
7. BE PATIENT Aaaaaand here comes the hard part. Your plans WILL fail. Your plans will change. Your goals will shift. People will come and go. Some people that you thought would never bail will bail, and some that you never thought would stay will become your greatest allies. Growth - deep, healthy, spiritual growth - never comes easily and almost always comes with a cost. Be patient.
8. DON'T GIVE UP! Seriously, don't. Commit to what you are doing and stick it out. Every time something gets hard, stop looking at churchstaffing.com and quite brushing up your resume. Dig in, get your hands dirty, scrape up your knees, and don't give up. If you have to move chairs every week, move them. If you have to hold your 12th vision meeting of the year, hold it. If you have doubts and questions, and are overwhelmed with your calling ... welcome to leadership. Find any leader in the Bible and study them. The great leaders - Moses, Joshua, David, Peter, Paul, Jesus - they were all frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed to the point of resignation. (Remember Jesus in the garden, "If there is any other way ...") The desire to give up is going to come, and when it does, know in advance that you're not going to. Don't give up.
9. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE In light of the last point (Don't Give Up), this one is vital, and often extremely difficult. No one quite understands what it is like to lead a church except for other senior pastors, and, unfortunately, senior pastors in your town might not always be the easiest guys to connect with. Here's my suggestion (or at least what works for me).
Guys who knew me BEFORE I as a senior pastor: I have a few dear friends and mentors who have permission to speak into my life at any level, most of whom don't live anywhere near me. They give me a needed perspective on who I am, not on what I do.
Another senior pastor in my area: I have a senior pastor friend here in town who I connect with - we think alike, laugh a lot, share ideas, can be honest with each other, and we don't have to worry about competition - thanks Jeff Cranston.
A guy in the trenches with me: I have a friend on staff who has seen me through a lot of insecurities and screw-ups because he sees me as a friend before he sees me as a boss - thanks Eric Campbell.
I also have an amazing wife who supports me no matter what - when I'm up, when I'm down, and when I don't have a clue (which is frighteningly often!)
10. DON'T FORGET TO ENJOY THE RIDEI'll admit, this one is a tough one for me. I can hear 98 positive comments, but I'll only focus on the 2 negative. I can be a part of deep life change and exciting ministries, but I'll lose sleep over the leaders who are struggling and the people who are unhappy. It is so easy to miss the JOY in what you are doing because of the PAIN in all of it! Why is it that we (I) take to heart the bad stuff, but don't let the good stuff sink in? Don't forget to appreciate the ride your on and to enjoy all the lessons from every bump and bruise you get along the way!
I'm still learning as I go, and I know there are a hundred books and a thousand posts that can give you more (and probably better) insights than these, but hopefully they will help somebody out along the way.
Feel free to leave any thoughts/comments; I'd love to see people post what they would add to the list!