In two weeks, I will celebrate twelve months as Senior Pastor at Ovilla Road Baptist Church. It’s been an incredible year full of joy, blessings, a few hurts, a lot of refinement, and many lessons learned. Thinking back over the past twelve months, here are a few of those things:
1. Talking about change is change. I greatly underestimated how the talk of change can be unsettling to some. The truth is no one, including myself, likes change. Change is a difficult thing to talk about, much less implement. As a leader, you are forced to deal with it. To many, it brings a degree of uncertainty rather than hope. That uncertainty is compounded exponentially when it is coming from the new guy on the block. Be careful how much, how often, and how quickly you bring about those pressing issues. By all means, lead the church in change, but don’t underestimate the consequence of the spoken word, even when your actions haven’t matched up quite yet.
2. In communicating change, don’t paint the past as wrong. Probably my biggest regret over the past year was unintentionally implying that because change was coming, it was directly the result of past leaders or church members who were simply wrong in how they did things. This was a huge mistake. While I never said this, nor thought it, by not clarifying people were left to make their own assumptions. There is a time and place for everything, change included. Just because God might be calling the church to move in another direction, it isn’t solely or always the result of past disobedience or ignorance. It is rather the overflow of what God called them to do for that particular time, and now He is calling them to begin a new work. Nothing less, nothing more.
3. Don’t make any major changes for twelve months. Pastors rarely get fired for their poor preaching. Rather, pastors get fired for the their poor leadership. One of the big faults I’ve seen many ministers make in the beginning of their tenure is to shake things up immediately, to make a statement. I think this is a big mistake. The first twelve months in the pastorate should be focused on building relationships and establishing trust, so that when the change comes, you’ll have something to stand on.
4. Managing study time is a constant battle. As the Pastor, everyone wants your attention. When I made myself available to everyone at anytime, I was of no value to anyone at anytime. The first few months on the job entailed late Friday and Saturday nights, refining and reworking my manuscript, because I had given myself to other things during the week. The best thing I did was ask my staff and the other Elders to allow me my mornings for study. From 8 AM – 11:30 AM, I was and am currently unavailable, so I can pour myself into the Word. This is sacred time and something I try to stick to as best as able. Obviously, things come up, emergencies happen, people inevitably stop by to say hello. I consider these times divine appointments from the Lord and allow them to happen, but at least on the front-end try to manage them.
5. Support your staff publicly and privately. Having served in three churches before ORBC, mostly as a Student Minister, I can remember the joy I received at times from my Pastor as he publically praised me to the congregation. But I also remember the times he took to write a note, send an email, or stop by the office to let me know I was doing a good job. Everyone needs encouragement from time to time and it means a lot when it comes from the Pastor to the staff. The majority of my time during the week is spent managing and leading the staff. I love this part of the job! Making sure the team is functioning in a way that promotes effective communication, unity, and being led by the Spirit is made a lot easier, if they feel supported by their Pastor.
6. Get to know your people. This goes without saying and is obvious, but I have really enjoyed the breakfast appointments, lunches, fellowships, Sunday school classes, and Care Group meetings. Getting to know the people of ORBC has been a huge blessing personally and for my family. I absolutely love our laidback mindset and the fact we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but consider the gospel of utmost importance. In many ways, I wish I could have spent more one on one time with more of the people. It’s amazing how God continues to grow in me an increasing desire to pray for and love the people of my church.
7. Text-driven preaching is time consuming. I now know why so many preachers preach topical sermons. Text-driven preaching is the most rewarding yet difficult part of my week. The bottom line, to preach in a text-driven manner is very laborious. It’s extremely tempting with time restraints and unrealistic expectations at times to draw from someone else’s well or to preach on an easy topic. Over the past twelve months, I have preached through the entire book of Philippians, Ruth, eight different parables, and am currently wrestling through 1 Timothy. I love the fact I know where I’m going three and even twelve months down the road. Systematically walking through the Scriptures forces me to handle the difficult texts so that the congregation gets the entirety of the Word.
8. Preach with conviction, but don’t forget the compassion. One of the things I have noticed between older preachers verses young is that the older tend to be more grace oriented and the younger guys, myself included, tend to be more direct. Often, I would listen to my favorite young “celebrity” preacher who would rant about something in the broader evangelical culture. In my immaturity, I would imitate certain aspects of this, but would always feel a little unsettled. In the end, I certainly want my preaching to have conviction, but also to be laced with the fruits of compassion and grace.
9. Confrontation is inevitable-have a backbone, but be compassionate. No matter how good, how kind, how gracious, how favorable you may think you are, there will be people who live for a good confrontation. I have served with Pastors who shy away from confrontation and live with the mindset “unity at all costs, even if the truth is compromised.” Others, live by the motto “truth at all costs, and run over anyone who gets in the way.” I think the truth is somewhere in the middle of these two. True, there will be times where the truth will costs you the friendship, but this should not be the norm. The goal in a confrontation should always be restoration, and not to put someone in their place. To shy away from confrontation is cowardly, but to go looking for it is just as foolish.