“I want the whole staff here to know, that you should only be pursuing interests and training that help THIS church, at this particular moment. If it’s not for the church as a whole, you do not have time for it right now.”
I actually heard a lead pastor make this statement to his very large staff many years back. As I drove home to my own church that evening, I thought a lot about what he had said. And I came to the conclusion that I disagreed with his statement. And when I talk with a young new kid’s pastor, or a pastor at a church I’m consulting with, I always tell them, “You need to continually be working on YOU. Continue your training. Further your education. Beef up that portfolio. Work on that book, or ministry side project. Many times, that leader will shake their head and respond, “Oh, I couldn’t do any of those things. I cannot be thinking of ME; I have to be thinking about this church and this ministry. Thinking about things outside of this ministry right now would just be selfish.”
Yikes. Holy Guilty Martyr syndrome batman!!!! No it’s not selfish to keep working on YOU, and here are four good reason why self-improvement is a great idea for ministers of all ages:
1. You are setting the example for those you are leading. This includes the children and youth who look up to you, your own family, your staff and your volunteer leaders. You know how parents can sometimes say, “Do what I say and not what I do”? We pastors are often guilty of that. We tell our church and family, “YOU need to finish your education, YOU need to get out there and write that book, YOU need to study Scripture more deeply, YOU need to go on a missions trip” etc. etc. But are we asking them to do what we are not doing anymore? Great leaders do not give others a list of things to do. Great leaders MODEL a Christ centered life. We should be saying like Paul, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Do you want your congregation, children, leaders to keep growing in Christ and in their education and experiences? Great. You go first and then invite them to follow.
2. Great leaders are always learning. It is a myth to think, “Well, I did all these things in the past and I can just check them off my list.” Your relationship with Christ should be a living part of your life- continuing to grow. Your marriage should continue to grow. And your education, training and portfolio should continually be growing as well. The best leaders are always finding new ways to challenge themselves and fresh ways to take a new step up. Then you are not feeding those following you with old moldy leftovers from years ago; you are serving up something fresh that you just learned yourself! It is a dangerous trap to ever sit on our laurels and think, “I have arrived.” If you are still breathing on this side of heaven, then you should still be learning, growing and becoming more like Christ- living more of the plan He has for you! This is the same whether you are 8 or 108!!

3. Your ministry should reach further than the church you are at right now. Now before you throw things at me for blasphemy- I know we all hope to be at our current church, ministry forever. But the reality is that most ministry positions do not last (3.7 years is the average, with student ministries being far less 17 months). I’m not condoning short ministry stays- I believe short stays can do a lot of damage to the church, the leadership and the minister themselves. But the truth is that it is very very rare for a ministry position to go on until retirement. And it is not wrong to ask yourself, “How will I be better for my time here?”  Did you pursue higher education? Did you take on bigger ministry challenges? Too many young ministers are completely lost when a ministry position ends, no matter what the reason. They haven’t updated their resume in ages, they have no portfolio- and sometimes the church they are leaving has a lot of great things to show for that minister’s time there, but the young minister does not, usually due to not being careful to keep pictures, examples of work, numbers records etc. One of my favorite Bible college professors once gave me great advice, “Trish, love people and minister like you’ll be there forever; keep up your resume and portfolio because you’ll need them some day- don’t be scrambling at the last second.” Sometimes we all lose sight that our church is not THE church. God’s kingdom is a lot bigger than that. We shouldn’t be telling God where He can place us. So we minister and make a huge impact where God has called us, for as long as we can. And when and if God moves us on, our calling and ministry continue, just in a new venue. And you will need your updated resume, complete with updated portfolio with examples of your best work ready to go. God is your final Boss, and He won’t change His mind about your calling. Ministry positions sometimes end. Your marriage, family, relationship with Jesus and your calling should not.

4. To minister effectively, you are going to have to keep adapting. We’ve all met them. Ministers who learned something in Bible college or on a missions trip 25 years ago- and they haven’t changed their approach or methods since. They thought they learned, “how it’s done” and to this day, they just do those outdated things over and over again, even without getting any results. They do not know any other way and are unwilling to learn new ways. The message of salvation in Jesus Christ does not change- but our methods for reaching this generation can and will. We must continually keep training and learning to keep up. Otherwise our ministry becomes the equivalent of moving to Shanghai, screaming your sermon at the people in Swahili, and then condemning them all for “not being interested or engaged.” Of course they aren’t listening! You aren’t speaking the language! About every 10-15 years, the “language” we speak here in the United States changes drastically. If you aren’t growing and changing with it, you are wasting your time and theirs, preaching nonsensical words that are not having the desired effect. Paul said, “I am all things to all men, that by any means I may save some.” Want to be an effective leader? Learn the language and culture of the people God has sent you to. Learn some new methods of doing ministry. Change up those cultural references and object lessons. You don’t have to be ‘hip’. You just have to be willing to love people and meet them where they are. Let’s never be too stubborn or lazy to learn what we have to, to reach whomever we can. Jesus died to reach those people- and now He has called you to tell them about His love and His offer of a new life. There is no greater message or responsibility on earth! Let’s tell His message often, clearly and in as many ways as possible!

So I hope you can see, the best hope for a better church, is a better YOU. Start with what you have- yourself! What steps can you take right NOW to improve yourself as a leader and to prepare for whatever God has for your next? It’s an exciting adventure…one that’s just getting started…..

Love Trisha

Swaziland, Africa training leaders, ministering to kids

Swaziland, Africa training leaders, ministering to kids