My first call experience with a church was pleasant. The search committee was clear and respectful. The people were enjoyable to be around. While the job description and title was primarily going to focus on youth ministry, I would also get to teach and preach some, so the church also had me preach on a Sunday morning and I was then affirmed afterwards. They were kind to my fiancé (who is now my wife). That entire Sunday call was a wonderful memory. I remember thinking that I hoped every Sunday morning would be like this week after week…
…and then Monday happened…
Two Monday events presented themselves:
1) The seasoned, tenured pastor told me that he was going to retire at the end of the month. This was a rural church, and I was going to be the only staff member. This meant my first church “staff” would be a party of one for a while, and
2) A longtime member of the church arrived at the office and wanted to talk. He took the opportunity to tell me his version of every conflict in church history, as well as his opinion of everyone in the church.
It was time to lead. I spent so much of my educational experience to that point learning how to translate Greek (which is important), putting together a solid exegesis (again, important), and presenting a lesson or sermon (important, of course). Then, all of the sudden, my world was consumed with leading.
In my first decade of ministry, I’ve learned, through study and experience, a few things about leading in the church. For just about anyone in ministry, they are going to lead at some point. For church starters, leading from day one will be a major priority.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about leading. I’ve broken them into two categories: leading others and leading self.
- The first call of a disciple isn’t to lead, but to follow Christ. So, a Christian leader ought to first remember their call is to follow first. It is in this following of the way of Jesus when we serve others and begin to lead them.
- Follow positive energy. Find the committed, positive people in your church and lead with them. Build relationships with those who support the vision, mission, and core values of the church. There will always be negative voices in any organization and a response to them may be appropriate. Proactive leadership, though, will often find itself partnering with those who are cooperative, positive, and committed to moving the church forward in a positive, unifying way.
- Sit with people. I preface this by saying that I know it’s the year 2017. Utilizing social networking, emails, texts, blogs, and whatever applicable technology available makes sense. But, there are times when nothing can replace a face to face visit. When someone is having a health crisis, requires a visit, or a tough conversation needs to take place, don’t neglect personal contact. Building relationships with people over meals, drinks, and other fellowship activities enhances the depth of community with one another. To lead someone, leaders need to know their followers. It takes time and energy to sit with people, but it’s totally worth it.
- Be willing to be changed by those you lead. Corrie Ten Boom said, “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” Start with a posture of openness toward the ideas and wishes of church members. Love one another more than the love of being right. Serve one another out of mutual love and respect.
- To effectively lead others, a church starter will first need to be able to lead oneself. When Jesus said to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” the statement implies one must properly love oneself first! The burnout rate among ministers is high, and that does not exempt church starters.
- Resiliency is critical. You will fail as a church starter at times. That’s okay. You’ll have a bad sermon. You’ll roll out a program that won’t catch on. You’ll lose control of your emotions and lash out at someone you love. The reality is you’ll miss the mark from time to time. When you fail, you’ll need to keep moving forward. Learn from your shortcomings and evolve.
- Be careful how you judge yourself. Success/failure metrics often derive from quantitative categories that don’t tell the whole story (bodies, baptisms, and buildings don’t say much about your particular vision, mission, or core values). One of the mantras we focused on early in our church was “faithfulness over success.” What we meant was that we would be faithful to whatever God called us to do, and then we would be content with wherever that led us.
- Pattern the behavior you want in your followers. Do you want committed church members? Be committed. Do you want positive folks in your church? Be positive yourself. Do you want others to show you grace? Be a presence of grace. A wise teacher once said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
So, what about you? What have you learned about leading others and/or yourself? What experiences would be beneficial to share with others? What wisdom has God given you through your church starting journey?
This post was originally published here. The themes in this post came out of the CBF Church Starts Podcast “Most Common Mistakes of Church Starts, Part 3, featuring Kyle Tubbs.” Subscribe to this bi-weekly podcast in iTunes or TalkShoe.
Rev. Kyle Tubbs is the Lead Pastor at PoCC, a CBF Commissioned Church Starter and a Leadership Coach with the CBF Coaching Network.