Every kid gets asked sooner or later, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I remember wanting to be an archeologist, a sports doctor, the President of the USA, but I don’t ever recall wanting to be a pastor…but I am and God continually blows my mind in how He works.

So, I never had my sights on the Pastorate.  My wife and I met when I was 20, and God used her to tap on my shoulder and give me a nudge towards what has been the most incredibly thrilling, fun, challenging, and heart breaking calling, for what has been 27 years now.  As I write this, I’m 48.  So its overwhelming to think that I’ve been doing ministry work literally more than 1/2 of my entire life.

In 1991, I began ministry work at a whopping 21 years old.  Was I ready? If you’d asked me then, I’d reply the same I would today…”I was born ready.”…but my heart would be experiencing fear and intimidation as I said it.  My personality has always allowed me to look confident in the face of anything…but if I could ever show you a video of what is going on inside of me when I say, “I’m born ready,” you’d be surprised. But, I have a gift of pushing through the fear with ease.  Even if I don’t know what I’m doing or terrified, I just know things work out.  They do for you too.  Even the tragic stuff. Even when it all fails.  Don’t get me wrong, things can be killer-heart-wrenching.  But, as I look back…things are okay.  You are too. As I look back to when I was 21 and headed to where God has me now…there is only one guarantee through it all…God is good, no matter what. He really has your best in mind, through anything and everything.

Fast forward 27 years, and I’ve learned countless lessons I’m happy to share with anyone who is in ministry or considering Lead Pastorate Ministry as a full time profession and calling.  I won’t share insights from a strategy or operations perspective here. We’d need to meet for some coffee or Dr. Pepper so I can understand your unique circumstances before I’d ever offer some strategy and/or organizational advice.

Instead, I’ll just offer some observations from my insomnia chair this morning, induced from a 10 hour time change from Israel to AZ, as I’ve just returned from leading a group through the Holy Lands.

Here are my suggestions to those who know they are called into full time ministry.  It’ll have to be another blog, another time about whether or not you know you are called into ministry.  Full time ministry as a calling is something that you Have to do.  Its more a haunting than a calling.  So, once again…here are my suggestions.

1. Be willing to develop “Elephant Skin.” 

Get ready for the two greatest C’s of your life.  Critics and Consequences.  Its judgement on earth. In the ministry, you think you should be the giver; but in reality you are the receiver. Think of an NFL receiver who has both hands over his head as he received a pass and is now about to receive a hit from the Outside Linebacker as he comes down with the ball.  Internal pressure and public hits come with the work—both sometimes appropriate and sometimes completely unfounded. Either way, count on being second guessed all the time. Keep in in mind the two C’s work in unison.  They get really abusive when you are down and struggling, too.  The two C’s cheat by kicking you when you are down.  Just like Jesus, you are a receiver now, and your skin will thicken so you can take it.

This reality makes you no different than Moses, or David, or Nehemiah, and many others of the Bible. You are in good company.  The people you have been called to lead, will be Monday morning quarterbacks and couch coaches, and rarely will they come to you directly to offer their wisdom and insight.  You’ll hear it from the 3rd or 4th, or 10th person down the telephone game line sharing it in a form that doesn’t even sound like the language you speak.  Straight up, in full-time lead pastor ministry work, you are going to receive a pounding.  Do it anyway! Its your calling.  You were made for it.

The best way to develop Elephant Skin is to continually practice.  So, every time you face the two C’s, respond by first using your head, then trusting your gut, and lastly filtering it all through your heart.  The order of those body parts is critical.  Don’t deviate and you will find yourself someday with amazingly tough hide.

2. They’re out of your league, but you answer to them.

Everybody in full time ministry that is not a lead pastor, thinks your job is pretty easy. They are wrong.  I can give you a long list of names to call, of people who came out swinging in the Lead Pastor ring, only to discover in round two they were awakened from a KO wondering what happened as they stare cross-eyed at the stars encircling their head.

So, for one, you’re in a league of your own.  It really is outstanding.  As you face this reality, you better work hard to make sure your character is at the same level or higher than your ego.  As Lead Pastor,  it is vital that you realize you’re a member of a team.  You ultimately lead that team in strategy and health. You own it. You lead the team. You get the blame. Staff member’s look to you for the direction they will go. You carry the pressure. It’s way heavier than anybody can even guess.

The biggest mistake the KO’d pastors made is that they were fooled, thinking the Lead Pastor is his or her own boss, and operates in a form of monarchism. The fact is, I have more bosses today than ever. A staff person of a Church has one boss. As a Lead Pastor, the Elders ultimately can fire you, and they serve as your boss, so you may have five, seven, or more on the board to report to — and there is also your Lord and God, who often will tell you differently than your board of Elders would like to go.  In addition to that, you must answer to your weekly offering realities. The financial pressure alone, is enough to make you want to throw in the white towel. And lastly, you will face the people of your church who act as your master. You will hear things like, “We don’t pay you to do that.” Or, you will hear many “shoulds” that these wanna-be masters will tell you.

It’s a difficult and awesome reality.  You are in a league of your own, but you have many masters.  I pray you will have the guts to follow the one and only Master…Jesus…At all costs.  His final opinion is the only one that truly matters.  Love and serve all your masters, but obey only The Master…Jesus.

3. Yep, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins is right. 

Get the wrong people off the bus, get the right people on the bus.  Get the right people on the bus in the right seats…and hang on!  I’ve learned over the past 27 years, that the same results happen whether I pull the band-aid off fast, or slowly peal it back.  Fast or slow, is not right or wrong. Each decision you face will need to be made with wisdom as to whether or not is should be fast or slow. Remember, the results ultimately will be the same.  Prayerfully choose your speed and be prepared for your skin to become more elephant-like.

There’s a narrow line between showing love and doing what’s right for your team and Church.  Straight up, if your gut is telling you something isn’t working, trust it.  Don’t waste time—make the change and do it quickly. If I have any regrets, its that I hired too fast and fired too slow, and I allowed my competitive nature to make me think my idea would work with just a little more time, when in reality, it just isn’t working.  Make quick decisions, but make sure they are bathed in prayer.

Time and space won’t allow for full disclosure of the different kind of Churches that exist to lead and how that relates to you as a Lead Pastor.  Each one is different for a Lead Pastor.  There are Church Planting, Church Transitioning into a new Lead Pastor, Church Mergers and Acquisitions, Churches with multiple campuses, and Churches that are dying and need revitalized.

I suppose it really doesn’t matter which one, from the list above, that you are currently leading, because the critical factor in all of them, is your core ministry team and who is on it.  In all the different kinds of Churches, Leadership is ultimately what matters.  In the Church, the ministry team is the most important team, and the double edged sword of Church world, is that the elders will think they are the most important team.  They are not. Your full time pastoral team is the most important team in the Church. They are on the ground every minute of everyday.  Your elder team attends Sundays and has a meeting once a month.  Getting the elders to recognize this biblical truth is enough to make you want to quit ministry in itself. Seriously.

 It’s critical to determine who is effective on any team you have in the Church, and who may not have the appropriate skill set, experience, and personality to take the Church forward with you. Nothing is more important than putting the right people in the right place, at the right time—for them and the Church.  Trust me, this is very difficult thing.  You and others will be hurt.  Do your best to make decisions, trying not to burn bridges.  I promise you, your good intentions for what is best for the Church, will be misunderstood, and you will face much pain because of the misunderstandings. Make decisions anyway.  Fast or slow.  Never forget, Heaven and Hell are in the balance and eternity is at stake with every decision you make.

4. You are who you attract.

“Birds of a feather, flock together.”  If you are Church transition-er, taking over for a previous Lead Pastor…then you will face this tough reality like no other Lead Pastor does.  Church Planters start with their own hand picked group to start the new Church, or they start with zero people and attract and build with people who have the same DNA.  I’ve planted two Churches. I’m now transitioning two existing Churches.  Church planting, as challenging as it is, is not near as difficult than Church transitioning from a previous Lead Pastor.  I don’t say that to pick a fight.  Its just a truth that affects how your day to day life will go as a Lead Pastor.  A Church transition-er will  have to face two or more years of extreme criticism and people leaving the Church before they can ever start reaching new people who are unsaved. The smaller the town that this happens in, the faster gossip and false information spreads and it is just brutal and a special kind of evil that will work you over.

My point in all this is simply…Your DNA matters and affects who will leave your church and who will stay.  You really can’t do anything about it.  Just persevere and remember this…every problem your church faces is solved by reaching the lost.  (Try me…give me any problem you face in your church in the comments section, and I’ll give you the solution through the filter of reaching the lost.)

A final thought for this point 4.  Never forget: Everything you say, every tone in your voice and your body language ,is being observed. Make sure you’re projecting what you mean—all the time, every time. Your DNA matters.  You attract who you are.  The people in your church who are staying and getting fully committed are just like you.  The moral of the story…you need to be real and authentic.  God knows anyway.  He is the one you are really trying to please.  Just be you, and God will bring you people as He builds His Church.

6. Try to have some fun as you face a serious dynamic.

Being a Lead Pastor is exciting; you’ve worked hard, so enjoy it. Get rest. Honor your vacation time. Plan for the future.  Lead the Church like you are going to retire tomorrow.  Lead your Church by making decisions that will make your successor, successful.  Never ever fail to admit when you’re wrong.  “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” are the 5 most powerful words in the world. Tell your congregation every Sunday, that you love them, even when you don’t feel it.  I remind you, you really do love them.  Remember that you cannot know it all, but you can assemble a team that does!

The most challenging dynamic of being a Lead Pastor is being willing to challenge people now with loving truth, so they are not mad at you when Jesus returns and they didn’t make it into Heaven.  Live your life, and lead the church, in such a way that nobody can blame you on the day of judgment for their failure to enter the narrow gate.  This is a serious dynamic that is tough to balance. High Challenge and High Love.  Again, lead in such a way, that nobody will be able to point their finger at you, if they don’t get through that narrow gate.

Have fun, set high expectations and be deliberate. Most of all, remember it’s all about people, and the most important one is Jesus.

I’d love to hear your comments, additions, or disagreements.  I have elephant skin, I can handle it.  The best part of it, is that we will continue to learn together.  That is what a disciple is…A learner.

I love you and want what is best for you.  I pray this post challenged you to be your best.

Finally…if you are a Lead Pastor or sensing you want to be one, and you’d like to discuss this further with me.  Send me an email.  I’d love to start some correspondence with you.  trent@returnhope.com