What I learned from pastoring six churches
Church #1 Corpus Christi, Texas
- Preparation is the road, not a destination. I have learned and unlearned a lot along things while pastoring over the years. The call to preach/pastor is a call to prepare. And preparation is ongoing. Preparation involves more than preparing your mind, I have learned to pastor, you must have a prepared heart and spirit. You must spend time with God!
- God’s people are gracious. The people of my first church, Flour Bluff Church of the Nazarene, Corpus Christi, TX were some of the most gracious and fun people I have ever been privileged to pastor. They overlooked my mistakes and errors and foolishness and loved me and Susanne and were great encouragers. Through Facebook I still keep in touch with some of these heroes who knew we were green and loved us anyway. I will never forget the fellowship we had with these folks. I am smiling just thinking about the times we had. We were a long way from home and they loved us like family.
- Fear has an upside. My fear of what to do and how to it, caused me to learn early in ministry to depend on the Lord.
- Find a mentor. In my first church the pastor at Trinity Nazarene in Corpus Christi, Monte Nabors was my mentor and friend. I had many cups of coffee with this dear brother and veteran pastor. He mentored me and I had no idea how desperately I needed the help. He was a Christ like example and friend. Thankfully, I never felt isolated in my ministry. Discouraged, yes, but never like I was out there on my own.
Church #2 Syracuse, Indiana
- To reach a community you must become involved in the community. The community ministerial association conducted a boat in worship service from Memorial day to Labor day at the largest natural lake in the state of Indiana. It was very well attended and pastors of the community shared the preaching and leading of the service. Several came and sat along the shore and many came in boats and anchored them around the boat that the speaker preached from. It was in this setting that I learned the power of church and ministerial cooperation. It was here I learned that when churches cooperate there is a greater community impact.
- I really learned leadership in this pastorate. A business leader in the church took me under his wing and taught me important life lessons, as well as I caught a lot of leadership principles by spending time with him. This was a wonderful laboratory of learning. It has impacted my life to this day.
- It was here that I learned God does do big things in small places. The town was quite small, and the church grew. There are always enough people to lead to faith and to disciple, regardless of the size of the community. Truly some of the best gifts do come in small packages.
- Prayer became central to the move of God we experienced. Our prayer meetings on Wednesday night became the highlight of the week. We saw answers to prayer and it was exciting to see God moving in our church.
- It is exciting to see people come to faith and to see the church increase in attendance. Some of the most fulfilling days of our ministry happened in this little town.
- I learned that growth does not happen overnight. My first service in Syracuse, there were 18 people in attendance. There were Sunday nights in the winter that I preached to less than 10 people. You must do your best even if the crowd is small. I preached my heart out to 8 people, and tried to conduct myself as if there were 800 people in attendance. I learned to keep plugging away and do your best, pray and trust God for the results.
- I learned there is more to overnight success than overnight! When our church began to grow people thought I was an expert. They wanted to know what my secret was, but the truth was that there was no secret. I also learned to beware of people who tell you there is a secret. Let me tell you the secret, do your best, pray and leave it with the Lord.
Church #3 Kalamazoo, Michigan
- No one is impressed by your press clippings. We had experienced some good days toward the end of our ministry in Syracuse, Indiana. Yet, you can’t live fixated on what you did yesterday. Today is a new day. Ministry happens in the present, not the past.
- Leadership is both an art and science. What worked while pastoring a young church did not necessarily work in an established church. Answers are not automatic, that is why we need to keep learning and seek the wisdom of the Lord.
- God moves in ways only known to Him. In this church where I felt out of my element, was where we experienced some of the best numerical growth of our ministry.
- God is always doing something to shape and fashion His will in our lives. God does not allow us to keep doing or redoing the same things that have worked in the past.
- Your leadership has to change as well. This was the first traditional church I pastored. The other congregations I had pastored were newer churches and called for a particular style of leadership. Here I learned about checks and balances and committees and processes, I had a bias toward being in charge and against processes. I discovered that just because the denomination says that I was the pastor/leader, did not mean I was the leader in actuality. It was in Kalamazoo that I learned that leadership has to understand culture, the constituency, and the mission.
- There are some things in retrospect that you will never be able to completely understand. We must give the mysteries of life over to God as well. An important leadership lesson gleaned from this time period is: do not place blame, take responsibility. The people of this congregation were wonderful folks who loved God with all of their heart.
Church #4 Huntington, Indiana
- A strong history is a good thing
- Family is important. We had two families that had five generations in the congregation!
- Music is an important part of worship.
- We are indebted to the people who made many sacrifices and paved the way for the things we enjoy today.
- God does great things in small places
- The people of this church impacted our lives by their love and generosity.
- Many times we receive much more from our congregations than we realize at the time.
Church #5 Indianapolis Westside
- The importance of history. Westside has a history of great pastors throughout its rich history. R. B. Acheson and J.K Warrick between the two of them served the congregation for 30 years. Having followed them I benefited immensely from their leadership. One needs to understand and appreciate and benefit from the great things God has done in a place through the ministry of pastors and laity alike.
- People make the church. Westside has been blessed down through the years with some of the finest lay leaders. Evangelism and discipleship were hallmarks at Westside. God blessed this church with so many dedicated people.
- The importance of a great staff. During my time at Westside, God gave us a great staff, these godly and talented staff members were like family, and we remain close with all of them to this day.
- The importance of laughter. Church health experts tells us that laughter among a congregation is one of the signs of a healthy church. If that is the case the staff and congregation at Westside were extremely healthy. So many things and events transpired during our time there, that just thinking about them brings a smile to my face as I type this sentence. We surely did have a great time.
- The importance of relationships. Relationships are the real gold in life. Today I am thankful for the relationships that have spanned across nearly two decades. We are richer and better people because our lives intersected with the people of Westside Church of the Nazarene. People matter to God, and they should matter to each of us as well. One of the great joys I have is that several times a year as I am visiting one of our congregations, a young person will come up to me and remind me that I dedicated them when they were babies and immediately there is a connection. Today I am thankful for my church family, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the Westside Church of the Nazarene in Indianapolis
Church #6 Detroit
I reentered pastoral ministry after a few years of serving at the Global Ministry Center for the Church of the Nazarene. I learned many lessons in this pastorate as well.
- I learned as I reentered pastoral ministry that things in the world and culture are changing rapidly.
- I learned that community and church culture are real and important.
- I learned that strong lay leaders must be embraced and included in the ministry.
- I learned some of our best leaders are sitting in the pews. Several staff members came from out of the congregation. The majority of these folks are still active in ministry
- I learned that hard times forge relationships that are strong and lasting. Even though there were some tough days in Detroit, I have no congregation that I love or feel closer to than the people who were a part of the church in Detroit.
These are just a few of my observations from my years of pastoral ministry. I learned more than I taught, I was loved more than I even realized at the time. From the bottom of my heart I say to all of my former parishioners I love you! I appreciate and value each one of you!