Don't Let Ministry Kill You

(This blog entry is for anyone considering being a pastor)

This month Mercy Church (formerly known as Olathe Life Fellowship) celebrates its 10th Anniversary. I almost wanted to say, “Mercy Church survives 10 years of ministry by the grace of God!” On some level that is totally true! Sometimes that’s just how ministry feels … almost like running a marathon. It’s extremely rewarding and euphoric at times, but also difficult and grueling. It’s been a wonderful 10 years, though my hope and prayer is that the next 10 are even more fruitful.

I am a part of a wonderful church planting organization called ARC (Association of Related Churches) based out of Birmingham, Alabama. Because of that relationship I get calls from young soon-to-be church planters/pastors asking me to share the wisdom from my experience of planting a church 10 years ago and we are still up and running.

I am not sure if what I have to share would be considered wisdom, but I have learned some things, though not all good, but it is my experience, my journey of planting a church. So here you go, a few things I’ve learned over the 10 years of being a pastor, church planter, teacher, leader, friend, counselor, wedding officiant, administrator, visionary, financial planner, strategist, and most importantly - husband, father and of course Christ-follower!

1)      It’s easy to lose your family in the maze of ministry!

Don’t! It’s just not worth it. Your family is more important! Please don’t forget that! Fortunately I have kept my marriage and my family, but it hasn’t been easy, and not without some battle wounds. You have heard it said a million times, “your #1 ministry is YOUR FAMILY!” Live like that is true, because it is.

2)      Try to keep your ego out of it.

Early on I really struggled with this one, actually I’m not really so sure I struggled with it; I just let my ego run wild. It’s hard to do and I’m not so sure I am doing so good at it now, but I know I am way beyond where I was years ago! Age and experience has a way of refining you, if you let it.

I believe that if you can keep your ego out of it you will see the success you dream about sooner than later.

3)      Be careful how you define success.

I come from a church culture that defines success in numbers. And for a church that is Attendance and Offering numbers. If those are up and growing, then you are a success, if not, than you are not a success.

And what sucks is that as much as we say, “I don’t care about the numbers!” We do care, and the line we always use to justify this obsession is, “numbers equal people and we care about people … plus there is an Old Testament Book of the Bible named Numbers!” Ha ha! On one hand I get it, and we count every Sunday both attendance and offering to see where we are, and that’s okay. We want to be good stewards! BUT if you get your value and sense of well-being from those numbers, something is seriously out of whack.

If you want to get Biblical about it, just look at various characters in the Bible who didn’t seem to have the “numbers” or the “success” but were following God’s perfect plan for their lives and ministry, i.e. Jeremiah is a good one.

Obviously, our churches should be pursuing growth, especially if it’s reaching people for Christ! But, in my humble opinion I believe that our success should be defined by three things:

                                           I.            Our personal relationship with God.

                                        II.            Our relationship with our spouse.

                                     III.            Our person relationship with others.

4)      You can’t make everyone happy.

I have tried, and it is the one thing in life that I have conceded is in fact impossible. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll never make everyone happy. If you do contemporary worship some will love it, some will not. (I know, hard to believe!) If you preach verse by verse some will love it, some will not. If you preach topical, some will love it, some will not. Some will like the new staff member, others will not. Some will like the church structure, others will not. On and on we go.

Bottom line, your church cannot make everyone happy, so don’t even try.

5)      Be who God called you to be.

Yet another area I struggled with early on in ministry. And frankly, I still wrestle with knowing just who I am. But early on I tried to be Rick Warren (although a skinnier version (I don’t mean that mean, it’s just what popped into my mind, so I typed it … lol!) I tried to be Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels, Joel Osteen, Timothy Keller, Chris Hodges, (add successful famous pastor’s name here) and it just didn’t work.
I did and do actually preach my own original sermons each week (maybe that’s the problem – lol!) so I never got in to preaching other pastors material, but I tried to be like them in other ways, and it just didn’t work. I am Timmy Gibson, a unique and special individual, just like you are unique and have that special something that only you have. Be you, and I promise you won’t have to try as hard!

6)      Love Jesus.

Thankfully this is one area that’s been easy for me, probably because of my strong Christian heritage. I love Jesus more today than ever. Unfortunately I have seen many pastors fall by the wayside for some reason or another. Usually sin. I don’t know how else to say it, but simply love Jesus a lot! Let it be the one thing that is constant about you and your life. People will appreciate it more than a lot of other things you could do for them.

And by “loving Jesus” I am talking about doing whatever it takes to maintain a close relationship with Him! You won’t regret it.

7)      Constantly ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

And answer HONESTLY! Sometimes we do good things for the WRONG reasons. Be careful, it’s easy to do. Too many pastors do what they do more for their ego then they do for God or people. I know this because I’ve been there.

8)      Find community outside your church.

I’ve made friends in our church, and have lost friends in our church! Ouch! Ministry is painful. Everyone wants to be your friend (at least they think they do). But the reality is that most people can’t handle it, even in a culture like ours where who I am on Sunday is who I am during the week still doesn’t work to have close friends from the congregation. I have even had people seek my friendship and when they don’t get it leave the church. Ha ha! I’m not totally sure why friendships don’t work with those inside the church, it just doesn’t.

There are exceptions to the rule, I do have a couple friends who have been mature enough to be our friends and congregation members at the same time, but normally this never works out. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship with someone in the church, but a close friendship is pretty impossible. Here is one reason; if and when they leave your church it is incredible difficult to not take it personal … especially when they have told you, “I would never leave you or your church … unless you killed someone, then I might leave.” And next thing you know, they leave.

So, be careful and look for friends outside your local church, and having other pastors as friends can be helpful too … only if they are awesome!

9)      To be a pastor you must be called to do it. 

      Don’t do it because you think it will be cool. Ha ha! First, it’s not cool! Secondly, you won’t last unless you are called to do it.

10)   Have fun!

Ministry should be enjoyable. I had fun the first several years, then as ministry got tough and people got difficult I stopped having fun. And what is sad is that I am normally a really fun guy who loves to laugh and have a good time. Ministry sucked that out of me. And I went through a season of funk that wasn’t fun. Not for me, my wife, my kids or those who worked with me. Actually the whole church culture began to shift from a from place to a not so fun place. That led to hiring some not-so-fun people that would’ve never been hired in our fun phase. Of course I had to fire them so we could begin getting our fun culture back. It’s taken a while, but we’re back, thank God!

Here’s the deal, just like most things in life there is a side of it (whatever “it” is) that we love and enjoy, then there is another side that isn’t so enjoyable. Not that it is bad in any way, there is just a fun part and a not so fun part. It’s life. It’s like a child; there are a lot of wonderful things about having children. But with that comes poopy diapers that need to be changed, dirty butts that need to be wiped, etc. It’s just part of it. Church is no different! There are things about it I absolutely love, and there is the other. What I have learned to do is to remember to focus on the things I love. You should too! And don’t allow anything to rip the fun out of ministry.

My prayers are with you!