It's hard to believe I've been at my current church for seven years now! When the average tenure for a pastor is fewer than four years, it is a great blessing to be able to lead alongside people you love for so long, to be known not simply as a pastor but as a friend.

I received a good deal of advice as I entered my first lead pastorate. Among the philosophical gems was, "Don't make close friends with anyone. It just makes it harder to say goodbye when you have to leave." Yay. Thanks for that. Another nugget was, "Year one, you can do nothing wrong. Year two, you can do nothing right. Year three, someone leaves..." And so it was that, armed with such inspiration, I charged off into this venture. I am thankful to the Lord that, though it has been difficult at times, I have not experienced the pitfalls of which I was warned.

On the occasion of my seventh anniversary in the pastorate, I wonder if I've really learned anything. But as I begin to record some of the fingerprints this endeavor has left on my soul, I soon realize how difficult a task to pare a list of lessons down to just seven! I pray that what follows may benefit the pastors among us as well as those who love and support them.

Seven Things I've Learned in Seven Years as a Pastor

1. Plan to Stay

Slow down. Think long term. Lead like you'll be there forever. I think this mindset may be the most simplistic but also the most foundational to the six lessons that follow. Often when we enter a situation, we come with preconceived ideas of what we want to do and when we want it to happen. The obstacle to those dreams, however, is that we walk into a context that preceded us. If we are not careful, we will start driving in one direction with no thought to the reality that the context will also likely out-live our time in leadership. In the process we can injure what is for the sake of what we hope will be. Think of it this way: you approach a remodel very differently if you're flipping a house than if you are moving in. If we take the same approach as we lead, we are more likely to do so with personal and organizational integrity instead of just slapping on programmatic Spackle to cover serious structural or systemic issues.

2. Be Realistic with Yourself

You are not Tim Keller. You are not Craig Groeschel. I hope that is not news to you. In reality, Dr. Keller and Mr. Groeschel are likely not who you think them to be, either. They are men. Great leaders and teachers to be sure – but they are men. You are a man (at least in my denomination you are). Christ is our savior. "Great" spiritual leaders have no greater information nor greater message. The soundness of leadership is not founded on diction, erudition or charisma but on the clarity of the Gospel message. May God grant that we have leaders in churches of 50 that love and teach the Gospel with as much passion and vigor as men who lead congregations of 5,000. God intends to use you where you are – not where you hope to be. So be careful of the way you define greatness.

3. Be Real with Your People

Be honest. Be approachable. Be wrong. How does your interaction with your people lead them to see you? To be sure, bearing the title of Pastor carries with it some odd level of otherness that makes relating to those in your care a bit more work. Who can approach you? Do your people know that you do not have special access to God that they can not enjoy? Are you appropriately honest with your own struggles? The pastorate can be insular if we let it. However, that is detrimental not only to the relationship we have with our people but also to our own spiritual well-being. Being approachable and committed to community allows a pastor to extend and experience the great grace of God. We are able to show compassion and we are able to receive compassion. One of the most powerful moments for you may be to sit with someone or even say before your people, "I was wrong" and to receive God's grace through them.