How to Survive the Storms of Pastoral Ministry
- Wednesday, January 06, 2010
I've had the privilege of stepping into three megachurch settings as the new senior pastor at high-risk moments. Each experience was marked by incredible stress. But all involved some wonderful people who have enriched my life in countless ways. Through these parishioners, their stories, and the journey God was taking us on, valuable lessons for avoiding a leadership crash emerged—the nine truths found in part 2 of this book.
You read about the first situation in the introduction. The church spotlighted in the Los Angeles Times that Tuesday morning eventually called me as their next senior pastor. This is the rest of the story: In addition to the tragedy of the previous pastor's moral failure, the congregation was embroiled in a multimillion dollar lawsuit over a church discipline case. In the year between my predecessor's resignation and my arrival, the church lost hundreds of attendees and experienced severe reductions in the budget. At the ripe age of thirty, I was in way over my head.
The second church knew the privilege of a faithful, Bible-loving senior pastor who served the congregation as their only pastor for forty years. I had the challenge—and pleasure—of being the guy to follow in his footsteps. (This gracious leader stayed in the church supporting me the entire eleven years of my pastoral ministry.) Despite being "the rookie" showing up after this seasoned pro, God did a profound work in this northern California church. We saw significant renewal and growth as the church planted daughter congregations and increased our impact literally around the world. The highlight of that assignment was a powerful prayer movement that sparked transformation in thousands of lives, launched several national conferences, and eventually led to the formation of the organization I lead today, Strategic Renewal.
The third assignment was the toughest. A congregation in the Midwest had relocated to a new campus in 2002. On their sixty-two acres they built a large, beautiful facility that included a worship center seating more than four thousand. In spite of the generosity of the congregation toward this project, a devalued U.S. stock market following the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 left many unable to fulfill their pledges. Then, only a few weeks after moving into the new facility, church members were jolted by the revelation that their enterprising pastor of fifteen years was engaged in an extramarital affair. The people were devastated.
About a year later, I was called as the next pastor of this hurting megachurch. Again, God's work of spiritual renewal saved the day as we faithfully taught His Word and aggressively sought Him on our knees. The Lord was so gracious to us. Today I have the joy of returning a couple times a year for ministry, and visiting my dear and faithful friends, since the church supports me as one of their missionaries. They are growing again under the leadership of their new pastor.
Lessons from the Black Box
In both the first and last assignments, I came into a situation where I had to analyze and deal with the "black box" of a leadership failure. By God's grace, I had to discern the cause and effects of an embarrassing and hurtful crash. There were lessons to learn here—lessons about brokenness, grace, prayer, determination, and restoration.
There were also lessons to learn about leadership. Just as the "black box" on a plane will help you understand what went wrong, so the task of sorting through the ashes of a leadership failure provides powerful lessons about keeping other leaders in the air. A few observations stand out:
• Most leaders stay in flight in spite of the difficulties. It is a point of optimism and gratitude that most leaders fly straight and end well. For every story of a leadership disaster, there are hundreds of faithful Christian leaders who serve with honor and humility every day. They strive to walk with Christ, love their spouses, care for their families ,and faithfully lead those entrusted to their care.
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