After spending more than eight years in youth ministry, my wife Annette and I moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to central Illinois in December of 1997 to plant a church that would target unchurched and de-churched people.
The following words (spoken to me months earlier by a ministry consultant in Tulsa) echoed in my mind just before RockChurch opened its doors for the first time on May 31, 1998: "Chuck, when you move to Illinois to plant your church, start a fire. People will gather to get warm. If you build it big enough, people will come from everywhere to watch it burn."
We started a fire that night—exactly 20 years ago—and the fire is still blazing, the gospel is still being preached and heart transformation is still taking place regularly.
According to LifeWay Research, about 250 pastors leave the ministry each month. You don't have to be one of them. Here are 20 things I have learned from pastoring the same church for 20 years.
20 Things I've Learned From Pastoring the Same Church For 20 Years
- Run! Get out of town as fast as you can! Just kidding. While immensely rewarding, church planting and pastoring are not for those who do it because they think It would be cool to pastor a church. You have to be called, period.
- You don't know everything, so remain teachable and surround yourself with leaders who are smarter than you.
- You can't do everything, especially if you want your church to break through growth barriers. Let qualified people lead.
- It's impossible to be friends with everybody—but it's vital to have a healthy group of close friends you trust and can do life with.
- Never implement change just to please someone willing to write a check.
- I don't remember who said it first, but when pride walks on the stage, Jesus walks off.
- Transparency is a strength, not a weakness.
- It hurts when people leave your church; especially when it's those in whom you have invested. Sometimes God sends the "right people" only for a season.
- You and your family should never feel pressured to meet expectations you haven't agreed to.
- It really is possible for your kids to grow up loving Jesus and His church.
- Don't evaluate the success/failure of your church by scrolling through your Instagram and/or Twitter feed. To quote Rick Warren, "Bigger's not better. Smaller's not better. Better's better." Be better.
- When someone demands a meeting with you and begins the conversation with, "Don't worry. We're not leaving the church," what they really mean is that they are getting ready to leave your church.
- Never make a crucial decision because someone tells you that "everyone" is complaining, especially if they are not willing to tell you who "everyone" is. In other words, never respond to criticism from an anonymous source.
- Jesus will bless your church in spite of your sin and shortcomings, but character and integrity are essential for longevity.
- Sunday-afternoon naps are worth more than money. Rest; Jesus commands it.
- You will get unfriended and/or unfollowed on social media by people in your church for a variety of reasons; don't take it personally.
- To quote my friend Jim Powell, sometimes multiplication comes by way of subtraction.
- Spend time and energy shepherding the sheep you have more than chasing sheep who left. (Yes, you still have to occasionally leave the 99 to go after the one.)
- Never compromise your God-given vision.
- Always preach Jesus, point people to Jesus, keep everything about Jesus and give everyone an opportunity to confess Jesus; communicate your message each week in such a way that those in attendance will leave talking about Jesus.
Ministry is rewarding in multiple ways, but there are seasons that are lonely and even gut-wrenching. Remember, the Israelites turned against Moses only three days after being rescued from slavery and being miraculously led through the Red Sea.
Keep leading. God has your back.
"So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders" (Acts 20:28, NLT).
Chuck Tate is the author of 41 Will Come: Holding on When Life Gets Tough. He is also the founder and lead pastor of RockChurch, a growing and thriving congregation in the heart of Illinois. Before planting RockChurch in 1998, Chuck worked for a national youth ministry in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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