9 THINGS I'VE LEARNED FROM 19 AND ONE-HALF YEARS IN MINISTRY
I’ve picked up some values-shaping lessons over the last 20 years. Excited for what I may learn in the next 20!
Many of you who are friends, relatives or have been a part of my church family know that just recently I stepped away from leading on a staff of a church that I helped start nearly 20 years ago (I was only 7 months shy of 20 years!). My role there was to create life-giving experiences for people through the worship environments (Sunday Services) that engaged people and helped them know and understand Jesus better and to learn to walk with Him in a deep and meaningful relationship. Whether I was leading worship or leading and guiding a team that crafted the service and stewarded the moments, I was very grateful for the chance to lead in that space. I consider it an unfair privilege to lead artists, technicians, producers, engineers and host folks… ‘unfair privilege’ because it was the greatest job ever, and many days it didn’t feel like a job.
As I approached my final days with Port City Church, I wanted the team of staff that I had the honor to lead to understand and see on paper a concise memoir of the things that I learned over the years that shaped how I led and how I made decisions. I have no idea if this list is exhaustive… I’m certain that in a few months I will think of something else to add to this list. But at the time, these were some of the things that I wanted my team to know. These are things for me, and they will be etched into my collection of leadership wisdom for many years - and I’d like to share them with you. They are not all original ideas with me, but they are worth knowing. They are worth understanding. They are worth taking apart and disagreeing with. They are worth my time to share with you.
I’ll begin with a summary of the entire lists, and for a few of these, I’ll devote an entire future post to. They are in no particular order. Some of these things came late in my ministry journey. Some came at the very beginning. The list starts with the MOST important lesson I’ve learned and applied…
Your place of greatest influence and impact will NEVER be housed within the church walls but is instead inside the walls of your home.
I’ve heard often that our family should be our #1 ministry. But rarely did I understand what that really meant. When you prioritize your ministry duty, job, project or position higher and greater than the unique role that is only yours (Husband, Wife, Parent)… Then you know you are not working the way God designed you. Your ministry at home always has the greatest potential for life-long impact… Don’t neglect it.
“Don’t ever trade what is unique to only you for something that someone else CAN and eventually WILL do”. - A. Stanley
2. Don’t forget that every Sunday is someone’s first Sunday.
Every time we gather together, someone there is giving it their FIRST shot… some are giving it one LAST shot. We should go all out to give it our BEST efforts all around. To be authentic and real, to be passionate in our love for Jesus, and to be compassionate towards the people we are serving.
3. We are not the hero in the story... we are only a guide.
I’ve learned this from being an avid student of Donald Miller: Story Brand (Book and Podcast). I have come more and more to believe that our role is not to make sure people know how amazing our story is, but rather to INVITE people into a greater story and to point people to their next step in their own story, or journey. We are a guide along the path - we are not the central character or the hero. However…
4. Jesus is THE headline of any story we are able to tell.
Every story we tell should be elevating Jesus as THE Headline and Lead Story. Ours is a response to Him. Every lesson taught or heard is an application of that truth to our life. Every struggle should cause us to evaluate the condition of our relationship with Jesus and lean into his sustaining grace. Every victory should point to the grandness of Jesus and the way he has given us strength to win another day.
5. Everyone doesn’t see or experience the world the same way we do. Very few people actually see the world the same way we do.
We all bring our own style, personality and preferences into any situation or plan. The people we lead with and the ones we serve most likely will always have different styles and preferences… Don’t be afraid of those differences - Lean into them, be curious, be a learner with open minds and open hands. Don’t confuse this with the relativism of truth, but rather, seek and understand the truth, then work to see it through the lens of others as well. Not everyone grew up like us… not everyone believes like us… and believe it or not - we may not know it all!
6. Excellence in our work honors God and inspires others.
Early in our church, we stole this phrase as a core value from Willow Creek Community Church, but it always resonates in my heart. When we give our very best to something, it brings honor to God… a byproduct is that people are inspired and drawn into our passion.
7. Every single person we lock eyes with is someone who Jesus created and for whom Jesus died... they therefore are worthy of our time, effort and deepest compassion.
I struggled with this for much of my life. Which is weird because this simple truth seems so intuitive for a Jesus-follower. Or rather, it seemed to be such an unambiguous mandate of Jesus as to how we should live with and treat others. But for a lot of years, I saw people for what they did, or what they did FOR me, or TO me, instead of seeing them for WHO they are, or for what they could become. I learned so much in this area from reading “Leadership and Self-Deception” by The Arbinger Institute - one of my highest recommended books on leading and living with people - So Good!
8. Worship is NOT music or singing... but it is our response to God, both personal and corporate, for who He is and for what He has done, expressed in and by the things that we say, and the way that we live.
There will be a lot of posts in the future about this one, as it’s an area I’m passionate about, and that is really easy to get sideways about. This definition of worship is one that I learned over 25 years ago from listening to and learning from Louie Giglio teach on the topic. And the longer I lead, the more I’m coming to understand this truth. Worship Music is awesome and a great way to renew our minds and express our hearts of passion corporately and privately… But worship is so much more than just music. (more on this one to come!)
9. We should be conscious and cautious of the moments where we are moved by a worship experience more than we are moved by the nature & character and person of God himself. FALL IN LOVE WITH JESUS, NOT IN LOVE WITH WORSHIP.
Again, another worship topic, but this one is a little unique and is something that I have struggled with and continue to see with many well-meaning Jesus followers. We fall in love with worship, and “just can’t wait to get more worship” - as if it were a thing to be consumed. Our worship leading should be leading people to THE headline (Jesus… remember #4 above). When our worship evokes people to become enamored with our worship, then we haven’t led people to Jesus well. Don’t misunderstand, the excellence by which we lead should inspire people and cause them to know we take our craft seriously. But it should always lead people into a deeper love and connection to their Heavenly Father. I SO wish I would have learned this 19 and one-half years ago! I wish I wouldn’t have been so concerned about impressing people with my artistry or creativity or knowledge. I wish I would have pointed people more to Jesus and less to me, to the song, to the production or even to our church.
So this is the list. I’m sure I’ll add to it over time. I would love to expand on some of these with some additional thoughts and backgrounds into how I came to this. Again, these are things that I have learned. You may not agree - I certainly don’t expect everyone to share my beliefs . I’d love to hear about that. Comment and let me know which of these you resonate with, and which you’d like to hear more on.