37 Things I've Learned in 37 Years


I remember my first day in the office at what was then Westridge Hills Church of God. I arrived on the scene the Tuesday after Mother’s Day in 1981.  

I was hired to oversee the Student Ministry and the Music Ministry. Even though I’d grown up in church, I was not prepared to lead much of anything.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll remember I’m a bit of an introvert, I prefer to work behind the scenes, and to go one step further at that time, I wasn’t really versed in what it meant to lead and organize anything.

I wish I'd known the following things:

  1. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Find people older and smarter than you. Learn from them.
  3. Be a team player.
  4. I was an associate pastor. I should have supported my pastor more than I did.
  5. Don’t criticize anyone whose shoes you’ve not worn.
  6. Married people with children have pressures and challenges we will never understand until we are married and have children.
  7. Nobody needs to know everything you think they need to know.
  8. No one will understand the unique challenges and pressures of church work if they’ve never worked in a church.
  9. Most business people are under far more pressure than we could handle.
  10. Stop whining. Pastors are not the only people on earth who get criticized.
  11. As pastors, we are trying to impact the world with the greatest story ever told.  We own it at a level others don’t.
  12. People are difficult. Get used to it.
  13. Hurting people hurt people.
  14. Get a counselor. Give someone permission to tell you the truth about yourself.
  15. Find a close friend or someone you trust to hold you accountable.
  16. Be honest with whomever you’ve asked to hold you accountable.
  17. A pastor has a huge target on his or her back that the enemy loves to hit.
  18. The enemy will often use confused or critical believers to hit that target on your back.
  19. You may find yourself around toxic people.  Run away as fast as you can.
  20. You may find yourself in a dysfunctional church.  If you can’t lead it, leave it.
  21. Put people first. Love them. Listen to them. Roll up your sleeves and work with them.
  22. If your church is growing, find other pastors who lead a church larger than yours. Listen to them.
  23. If your church is growing, no one has ever been there before. Not even you. Learn to lead them to the next level.
  24. Have the courage to know your own capacity to lead.  
  25. Know when you’ve hit your limit.
  26. A benefit of a smaller church is you can quickly know the thoughts and feelings of church members.
  27. As the church grows, you will have to carefully choose wise people to help you know how the church is really doing.
  28. Hire people who are smarter than you, then stay out of their way.
  29. Character, chemistry, competency, and commitment build a great staff.
  30. Chemistry issues will cripple a church staff.
  31. Leading anything can be lonely at times.  
  32. Men and women in your church running businesses have put their financial future on the line.  
  33. If your church gets large, don’t forget the majority of pastors lead small congregations. Serve them!
  34. Humility and transparency will take you further than you could ever imagine.
  35. Know your strengths and your weaknesses.
  36. Make someone tell you what your blind spots are.
  37. If it’s all about you, it fails when you leave it.  If it’s all about Jesus, it thrives when you leave it.

There you have it. 37 things I’ve learned in 37 years of ministry. I think Proverbs 2:6-8 sums it up best:

“For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity. He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him.”