5 Things I Wish I'd Done Differently As A Pastor

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I have talked with and interviewed hundreds of Pastors. I've heard their stories, learned about the challenges they have faced, and tried to understand what has made them either effective or ineffective in ministry over time. And listening to their stories has caused me to reflect on own my time in ministry as a Pastor.

As I’ve reflected, I’ve learned a few things about how I wished I’d done things differently when I was a Pastor.

1. I wish I'd spent less time preparing to talk about Jesus & more time just being with Jesus.

Like it or not, teaching and preaching are the most public aspects of ministry. To a large extent, Pastors are judged positively or negatively based on how well we preach and teach the Word of God. For a high achieving people-pleaser like me, this is a recipe for disaster. While it is critically important to do the work needed to present to scripture effectively, it’s all too easy to slip into performance mode. You might start agonizing over some clever way to communicate something that others have probably said many times, sometimes spending more than 30 hours to prepare for a 30 minute message.

In retrospect, both my congregation and I would have been better served by me spending more time just being with Jesus – in prayer, in worship, in solitude, and in community with His people. Then, when I spoke about Jesus, I would have worried less about pleasing people, and my message would have been coming from someone who really knew Jesus intimately.

2. I wish I had thought less about how people saw me & more about becoming the person God wanted me to be.

Like it or not, the role of Pastor (whatever the specific responsibilities on a church staff) carries with it the unpleasant side-effect of being a target for other people’s opinions - either positive or negative. If I were in the grocery store and someone from my congregation happened to see me but I don’t engage them in conversation, I might be viewed as distant or cold, even though I just wanted to get my milk and go home. On the flipside, if I walked into a restaurant with my kids and saw someone from my church at a nearby table, I’d immediately become a candidate for Dad of the Year.

I remember feeling like I was watching me live my life and interacting with people rather than actually living my life as a follower of Jesus, husband, father, friend, and human being. As I look back on it, I would have been a more effective Pastor, father, husband, and friend with longer term impact if I ignored what I thought people wanted me to be and paid more attention to desires that the Audience of One had for me. 

3. I wish I'd spent less time at church & more time with my family.

In our work here at Vanderbloemen Search Group, this is something we hear a lot, and Pastors are wise to focus on this as they serve in churches. I was, and, to a large extent, still am a bit of a workaholic. When I started out in ministry, I was driven to be the best I could be at the work that I was called to do. And while there are noble aspects to that drive, fulfilling it at the cost of time with your family comes at a huge price.

I would often leave home before my kids were awake and arrive home after they'd gone to bed. Sure, I would make time to attend their games, school functions, and occasional family dinners, but even then, I’d be back at work as soon as I was “free,” or would be distracted by the latest issue at the church. However, the Church has been around for thousands of years, and its success or failure is not dependent on my presence. Every church I have ever served in has gone on just fine without me after I left. Looking back, I wish I had spend more time at home and less time at the church.

4. I wish I'd spent less time in my office & more time connecting with the church staff.

I loved my office. It had nice paneling, plenty of bookshelves for all my books, a big desk, and even a couch and some comfy chairs. I could close my door if I needed to study, or I could leave it open in case someone wanted to stop by for a meeting.

As I look back after many years of experience in an “open office” situation like we have here at Vanderbloemen, I can honestly say that I’d never want to have my “own” office ever again! While it’s nice to have a quiet place for study, reflection, and meetings, it's far too easy to use your own office as a place to hide or disengage from other people on your church staff.

If I had it to do over again, I’d have spent more time out of my office connecting with other people where they work – whether that was with my own team in order to collaborate more effectively on projects or to build community, or with the people I served in order to get on their turf and get to know their world.

5. I wish I'd spent less time managing & more time mentoring - and being mentored.

In my ministry roles, I had the privilege of leading fairly large church staffs. I was primarily responsible for making sure that everyone on the church staff was doing what they are supposed to be doing as effectively and efficiently as possible. That’s the job of a manager. As I look back, I wish I had spent more time coming alongside some of my younger gifted staff members to help them navigate the challenges of their job and their lives as a mentor. I also wish I had sought out older, wiser leaders on my staff or my congregation to help me grow as a leader and as a man. I was blessed to work among some amazing leaders, but my insecurity as a younger leader prevented me from reaching out these leaders and asking them to help me navigate the challenges of ministry, leadership, and life.

I’ve now had ten years to reflect on how I’d do things differently if given the chance to live my life in ministry again. I’m working on implementing these things now in my current role. I paid a heavy tuition in the school of experience, and I’m hoping that the price I’ve paid for getting some things wrong will help future church leaders get this things right.

How can you begin to strengthen your relationship with Christ, even in a busy season of ministry?

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