In the last few years alone, Substance has gotten over 40 of our interns and church leaders into their first full-time ministry positions. Many of them get nervous about making mistakes; thus, they often ask me: “What are some of the most common rookie mistakes that new pastors and full-time ministers make?” So, in this blog series, I’m covering the top rookie mistakes people make in their first full-time ministry jobs.
Idealizing that promotion would make your life simpler or happier.
For example: Young pastors are always telling me their “If ONLY’s.” Perhaps you’ve heard (or said) some of these: “If only I had more… Opportunities / budget / staff / authority / income / control over my schedule, THEN I’d be happy.” Or, “If only I had a better… Boss / coworkers / location, THEN I’d be happy. I.e., We all have a “pressing issue” that feels like a burr in our underwear. And when you’re on staff at a church, it’s even harder because, we all have to negotiate our individual dreams with “the family.” I.e., Your upline just changed everyone’s job descriptions again, (or, your top volunteer just quit)… Or, your senior pastor just decided to delay your dream ministry to focus everyone on the next “big event” and now you have to divert your energy back to that one irritating task! (Ugh!) During times like this, inexperienced ministers can become a cauldron of toxic emotions that curse the rest of the staff (or, their spouses can : ). But hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes:
Before I became a senior Pastor I worked for two different senior pastors. As I look back, I was pretty idealistic about them (for better and for worse). I remember numerous times thinking: “Ugh! I wish I could make that decision instead!” Or, “Ugh! Why aren’t they doing this / that!?” (Apparently, I said ‘Ugh’ a lot : ) “If Only I could control THAT budget… or THIS hiring decision I just know I could do it better!” After all, I saw things that nobody else seemed to see! Yet, I had very little control over things. On the other hand, my senior pastor had so much more freedom! …more money! …more authority! “If Only I had…”
So, fast-forward several years: The Lord suddenly granted my dreams: I actually became the Senior Pastor at that church! (This was before Substance). And I remember the first day sitting behind that huge senior-pastor-like desk. (At the time, the desk was worth more than my rusted Chevy lumina.) But finally, I had the opportunity to lead. I put both hands on the glass top and sat down in the CEO chair.
I was going to show everyone how great church could be! I was going to change the world! (The soundtrack to the movie “Gladiator” was playing at this time).
But, over the next couple years, I had a rude awakening. The chant in my head went from, “Yes We Can!” to “Maybe, Some-time!“…to “Probably Never!” Because here’s what a figured out: Although I had ten times the budget to manage, I now had ten times the number of people begging me for money! I also had ten times more scrutiny for every decision I made (or didn’t make). I now had ten times more political events that I had to show up for! My time evaporated faster than ever. And I now had ten times the number of people who were angry at me for not doing their agenda! Every day, I could hear the idealistic agendas of the staff barking away through my office walls.
The greatest irony was that: Once I finally had the authority to do what I wanted, I didn’t even have the time to even enjoy the authority I now possessed! I had to delegate it all away! Ironically, I started dreaming of the days when life was simple… back when I was just a youth pastor. I even started to look at various job opportunities in other churches where I could “promote myself via demotion.” Sure, I didn’t have much of a budget back in those days. Sure, I had an upline/boss screwing up my schedule / budget / job-description… but, I didn’t have to be the nexus of people’s unrealistic expectations.
So, allow me to cut through the crap, and give you the truth: A higher level of promotion will not make your life simpler. And if you believe this, you are a fool. You say to yourself: “If only I had a situation like that.” If only I was empowered more. If only I …blah, blah, blah. But the Bible shows a different picture of promotion. Just look at King David in the book of 1 Samuel. The moment David was anointed King, all hell broke lose in his life. Which leads to another myth: That a higher level of promotion will make your life happier.
However, check out what King David’s son wrote in Ecclesiastes 6 — (and keep in mind: This is coming from one of the wealthiest men on the earth at this time).
Eccl. 6:1-3 “I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men: God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.” And he goes onto say, you could have one hundred kids and still not be happy. Because the point is this: If we really want happiness we should seek it in God… not in Promotion. Only God can make us happy (Eccl. 2:26; Psm 62:1).
And if we seek promotion that God doesn’t have for us, we won’t enjoy it anyway; because, only God can help us enjoy it.
So, here’s a simple way to know if you’ve got this circumstantial idolatry hidden in your heart: What are you praying for? Do you pray for opportunities more than character? Do you beg for circumstantial blessings more than prayers of thanksgiving? Or, here’s an obvious character question: Do you pray for your leaders? How often do you ask to take things off of their plate? If you don’t do these basic things, it’s a sure sign that you don’t even have the character that God can bless in the first place.
So, before you switch ministry positions or switch churches, spend some time uprooting the idealism. Otherwise, those very emotions that drive you forward may be the very things that short-circuit your calling.
“Dear Heavenly Father, help us live a life worthy of the callings we’ve received (Eph. 4:1ff). Help us only seek the promotions you have for us. Help us enjoy what we’ve already got to the fullest measure possible. In Jesus’ name.”