Axioms, Part 4: Church Leadership

After serving in churches for 27 years, I picked up a few scars and a little bit of experience along the way.  There is no job quite like being a pastor.  Here are some of the things I've learned: 

  1. Pastoring is a lot like parenting: usually the pastors who do the right things get the right results, but not always.
  2. You are not the last Senior Pastor your church is going to have; you are just the temporary steward of the church to which Christ has assigned you. 
  3. One can be a pastor with only modest intellectual abilities, but one cannot remain a pastor long without a sense of humor. (Will Willamon)
  4. Clarify expectations in writing of both staff and volunteers.  People will rise to the expectations you place on them – high or low. 
  5. People often fail in ministry because they never learn to say the four “magic” words:  “I need your help.”
  6. Senior pastors who raise the budget seldom get run off.
  7. 90% of what a leader does can be done by a monkey with an eighth grade education.  You get paid for the other 10%. That last 10% requires wisdom and courage. (Alan Nelson)
  8. An important part of being a Senior Pastor is raising money.  This is not what most pastors like to do but is necessary for a community to corporately do significant things.
  9. Hire a “world-class” team of equippers as your staff: you cannot hire enough doers to get the job done; hire people, don’t fill positions; the best people usually cost you the most money; never hire people to help them out; trust your gut and listen to your spouse in the hiring process.
  10. The colon is a vital part of the body of Christ.  If you don’t let some people go, they will pollute the church and make it sick. 
  11. Time is better spent in finding new people than in trying to convince people who are disgruntled to come back. 
  12. The most important things we do in ministry are often not what we do but what we do not prevent from happening. When you say “yes” to something you are saying “no” to something else by default.
  13. A denomination cannot love you.  If you expect it to, you will be burned out and bitter. 
  14. A sure fire way to become disillusioned and cynical is to focus on saving a denomination instead of saving people.
  15. The two most dangerous emotions senior pastors wrestle with are fear and cynicism.
  16. Attitude and people skills have more to do with success in ministry than technical knowledge and proficiency. 
  17. A senior pastor must have a high tolerance for chaos.
  18. If your church is growing but is unhealthy, you will multiply your headaches and not your blessings.
  19. When the number of immature and dysfunctional people in a church outnumber the mature and healthy people, the lunatics will run the asylum.    
  20. Leaders create action and chaos.  Mangers bring order to chaos.  The church needs both.  
  21. Very few churches have leaders in leadership positions.  The church usually hires managers to lead. 
  22. When most church people say they want their church to grow, often they mean that they want people who are like them to begin attending and add validity to what they are already doing.
  23. Most pastors are functional atheists until 10:00 AM on Monday; make no major decisions before Monday noon.
  24. The deeper the commitment you call people to, the more they like it and the more faithful they will be.
  25. The only person who likes change is a baby.  Even leaders who say they like change only like the change that they implement. 
  26. Every time a church doubles in size, the administrative structure that sustains it must be destroyed and re-engineered. 
  27. As a church grows pastors must suffer the grief of giving up areas of ministry to which they feel called and competent.
  28. Never read anonymous letters.
  29. When someone says, “people are saying…” make them tell you who “people” are before you will address their concerns.  If they won’t tell you, don’t give ear to it. 
  30. Remember that every leader in the Bible faced opposition, and you are not likely to please everyone either.
  31. Never get tired of saying, “thank you.”  Find creative ways to show appreciation.
  32. Tie everything that the church does back to reaching lost people.  Nobody wants to “change diapers in the nursery.”  But people will step up to “create the safest place in the county for an infant so that their parents can focus on hearing the gospel.” 
  33. Know who tithes and who doesn’t.  Never give a large responsibility to someone who does not tithe.  Tithing tells more about a person’s character than about any other outward indicator. 
  34. If someone tells you they tithe in cash and that is why there is no record of it, you can assume that they are lying to you.    
  35. All the people who are looking for a church with a boring, lethargic worship service have already found it.
  36. No Senior Pastor has time to be a counselor; find a therapist you trust and refer people to them.
  37. Be a tither: you cannot teach people to do what you are not doing yourself.
  38. Handle your personal finances with integrity and never ask for a ministerial discount.
  39. When you walk into a room and someone says, “Hey, preacher,” it is not a greeting; it is a warning.
  40. Spend time with unchurched people.  It will greatly improve your effectiveness at preaching to the unchurched. 
  41. When you begin a new assignment, remember this principle: the “nuts” always find you first.
  42. The Light of the World attracts a lot of bugs.  For some reason the church draws a lot of nutters.  Nutters give the church opportunity to love people who are may not be like us. 
  43. Never ask your spouse, “how was my sermon?” until you are emotionally ready to hear the answer. 
  44. Listen to about four or five good sermons a week.  It will help you not just with your delivery but with “borrowing” good content as well. 
  45. Never preach about the sin “out there.”  Preach about the sin that is in the room. 
  46. A common characteristic of churches that are declining is that they have great fellowship. (Erwin McManus)
  47. If you fire an associate pastor, you can bank on losing at a minimum of  4-5 families in the wake. 
  48. Church meetings are not life changing; they are boring.  Don’t place volunteers in meetings.  Give people the chance to touch a real person’s life directly. 
  49. Only 21 percent of adults volunteer without being asked; 85 percent volunteer when they are asked.
  50. If a staff member didn’t get along with his or her last pastor, chances are he or she won’t get along with you. (Dale Galloway)
  51. Our preferences should never become more important than what the church needs to be and do missionally
  52. When people get scared, they quit giving. (Dave Ramsey)
  53. Someone will always have a bigger church or a faster growing church or a bigger budget or a more creative church than you. 
  54. Servant leaders are like a shepherd defending his sheep or a mother protecting her young.  They sacrifice without grumbling, give without calculating, and suffer without groaning.
Dana Hicks