As a ministry consultant (and parent of two twenty-somethings), I often connect with young people, pastors and ministry leaders who want to talk about “what’s next.” I love those conversations! One young pastor recently asked me for the “best advice” I could give him. Here are a few nuggets:
- “Begin with the end in mind.” This Stephen Covey quote from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is one of my favorites. As a consultant, it is really difficult to help someone who doesn’t know what they want. Maybe you are unsure about what’s next. If so, I suggest you begin by learning about yourself and how God has wired you. Take some assessments and some time to reflect: What are your gifts, strengths and passions?
“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalm 139:15-16
It is nice to believe we can be anything we want to be. But in truth, God has designed us and hard wired us with a personality, strengths and spiritual gifts that He intends to have expression in this world. These things can and do shape our potential. The more you understand yourself, the more you help yourself to make ministry and vocational choices that align with your God-given design.
- Stay teachable. As soon as you assume you are the smartest person in the room you lose your growth edge. Listen to others. Learn the discipline of staying teachable and the benefit of self-reflection & evaluation. Ask questions. Invite feedback and candid evaluation from others. Make adjustments. Try again. Seek out wise counselors and truth-tellers who will love you enough to tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it.
“Listen to advice and receive discipline, that you may become wise by the end of your life. There are many plans in a person’s mind, but it is the counsel of the Lord which will stand.” Proverbs 19:20-21
This principle includes staying in a ministry job long enough to live with the consequences of your decisions. If you move around too often you rob yourself of the opportunity to evaluate your own decision-making abilities, to gather feedback from others, and to learn how to improve how you do what you do. Many decisions have short-term and long-term implications. You can make short-term decisions that seem good in the moment but create obstacles and challenges to effective ministry down the road. If you don’t stay long enough to experience the fruit of your decisions, you’ll never know.
- Do THIS really well. The best way to ensure you get the opportunity for the ministry job you really want is to do your current job really well. THIS job.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” Colossians 3:23.
If you are opportunistic about your advancement or let your drive for “what’s next” overtake you, it will undoubtedly show in your attitude and results. Work with all your heart; be faithful and fully present. I have talked to young pastors who have been in a new role for less than six months and are reaching out to “see what else is out there.” With respect, unless there is some highly unusual compelling circumstance happening in the church, don’t do that. We all know that actions speak louder than your words and people can perceive when you are leading them half-heartedly. THIS job will be the example that those who may hire you in the future look at when discerning what you are able to do and how faithfully you will do it.
- Don’t play a zero sum game. Show initiative and elevate your thinking beyond the minimum requirements of your role to a more global church perspective. Ask yourself: “What else can I do?” “What next?” or “Who can I help?” Ministry is NOT a zero sum game.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4
In the church world that means you take care of your ministry responsibilities while also taking initiative to care about your teammates’ ministry interests and success. Maintain an “abundance” mindset. In this way you not only advance God’s Kingdom purpose in your church but you also reap the benefit of references that speak well of your teamwork, collaboration and servant-leadership. Win-win.
- Check your plumb line. As a pastor, what you do is vitally important. In fact I believe it is the highest of calling. When you are young and starting out in ministry, you are eager to begin building something – the Kingdom, the church, your capacity. You do this as you build your experience, your skill set, your resume. So, build wisely and check your plumb line with God’s plan.
“We make our own plans, but the Lord decides where we will go” Proverbs 16:9
Ministry is not for wimps and it is not for those who are not genuinely called to it. God is not only building his church, but He is building you. In the midst of ministry always remember that God cares infinitely more about who you are (your soul, your heart, your mind, your character), than what you do for Him. Frequently check your plumb line to ensure you are aligned with His good plan for you.
Nancy Moore is the president of NL Moore & Associates, a ministry consulting group that works with churches in assessment, pastor search, pastor succession planning and pastor coaching. For more information visit our website at www.nlmoore.com.