Wednesday, August 27, 2014

9 Ways to Find Success as a Pastor

"Success in any organization is quite simple. Find out how they keep score, and score." -Peter Drucker 

In order to "score," pastors must be proactive, take initiative, and do the things that will provide a return on the investment of time and energy. With over 30 years in the pastorate, I have had an opportunity to observe many pastors at work. Many have been quite successful, many have not been. Here are nine final ways pastors can reach success.

  1. Be open and approachable. The Biblical term is "easy to be entreated." Jesus, the classic role model for all pastors, was approached on numerous occasions by needy people. In fact, Scripture records no instances when Jesus said He was too busy, not interested, or simply unavailable. There was a time when Jesus asked, "Who made me a judge over you?" There were times when Jesus avoided certain places because of threats. He heard people out unless He knew they were working off an agenda that was contrary to His mission. He never saw Himself as too important for common people.
  2. Learn to delegate. They know that they cannot do everything, so they do the things that only they can do and delegate the rest to faithful people. In their delegation, they communicate clearly what needs to be done, set parameters, allocate sufficient resources, and agree to a time table. They give those on their team latitude to fail, but not to fail massively. They do screen carefully those to whom they delegate. Proverbs says "Confidence in an unfaithful man in times of trouble is like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint." Recall how Paul taught this principle in 2 Timothy 2:2, "The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." And when you delegate remember that these three concepts go together. Delegate responsibility for the task, give authority to accomplish the task, and establish accountability to ensure that the task is accomplished in the correct manner and in the appropriate time-frame.
  3. Be a builder. Building takes multiple forms. We build people, we build teams, we build movements, we build organizations, we build ideas, and we build facilities to house the organization with its activities. Building requires the pastor to identify needs, understand God's intention, equip leadership, motivate people, cast vision, communicate and ask for sacrificial buy-in. An old pastor known as a seasoned veteran was once asked, "How do you know if your ministry was successful?" He responded, "Did you leave the wood pile larger than when you found it?" When you finally walk away from where you are serving, can you look back and see a difference that God has made through you?
  4. Know when to listen and when to ignore. Not every person or cause is worth giving time to. This is a bit different from the concept of being approachable. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the wall at Jerusalem, three detractors appealed to him to come down and discuss the matter. Their motive was to stop Nehemiah. He simply responds that he does not have time to meet with them. So how do you know when to give someone time and when to say "no?" This is where discernment comes in. Does this person (or persons) have a need, or an agenda? In most instances, if a salesman called, I would say send me information and I will get back with you if I am interested. You are under no obligation to meet with someone who has your worst interest or only their own interest as their agenda. Pray for discernment and refuse to waste your time.
  5. Touch lives. Who are you impacting and influencing? Who are you touching? When I hear of pastors who don't do weddings, funerals, or hospital visits, I am amazed at how they have truncated their ministry. These are times when we can most effectively minister to people. Make it your ambition to touch people. The old adage about "managing by wandering around" is actually great ministry advice. A call, email, card, letter, or personal word can make an incredible difference. Touching lives is something that is intentional and deliberate. It is something that you decide to do and then follow through on by actually doing something.
  6. Follow through on promises. Whenever you make a promise, keep it! When you make it, write it down so you do not forget. When you make a promise to someone, great or small, the person to whom the promise is made will not forget. So, you better not either. Scripture contains a little phrase, "swear to your own hurt." That means if you make a promise, keep it, even if it costs you personally. Follow through on promises. If you tell someone you will do something, do it. And if you forget to do it, ask for forgiveness, and then do it. Follow through on promises that you make!
  7. Seek wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to see life from God's perspective and then speak or act accordingly. The book of James tells us that if we lack wisdom, ask God for it and he will give it. Wisdom is a hallmark of successful pastors. At times the wisest thing we can do is keep quiet. At other times it comes from asking the right questions to the right people. Sometimes it comes from pure discernment where after waiting on God He says, "this is what I want you to do." Sometimes it comes from insight found in your Scripture reading or from a passage that you have memorized. Sometimes it comes as we pray. There are multiple ways that God can give you wisdom. 
  8. Carry a sense of expectation. Another word for this is "faith" or "belief." Successful pastors expect God to move, to speak, to convict, and to lead. They are not surprised when God moves in big and unexpected ways. They pray fully believing that God has heard and that He will act on their behalf. They expect God to be actively involved in the ministry to which He has called them. So, are you living and laboring under a sense of of expectation? What are you asking for and expecting God to do?
  9. Make much of Jesus. They understand that their work is first and foremost the task of presenting Jesus to the world. They preach Jesus, talk about Jesus, write about Jesus, and constantly see Him as the center of their world and worldview. Their preoccupation is to be pleasing to Him. Their heart's desire is to be like Him in what they say and what they do. Their passion is to be conformed to His image. Christ-likeness is the great motivation of their lives. Successful pastors make much of Who Jesus is and what He can do in anyone's and everyone's life!

My prayer for you is that you will be successful in what really matters when it comes to ministry. May God honor and bless your work. May you someday hear from The Lord, "Well done good and faithful servant."

This is the third in a series of posts on successful pastors. Take a look here and here for the first two posts in the series. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Successful Pastors Think

Last week, I took a first look at the habits of successful pastors. I cannot overemphasize the truth that the issue is not what they know or intend to do, but what they actually get done. Today I want to unpack how a successful pastor thinks. 

1. Successful pastors have an intentional walk with God. They have a disciplined intake of Scripture which is balanced and consistent. They get into the Word so the Word gets into them. Coupled with a disciplined intake of the Word is a consistent life of prayer. Jesus gave us a pattern for prayer in the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 and 7. Paul taught us much about the importance of prayer as the alternative to worry. Be assured. God knows our needs, but often He waits for us to ask for His intervention. If something is big enough to worry about, it is big enough to pray about. If you have a need, take it to the Lord in prayer.
2. Successful pastors communicate on a variety of levels. Of course, their principal responsibility is to communicate the Word of God on a weekly if not daily basis. To do this effectively takes time, discipline, effort, and training. There is a price to pay to be effective in the pulpit. Aside from this, pastors need to communicate with staff, leadership, his congregation, and whenever possible to a larger audience. Successful pastors make use of social media and see themselves as agents of God's grace to a hurting world. If you study the Pastoral Epistles, you will find over 50 references to communicating in one form or another. Communicate!
3. Successful pastors evaluate everything in light of their concern for the church. No matter what the situation, every activity, every choice, every response, every decision, every allocation of time and money should be made in light of how it will affect their church and its witness. Before you do or say something you might regret, ask yourself "how will this affect my church's witness? Will this strengthen or weaken my church's influence for the cause of Christ?"
4. Successful pastors solve problems. Problem solving is looking at something in the past that either went wrong, did not work, or fell short of expectations. Then it asks, "what needs to be done to fix this situation?" Lay out the options, pray for discernment, and choose the best solution in light of the available resources. Successful pastors have learned to solve problems. Problem solving is oriented toward the past. It is looking back.
5. Successful pastors make decisions. This activity is present-tense in its orientation. It is looking at present resources of time, energy, and finances. Then, when options are seen clearly, it decides. Procrastination is often the enemy of effective decision making. Here is where deadlines are helpful. There is a time to gather information and there is a time to decide. Successful pastors and effective leaders know how to make decisions and then move ahead.
6. Successful pastors plan. Planning is oriented toward the future. Whether planning what to do tomorrow, next week, or next year, planning is essential if anything is ever to be accomplished. Successful pastors plan on a variety of levels. They plan their personal lives, they plan their work, they lead planning on behalf of their church and its ministries. Successful pastors and successful ministries, and successful churches are always asking, "God, what do you want us to do?" "What can we do that will make a difference for eternity?" "What can we do that will minister to hurting people?" "What can we do that will build up and equip believers for effective service?" Successful pastors are always looking down the road.
7. Successful pastors are life-long learners. Those who quit learning quit leading. It is as simples as that. Every successful pastor I know is a reader and a learner. So, what are you reading? And what are you learning? Who from the past and present is influencing you today? What 10 books have been most influential in your life and ministry? What magazines, journals, blogs, podcasts, and twitter feeds do you keep up with? Who is influencing you?
8. Successful pastors develop others. In Ephesians 4, Paul writes about the responsibility of pastors to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. It is incredibly important to equip and teach by example. If the one who is leading and teaching is not doing, or has not done, the work of ministry, how can they teach others? Pastor, how are you developing yourself, your staff, and your leadership? What are you doing to develop new leaders and ministers? What opportunities are you providing for potential leaders and ministers? What are you modeling for the purpose of developing others?

Next week I will wrap up this series of posts with a checklist of the successful pastor's perspective. What comes to mind when you think of a successful pastor? 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

8 Habits of a Successful Pastor

Last spring I wrote about the characteristics of a successful pastor. Today, I would like to talk about what a successful pastor does. When the dust settles and time gives perspective, what a person does or does not do will in many ways determine whether or not they are successful. 

Successful pastors do the will of God. What does that look like in the life and ministry of the contemporary pastor's life? 

8 Habits of a Successful Pastor

  1. Successful pastors value their calling. They understand that the work they have set out to accomplish is God's work and not their own. And they understand that they serve a Master who has called them to a higher calling. They understand that they are to follow where He leads and to stay until He says "go." What they do carries eternal results and consequences. What they do is more important than making money and making a living. They are God's representative, God's ambassador, God's spokesman. As such, they take seriously the stewardship of responsibility. They do not sell themselves cheaply, neither do they sell themselves short. They understand the value of their giftedness, their training, their experience and their scars. They have an intrinsic grasp of their value to God's Kingdom and refuse to let the world discount that value.
  2. Successful pastors grasp the task. Serving as a pastor necessitates the cultivation of numerous skills. Yet, all the skills in the world are worthless if you find yourself doing the wrong things. The calling of a pastor is primarily doing the will of God God's way with the ultimate goal of extending God's Kingdom. If the Apostles' work serves as a pattern, then that calling's tasks consist of leading, feeding, and interceding. Over the course of decades, the successful pastor works to cultivate these skills and abilities. This is a life-long endeavor. School is never out nor over.
  3. Successful pastors live with purpose. Pastors should have purpose-driven ministries. Pastors should keep before them the purposes for which their congregations exist: evangelism, discipleship, worship, fellowship, and ministry. The pastor's work is to insure that these purposes in balance are the primary activities of the church.
  4. Successful pastors live by priorities. An old adage says that "those who fail to prioritize find themselves in the thick of thin things." So what should be a pastor's priorities? First, his relationship to The Lord. Let's not be so busy in the wok of the Kingdom that we do not have time for the King. Second, his relationship with his family. Third, the ministry of the church. If these priorities ever get out of sequence, difficulties in ministry will be close behind.
  5. Successful pastors manage their time well. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. So what can you do to make the most of your time? First, work from a calendar and a day-planner. To know ahead of time what you must plan for is of critical importance and precludes you from getting caught off guard unnecessarily. I work off a "projects for the week" list on an ongoing basis. Second, prioritize what must be done first on a day by day basis. I suggest doing that the day before. Third, delegate what you can, and do what only you can do. Fourth, learn to say "no." You cannot do everything and everything is not worth doing. Finally, take time to take care of yourself. Burn-out is not a spiritual condition. 
  6. Successful pastors work with diligence. When it is time to work, it is time to work. Determine what needs to be done, and get busy. As pastor, you set the pace. Planning and preparation will help you to be more productive. What is your schedule? What are you trying to accomplish? Write it down and check it off when the job is done.
  7. Successful pastors compartmentalize. Too many times, I have seen pastors consumed with worry and fretting over "what-ifs," and consequently they are semi-paralyzed. Successful pastors know how to put things they cannot control into a box with the understanding that they can get to that subject later. Being preoccupied with too many "other things" can cause the pastor to be ineffective in the moment. If there is a concern, write it down, reflect on the alternative steps of action, and pray about it. Then, put it away. One reason our sub-conscience will not stop mulling over something, is because we are afraid we will miss or forget something. If we write it down, the sub-conscience will let it go.
  8. Successful pastors guard their heart. They understand that their entire life's work is in the context of a spiritual war. Satan is out to destroy men and their ministries. Destruction too often begins internally with an unguarded heart. I challenge you to continuously monitor the state of your heart. Only clean vessels are useful in the hands of God.
Which of these habits is most challenging for you? How do you continue to grow in these areas? 

Looking for more about pastoral success? Check out 7 Pillars of a Successful Pastor's Attitude and What Successful Pastors Desire