Jennie and I just returned from a fantastic vacation in London, topped by a 2-day leadership and marriage intensive with some new friends. It was a great time to get away and refocus.
Part of the leadership intensive was talking about my wiring and looking back on my life story. The result was insight into tendencies and behaviors, as well as how to leverage my calling toward a preferred future.
I say all of this to say I’m great at looking forward but not so great at looking back. As a visionary, it’s easy for me to run through bad things and even good things to get somewhere else. But I’m trying to get better at living in the sweet spot of looking back and allowing God to use who he created me to be.
When Jennie and I move to Atlanta to start a church, a lot of people told us a lot of things. I heard those things, but I didn’t truly listen to some of them. Here are a few things people told me but I didn’t hear. I share them in hopes that you’ll both listen and hear.
1. Put your marriage and family first.
Planting a church is going to be tough on you and Jennie, they told me. I nodded my head in agreement, but I did very little to protect against it. I figured this was something other people would struggle with, but I could move past it quickly. I didn’t listen.
I let the pace and the schedule overwhelm my soul. I would work hard all day, meet with people, and use up all of my energy. Then I would come home and need peace and quiet. As an Introvert, being with people all day was draining, so Jennie got the short end of that stick. “You have used up all your words,” she would say.
I also didn’t seek help. We had what I would consider normal marriage issues, but I just tried to power through them. I viewed professional counseling as a sign of weakness when, in fact, it’s a sign of strength.
2. What you reach them with you have to keep them with.
This lesson is more about the church rather than my personal life, but it’s a powerful learning for me so I wanted to share. Our brand new church grew pretty fast, and I adopted some strategies and tactics to help it grow. Within a year, we had grown pretty large, especially considering the size of our town. We did pretty bold, audacious things to encourage people to show up.
I didn’t realize that we would have to keep outdoing ourselves if this was our model. It was hard to move people into next steps because I had unknowingly created a culture where discipleship, missional living, and gospel life wasn’t modeled. We had great services and we could attract a big crowd, but it wasn’t enough.
In the end, hype doesn’t help. Today, I tell people it’s not that hard to draw a crowd. You don’t even have to be that intentional to get people to show up. But it requires a great deal of intentionality and hard work to take people on a spiritual journey.
3. It doesn’t get easier when it gets bigger.
People told me this, but I didn’t hear them. I figured a bigger church would mean a bigger budget, but in reality, it also means more expenses. I figured a bigger church would mean more people, but in reality, it’s more staff and more ministry.
I sometimes wonder why we equate bigger with better. Maybe it’s just an American thing. But bigger is not always better. Bigger is just bigger. It’s why people that aren’t generous with $100 won’t be generous with $1,000. It’s why people who are not faithful in the little things won’t be faithful with the bigger things. More people just magnifies the problems.
For the last few years, I’ve lived in the business world and I’ve talked with a lot of business people whose lives are far worse because their business has grown. Does God want a business to grow? I wonder about that sometimes, because a bigger business might make you a worse person.
4. You can’t do it alone.
As a pastor, I had something of a Lone Ranger syndrome. I wanted to do things different. I acted aloof and it was tough for people to get to know me. Part of me felt like this made me interesting, but in reality, it just kept people at arms distance.
Working on my personality and leadership a little bit helped me realize how much I need partners and people around me. It’s healthy for me. My personality type and wiring tells me I excel when I have a small team of smart people around me. Not working FOR me necessarily, but working WITH me. The one man band mentality isn’t helpful.
In working with pastors, I see this all the time. I see it in others because I so clearly see it in myself. I see it in the pastor who won’t empower a high capacity leader because he will do things different or (gasp) better. I see it in the leader who tries to mold everyone else in his image. I see it in the leader who can’t let go.
But we are not superheroes. We are not saviors.
5. Don’t neglect your soul.
Over and over, people warned me about this but I didn’t truly hear them. Heck, Jesus even warned people about this. “What good is it if a main gains the whole world and loses his soul?” he asked. I had a big church and a growing influence, but inside, my soul was dying.
Taking care of your soul is one of the most important things any leader – or any person – can do. Forget this, and you’ll be passing out in the airplane seat trying to give oxygen to another passenger.
You can be a great leader and not be a great Christian. That happened to me. Don’t let it happen to you.