A small, fractured, “gray” congregation took a chance at change and “life” and called their first African-American and first female pastor 10 years ago.
As I reflect upon the past decade of ministry, I’ve come to understand and know 10 things that I thought I knew, but maybe I did not:
1. “Good intentions” and intentionality are two different things.
I am convinced that all involved had good intentions and the right spirit as we came together to do Kingdom work. However, without the benefit of intentional preparation and planning regarding issues of blending different races, ages and culture, daunting differences did much harm to our efforts.
2. In every season, the Lord will send what you need and who you need to fulfill the mission.
There were times when I wasn’t sure if we had enough: people, finances, energy or faith to carry on the tasks before us. But every time, the Lord provided what was needed to carry us through.
Sometimes God sent new people. Other times, he reinvigorated the same people. Sometimes God touched a heart to make a large donation. Other times, the Lord created avenues for us to receive what was needed at huge discounts.
At every mountain and valley, the Lord saw us through.
3. You can’t please everybody and should strive to please the Lord, but diplomacy is important.
Doing your best to “hear” everyone, working together as much as possible, and choosing your battles are critical. But at the end of the day, there will always be those who will complain.
Seek to understand, act out of pure motives and agape love, and leave the rest in God’s hands.
4. The Lord still provides “rams in the bush.”
When, for whatever reason, losses occur (due to death, various life transitions and because, frankly, someone becomes angry and leaves), the Lord will send others to assist with carrying on the work.
5. Have an “open door” policy.
Be sure members know that they can always come and talk to you about anything without fear of reproach or condemnation.
Discourage “anonymous” complaints. A wonderful mentor once told me, “When I received letters, I always looked to the end of the letter to see if it was signed. If it was not signed, I threw it in the trash!”
6. Prayerfully develop a strong network of confidants outside of the congregation.
In my early years of pastoring, one of the biggest mistakes I made was to become too close to members. This made it difficult during times when the “pastor’s voice” was needed.
Boundaries are critical. Isolation, however, can be deadly. Pastoring can be a very lonely road.
Having outside individuals (other pastors, “sister friends,” mentors and so on) who can relate to and share in your experiences, joys, tears and challenges is of utmost importance.
7. Understand your assignment and avoid comparing yourself to others.
It’s very tempting to “look around” and see how well other churches are doing. Remember, God is the giver of assignments and that there are several types of “soils.”
Your neighbor may have soils/hearts that are hungry and eager to receive God’s word. They may be “on fire” for the Lord and filled with various resources.
You, however, may have been placed in a situation where the hearts/soil is hard, rocky, sandy, dry. Maybe the Lord is using you to “break up fallow ground,” water tender blades and rebuild ruins.
Your role is to be faithful to the assignment. As Jesus told Peter, “What is that to you? You must follow me!” (John 21:22).
8. Learn what you can from every situation.
Criticism can sometimes be painful and bruising. Not all criticism is constructive, but God can use even mean-spirited darts to shape, teach, mold and strengthen.
Discern through prayer and thoughtfulness, “Is there any aspect of what was shared that can be useful? Is there any truth in what was said? Can anything be salvaged from this hurtful remark?”
By the same token, guard your heart against receiving total negativity into your spirit. If there is no light in the spirit of what was said, reject it and refuse to allow it to thwart your thrust and motion.
9. Look beyond what is readily apparent.
At one of the lowest points in our ministry, God led me to suggest something radical to our church leaders.
As I obeyed, it became clear that God was speaking the same message to several church leaders.
Our congregation voted unanimously to trust God and do the new thing. It meant a new direction, new resources, new location and much relief.
10. Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord and not human beings.
There will be times when pastoring becomes daunting, tough, painful, disappointing and down-right depressing. There will also be times of great fulfillment, joy, peace and gladness.
In every season, remember that your work is for the Lord and that you have been chosen by God to carry on this great work.
Chris Smith is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Euclid, Ohio, author of “Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors.” A version of this article first appeared on her blog, ShePastor, and is used with permission. You can follow Chris on Twitter @Revcsmith1.
Senior pastor of Restoration Ministries of Greater Cleveland. She is the author of “Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors.”