By Bob Russell
If I could live my life over again I’d do many things the same way. I would still go into ministry after high school, marry my wife, and serve for 40 years as a pastor in Louisville. I would still retire and spend the next decade mentoring young pastors. Of course, there are some mistakes along the way that I would probably change. A wise man learns from his mistakes, but a wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. I share what I have learned in hopes that you will not make the same mistakes.
Acknowledge your weaknesses and delegate accordingly.
The worst mistake I ever made was forgetting a wedding. On the Saturday I was supposed to do the wedding, I took my kids to a little league baseball game and did not realize my mistake until I got home to a panicked wife, asking if I had forgotten the 1:00 p.m. wedding. It was 1:30 p.m. I felt sick about the mistake for days.
On Monday, I recognized the need I had for administrative support, so I dropped my calendar on my secretary’s desk and asked her to run my life. She cut back when I was meeting with people, slashed the number of weddings I was allowed to do, and on Fridays she would phone my wife to tell her my Saturday commitments. Suddenly I had margin in life, and it was more orderly.
When we release responsibilities, leadership becomes more effective and others learn. I learned that people burn out because they work too hard in areas they aren’t gifted, so I needed to delegate to more gifted people and help the gifted people look good.
Give your family priority, even when the church needs attention.
At first, I was so focused on ministry that I would be exhausted when I went home. Eventually, I realized I was being short and irritable with my wife while being upbeat and pleasant with everyone else. I realized that if I wanted my wife to shed a tear if I died, I needed to be more intentional about the way I treated her.
I decided to shift gears and be energetic no matter what when I got home. I became a better husband. I listened, teased, and engaged with her, and our marriage went from good to great. I learned that my wife would be there long after the elders and deacons had forgotten my name, and that the best thing a preacher can do for a church is model marriage in front of them.
Be content in ministry, regardless of statistics.
In the early days, my mood for the week was heavily influenced by how many people had shown up to church the prior Sunday. I would lose the big picture and focus on the things going wrong or the low turnout one week, and I would compare myself to other, more successful pastors.
Eventually I realized that there was always going to be someone ahead of me. I learned that contentment is a learned virtue and evidence of spiritual maturity and humility. God does not value our worth in ministry by statistics. Some soil will be more receptive than others, at no fault of the sower. The statistics distract us from the work we are called to do.
As a leader, know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, prioritize your family, and don’t base success on statistics. You, and your ministry, will be better for it.
Adapted from Pipeline 2017: Succession at Every Level.