Recently I found myself in a fascinating conversation with a pastor who is in his 4th decade of ministry and still thriving in his role.
How someone survives this long with a heart alive to God and a passion for people and the church is something I’m deeply interested in. I’m guessing you are as well.
Two moments in, this conversation shocked me and revealed the character qualities required for such a long and faithful run in ministry.
I’m hoping these ideas will be helpful to you.
So, here’s what I learned…
This veteran pastor told me a story of something that had recently happened to him.
Essentially, he received some unsolicited feedback from someone he didn’t really know. Now, I don’t know about you, but I hate this sort of thing.
I’ll never forget a comment I received after preaching my very first sermon.
You’re going to be a good preacher someday.
Ouch. So, I’m not so good now though, huh? Thanks dude!
Anyway, this story isn’t about me. Back to our veteran pastor.
So, he received unsolicited feedback from someone who he didn’t really know, but it gets worse.
It was through email. I mean come on! This sort of thing drives me through the roof.
If you have something to say to me, have the decency to actually tell me in person!
Again, this story is not about me. Back to our veteran pastor.
Now, this veteran pastor has an amazing assistant and she is very wise, so she shielded him from the email.
Basically, she said “There was this email, I’m not going to send it to you.”
And here’s where things get interesting.
The veteran pastor told her to send it.
And he read it.
And then he said to me that there were ten critiques in that email, and they are all spot on.
I was shocked.
Are you crazy? You read that?
There’s more. Then he said,
“I think the next 3-5 years of my growth will come from that email.”
This guy is in his late 50’s and I’m telling you he is at the top of his game.
I was speechless.
Here’s what I took away from this interaction.
First off, I’m not advocating for the reading of obnoxious feedback emails from people you don’t really know.
In most cases, that seems like a recipe for bitterness.
So, to be clear…keep ignoring those.
However, there is something about this veteran pastor’s character.
He’s in his late 50’s.
His church is healthy.
He has tons of respect.
He is very good at what he does and yet, he is open to feedback (even from obnoxious and unsolicited sources) and he is focused on personal growth.
It’s very likely that this guy will retire or transition to a less demanding role in 5 years and, yet, there is no coasting going on.
At a career stage when many people are pressing cruise control, this guy is pushing forward to grow in the gifts that God has placed in him.
This is both inspiring and challenging.
So, here we go:
If you want four decades in ministry with a heart alive to God and growing passion for your role you must be teachable and remain forward focused.
Coasting will not get you there.
Alright, same conversation, totally different characteristic.
While I was talking with this guy, a side conversation took place.
Basically, I was trying to get time with this person at his church during a normal business day so there were a few interruptions.
Anyway, a side conversation took place in which a person on his staff stopped by to say, “You wanted to talk to me about ___________?
And then, our veteran pastor shared some feedback, and it was direct.
It was passionate.
He pulled ZERO punches.
And, to be clear, it wasn’t about the person’s character at all, it was about the product of his work.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, he asked the person for permission to have the conversation with me in their presence.
The conversation was essentially, “Understand something: ‘That thing’ needs to change because I care about this church very much and ‘that thing’ doesn’t fit who we are.
Now, you would think that a guy who reads unsolicited feedback emails and incorporates the feedback into his personal growth plan would be sort of meek and gentle.
Now, nothing he said in this feedback conversation was rude or demeaning but I’m telling you it was honest.
It was strong and it was direct.
Here’s what I took away from this:
When this veteran pastor sees something that he disagrees with or doesn’t like, he goes to the person responsible and shares his feedback honestly and directly.
He doesn’t complain about it to someone else.
He goes directly to the person.
Secondly, he doesn’t keep it in.
He doesn’t allow something he saw or experienced in his church to simmer and stew.
He challenges it directly.
And here’s the thing:
I’ve met plenty of cynical pastors.
I’ve had many conversations with bitter pastors.
I’ve had so many interactions with disengaged pastors.
This guy is not one of them.
He is full of gratitude, passion and love.
I think it has a lot to do with his willingness to talk about what is bothering him directly with the person responsible.
So, if you’re interested in four decades in ministry with a heart alive to God and full of passion and love for people and the church, there is something about being willing to challenge directly and an unwillingness to let what bothers you stew and simmer in your heart.
I hope this has been helpful.
Something I might encourage you to do if you are interested in longevity, is to sit with veterans and ask them questions.
I’ve learned so much from simply listening.
Give it a shot.
You might learn something life-changing.