Recently, I experienced some personally significant anniversaries in my life and ministry. I realize that sharing these milestones in ministry may be perceived as being self-absorbed, but my prayer is that these simple observations may be encouraging and helpful to someone. If that is the case, then I am grateful to the Lord for the privilege of being a bit transparent.
Forty years ago I preached my first sermon. I remember it well. For weeks prior to Youth Sunday, I had studied four different topics for the message. When the Sunday morning arrived, I preached all four sermons in a little more than nine minutes. I was petrified with fear, and therefore I spoke as fast as a machine gun blasting away bullets at an undetermined target. Needless to say, my second opportunity to preach came much later.
My pastoral ministry began a little more than two years later. I was at the ripe age of 18. For 29 years I served the local church in various size congregations in the inner city, the open country and in regional First Baptist churches. Eight years ago the Lord called me to state missions. All of the ministry experiences have been rewarding for me personally, and I hope they have made a Kingdom difference.
As a result of these 40 years of service, I reflected upon what I will describe as lifelong lessons on leadership. These are simple observations which anyone who as been at the task as long as I have could share. I do not consider myself an authority on leadership. Many others of notable contribution would represent that distinction. So bear with me as I reflect with you about these lessons.
Lesson number one: Be sure of your call from God. I do not mean that times of doubt do not arise in the wake of dealing with circumstances of life. But without an overriding sense of calling, the ministry becomes mere drudgery — not a journey of joy and celebration.
Lesson number two: Give careful consideration to the development of your character as you seek to be a minister and do ministry. Our culture values the charisma-driven leader, sometimes at the expense of the character-developed life. Early in ministry people prize the platform presence and powerful personality but — after years of service — only those who have walked with the Lord and allowed Him to be formed in theirs lives will thrive, much less survive.
Lesson number three: Exemplify commitment in your life. By this I mean have a strong work ethic. Now this may sound somewhat puritanical and even mechanical, but I am concerned those who are in the secular world see us as persons who know how to set the example with good work habits. By no means do I advocate sacrificing personal and family health in being faithful to the task, but we need to be certain that our priorities reflect a real world faith.
Lesson number four: Remember to incarnate the principle of cooperation into the DNA of your leadership philosophy. In a world that worships individual success and entrepreneurial expertise, embodying the spirit of collaboration with others is certainly needed. If we are honest with ourselves, we must confess that we can not be effective without the influence and input of Christian brothers and sisters. Making a kingdom difference doesn’t mean you as an individual, or as one local congregation, can reach the world by yourself. Cooperation must be a core value for effective leadership.
Lesson number five: Demonstrate compassion as a leader. One of the most beloved affirmations of Jesus and His ministry, detailed in the Bible is summed up succinctly, “He was moved with compassion.” The trite, but true, old saying, “The people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care” is a good quote worth a note for leaders who want to emulate the example of Christ.
Well, I told you that my thoughts would be simple and they have not disappointed you in that way I am sure. Yet as I write the words I have shared with you, I have a copy of a book on my desk near me entitled The Simple Church, written by Alabama native Thom Rainer. Maybe simplicity in leaders in times of complexity has lasting value after all.