Five years ago this week I moved to Edmonton and started a new job.  I left local church pastoring after 23 years of engagement and switched into denominational leadership.  Looking backwards over the last half decade a number of questions come to me. 

§ Did I know what I was getting into?  (Nope)


§ Easier or harder?  (Easier in some senses, much harder than others). 


§ More fun?  (Nope)


§ Challenging?  (Yep)


§ If you were doing it again, would you do things differently? (Yep, but “if” is an unhelpful word.  You can’t live your life in reverse filled with regrets.  But you can learn and do things differently for sake of the future.  I’ve learned a ton in the last 5 years).  


§  Am I a doing a good job?  (I think I am.  I think I could do better). 


§  Are there still things in the tank?  (Yep, but there are always things in my tank). 


§  How do you feel about your job today compared to what you felt in 2004? (Actually, I can’t believe how green I was at that time.  I am almost embarrassed by how much I have had to learn in the last 5 years). 




1.  What have you learned in the past 5 years? 


Tons, but one lesson in particular; this job I do is hard on my soul.  I have learned about how no one feeds you and sustains you in leadership.  You need to develop self sustenance or you will starve.  When I was in local church ministry this was still true, but the disciplines of weekly preps, and weekly conversations, and weekly staff meetings provided a bit of a structure of sustainable living.  But once you leave the discipline of the community to take on a new role, you have to cultivate the self-discipline of self nurture.  It’s a battle.  I think some of you face that at times too. 




2.  What else have you learned?  


A)  I have learned that I bring a pastoral heart to leadership.  Recently, the Roman Catholic Church appointed a new bishop to oversee the diocese of Detroit.  Like many dioceses, the Detroit location has been wracked by conflict, pain, and misunderstanding.  The candidate had impeccable academic qualifications but the news release trumpeted the fact that he “brought a pastoral heart to a troubled diocese”.   In 2003 I was being interviewed for this position and was asked the question “are you a leader?”  I think I knew what the questioner was asking and I knew I didn’t have the Sunday School answer because I knew who I was.  I responded to him “I am a pastor, with the gift of leadership”.  At times I wonder if I have what it takes to lead this movement.  I think of others with strong personalities, and great energies.  I admire them.  But when I lead, it’s with a pastoral heart.  I understand what many of you go through and I resonate with you.  I was having breakfast with a church leader last week.  As he described his frustration, and discouragement, and pain– tears came to his eyes and he grew silent.  I was silent, and I cried too.  I understand the hard work of pastoring.  I care about the worker as much as the work, maybe even more.






B) I have learned afresh that change, real, long term, life change—takes time.  I have been pressed to be more patient.  I have dreams and they are powerful ones.  I dream of the day when every BGCC church hums like a hummer.  Some day they will.  But it will take some time for that to happen.  I am reminded that slavery was abolished in the United States of America after the Civil War ended in 1871.  Nearly 100 years later I grew up in Ontario just north of Michigan and saw the TV news of battles in faraway states like Alabama and Mississippi.  I read of the riots going on in nearby states like Michigan and Illinois.  The issue?  Segregation; Black versus white; Tradition versus truth.  And now today, 40 year later after my childhood awareness’s, there is a black man in the White House.  Real change does take time. 




C)   I have learned that leading a volunteer organization is different than leading a business or even sports team—no church will ever get fired, no pastor will ever be sent to the minors, no deacon will ever get traded.  It’s all based on cooperation, and collaboration, and relationship, and artful conversations.  It’s not that different from your work in a local church, except that you get a chance to meet and influence your congregation weekly, daily, and situationally.  Me?  I get to send a monthly email, perhaps an annual or biannual visit to your church, and maybe an informal engagement with you personally over coffee, or at a conference, or retreat time.  I have been surprised by how some have responded.  Some have seen me as threatening and have stiffened around me.  Some have been dismissive—the idea of a denominational person having influence in their life is unheard of.  Some have been collegial, and appreciative.  Interestingly, some of you have had all three behaviours at different times!   What has become clear to me in my own mind is that my involvement with your congregation corporately and you personally is not about my personal aggrandizement or agenda.  It’s about you.  I am interested in the BGCC abounding.  I do have an agenda.   It will happen when BGC churches abound.  So, I work hard in my engagements with you personally and your congregations collectively to see that there is some value added to you and your flock.  When I come to speak I really abhor the idea of running a BGCC infomercial.  I’d much rather preach the Word.  Yes, I’ll sometimes do some informing and educating but I try to keep the promoting to a minimum.  Yes, I sometimes invite congregations to invest or partner prayerfully and financially, but you know that in the crazy world of the Kingdom, you are invited to “pay it forward”.  Somebody giving you an opportunity to invest is giving you an opportunity to experience God’s abundance. 




D)  I have learned about the immensity of leadership and its consuming appetites.  Leading a denomination has extracted more than I thought it would.  Honestly?  It’s harder on my body soul and spirit than pastoring was.  I have been reflecting on that of late.  Part of it is the immensity of the job, the vagueness of the feedback, the unendingness of the assignment.  It is like your job in that respect.  What have I done in light of that?  I am working more from a plan than ever before.  The elephant in my life will be devoured, but it will be devoured one bite at a time with strategic intent.  I can only bite off, swallow and digest so much.  You learn about your limits by pushing the margins to the edge too often.  So, I now consciously make goals for each year.  They are professional and personal. Then, I make daily “to do” lists in light of the goals and demands on my time.  I have become willing to do 2 to 7 things daily—that’s all.  If I get them all done, I go home.  If don’t get them all done by quitting time, I carry them over to the next day, but I can still only do 2 to 7 things daily.  If I were giving you advice, I’d say, –learn to make a to-do list each day.  On a huger scale, I think congregations would be wise to make “to do” lists.  Suggestion-sit down with your board in January and ask them to help you carve the 2 to 7 things you need to get done in your congregation this year.  Let them carve the list.  Then put it on the agenda each month.  If you get some done, add a few more for next month. 




E) What else have you learned?  I have learned that people don’t always read long, verbose columns.  I’ll finish here.