For our recent church staff retreat our senior pastor asked me to reflect on my 44 years of ministry. He asked me to share what I would do the same, and what I would do differently, if I had it to do all over again. I settled on four things I would do the same and four I would do differently. I thought some readers, whether working as a member of a church staff or not, might enjoy reading a shortened version of what I said.
If I had it to do all over I would make the same moves I made. During my 44 years of ministry I made two moves and a third one following what I thought was the conclusion of my work as a pastor.
My first ministry was as a part time youth minister while a student. Upon graduation I became full time, stayed just over another year, and then after five years moved to Philadelphia to lead a small church. In some respects my years of youth ministry were the most exciting and fruitful.
I stayed almost 10 years in Philadelphia with a loving congregation and had the privilege of continuing my education at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Temple University. Although the church did not grow numerically as much as I would have liked, our 10 years in Philadelphia were great years for me as a pastor and for our family. We left the East Coast and moved to Southern California to plant a church.
I had the privilege of planting Discovery Christian Church in Moreno Valley, and after 30 years as senior pastor, I stepped down as I thought it was time for a change in leadership and I was running out of gas. We stayed two more years and then moved to Amarillo to be close to our grandsons. There are no adequate words to summarize our satisfying and fulfilling time in California.
In looking back I don’t think I stayed too long or left too soon in any of my three ministries. I do, however, think it is interesting that there were a few people who were negative about each of our three moves — not about our leaving, but about where we were going. (I am currently the part time pastor to seniors at our church and also the Bible teacher at our local high school.)
If I had it to do all over I would show more grace and more quickly admit when I was wrong. With the passing of time I did become more gracious, but not as early as I should have. I also matured to the point of being willing to acknowledge mistakes. One of the greatest examples we can set for others is to admit when we were wrong and ask for forgiveness.
If I had it to do all over I would again make my personal growth and learning a priority. I was committed to reading as much as I could to keep on developing professionally in ministry, intellectually, and in my walk with the Lord. I was pleased that every former staff member who spoke at my retirement thanked me for challenging them to keep on reading and growing.
If I had it to do all over I would do less; I would not preach as much as I did or feel the need to be involved in so much that was taking place in our church and ministry. I would share more of the load with the competent staff members who were a part of our team.
If I had it all to do over I would again make my family a priority. I never told them they had to do something, or couldn’t do something, because I was a pastor; I challenged them to do or not do certain things because they were Christians.
While our children were young Friday night was family night and we stuck to it. Jan and I went to every game or event in which our children participated that we possibly could. We wanted them to know they were important to us. We also regularly planned and took family vacations.
If I had to do it all over I would be a better son to my parents. One of my regrets is not being more involved with my parents as well as being more intentional about having our children involved with their grandparents. Of course, distance was an issue, but I could have done better and wish I would have.
If I had to do it all over I would again deal with church staff the way I did; showing them respect and love as well as supporting, protecting, and caring for them. I was not too open to receiving criticism of them and tried to give lots of public recognition for the good God added to our church and ministry through them.
If I had to do it all over I would make sure I defined success appropriately. In looking back, I’m not sure I always did. Sometimes pastors focus too much on what bigger churches are doing and rob themselves of the joy of their own church’s progress.
As we all know, we don’t get to do things over. The challenge, and our hope, is that we don’t do too much damage, and that we learn along the way. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had in ministry and for the request to look back and reflect on them. I hope my observations are helpful and thought provoking.
(If you would like to read more about my experience in ministry you may be interested in a book I wrote after I stepped down from Discovery entitled A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters. Click “my books” on this site to learn more about it and/or how to order it. Let me know if you would like to read the introduction and I’ll email you a PDF.)
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