Leading from the 2nd Chair
Where the Grass Grows
Where The Grass Grows
I have been a pastor for about 10 years, serving at three churches. If you are doing the quick math, that is an average of three years and four months per church. I do not think I can keep up that pace! I don’t think my wife will let me keep up that pace! I really don’t want that kind of pace for my family !
On paper, it looks like I have about 10 years of experience, but what I really have is two years of experience four times, give or take a few months. Let me explain: I served at one church for almost 2 years and another church for 2 years and one month. I left ministry completely for three years and then re-entered ministry going back to the same church. After serving for a little over 2 years, I moved again and have been at my current church for 2 years and 3 months.
With that being said, you may not want to read anything else I have to say. However, if you do decide to keep reading maybe you can avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes that nearly killed me, ended my ministry and destroyed my marriage and family.
When I first entered the ministry, I was fired up that someone would consider me as a person they could call Pastor. I did not feel called to a specific area of ministry, I was just glad to be on God’s full-time team and was stoked to get paid for it! I started out as a 25 year old Children's Pastor with no prior experience—hadn’t even taught a Sunday School class, no formal Christian education, no kids of my own and it just so happened that I loved it. The church I was working at had no Children's ministry to speak of before me, so there was only one way to go-up. I came out of the sales world from corporate America, soI knew how to beat the bushes and I knew how to work the numbers. And, that's exactly what I did, I worked to increase numbers, improve retention, generate excitement, build momentum—all the things that people look at to measure success. I wasn’t doing it for show, it was the only thing I knew to do. According to those things, I was doing a good job. Not that I wasn't otherwise doing a good job, because I believe in my heart that I was. There was a lot of momentum within the children's ministry; there were a lot of kids coming to church and coming to Christ. We had tons of activities, volunteers were coming out of the woodwork, there was money in the bank, and things were going well. I was new to the District, I was young and energetic, and when all those things are the case, happens you get the attention of a lot of people. It wasn't too long before I started getting opportunities to go other places.
Instead of staying in the great situation that I was in, I started to believe that the “success” that was taking place around the Children’s ministry was to my credit and I started to feel like the reason I was getting calls to go to other churches, bigger churches, more “prestigious” churches, churches where I would surely make more money and get noticed by even more people, perhaps those people—you know the ones that can really help you climb the secret ladders that go to the top faster—was because I was just a little more special than every one else. Give me a break!
I found myself looking at my ministry as a career rather than a calling. All of a sudden I found myself sucked back into the world that I felt so happy to be escaping when I left corporate America—the grind of the political maneuvering that takes place behind the curtain and the chaos of the climb to the top. All of a sudden ministry became for me just another place to build a career rather than a place to make a life and serve God wherever He wanted to use me.
My next assignment was to a bigger church where I did make more money, and it was a great move for my family. We were close to home, my wife could stay at home with our new baby girl, we had health insurance and got to live in a four bedroom parsonage. I employed all of the same handiwork from my sales background in my new position and pushed even harder to maximize all the natural graces and gifting that God has blessed me with to see increases happen in the ministry. The ministry flourished. Surely this was God’s hand at work in our lives. It very well could have been. The problem wasn’t with God, or the ministry, or the church, it was with me. We were having a blast and all the outward signs of “success” were there. We did love the church, we did love the ministry, we did love the people, and it was a good move for my family. The bottom line was that I just wasn't ready yet by way of my experience, my spiritual growth, or by maturity. Two years into that move, I self-destructed and ended up making decisions that hurt my family, hurt my ministry, hurt the church, and caused me to be out of ministry all together. I went into a very dark place and stayed there until God pulled me out of the pit. That’s another story for another time, though
I’m not saying that will always happen to you if you leave a church before you are ready. However, here is what I am saying…ministry is no place to build your career. There is too much at stake. There is too much on the line. Too many people suffer when pastors see their pulpits and places of ministry as opportunities to get a leg up for the next stop on their way to the top.
In my last assignment, I was a Student Pastor. I currently serve as an Associate Pastor. Last year I was ordained. It was truly one of the greatest days of my life. Before that day, and even more after that day, people have asked me when I’m going to become a Senior. Pastor. Sometimes in conversation they will say things like, “Well I know that the idea is for you to one day have your own church, but we sure are glad you’re here right now.” Some of these thoughts have been confusing to me as I began to struggle again with the idea of what I’m supposed to be doing and the ministry to which I’m called. I’m 38 years old and not getting any younger. I’ve had thoughts like, “If I’m going to be a Senior Pastor I’d better hurry it up because I know I’m going to have to start out at a smaller church and work my way up to a larger one…the smaller ones don’t pay that well so I need to hold off and choose wisely before I make the leap…” I know, I know, I’m a shallow minded, unspiritual person!
It blows my mind to think that I could even have those types of “career” thoughts even now, after everything God has brought me through. Maybe you’re not like me .Maybe you are a staff pastor who knows the exact path that God has for you and you know it so well that you never even think about it or worry. Why would you worry, after all, pastors don’t worry! But, I’ve found myself worrying and being anxious about my future and things that I cannot control. I’ve found myself feeling frustrated about denominational politics. I’ve found myself getting caught up playing the leadership game even now, as a grown man and a mature Christian. I tell you this in an effort to be honest with you, but also to encourage you if you have ever found yourself in any of the same places.
Here’s where I am today and the most practical thing I can tell you as person who has spent time in several different chairs of leadership, both on the local church level and at the District level - God didn’t call you to play political games on your District to get better assignments for yourself so you could make more money, get more prestige, get a cool certificate at District Assembly or get recognized by a General Superintendent. God certainly does call people to do things and results flow out of obedience,. We can spend our whole life in ministry getting 2 years of experience at every stop along the way, chasing down our dreams of being the next great DS, GS or Senior Pastor of a mega church. Or we can bloom where God plants us and stay as long as He’ll let us , learning all that He’ll teach us and letting our families know what it is to have a home in the process. Long-term leadership affects long-term change and that happens by getting on a team and staying there, not by constantly looking to see where the grass is greener or more plentiful. The grass is greenest where you water it - sometimes that means understanding that the 2nd chair has your name on it.
Nick Peeples serves as the Associate Pastor at Orlando Centerpointe Community Church of the Nazarene in Orlando, FL.