This Sunday TRC will celebrate 20 years of public life in Rome, Georgia. Jennifer and I moved back from Texas after learning church planting from Northwood Church and Bob Roberts. We had our first public worship service in March of 2003, and 20 years later, we are still at the work.
Here are some lessons we’ve learned in 20 years of work.
- I’m the number one sinner, and ministry only highlights your suck, not your excel.
Listen, the ministry will simply uncover your worst parts. If you don’t deal with it, you’ll implode or you’ll do something horrible.
Confess and repent weekly to someone you trust in the fellowship and be accountable.
- The resources are truly in the harvest.
Bob said this early on, and we have found it to be true. Tactically, making disciples in one-to-one relationships and small groups has led to TRC giving generously, and we have always had the resources we need to do the work from TRC members. That’s been awesome to see.
We have had to be patient and wait for some things to be available later in the game, but disciples give and that’s always been enough.
- Master yourself.
We have the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control readily available for us to tap into. The problem is we treat the Holy Spirit and his immediate help as something we can’t get or is not available. That’s not true.
We can master our flesh, and to do so will NOT insure smooth sailing among everyone, but it will insure you will not wreck yourself, your family, or your ministry.
- Sin will kill everything it touches, so deal with it before it gets out of control.
Over and over again we’ve witnessed sin wreck people and multiply havoc inside. After sin wrecks the inside of a church it will spread to the outside and the rampant unrepentant sin will slander folks who cared enough to try and deal with it.
Projection and transference are real, and people will do it to you and your people.
Kill sin or sin will be killing everything it touches.
There are gentle ways to deal with it early, then harder ways if unsuccessful early with more gentle ways. I’m not advocating for being a jerk. I’m sure there will be some who’ll read this and condemn me as a jerk, heretic, mean, etc. They usually text, email, call, or just slander, but sin will infect the whole, and part of leadership’s work is to guard the whole by dealing with the cancer of sin.
Never take on responsibility for others’ sins when they want to blame you for what they did or their response just to keep the peace. That sets an ugly precedent, and it’s self-harming, and it will bite you later.
Nothing. Good. Ever. Comes. From. Sin.
If you want to run hard in one place, be willing to play the long game. Get on God’s rhythm and learn to wait on him to move things. God does not need me to push his agenda. He will advance his kingdom. My job is to hear him and obey him. That’s it. So, wait on the Lord.
- The early bird gets the worm, but the early worm gets eaten.
Using marketing insights as means of doing kingdom work might work sometimes. Often it just makes us look silly. Don’t feel like you have to get on the front end of trends that masses of Christian sub-culture adopt. Rarely has any of that been eternal in nature. It’s been a fad, and it occupied useful time and resources.
You don’t need to be the first to the market. You might just get eaten.
- Popular trends inside Christian culture are worthless.
Resist the surface garbage. No further explanation is needed.
- Innovate don’t imitate or mimic.
Bob has been saying this for years. We want to see what others are doing that works and rip it off or shift it a little so we look like we did it originally, and that’s just goofy.
If you really have some values, work your values into every nook and cranny of your organization and let it be what it is. Don’t try to make it look like what’s not by being the “in” church. Don’t try to be the “out” just to be a revolutionary. Both of these are silly.
Just live out your values personally and organizationally and you will be innovating rather than mimicking. This is hard. There is no blueprint for innovation. You have to make the blueprint. So, just accept that, and embrace the suck. It’s better for the long-term work of the local church.
Innovating will also limit your time to a narrow investment, and you can then go deep.
- Stay hidden.
This doesn’t mean to never be seen or heard or post on social media. It does mean not making it your aim to become important for the sake of feeding your ego.
Psalm 75:6-7 (ESV) 6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
Do the work and everything necessary to do the work, hide behind Jesus, and promote the kingdom of God.
If we get known, then humbly receive the opportunity to lift Jesus up more. If we stay in the shadows, even better.
- Attempt to stay in one place your entire time of leading in the local church.
Don’t ministry hop. Plant. Stay.
It’s not the trend in evangelical culture to stay. Some of that is due to established churches that just grind up a man and his family, and it’s best for them to leave that toxic place for preserving themselves and their family.
If there is a healthy way to stay, stay.
So much is made of toxic leaders these days and not enough of toxic members and congregationally led hotbeds of evil that chew on prophets until they are ground into submission. I said what I said.
- Family first. You won’t regret that decision.
I get that ministry demands 24/7 work to an extent. YET, you have to push back on some of that. Yada. Yada. Yada.
I made a vow to Jennifer on July 31, 1999, that she and our family would come as the first ministry, and through times of having 3 jobs to now having only 1, I have not broken that vow.
We’ve lost friends and church members because I would not sacrifice my family on the altar of someone else’s dysfunction, and I’ve never regretted it.
I’m not talking about need and serving the church and its needs. I’m talking about dysfunctional demands for time that is outside the bounds of good. You need to develop discernment to know this difference, but you better learn it and not bow down to it.
My boys love God. Jennifer and I are intact. And we are talking about building and leaving a legacy NOT how to survive home life. Home life is intact and healthy. Not perfect, but fully intact and healthy. We’ve had to fight for it, but, by God, it’s there and intact.
- Theology will grow more precious to you if you lean into God and his word more. Do not marginalize theological pursuit for mere pragmatics.
The practice of your theology will become even more important the older you get as it takes on very tangible and practical outworkings. You will become your theology if you are authentic.
- Get emotional and mental help as preventative care before you need it for repair and healing to catch up to health.
I waited until my internal lack of health was so bad that it almost killed me to begin getting good mental and emotional healthcare.
I’m not sure why I and others looked at good therapy as unnecessary when we get regular physical healthcare. I’m sure it’s a naturalistic worldview that plays itself out unconsciously, and that’s worth exploring in another space, but suffice it to say that ignoring good mental healthcare is not good.
Seek out a good licensed Christian therapist that won’t misuse the Bible, and invest in your soul.
- Reciprocation in relationships is necessary for long-term life in the fellowship.
For some reason, I’ve always viewed the elder’s role as that of one who just gives and doesn’t receive. I have some weird thing in me that pushes back any care from others, and therefore, relationally I have always been one who just gave until that also kills my inside life.
That foolishness leads to fear because I’m empty and don’t know how to fix that problem. Fear leads to all manner of not-good things in me.
We have found that it’s not only biblical to expect reciprocal relationships, but it’s key to longevity.
I hope these few lessons will be a help to some.
There are more lessons I’m sure, but these are suitable for public consumption.
Thanks for letting me post my thoughts and videos and sermons here over the years. I hope it serves Jesus’ advance of his kingdom in some small ways.
Ya’ll have a great day. Out!