How My Ex Almost Ruined My Ministry
By the time I arrived at Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church of Warner Robins, GA, where I’m currently serving as Senior Pastor, I had twelve years of experience under my belt. I had served conservative, liberal, and fundamental pastors. I had pastored Black and White congregations. I had been a part of small churches and large ones as well. I had served in the north, south, west, and Japan. From trustee to Minister of Music to Youth Minister to Assistant Pastor to Senior Pastor, man, I had experienced quite a bit.
My ex, experience, that is, almost ruined my ministry. In all my years, I had seen, read, and heard about a lot that painted, or should I say, tainted, my view of what I was walking into. It can happen to the best of us.
My ex, experience, that is, made me stereotype the congregation. It didn’t take long for me to realize that although I had been a part of several different types of congregations in various parts of the world, Union Grove was different. If I was going to enjoy the journey, I would have to open up to learning a few things. I literally felt, at times, that none of my experiences in previous ministries or the books I read or the stories I heard about other pastors who walked into similar situations as mine could help me.
Don’t get me wrong. Experience is priceless and welcome on any team. It can keep you from being naïve and it brings a greater level of awareness than inexperienced people may bring. However, experience also has a way of crippling us if we allow it to fill our minds with stereotypes that make us believe we have people figured out before we even try to get to know them. Anyone walking into a new leadership situation would do well to pray and ask the Lord to reveal to them who they are leading. I started doing this immediately, especially after my first storm. I don’t know how God may do it for others, but for me, He is showing me who my church is through a very slow process. He has not revealed their I.D. in a dream. Rather, I am going through the normal process of developing a loving relationship that is taking what can seem to be an awful long time, but is more rewarding than getting a supernatural snapshot in my sleep.
If I could share one thing with leaders who think they’re pretty well experienced, it would be don’t let your experience ruin your new venture. I think too many leaders, especially pastors, walk into new leadership positions ready to spend their time 99% teacher and 1% student. It should probably be 55% teacher and 45% student—plus or minus a few percentage points. Learn your organization’s story by sitting down and listening to people who are new as well as people who have been there for a while. Listen to the young and the old. It blew my mind as to how many different versions of Union Grove’s story are circulating throughout my congregation. Trust God for the truth as you sift through it all. Make it your business to get to know people—their stories, their fears, their dreams, their strengths, what all of you actually have in common, what makes your organization unique, and how you can change the world together.
Summary: Let experience work for you rather than against you. Don’t let your experience cause you to stereotype individuals or organizations. Experience can be the best teacher. It has certainly taught me not to take it so seriously that I size people up and think I have them figured out before I even try to get to know them for who they really are. Curiosity, God’s grace, and patience empower me to thoroughly enjoy this season of my 19 years in ministry. I’m changing. The church is changing. And we’re changing the world for Christ!
This article was adapted from the upcoming book, Are There Any Questions?, Great Questions Inquisitive Leaders Ask, by David Anthony Clarke, Sr. Due for release in July 2009.
Copyright 2009, David Anthony Clarke, Sr.