10 Lessons I’ve Learned After 19 Years With One Congregation (Part 1)

In August, I will have been with the Crestview Church in Waco, Texas for 19 years. This is 19 years of preaching, teaching, leading, serving, funerals, weddings, and going to many, many elders’ meetings.

Through these experiences, I have learned a number of lessons.


When discouraged, remember this too shall pass.

When I was much younger and just starting out, I would sometimes be devastated by things that happened. At times, I came I away from a discouraging meeting and wondered if the church wasn’t about to come apart. I wondered if we didn’t need to move somewhere else. Yet, I learned time after time, that one bad season of ministry does not mean everything was coming apart. God was faithful and saw us through.

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Preach what matters.

A congregation needs to hear the gospel. Don’t assume they’ve heard it all before. Preach the gospel and show them how the story connects with their demands, fears, and concerns. Help them see these connections and the place of Christ in their lives.

Do not be intimidated when you overhear someone say in a conversation, “When was the last time you heard a sermon on _________?” (Just fill in the blank with someone’s pet peeve.) Be slow about reacting to such a statement. Sometimes, the reason a subject has not been addressed in a sermon is because it is not worthy of the time or venue. Some matters are more appropriate for Bible classes or small groups. Others matters are so trivial, they are not worthy of a church’s focus or attention.


Look for the reason behind the behavior.

In any congregation, there is a variety of personalities. Each one of these people has his or her own story. When someone behaves in a way that is highly reactive or emotional, consider what might be in this person’s background that in some way might contribute to such a response. Forgo the temptation to respond to them with your own reactivity. Instead, be self-differentiated, choosing how you will respond instead of reacting.

For example, suppose a group of people from your church comes together for a meeting. Consider some of their stories.

  • One woman has a son in prison. This heartbreaking situation is always on her mind.
  • One man grew up with a distant and aloof father. Now the son, married and the father of two, also tends to be distant and aloof with others. Yet, he cannot understand why he has not close friends.
  • One woman is not on speaking terms with her daughter. It has been almost a year now since either have spoken to one another. This mother has a history of emotional cut-offs with people.
  • One man lost his job three months ago and has been unable to find another. The family has been making significant financial cut backs. Meanwhile, his marriage had become quite strained.
  • One man hates conflict. As a child, police were sometimes called to break up an argument. Now, years later, he tends to withdraw whenever there is conflict.

These situations and backgrounds can help to explain why certain people behave the way they do. Good leaders learn to look for the reason behind the behaviors.


Read

Read well and read widely. Far better to read two books that are significant, than eight books which are average or mediocre. Read widely. Be aware of what others are reading. I regularly glance at the New York Times Best Seller Lists.

Read the Bible. Read through the Bible. Maybe this is obvious but it is easy to get caught up in the demands of life and ministry and neglect reading the Bible.


Pay attention to people in pain.

Be fully present when you are with people who are in pain. Use few words. Turn off the phone. Think about how you feel when you are trying to have an significant conversation and that person continues to send text messages while you are talking. People in pain need for you to be a listening presence.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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12 thoughts on “10 Lessons I’ve Learned After 19 Years With One Congregation (Part 1)

  1. Jim,
    May God bless you! 19 years is a long time. Pushing away the cynicism and discouragement that inevitably comes is a great quality that you model for the rest of us! Thank you for being faithful in minsitry!
    Doug

    • Doug! Thank you so much for your kind and affirming words. What you said means a great deal to me. Thanks Doug for your friendship.

  2. Congratulations on 19 years in one location. My denominational background (Methodist) would consider that a rarity. Two other thoughts: 1)When people say they haven’t heard a sermon on ____ it doesn’t mean it wasn’t preached, hearing is very selective – I’ve had people tell me they liked/disliked what I said in my sermon about ___ when my message said nothing on the topic; and 2) I think it is spot-on about difficulties being transitory.

    Blessings!

    • Hello Fritz,
      Thanks very much. You make a great point about selective hearing. I experienced something similar as you described. Good to remember.

  3. powerful words of advice, jim…thank god for old codgers (greek = “mentors”) in the ministry. i am 16 years in my present assignment, and what i would have given to receive this advice 20 years ago!

  4. Bro Jim, I like the “Preach What Matters,” as in the last year (maybe I’m hearing/listening better), your sermons have increasingly emphasized the grace side of our Father, while not offending our congregants coming to this truth. Keep it up. 19 more. Oh yes, another compliment. You throw in somewhat disguised theologies, perhaps the meat of the word, and, give a message to all, quite skillfully.

    • Johnny, thanks so much for these kind words of affirmation and encouragement. As a person listens to me preach each Sunday, your words mean a great deal to me.