Words of Advice for Young Church Leaders

Last week, a friend asked me what general advice I would give to young church leaders. I’m sure this list is not complete, but here’s a start.

  1. Always be a learner. Degrees don’t signal an end to learning. The world keeps changing, and none of us knows everything. An unwillingness to learn is intellectual arrogance.
  2. Learn the stories of your people. Everybody has a story, including that church member who frustrates you. Learn to ask about those stories. Listen well. Show genuine interest in the people God has placed in your care.
  3. Love the grandparents in your church. Sure, maybe they don’t like change – but you probably won’t either when you reach their age. You need their life wisdom today.
  4. Love the children in your church. From their early preschool years, children will choose their heroes. Be one of them.
  5. Be patient. Follow Jesus’ lead as He made disciples – teach, listen, re-direct as needed, teach again . . . and trust the Father to change your congregation. Impatient church leadership is usually discouraged leadership.
  6. Laugh. A lot. Today, the situation you face may seem unbearable. I assure you, though, that some of today’s events will be comical in the future. Learn to laugh today with godly joy.
  7. Invest in at least three people. Lead your whole congregation, but pour yourself into at least three people – a non-believer you’re trying to reach, a new believer you’re equipping, and an older believer you’re encouraging.
  8. As much as possible, don’t do ministry alone. Train somebody as you counsel, visit, and evangelize. Involving somebody else takes more time, but your congregation will be stronger in the long run.
  9. Be willing to apologize. You are not always right. None of us is. You will make mistakes. You will hurt people, even unintentionally. Learn to say with integrity: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
  10. Don’t forget your spouse and children. Your spouse should not learn from others important information about church events. Your children should not wonder why you’re always away from home. Make your family part of your team.
  11. Adore the church. The apostle Paul thanked God for the Corinthians and expressed his deep love for them (1 Cor. 1:4, 16:24) – all the while saying to them, “You’re an absolute mess.”  That mess is still God’s church. Love them.
  12. Don’t be afraid of numbers. You can evaluate numbers without idolizing them. If your church is seeing no one turn to Christ and few believers growing in their faith, those numbers ought to challenge and motivate you.
  13. Be accountable to somebody. Seek an older leader to pour into your life – and don’t give up until you find that person. Give permission to ask about your Bible study, your prayer life, your godliness, and your evangelism.
  14. Beware of “lostness apathy.” When your heart no longer breaks over non-believers, it’s time to repent. A lack of concern over the lost is sin.
  15. Keep up with the news. You need to know what’s going on in the world. Your commitment to the Great Commission demands it.
  16. Work hard. Frankly, we need no more lazy church leaders. Work every day as if you will answer to God for the way you care for the souls of people . . . because you will.
  17. Seek financial guidance. Taxation on ministry salary can be confusing. Your contributions toward retirement income should begin now. Get some input from someone who knows this world.
  18. Keep records. Years from now, you will wish you had records of the baptisms, weddings, and funerals you performed. I know, because my mentor told me to do the same – and I didn’t listen.
  19. Plan now to end your ministry well. Nobody ends ministry well by accident. In fact, the decisions you make today will affect whether you end well in the decades to come. Don’t be stupid.
  20. Thank God. I have NO idea why God allows me to be a leader in His church. He does, though, and I get to do something that affects eternity. So do you. Be grateful.

What advice would you add?  

37 Comments

  • Chris Russell says:

    Great word. Being a young church leaders I love these posts and find encouragment that somone that has been there takes time to address us and help us be more effective for the kingdom of God. Thank you.

  • Great advice for the young and good reminder for the not-so-young.

  • Michael Grout says:

    Great post. Reminded of me of some great advice from the late Calvin Miller in his book, Letters to a Young Pastor. Thank you for these encouraging words.

  • John Grigsby says:

    I would add to put others first. All too often I see young persons thinking it is about them. They don’t see the bigger picture and do not see they need to model servanthood.

  • Mary Ellen says:

    My favorite of your list is the advice to Laugh. I would add to it to not be afraid to laugh at yourself. Also, one bit of advice we received as younger leaders was “never believe your own press, either good or bad.” Keeps us from getting bogged down in criticism and puffed up by praise.

  • Joe Ward says:

    Great advice. I would add: Know your insecurities and either deal with them or be very aware of them as these can be (or will be) a deteriment to your leadership and those you work with.

  • Larry says:

    Dig into the Word…so often we tell others to be in the Word and not dig in ourselves. Our personal growth in the Word is key. We must allow the Word to live in us and through us. We can fall into the trap of reading the Word to teach the Word, and forget to be in the Word not to teach but for our own personal word from God.

  • jim says:

    Great word. One of the more word would be to watch your “margin.” Many of the struggles in maturing is being honest with the difference between knowing you can do something, knowing what you cannot do and knowing what you do not have time to do. The demands of ministry can be overwhelming and in a desire to be everything to everyone, we can overpromise and underdeliver.
    Another area that you mentioned that is powerful is loving the grandparents in the church. They can offer reflection on the culture and the church in ways we can be blind to in our youth. Thank God for them and let them love you with wise advice (even when it sometimes is couched in a bit of critique!)

  • Jeff says:

    These are very encouraging words, and great words of advice to young (and older) pastors. Thank you for them!

    Sometimes I wish that in seminary they would have had some basic, required course on like Dale Carnegie taught years ago “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” or some type of course that deals with how to relate to people. Maybe Basic People Skills 101? There are so many pastors I have known over the years who scored A pluses in Systematic Theology or Greek who got themselves fired over the silliest little missteps because, quite frankly, they just didn’t know how to act. Most people growing up these days did not have parents who were schooled sufficiently in the social graces (if they grew up with their parents at all) to know how and how not to relate to others- especially church people. Do you think Lifeway would be interested in developing something like this (along with Manners 101). It may not make much money, but it would be very helpful. Just my opinion. Thank you and God bless you.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Jeff. I do think we need to do a much better job of training church leaders to relate to other people. Dr. Rainer would know better than I, but I suspect Lifeway already has some resources that might help in this direction.

  • Steve Schoonover says:

    I have been blessed to have lived through a miraculous return from the brink when the church to which I belong nearly closed. The man, a retired pastor, who came to serve in the church at that time shared with me his largest frustration and the manner in which he handled it was instrumental in the turn-around that took place. He said that his largest frustration was seeing all the things that needed to be done and having to choose those to which would give attention. Prioritizing where our energies must be placed is a requirement if we are to be effective rather than doing a bunch of things and none of them as well as they need to be done in order to honor God..

  • Jeff Trehern says:

    As a 35 year old man who was just two days ago appointed pastor of his very first church, I really appreciate this article. Thank you for the valuable insight.

  • Cameron Debity says:

    This is a great list Dr. Lawless. I just started my first week at Hurstbourne Baptist in Louisville. I’m the youngest lead pastor they’ve ever had, 31, and know I will have some challenges, especially regarding my relationship with our older generation. I’m printing this list out to hang on my office wall. Though I never had you in class at SBTS, we miss having you in Louisville.

  • Ryan Smith says:

    I enjoyed the read. Being in my first pastorate is definitely a challenge. But I have learned to do many of the things that you have encouraged young pastors to do. I would add to make sure to continue to have mentors in ministry that you can seek advice for in difficult decisions. My mentors have spoken much wisdom into my life over the past three years!

  • Patrick Martin says:

    Thanks for these words. I’m a young pastor, and I can see where I struggle in several of these areas. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one!

  • Ned says:

    These are great reminders for new pastors and others who have spent years in ministry. As a grandparent I would say to the new pastor, realize that we have lived through more change than you have. Some has been good some not so much. Understand that with every change there are gains and losses. If you don’t want to be surprised by people’s reactions talk to them about the what’s and why’s and be prepared to listen and respond to questions. Know that a healthy tension between the generations is a good thing. Remember that older people love God and the church and her mission too and one of the names for God is Ancient of Days. . Keep pushing to advance the kingdom.

  • Matt says:

    Don’t worry over that one poor sermon you preached. The flock will forgive poor preaching much easier than they will poor pastoring. There will always be better preachers than you but nobody can pastor the flock, that God has entrusted to you, better.

  • Troy says:

    I really enjoyed the article. I am 41 and been in the ministry for 20 years. I would have loved to read this at the beginning of my ministry.

    I would add find an older/wiser Pastor to seek counsel from. There will always be situations arise that you have never dealt with. That being said realize that no one on this side of heaven is infallible. Weigh their counsel in the balances of God’s word.

  • Samuel Lee says:

    Learn to be discreet and be a good listener. I once cringed when I heard a personal story from the pulpit, and I never saw her again. And please, we in the pew notice it when leaders try to impress in front of guest peers or mentors. Die to ego on the cross, and give all glory to God.

  • Appreciated this easy-to-digest list, Chuck. In my current season, #5 on your list is most pertinent. The impatience (for what is not mine), the discouragement (over what I do not control) and the burnout (from incorrectly thinking any of it is mine or that I can determine outcomes), are all ways far off the narrow path.

    Thanks much for writing this!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.