I’ll never forget the call I received one Wednesday afternoon as I was wrapping up my sermon preparation for our college service. North Phoenix Baptist Church was asking me to pray about coming to be their Senior Pastor. I was honored; I couldn’t believe they were interested in me.
Immediately a flood of thoughts surfaced:
“They must have heard how great of a leader I am.”
“They must have heard how great of a preacher I am.”
“It’s about time someone noticed my talent!”
“I knew I could lead a church!”
I truly thought that North Phoenix Baptist Church called because they needed me. I thought they needed my talent, my charisma, my preaching, and my experience. They needed me to lead them and grow them.
There was an ugliness that rooted deep within my soul that I was blind to. I had no idea how much it was I who needed the church and how much God would use them to grow and sanctify me. I want to offer five confessions, five spiritual pitfalls to avoid, that I desperately wish someone would have given me as a new Senior Pastor.
Confession #1: I didn’t guard my heart.
There have been times where I thought I knocked the sermon out of the park. The congregation was engaged. I was clear. I even had an opening statement that made them laugh and a closing one that made them cry. I really believed I had hit a “homer.” On those Sundays, you could find me lingering by the stage waiting for my “fans” to tell me how great I did. I would walk in on Mondays looking forward to the encouraging emails I would receive.
Then there were the sermons that fell flat. On those Sundays, it felt like I was poking a beehive as the critics came out stinging. On those Sundays, there was no lingering by the pulpit or rushing to get in on Monday. On those Sundays, I questioned my calling and my ability as a pastor.
I felt tossed between these two extremes from Sunday to Sunday, all dependent on how I felt I did, or more importantly how the critics felt I did. I was letting my heart be filled up by the opinions and affirmations of man, rather than the word of God.
Confession #2: I preached for my critics.
If I’m being honest, I let the critics get to me. It seemed like they would criticize me about everything. From my choice of clothing on Sunday, to the songs we sang, the way I spoke, the direction of the church and the list goes on. Little by little, my unguarded heart became filled with anger and bitterness. I quickly learned that an unguarded heart leads to unfiltered preaching. My sermons were prepped with the critics in mind, completely disregarding the spiritual needs of the rest of the sheep. A harsh tone coupled with a bitter heart not only makes for degraded preaching but poor shepherding. My attempt to get back at five ended up hurting hundreds.
Confession 3: I didn’t speak the truth with boldness.
To be honest, I became afraid. If I spoke on tough issues, I was afraid they would think I was a bigot. I was afraid to offend people. I was afraid to lose members. I was afraid to lose tithers. I had an honest internal wrestle with teaching the whole counsel of God.
Through an overwhelming conviction from God, I became more afraid to not tell the truth, more afraid of what the absence of truth meant for the heart of man. What a coward I was not to trust the Word of God!
Confession #4: I preached for personal affirmation, not Biblical transformation.
I’m not sure how I got here, but it happened slowly. Maybe it was all the talk I heard about the great preachers of our time and the “incredible” sermons church members would send me hoping that I would “preach like them.”
Either way, I found myself prepping outlines that would leave the congregation “wowed” by my preaching. While I certainly cared about transformed lives, my priority was not always the proclamation of the Gospel, but the response that I would receive.
Confession #5: I preached half-baked sermons.
As a new Senior Pastor, I thought the majority of my time would be spent preparing sermons. I found out very quickly that preaching was only a small part of my role as a shepherd. So often, I felt like the week got away from me and the congregation would have to settle for a half-baked sermon. These sermons were nothing more than Biblical outlines served cold.
Through all of this, the Lord has taught me and sanctified me. I have learned the importance of balancing my time and letting the fullness of God’s Word marinate in my soul and saturate my heart. I have learned not to be distracted by the critics, but to focus solely on the mission that He has called me to. I have learned to rest in knowing that I have offered my best to the Lord and that He is pleased.
If you resonated with any of these confessions, know that you are not alone. These are things I still wrestle with daily. I have learned though, that a spirit of humility and teachability with take you to far greater places than your charisma.