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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started

I just got an e-mail from a pastor asking my advice: What are the top 3 things every person should know before they senior pastor their first church?

I haven’t done a top-ten list lately, so here goes. Here are a few of my off the top of my head thoughts about pastoring:

#1 Be Yourself–Even more important than being a pastor is being yourself. Be authentic. Be real. Share your weaknesses and struggles. Remind your congregation that you are a work in progress just like they are. Be true to the unique passions and giftings God has given you. Develop core values and core convictions.

#2 Put Your Family First–I limit my church-related meetings to one evening per week. Establish those boundaries early on. If there is ever a conflict between family and ministry, it’s a no-brainer. Family first.

#3 Have Fun–Church ought to be the most enjoyable hour of the week. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The healthiest and holiest people laugh at themselves the most. Let your congregation see you laugh at yourself. A lot.

#4 Keep LearningReaders are Leaders and Leaders are Readers. Once you think you have it figured out, it’s the beginning of the end. There are ways of doing church that no one has discovered yet. Keep experimenting. Realize that if a 100 people give you 30 minutes of their time to listen to your sermon, your message better warrant 50 hours of listening time. Study to show yourself approved, and make sure you’re doing both biblical exegesis and cultural exegesis.

#5 Hire People You Like Hanging Out With–How much you enjoy ministry depends on who you’re doing ministry with. Hire people you can laugh at…I mean with 🙂 Hire people who love God and love life. Hire people who go the extra mile. Hire people who work hard and play hard. Hire the right people then let their portfolio conform to them like a new shoe conforms to your foot.

#6 Do Recon–You’ve got to do everything within your power to keep from going into maintenance mode. Stay in growth mode. Remain an open-source system. Go to conferences and visit other churches.

#7 Be a God-Pleaser–I remind myself of what Abraham Lincoln said all the time: you can please all the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all the people all the time. Don’t worry about offending people. Worry about offending God. Stay true to the vision God has given you. Don’t waver when people want you to conform to their vision of what the church should be. You’ll spend the rest of your life contorting yourself and your church into a thousand shapes. Make sure you’re doing ministry out of the overflow of what God is doing in your life. Make sure you allow God to work in you before you ask Him to work through you. The church will never outgrow you! If it does, it’s dangerous!

#8 Keep It Simple–Less is more. We have two goals: plug into a small group and plug into a ministry. Don’t try to do too much. Be really good at what you do. Know who you are. Know who you aren’t. Develop a kingdom mindset. Learn to appreciate the unique role that others churches play in your community. Then play to your strengths.

#9 Paint Your Church Purple–Either you are remarkable or invisible. Too many churches are ignorable. The good news ought to make the news. You’ve got to do things to get the attention of your community. Do what you do with an excellence that makes people do a double take. Make sure your print materials are aesthetically pleasing. Do outreaches that bless the socks off your community. Find the needs in your community and fill them. Dare to be different. Add a touch of creativity to everything you do!

#10 Enjoy the Journey–If you’re a visionary, you’ll tend to live for the future, but enjoy the moment. Be the best pastor you can be during every stage.  

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Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., a multi-site church and a leading fellowship in the nation’s capital. Meeting in movie theaters and Metro stops throughout the D.C. area, NCC is attended by more than 70 percent single twenty-somethings. Mark’s weekly podcast is one of the fastest growing in America. His book, In A Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars peaked at #44 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. He has just released his newest book entitled, Wild Goose Chase: Reclaiming the Adventure of Pursuing God. He and his wife Lora live on Capitol Hill. They have three children.