*This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 version of Enrich Magazine.
Guest Post by Kevin Johnson. Kevin has served as superintendent of the Maritime District since 2011. Prior to this he served as lead pastor at SonLife Community Church in Halifax, N.S. His primary interests have been focused on leadership development for credential holders and vitalization for local congregations. He is married to Annemarie, and they have five incredible adult children.
I moved from being highly motivated to being utterly frustrated!
A series of hardships in ministry such as cancer, members leaving, and the inability to grow as a church left me feeling bruised and beaten. My frustration was compounded because I thought I knew what we needed to do, only to find there was little fruit to show for it. I thought I was a good pastor, but I could not figure out what needed to happen to get us where we needed to go.
Finally, I recognized I needed help from someone who had been farther down the path than me. I have to admit: that was threatening. More than anything, I was nervous about someone looking at my ministry and pointing out my weaknesses and mistakes. It is ironic that when you most need to reach out for help, you are least likely to do so.
Pastoral leadership is complex. In many ways, it is not like other jobs. For example, in business, firing an employee is a walk in the park compared to dismissing a volunteer who is related to half of the congregation; bringing spiritual correction to an influential person could break your budget; that new idea you have might not be accepted until after Jesus returns; long-time members can think they are experts at your job; sometimes you have to deal with weird people. Yes, pastoral leadership is complex.
Leading a church comes with big challenges. Peter Drucker, “the founder of modern management,”1 is reported to have said that pastoring a church is one of the most difficult jobs. Is it any wonder we feel like we are swimming upstream without water? Pastor, you have been called to one of the most challenging pursuits you could ever undertake. Now, before continuing, take a deep breath and grab a coffee.
Asking for help is hard. Jesse Lyn Stoner says the temptation is for leaders to believe they should … always be competent … never make mistakes … always be strong.” She continues by stating that this creates a dilemma for leaders because when we need to reach out for help, we “are likely to feel … humiliated … incompetent … stupid.”2
I found it difficult to reach out for help at the very time I most needed it. Yet I am so glad I did. The vitalization initiatives that are accessible to help pastors today in many of our districts were not available back then, but the coaches and friends who came alongside to teach and help me changed the course of my ministry. That is one of the reasons I believe so strongly in helping pastors through vitalization. Competent leaders and coaches can bring such a positive change to the future of your church and your ministry.
Opening my life to experienced leaders who could help me and challenge me was the beginning of the most fulfilling ministry years I ever experienced. Over the years I have found that the most influential and effective pastors are those who continually ask others for help, insight and understanding. Leaders who are open to others excel. Stoner is convinced of the paradox that “strong leaders ask for help.”
If you find yourself experiencing any of the following challenges, I encourage you to reach out for help:
• You’re tired, frustrated, and not seeing the results you hoped for.
• There is a chronic problem in the church that is not going away, no matter what you try.
• You admit that your church is not as vibrant as you would like it to be.
• You would not attend your own church if you were not the pastor.
• You feel as if you keep running into walls that prevent you from progress.
• Not many are coming to faith in Christ and remaining in the church.
• Things are going pretty well, but you want to see greater things happen.
The fact is that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” That is why help from experienced leaders can be a game changer in these situations— if we are willing to ask, listen and learn. That is why wisdom and counsel from competent leaders and the vitalization initiative are so beneficial. As Krista Rizzo says, “At some point, even the best of us need help.”3
If you have a deep desire to see God work in your congregation, why not reach out to competent leaders in your district? Remember the words of King Solomon in Proverbs 15:22, “Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail; take good counsel and watch them succeed” (MSG).
- Steve Denning, “The Best of Peter Drucker,” Forbes, August 29, 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2014/07/29/the-best-of-peter- drucker/#1ded5885a96e.
- Jesse Lyn Stoner, “Strong Leaders Ask for Help,” Collaborative Leadership Practices and Skills, Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership, March 24, 2015, https:// seapointcenter.com/strong-leaders-ask-for-help.
- Krista Rizzo, “Why Asking for Help Is a Strength (and Three Ways to Do So Effectively),” Forbes Coaches Council, September 15, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/ sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/09/15/why-asking-for-help-is-a-strength-and-three- ways-to-do-so-effectively/#65f91a0372b7.