When I moved to Florida in 2006, I began to feel a little overwhelmed with ministry. I’ve learned since then that such feelings are good if they drive us to our knees and keep us aware of our utter dependence upon God.
I also realized that there were fellow pastors within driving distance who God had blessed with incredible ministries. While the size of their congregations was much larger than the church I pastored, I suspected that they had a lot of insight that I could use and in doing so bless the church I pastored. So, over the course of a few years, I set up a lunch meeting with each of the following pastors. I showed up prepared to enjoy the company and food but with a greater desire to learn from their experience. (If I remember correctly, most of them paid for the lunches even though the initial deal was that I would take care of it.)
The first pastor I met with was Ken Whitten. He is the pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida. I had attended his church a couple of times with my family when on a “stay-cation.” It felt so much like Bellevue Baptist Church where I had attended when in seminary in Memphis. I was not surprised when I heard that Pastor Ken had been on staff at Bellevue many years ago.
As we talked over lunch, we reminisced about our days at Bellevue (even though our times at Bellevue did not coincide) and our deep respect for Dr. Adrian Rogers. We talked about vision and leadership and some other pastoral/leadership competencies. But, what I really took away from my time with him was that a pastor needs to love his people, he needs to love the Lord, he needs to be passionate about the Gospel, and he needs to be excited about the future.
Another pastor that I took out to lunch was Willy Rice. He is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Florida. The large church campus, the activity of a Christian school and a future sports complex testified to the fact that Pastor Willy was a leader. He didn’t just preach – he led.
As we talked, I shared with him some of the struggles I was facing in ministry. I could tell that his mind was wired for visionary leadership. What I took away was that Pastor Willy was a man with a heart afire for reaching people for Jesus. And he knew that there wasn’t much time left. He believed that people where capable of doing much more than they thought they were, especially when they cooperated together under caring, competent leadership. He was more than honored to be the man to step up and point the direction that God was leading.
Another pastor that I had the privilege of spending a few hours with was Jim Henry. He is the former Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida. I was invited with 5 other pastors to sit with Pastor Jim for about 3-4 hours. For those hours, we got to listen to him share some of what he had learned in his years of being a pastor.
While I filed my notes away (and can’t find them!), I had quite a few take-aways from my time with Pastor Jim. He noted that if a congregation doesn’t feel that their pastor loves them, he has greatly undermined what he will be able to do as their leader and preacher. He pointed out that a church never gets too big for a pastor to care for his people and he gave very specific way that he tried to maintain a caring pastoral role for a church that had thousands attend on Sunday mornings. He noted that a good sense of humor is vital and a pastor has got to spend time with God before he can spend time with God’s people.
Finally, the pastor to whom I will be indebted the rest of my life is Jay Dennis. He is the pastor of the First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Florida. I was going through a particularly difficult time in my ministry when I called upon him. He gave me an hour and a half out of his incredibly busy schedule to listen and provide counsel. His encouraging, insightful words kept my head above water as circumstances were threatening to sink me. But, he didn’t limit his encouragement to our lunch. He continued to text and e-mail words of encouragement to me long after our meeting. When my family showed up to worship on another “stay-cation,” he gave me a huge hug and continued to speak words of encouragement and affirmation.
From Pastor Jay, I learned that to bring about lasting change, you’ve got to love the people you lead. You’ve got to be intentional about your care for them as you preach and as you meet with them one-on-one. That sounds easy enough but it is extremely difficult. Some pastors have warm personalities in the pulpit but aren’t ‘people persons’ one-on-one. There are others who are very comfortable with people one-on-one but who are not warm in the pulpit. Pastor Jay is able to do both. That’s why his congregation follows his ambitious leadership and continues to love him.
I wouldn’t give anything for my time with these men! While it lacked some the benefits of a long-term mentor relationship, it provided for times to learn from these men and to see how they got to a place where God was using them in unbelievable ways.
If you are a pastor, especially if you are just getting started, contact other pastors that you respect that are ‘farther up the road’ than you are in ministry. Ask to take them out to lunch and show up with a list of questions where the answers will help you in ministry. Ask them … and then sit back, listen, enjoy and bless your church by being a better pastor.