Monday, August 22, 2011

Turning Points

I was reading my friend Dewayne Hamby's blog about the impact a recent message by Andy Stanley had on him, and it got me thinking. What are the moments that I remember that had a profound impact on my life? There have been a few of them, but one immediately leapt to mind - first a little background.

I began my pastoral ministry at a very young age, and have learned many of my life-lessons the hard way - by experience. By 25 I had already pastored two churches, assisted at another and was starting out as a Youth Pastor in Jacksonville, Florida. Like many young people starting out, I believed that I had all of the answers - or at least a lot of them. I was of the opinion that the reason I didn't have more success in my ministry was a lack of opportunity, or resources, or the right people around me, or... You get the picture. My Senior Pastor in Florida signed us up for a Pastor's Conference (I believe in Birmingham, AL) featuring John Maxwell as the keynote speaker. At the time, John was already a household name in the area of leadership development.

John began to speak, and I believe I had a front-row seat. It was one of those times when it felt as though John (and God through him) was speaking directly to me. I don't remember all of the details, as this was 23-24 years ago now. But what I do remember has had a lasting impact on me.

John spoke about personal responsibility and about being honest with ourselves. One of the quotes that I remember is this: "Your problem is not the problem, you are. Face it and fix it." He was talking about pastors who spend two years at a church and then, all of a sudden, hear God "calling" them to move on. Then two years later the cycle repeats itself, and so on, and so on... He went on to say that the reason for this cycle is that most pastors enjoy a "honeymoon" period at a new church, and once three years were up, the problems they faced could no longer be blamed on their predecessor. I have to admit, this was one of those "ouch" moments for me. I thought back over my few years in ministry and realized that there was a lot of truth to what he was saying.

I made a number of commitments as a result of that conference. One of them was a commitment to develop my leadership abilities, another prominent theme of the conference. From that one commitment has followed many lessons learned that have radically changed my life and ministry. I have made it a part of my life to attend at least one leadership conference a year and read leadership material on a regular basis. Another commitment was to not run from my problems but to face them head on and with grace. This has lead to two long-term pastorates, both of which have been extremely rewarding.

It's amazing the difference that one lesson can make. I am eternally grateful to John for his influence from a distance. Thanks from the guy in the front row.

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