This next phase of my Abraham Journey would be one of internal growth, change and understanding. As I stepped into the role as an associate pastor, I would soon discover that what I thought I knew about ministry, preaching, teaching, counseling and leadership was not even close to the reality. I stepped into this position sure of myself and ready to change the world, but the reality is, it would change me, and at this time I didn’t even realize how much I needed it.
I remember the first time I was asked to initiate something at the church that required volunteers. No problem, I thought, I am the pastor. Of course they would volunteer. And, they will be happy about it! Isn’t everyone ready to do what their pastor asks?
It didn’t turn out to be like I thought. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t rally the troops and get the job done. I was frustrated at them. This isn’t what I expected at all. Why wouldn’t they do as I asked. Why did I even need to ask? When I taught why didn’t they want to know the meaning of every Greek and Hebrew word during my sermons? Why didn’t they understand what I was talking about? I was excited about my sermon, why weren’t they?
Pastor Tino would continually pull me aside. He was always very loving and would take the time to explain to me how my approach could have been different. He would explain how I could teach differently next time. How my sermons could be more engaging. I would listen, understand and try to do it a his way next time.
What I didn’t realize then was that I had a very abrasive leadership style. I had been a leader in the army, and I was used to barking orders and having them obeyed under threat of punishment or extra duty. As a civilian, I was used to having leverage at work. I was used to signing paychecks, assigning raises and determining vacations days. But, here I had no leverage.
I eventually realized that what I was really asking people to give was the most important thing that they have, their time. I was asking them to give me their time. I was asking them to take time away from their family, their spouse, their kids and their hobbies. Why should they help surrender their most valuable resource just to help me accomplish my goals?
I realized I had not made any attempt at connecting or getting to know them. I had made all interaction about me and what I needed. I hadn’t done anything to inspire or motivate them. I was ordering them like soldiers and not leading them at all. I really needed some help in this area. I needed to change.
I began to read about leadership. I began to read about being a pastor. I remember the first book I read, it was “Developing the Leader within You” by John Maxwell. As I read through this book, there was a point when I stopped reading, dropped to my knees and cried. I was so shocked and disappointed by the contrast between what he was describing compared to who I was. This moment of self-realization would begin a journey in leadership training and learning that continues to this day. From that moment, I read every leadership book I could get my hands on. I did the workbooks that accompanied them. I attended leadership round tables, training and seminars.
Then, I got connected to something I could never have imagined. John Maxwell and his leadership team contacted me about joining a leadership speaking and coaching team. I would get to be personally mentored by John and his team through videos, phone calls, books, and resources. I would also spend three days with the other members of the team in Florida to be trained in the areas of speaking, teaching and coaching. The opportunity to grow in this area was too tempting, and I was all in.
The leg of the journey would really help me uncover the areas I really needed to grow. I began to learn about servant leadership, and recognized the teachings of Christ as the servant leader. I began to connect with people in the congregation, and learn about them and what they were looking for in their relationship with Christ. As I learned more about them and what they were hungering for, I began to preach and teach better. I began to put their needs first and teach what they needed, not what I wanted. I began to understand what it really meant to be a pastor.
It was through this transformation that I would also begin to realize and become aware of some challenges in the rest of my life where I had compromised. There were situations at work that I was not comfortable with. It is amazing how I did not recognize how for from God’s moral standard I was until I began to grow as a leader and a pastor. I would be faced with some huge ethical dilemmas. I was leading my company at that time in a way that was obedient to the instructions I was being given by the owner, but not obedient to the mandate handed to me by Christ. I decided that I was not able to stand up and preach what I was not willing to live. I realized that to be a man of integrity, I must be willing and able to live my message and be the example.
So I made the tough choice. I put my job in jeopardy for what I knew to be right and moral. For what I knew to be in line with God’s Word. I can’t really disclose more than that without compromising people I care about who still work in that industry, but let’s just say that I had to do the right thing. As I stood up for what I believed in, things would change at work. When I refused to do the things I knew to be wrong, at the expense of the profit margin, I expected to lose my job. I was too valuable to let go, but it was never the same after that. I was no longer in the “fold.” I had lost the trust of the upper echelon and I was ostracized to a point. To me, however, it was just too important to do what was right with God, and I went to work every day and did my best. I went home each night able to look in the mirror without conviction. I put my trust in God and it was all I really needed for peace.
It was also during this time that I also had another amazing opportunity. I met the Director for the International School of Ministry. I was able to learn their curriculum and take it back to our small church. I had the privilege to take some members of the congregation through this two year curriculum of Bible training. As they grew in their knowledge of the Bible, I also grew in my confidence to teach and preach. It was an amazing time of growth for all of us.
As my time as an associate pastor continued, I began to feel as though God were preparing me for some major change which was coming. I began to downsize all of my possessions. I sold anything extra. I sold my house and rented a room at my Mom’s house. I began to downsize at work and began to train other people to do my job. I wanted there to be no obstacle that would prevent me from not being able to move when God called. I didn’t know what God was up to, but I knew it would be amazing, and I would want to be ready.
If I learned anything during this period, it would be “Be Ready.” 2 Timothy 4:2 Tells us to be ready, in season and out of season. “… preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (ESV)”
God is calling us to always be ready when He calls. Be open to change, and most importantly, be open to growth. God will challenge us in the areas we need to grow in. I thought I was an amazing leader, until I learned what true leadership look like. I thought I was a caring pastor, till I saw what true pastoral ministry and care looked like. I thought I was a great preacher, until people snored during my sermons. I thought I was a moral man until I saw how I was compromising myself in my vocational decisions.
So, be ready. Be ready to change, be ready to grow and be ready to be challenged by God. It is only because He has an amazing plan for you that He will challenge and stretch you.
To the entire congregation of Lamp of God Ministries, I say Thank you. Thank you for understanding when I was an immature leader and challenging me to grow into a better one. Thank you to Ismael and Roxanne, Gil and Dianna, Robert and Miriam, Justinne and Robert O. Thank you again to Pastor Tino and Olivia. Thank you to those that met with me, encouraged me and corrected me. Thank you for being part of my Abraham Journey.