As a young man, one of my mentors said to me, “John, you can have most anything you want. You just can’t have everything you want.”

He was talking about finances and his point is well taken. With hard work, saving and planning, even a minister could afford a nice car OR pricey hobby OR luxurious vacation once in a while…just not all of it. Or at least not all at once.

I have found that his advice holds true for personal finance, but is also true in ministry leadership.

In over 25-years of ministry, I can confidently say that one of my greatest pain points is self-inflicted. I have always attempted too much, too fast, rather than tackling one thing at a time.

As an evangelist I would lead local church revival meetings, area-wide crusades, youth camps, mission trips, and dozens of other initiatives. I was able to do none of these things particularly well, to no one’s surprise (other than my own, of course). When I stepped into the role of Lead Pastor at the age of 27, I saw dozens of areas where my first church needed to improve and I attempted to “fix it all” in my first year. I unnecessarily offended key leaders, exhausted volunteers, and even ran off people who just couldn’t deal with so much change so quickly. Thankfully, due to some very patient people and the matchless grace of God, I survived those early days and enjoyed a fruitful ministry season in that lovely faith family.

King Solomon tells us, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

As for me, the basis of my impatience and impulsiveness was most-definitely personal pride masking itself as missional urgency. I simply had to have the appearance of excellence in every area, or I wasn’t good enough to be considered a gifted leader. It wasn’t pretty, and the Lord dealt with me about that (but that’s a different story for a different article).

I have not yet mastered the art of prioritizing and focusing in my ministry leadership, but I am aware of this self-inflicted pain point, which gives me great hope for the future, as well as peace in the present. Knowing this about myself and having a long-range vision for my ministry gives me permission to tolerate temporary mediocrity in one area while I focus on improving another.

My church simply does not have the perfect volunteer onboarding processes, while also killing it in missionary support systems, while carrying out the greatest evangelistic outreaches since Pentecost, while meticulously maintaining our facility, AND providing the most powerful expository preaching since Spurgeon. Maybe one day it will, but not today!

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, once correctly said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” So learn from my failures by slowing down and trying to think long-term in your ministry leadership.

This means that you can afford to be patient and focus your attention on improving one area of ministry at a time, while tolerating those perceived deficiencies in others without feeling so guilty about it. Attacking everything at once doesn’t work and costs too much in the long run. It turns out my old mentor was correct about finances and ministry…a ministry leader can typically have anything we want, but not everything we want.

At least not all at once.

PS: This principle is rooted in the belief that longevity in ministry is a major key to effectiveness in ministry. If you are not planning on staying in your current ministry position very long, please do not make major disruptive changes in your organization. Just be faithful to love the people and share the truth, while exercising wisdom and patience on the things you would like to see changed. Obviously, this is not always up to the leader to decide how long they stay. But, if you do lead to substantive organizational change, I would encourage you to see those changes through to their completion and implementation, before considering other opportunities elsewhere.

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John Welborn and his wife of 20 years, Ashley, have 3 children, Gracie (16), Eli (13), and Charlie (9). John holds degrees from Liberty University (B.S. in Biblical Studies and DMin in Evangelism and Church Planting) as well as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.A. in Ministry Leadership). He was an itinerant evangelist before becoming Lead Pastor of Crosslink Community Church in Harrisonburg, VA where he served for 7 years. In January of 2016, he became the Senior Pastor of Salem Church in Staten Island, New York and he is currently the Director of SEND Network in New York, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board. His life’s passion is making disciples and multiplying churches. Pastor John’s hobbies include playing golf, riding motorcycles, traveling, and watching his favorite sports teams: the Georgia Bulldogs football team and the Atlanta Braves.

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