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Learning From My Mistakes: Mistake # 1

If we are supposed to learn from our mistakes, I should be a very wise person by now in that I have made lots of them over my years of ministry. Over the next few weeks I am going to share a few of the mistakes that I have made and the lessons that I learned from them.

In his excellent book, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, Gordon MacDonald writes about five different groups of people who are part of most of our lives. He defines these people according to their impact on other people.

There are the “very resourceful” people who ignite our passion. These are the people whose lives set us on fire for Christ. Then there are the “very important” people who share our passion. They are the indispensable people who come along side of us and enable us to excel in ministry.

The “very trainable” people are those teachable people into whom we want to invest our time. They are the people whom we can look back on years later and thank God that we had a part in their lives. They catch our passion.

There are two more groups that MacDonald mentions and while we certainly don’t want to ignore these people, they can drain a lot of our time with limited results.

Churches are often filled with the “very nice” people who enjoy our passion while contributing very little to our lives. Finally there are the “very draining people” who sap our passion. They are the ones who, while draining our energy, send us home wondering if we had accomplished anything that day.


My mistake

Four months before I graduated from Bible College, the leaders in the church that I had attended during my last three years of study asked me if I would consider becoming their pastor. As is true of most graduates who are offered their first pastorate, I jumped at the chance. I had come to love the church and the people in it and I could hardly believe that I was being given the chance to serve as its pastor.

After three years at the church, I was fired. I tell the full story of that experience in my book, Reality Check For The Church,  but needless to say it was not a high point in my life.

As I look back at that experience, one of the mistakes that I made was that I invested most of my time into the wrong people. I put a lot of energy into the “very nice” and the “very draining” people and not nearly enough into the first three groups.


The empty trust account

Every pastor in every church needs to build up a trust account because without it she can’t get very much accomplished. There is almost nothing more important in the life of a leader than understanding this principle. Without a healthy trust account, nothing happens.

When I use the term “trust account” I’m not talking about the kind that a grandparent sets up for his grandchild’s education. I’m not thinking of an account with actual money in it. I am thinking about an account that is filled with people’s trust. Without that trust, change doesn’t happen.

Deposits are made into this account every time that the leaders make a good decision. Trust gets deposited every time that leaders are there for people when they are going through tough times. A deposit occurs every time that leaders follow through on their promises. Deposits are made every time leaders take advantages of their opportunities to serve the people entrusted to them.

I didn’t invest enough of my time building up a solid account with the people who most influenced the church. I spent a lot of time with people on the fringes but not enough time with people at the heart of church life. I didn’t realize what I was doing but as I look back I think that I got a lot of my positive input from people on the fringe and I as a young pastor needed the ego boost that that gave me.

I now understand that the critique that I might have received from those core members would have been the best thing that they could have given me. I learned very little from the people who were praising me. I could have learned a great deal from those who would have shared my mistakes with me. It took me a long time to learn that criticism is usually a gift that we need to accept and learn from. The person who offers that critique is actually doing us a wonderful favour.


When the crunch comes

In my case it wasn’t until some serious issues arose, that I realized my mistake. When I most needed their support, my trust account with the leadership was almost empty. I had failed to build the kind of relationship with them that would have resulted in the accounts being full. When I needed them most, I didn’t have their trust. It wasn’t that I had done anything terribly wrong. They just didn’t have the trust in me that would have carried us through the issues together.

Every church in which I have served as pastor, since that time, I have invested more time into the leaders than I have into anyone else in the church. I don’t do this to curry their favour because my future might rest in their hands. I do it because they are the ones who are going to partner with me in developing the future direction of the church.

When I come to them with ideas which I would like to implement there is nothing more important than the trust that we have built into each other. There is nothing more important than a full-to-overflowing trust account that I can draw on.

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