Today I get to spend my morning sitting in the Tampa Airport waiting on a flight to get back home to Kentucky. We'll be loading the van and bringing the family down to our new home in Florida! But since TSA in Tampa International is incredibly fast, I've got loads of time before my flight! Watching how an airport works can teach us a lot about ministry leadership. Here's how:
1. Security is important - I'm not going to lie, taking off my shoes and going through the cattle stalls is annoying. But it's worth it knowing that the "bad guys" can't get through. As ministry leaders, we have to remember how important safety and security are. Do a facility audit sometime, and ask yourself if your children and nursery are secure. Does anyone have access, or do they need to be a parent/guardian? Do you have check-in & check-out procedures? How we minister to children and families is the front door for our churches, if we don't get that right nothing else matters.
2. No one goes to an airport to stay there - I love people watching, and deep down I'm still 10 years old watching planes take off. But I don't want to stay in the airport. The coffee is too expensive, the chairs aren't that comfy, and I didn't pack any extra clothes in my backpack. We go to airports as a launching spot towards our destination. Sitting in a church pew isn't the end game, it's the launching spot to living on mission the rest of the week. Our aim as leaders shouldn't be to just get people to sit in the pews, it should be to mobilize them to missional living throughout the week. I'm indebted to JD Greear's book Gaining by Losing, which drives home this idea of sending people, not just holding them.
3. Airports are diverse - I love people watching at an airport, especially a major international one. There's diversity of skin color, language, income, family, and more. Airports aren't homogenous, but sadly there's a lot of truth to what MLK said "Sunday at 11am is the most segregated hour in America." Our churches are placed in multi-generational, multi-cultural, and multi-ethnic communities. Are we reaching those? Or just people who are like us?
4. Airports move intentionally - Parking and signage to find where to go may not always be easy or fun, but everything in an airport has a purpose. The numbers of people who pass through one each day demand that there be no wasted space or motion. That's why I passed two Starbucks' to get to the one I went to. Churches who operate without intentionality in their ministries, programming, and activities do so only to keep spinning plates--busy without accomplishing anything. The key question a ministry leader should ask about any ministry, program, or event is "What is the end goal?"
5. Everyone has a role - Everyone involved in the airport has something they do that contributes to the success of the entire facility. Pilots, gate agents, air traffic controllers, the guy with the cool sticks on the tarmac, restaurant workers, cleaning staff, and more all function as part of the whole. In the church, there's no such thing as retirement from serving in the body. Every member is a minister is a phrase that Rick Warren used to drive home how important it was to function as a body, just like 1 Corinthians 12 describes. No one in a church is unimportant, and no job or volunteer in a church is unnecessary.
Anything you'd add?
It's surreal sitting in a Starbucks after my third week as a pastor. I'm so grateful to the wonderful folks at Emmanuel Baptist for their kindness, hospitality, and genuine enthusiasm for charting a new course in our journey of being faithful to Christ's call to make disciples. It's been exhausting, busy, challenging, and when you throw in being 14 hours away from Carrie and the boys, it's been somewhat lonely too.
I'd say there's 7 big lessons I've learned about ministry in such a short time.
1. Listening > Talking - So many times we assume our ministry activity happens when we're preaching, teaching, praying, and discipling. In essence, the times our mouth is moving. And those are all extremely important things to do, but sometimes the best thing we can do is keep our trap shut and hear someone share their story.
2. Trust and Delegate - It's really hard to have hands-on leadership in every little detail, and pastors who do that tend to err on being micromanagers or control freaks. Because there are so many issues that need to be addressed, I've learned how important it is to delegate responsibilities and not be involved in every minute detail. With that delegation comes trust, when I have to let go of my authority to handle something, but still bear responsibility for it. That's tough. But if we don't do that, we're not living out Ephesians 4 to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
3. Proactive Scheduling - Time is a leader's most valuable, and nonrenewable, resource. Taking control of time and proactively scheduling is the only way to manage the numerous responsibilities (see #2) while maintaining priority. My iCal looks like a coloring book, but it's the only way to be in control of time, and not let time control me.
4. Sunday Sneaks Up - It's felt like once I had the week under control, I wake up and it's Sunday and back around we go! I know every pastor has a different style and practice, but I love working ahead on sermon preparation, and I've found that's been a great way to be ready for when Sunday (inevitably) rolls around. Everyone has a different time frame, but if you can stay 4-6 weeks ahead on message preparation you'll find a cushion for when Sunday gets there much quicker!
5. People Aren't Projects or Interruptions - Speaking of #3... I was leaving in a hurry to go to a meeting across town when someone met me in the parking lot with "Hey pastor, do you have a minute?" One of the hardest lessons I've learned in ministry is that people aren't problems to be fixed or interruptions to be managed, they're people who God loves and who you love too. Seeing those as "God Moments" rather than interruptions changes everything. John Maxwell talked about it as "walking slowly down the halls" in 360 Leader, and there's so much truth to that imagery.
6. Time Away is Essential - God created a work/rest rhythm in Genesis 1 not because He needed it, but because we do. If you're a ministry leader and you're hitting the grind without any time off in a long while, you need to stop what you're doing and get some rest before it kills you or your ministry. I love being 25 minutes from the beach, and taking some time away to rest and hear the ocean waves has been exactly what my soul and body have needed.
7. Family is Priority #1 - I love our new church. I'm so excited about what God could be doing in our midst in the next few years and beyond. But the reality is they can find another pastor if I leave. The other reality is that Carrie cannot have another husband, and Sam & Gray cannot have another daddy. One thing I think that contributes to pastoral burnout is the imbalance between work and home, either they spend too much time at work and flame out at home, or they spend too much time at home and not enough at work and they fail to meet expectations. Have trusted people around you who can hold you accountable to keeping that balance strong.
And boys, when you and mommy get here in a few days, we're gonna have fun at the beach!
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.