6 Practices for Your First Year In Church Leadership


tarting well in your first year is so important for the long run of your leadership.

In your first year of ministry, it is more important to focus on your internal adjustments more than external accomplishments.

I’m sure I did this backward for a season. (Probably longer than I’d like to admit.)

I was so excited to reach people for Jesus and driven for results that when margins were thin, my default was results, not my personal growth.

Soon enough, fortunately, both were happening, growing under John Maxwell’s incredible mentoring and seeing the church grow.

However, because in those early years, I didn’t make as many of the internal adjustments as my coach pointed me toward, I actually slowed my growth for a while.

Internal adjustments are things like leading by values rather than leading by pressure, overcoming insecurities, wanting more for people than from people, developing and empowering leaders rather than just being busy doing ministry, and the list goes on.

I’m writing this post as if I could sit with you, in your first year of ministry leadership, regardless of your age, and help get you started in the best way possible. (Or play a little catch-up if needed.)

Or perhaps if you are now a supervisor or coach of leaders, this post may be helpful to you as you get new leaders started well.

Let’s agree on something.

Results matter. Reaching more people for Christ is the mission. But if you don’t lead yourself well, you can’t lead others well. Start there.

Here’s the point.

You can’t lead far if the well doesn’t run deep. 

You cannot simply “fill the well” once, and that’s it for the next 5 – 10 years. So you absolutely need to keep stretching, changing, and growing.

It may seem counterintuitive to put personal growth over church growth because leaders serve for the sake of the mission. That’s true, but if you stop growing, the church will eventually stop growing too.

Other factors will slow or stop church growth, but nothing is as sure as leaders who stop getting better at leading. 

You can’t lead far if the well doesn’t run deep. 

6 practices to get your first year of church leadership off to a great start:

1) Doing good is more important than looking good.

Ministry is very public, and it’s easy to allow the temptation to “look good” in the eyes of those you lead to shape what you do and how you do it.

Resist that at all costs.                                     

Focus on doing the right thing, even if it’s not popular in the moment. Developing the integrity of your character will save you heartache years in the future.

You may not always make the best decision, but you will always have a sense of what is right and wrong. So get wise counsel and learn to trust your gut.

Looking good feels great in the moment but is fleeting. Doing good lasts for a lifetime.

Doing good is more important than looking good.

2) You can’t just study leadership; you have to practice it.

Reading books, participating in roundtables, listening to podcasts, receiving great coaching, etc., is required and extremely helpful. But it’s not enough by itself; you have to practice leading.

The only way to actually practice leading is to carry the responsibility of success or failure in a way that you personally feel the weight of leadership.

Practicing leadership is not pretend leadership; it’s the real thing like real doctors practice medicine. Both are an art that you learn for a lifetime.

Practicing leadership is how you become a better leader.

You can stay very busy doing the same things with the same people over and over again, or you can continually learn new and better ways and become a better leader.

This doesn’t mean you leave people behind; it means, in part, that you develop leaders to help care for an increasing number of people.

3) Be smart about how you make mistakes.

If you practice leadership, you will make mistakes; in fact, if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t leading.

Taking risks and making mistakes is part of the process. 

But, of course, we all want to show up, shine bright, and make things happen. That’s good! But not if that makes you play it safe, please people, and have others around you carry the real weight of decision-making.

Here’s the smart way to make mistakes, don’t make the same mistake twice.

You are going to mess up; you are human. But if you make the same mistake twice, you aren’t learning, and that will catch up with you quickly.

Learn from your mistakes and lead better tomorrow.

If you practice leadership, you will make mistakes; in fact, if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t leading.

4) Make friends with obscurity rather than chasing promotion.

Obscurity isn’t about a lifestyle or your long-term goal, but it’s very healthy for you to be comfortable with obscurity when you face it as a leader. And that’s not easy in the current culture.

For example, you won’t be invited into every meeting (think about that, it’s not really possible, let alone practical.) So why would the whole team be in every meeting? But your emotions will feel a pinch when you walk by a room and “everyone” is in there but you.

It’s OK, trust me, a day will come when you will be glad you aren’t in every meeting.

You won’t likely get a promotion really fast. That’s OK. Don’t be frustrated about what you haven’t been given, be grateful for what you have been trusted with to lead and make it better!

Build your ministry and enjoy the process. You’ll get noticed at the right time.

5) Make everything you do about people.

It’s surprisingly easy to invest so much time into vision and strategy, planning and organizing, finance, communication, solving problems, and designing events that there is little time left for people. Don’t let that become a habit.

All those things are good and necessary, just don’t forget the reason you do them.

Look at your calendar every week and make sure you see appointments and availability to meet with people you are helping get through their struggles and mature in their faith.

The larger your church gets, the more challenging it can be to have time for people. (As crazy as it sounds, but it’s real.) It’s the danger of becoming an event planner with a theological degree.

Never forget, it’s all about people.

6) Pursue Jesus like your life depends on it.

Always remember the moment you surrendered your heart to Jesus; it keeps your leadership real, fresh, and alive.

Your testimony never gets old; it’s the foundation of your leadership and reminds you of why you do what you do.

With that said, your faith not only reminds you of your past spiritual experiences but also carries you into the future.

What is God saying to you today? That’s one of the most important questions a leader can ask.

Pursing Jesus daily is vital for your soul and your leadership. There will be times when you feel spiritually dry. That’s normal, and it will pass if you refuse to allow that to create drift and distance between you and God.

“What is God saying to you today?” That’s one of the most important questions a leader can ask.

(This post is starting to run a little longer than normal, but I want to sneak in one more.)

“Love your family in a way that they still love the church many years down the road.”

  • What would you add to this list?
  • If you have a minute, leave a comment.


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