After twenty years as senior pastor, I finally had to admit I'd been "skimming" in my leadership. Skimming is the way many of us cope with multiple demands, constant pressure, and overloaded schedules. We cover a lot of ground superficially without being fully engaged. Like skimming a book, this can produce the impression that everything is covered, but in reality, you aren't completely there. How do you know you're skimming?
- When you go from meeting to meeting without awareness of God.
- When you say “yes” to new commitments and expansions without properly following through on what you are already doing.
- When it is Friday and you realize you have not had enough time to allow the truth of what you are preaching to transform your own walk with Christ.
- When you avoid difficult decisions and truths because someone will be upset.
- When you muddle your way through a meeting because you have not clearly determined your goals and agenda.
- When you make a pastoral phone call or visit – resentfully.
- When you cannot stop thinking about the unfinished work at church when you are with your family.
- When you are too busy to reflect on your own heart or cultivate your own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
- When you are not investing in your own personal growth and marriage.
- When you measure your success based on what other people say rather than your own internal values before God.
Many times skimming is a "defensive mechanism" of denial that blocks us from growing up spiritually and emotionally. It's a way of avoiding aspects of ministry that stir up anxiety or pain. It can work for a while, but eventually it catches up with us, and there's a price to pay. Here's how it caught up with me.
For years our church board, in their annual review of my role, asked how I enjoyed my position as senior pastor.
"I love preaching, teaching, casting vision, and discipling people," I replied. "But God just didn't gift me to do administration or run the organization. It's frustrating."
For years I, along with our board, attempted to find ways to provide administrative leadership alongside my role as the visionary, senior leader. As our church grew, we tried different staff configurations, hiring from inside, hiring from outside, dividing the job between different people. Each time we hit a wall. Nothing seemed to work long-term.
I continued to avoid making personnel decisions or managing staff and key volunteers or writing job descriptions or taking time to plan for meetings or following through on project details.
During this 20-year period, I saw clearly what needed to be done, but I wanted someone else to do it.
"That's all administration," I told myself. "That's something that someone else should do. It's just not me."
In hindsight I can now see two factors that hindered me and led to this form of skimming.
I didn't trust myself. Throughout my ministry I had plenty of administrative failures. And I had mixed emotions about trying again. Plus, I was told by consultants, other pastors, even my wife: "You don't have those gifts, so play to your strengths and hire to your weaknesses. Spend your time in the Word and prayer. Let others run the day-to-day operation." This reinforced my mental block that I couldn't do it.
But the bigger factor was that I was a coward. Each time I saw what needed to be done, I found ways not to get into the nitty-gritty. Changes in leadership were needed. A few key people were not properly slotted. Others weren't doing their roles well. This was now having an increasing impact on the larger church.