A wise old man once told me, “Experience is the best teacher, but it doesn’t have to be your experiences that you learn from.” Every person I know who is successful has learned from a lifetime of mistakes—theirs as well as the mistakes of others. My mom always told me, “Jim, don’t make the same mistake twice. There’s enough different ones you can make every time.” No truer statement has ever been uttered.
Having done children’s ministry in my 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and now my 60s, I’ve had a chance to make a lot of different mistakes and choices along the way. Would I do things differently if I could go back and do it again? Sure I would. We all would, because hindsight is always 20/20. Forty years ago I could not have taught you leadership. I hadn’t learned it yet. Forty years ago I had very few workers. I had a big vision, but didn’t know how to make a plan and lead others. I was a hard worker but not a smart worker. The good news is God blessed me in spite of myself. The dreams that were in my heart were not coming to pass. I was smart enough to get some help and to do things differently rather than keep doing what was not working and expecting a different outcome. I’m so glad that years ago I decided that I would become a lifetime learner. I am still learning, but to do so, I have to just say “no” to the know-it-all spirit. So with this in mind, let’s look at 10 things I wish Old Jim could teach Young Jim.
- Don’t be a one-man show. Build a team. When you train, empower and release others. It makes it possible for you to do what only you should be doing. There really is no success without successors, which is a byproduct of team building. Just like in sports the key to continued success is to build depth at every key position. This doesn’t happen by delegation alone but by duplicating yourself and the vision into those you lead. Duplication comes through coaching and hands-on training. Young Jim did it all himself. Old Jim allows the team to develop their skills through coaching and encouraging, as well as by doing. Everyone does better with a coach!
- Watch how you think. Your thinking controls your actions. It moves you forward or holds you back. I was a lot more opinionated when I was younger than I am now. It took me years before I would and could admit that I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s why it’s always smart to evaluate your thinking and choose to think God’s way. I love Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right,whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” I wish I did this all the time, but if you’re not evaluating how you think on a regular basis, bad stuff happens. It will always work to your favor to think like Jesus. Think in steps. That’s how God leads the righteous. Think like a parent and those you are serving. Think like a visitor. Old Jim has a lot more check-ups from the neck up. Take every thought captive to be obedient to Christ Jesus.
- Learn from others! Read! Join a local kidmin network. If one doesn’t exist in your area, start one. Find a mentor or a coach. (Have you checked out Infuse or kidmincoach.com?) Study those who are successful. Don’t just study what they do, but learn why they do what they do. I have come to realize effective leadership is a process not a pill. Learn the process and the why behind it. Look for a model that you can tweak to fit your church and ministry. Jim, is it wrong to borrow ideas? I sure hope not or I’d be in trouble. Learn how to copy, but at the same time learn how to make the copy your own. Ask questions, tons of them, to anyone who will let you. Also, never be afraid to try what you’re learning—experiment with it.
- Commit to the long haul. Jim, are you telling us when you were younger you thought about quitting? I sure did … every Monday for a while. It took me a while to stop looking at what I was seeing and have a vision of the finish line. Here are some biggies I wish I had known.
- Don’t talk about leaving every time you experience pushback.
- Be willing to put your dreams on the back burner to serve someone else’s dreams. Every dream I ever had came true by being willing to help others see their dreams come true.
- Be secure in your calling. If God called you, and He leads your steps, the things you are experiencing good or bad are not a surprise to Him, so trust Him to lead you.
- It’s my job to remember leading is all about serving. I’ve found when I amconsumed in better ways to serve kids and families—serve those who help you and serve your pastor—it helps me not be the center of attention.
- One of the things I’d love to tell young Jim is to be on the lookout for fear. Anytime fear is around you’re about to head backwards instead of forward. Never give into fear. It will always stop you short of the finish line. The two fears that I had to face the most were fear of failure and fear of losing my job. You might face different fears. The key is to face them head on and replace fear with faith.
- Another enemy of finishing strong is trying to do everything overnight. Too much too quick is always trouble. Do things in phases or steps, and learn to live by priorities. Have realistic expectations for yourself, and don’t stop until you hear God say it’s done.
- Don’t take part in power plays! I don’t know why even as adults we sometimes act like kids. Don’t try to get your way all the time. There’s no “I” in team. Old Jim would tell Young Jim that thinking about the well-being of others will always lead you to being the team player you need to be. Look for every opportunity to esteem the team. I’ve never enjoyed being around pouters, so I have to examine myself and don’t pout. I’d also tell Young Jim that there’s no place for threats in the workplace. Don’t threaten to leave, and don’t ever pull out the “God said card” in a meeting. If God said it, that’s a discussion stopper. Know when you need to lose a battle to win a war. Anytime I enter a negotiation I have to know what I’m willing to give up to take new ground. I’ve also found out that sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and not defend yourself so it will not appear like you’re arguing. Old Jim knows God is your Defender and He gives grace to the humble. When it comes to staying away from power plays, don’t make someone else look bad to get your way. Old Jim knows that blessed is the peacemaker. Anytime you have the opportunity to make peace, go for it!
- Take care of your health! Old Jim is being forced to do this today. Exercise, sleep, and good nutrition are essential to you finishing well. Making time for important things is something that will help you at any age. I wish Young Jim knew that making time for exercise has to be a part of your weekly routine, just like meetings and ministry. I know firsthand that everyone makes time for what they really want to make time for. Old Jim would tell Young Jim to make time for the right things. I realize now I’ve been guilty of working on the wrong temple. Neglecting one to work on the other was not real smart. They both deserve our best and both need a plan of action.
- The law of the lid determines the quality of leaders I can draw. I didn’t realize in my early years of ministry I was holding myself back for not growing my leadership. Go back to number three and put some action steps in place to improve your leadership level. You will never attract workers sharper than you are.
- Put your family second only to your relationship to God. Do things that your family will remember forever. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have spent all my vacation time visiting parents and doing ministry. Guard your days off and make them special for your family. Guard your nights. I think it’s important that a family church allows for family time. Listen to your family, and be sensitive to their needs. To do that, you have to listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
- Represent your leader well. Jesus said if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father. Could this be said of you? Simple things like: dressing appropriately, not being silly, not building loyalties to yourself, and never talking negatively about those in leadership above you. Be your pastor’s biggest fan!
- Be a lover of God’s people. The ministry is all about relationships. People matter! I believe the time we spend to empower and encourage people is never wasted. Old Jim knows people are more valuable than programs, meetings, and study. I’m more thankful for the people God has put into my life than the accomplishments I’ve seen. People are important to God and should be important to us.