Maritime pastor Jim Molloy shares how his disastrous first sermon turned out to be a blessing and taught him something vital. Reprinted with permission from Sage magazine.
We are running out of pastors.
Recently, I attended the funeral of a beloved 83-year-old who was still actively pastoring one of our Maritime assemblies. There is no one to replace him.
We must make more pastors. And it’s everyone’s job. Pastors have to make more pastors and congregations must join the effort.
I’m going to tell you the secret ingredient for making new pastors. But first, a story. A tragedy. A comedy.
My first real in-church sermon was an epic disaster. I preached to 40 unsuspecting victims in a small church in my hometown. I was home from Bible college and the pastor mistakenly thought it would be good to have me speak.
I showed up to the church early to review the service. I showed the pastor a copy of my message. It was 14 pages long, single-spaced, hand-written in red ink. Panic filled his soul. I’m sure he quickly did the math: 14 pages at five minutes per page equals 70 minutes. It was about to be a long night. He had made a tragic mistake but was in too deep to back out now.
The pastor was leading the worship service and strategically abbreviated the music and announcements in order to give more time. Ten minutes after the service began, he turned it over to me to preach.
Nervously, I arrived at the pulpit and opened my notes. Instantly, my tongue went dry and it swelled so large it began bulging out of my ears. I panicked. An usher ran to fetch some water.
I remembered that there was a package of cough-drops over on the piano. I left the pulpit to retrieve them. I popped one in my mouth and ran back to the pulpit. (Also, never use a cough drop to fix a dry tongue.)
The usher arrived with water. I began to preach. I spoke the entire message in seven minutes. Seven! Fourteen pages. Seven minutes. Seven, including the cough-drop field trip.
People were shocked. The service was over after just 17 minutes. Hard stop. No response time. No music. The pastor got up, took a breath, and preached another mini sermon just to appease the crowd.
I was sitting on the platform while he concluded the whole debacle. While he spoke, I quit the ministry. I was done. Never again. So long.
I refused to leave the platform until the crowd dispersed. But, in the third row, an older gentleman was waiting for me. I suspected he wanted to give me a piece of his mind. I imagined he wanted to threaten me. I tried to wait him out. He was determined to wait longer.
I conceded and made my way down the centre aisle. When I neared his row, he stepped in front of me and we met eyeball to eyeball. He opened his arms wide and gave me a massive hug.
“That was great, Jimmy. You’re gonna be a great preacher someday.” (Or something like that.) I was shocked. Dumbfounded. Speechless.
As I moved into the lobby, person after person complimented the message. It was all lies. I had preached to compulsive liars. That sermon was terrible. But this church understood leader-making. Somewhere between the pulpit and church door I un-quit the ministry. Encouragement is an unbeatable force.
I think about that day often. I’m constantly in front of crowds at churches, camps and retreats. Oddly, people invite me to come speak to them. The reason I can do that today is because of what those people did for me that day.
Now, would you like to know the secret ingredient of pastor-making? Affirmation.
Affirmation, yes, and a little correction, is the essential ingredient. Affirm those who attempt leadership. Gently correct them, if needed, but encourage them. The recipe is 12 parts encouragement to one part correction.
Leaders grow where they are loved. Leaders also grow where other leaders are loved. For example, if youth hear you bashing your pastor, they will never be willing to be pastors. They simply won’t sign up for it.
The best churches create more leaders, not just more followers. They create a leader-making culture and expectation. In all the leadership development programs I work with, I use a personal philosophy for developing leaders. There are four elements.
Young leaders learn to lead by leading
Anyone who has ever become a leader has done so because they had the opportunity to lead. A person cannot learn to be a leader by reading books. There is no other way to learn to be a leader except to lead. You learn to lead by trying, not by thinking. If you want to be a leader, you must start leading something—anything. And, if you want to help someone become a leader, you must give them opportunities to lead. There is no other way. If you won’t release any of the tasks, you will never make a leader.
Young leaders must learn and keep learning leadership things
Yes, to make a leader you need to let them lead but you also must teach them how to lead. If you simply give a person a leadership responsibility but never teach them, you haven’t made a leader. You’ve abandoned them. That’s not empowering; that’s abdicating.
One of the best things you can do for a young leader is to help them to become thirsty for learning. Help them adopt a learning posture, and they’ll never stop becoming a better leader.
Young leaders grow in their ability by doing things that are difficult
Leaders grow by facing and conquering even more difficult leadership challenges. We must give youth opportunities to “try leadership on for size.” Giving them authority, support and time for reflection will produce the best sort of leader. Would-be leaders will remain dormant until they have a chance to lead and they will not grow unless they are given new and risky challenges.
Young leaders must be the recipients of difficult conversations
Someone needs to tell them the truth. Someone needs to evaluate. Someone needs to give them feedback. If you want to grow a leader, you must talk to that leader about their flaws. We all have issues and great leaders allow people to talk to them about their faults. It’s unpleasant, but it’s helpful. Trajectories are changed by kind conversations.
In Scripture, Paul and Mark had a disagreement. Paul was frustrated with Mark because Mark quit the mission and went home. After that, Paul had little use of Mark and ignored Barnabas’s pleas to include Mark. But, nearer to the end of his life, Paul requests that Mark join him saying, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
What happened to Mark in the meantime? Barnabas happened. After Mark’s failure, he spent time with Barnabas. Mark was transformed by an encourager. Barnabas built a leader.
Leadership development must not be “someone else’s problem,” and it will not happen by accident. What could you do to help make it happen?
Reprinted with permission from Sage, a quarterly of “observations from life in the wisdom years” by The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (summer 2020). Jim Molloy spends time coaching, teaching and exploring leadership with learners who are entering ministry. He serves in the PAOC Maritime district in church planting and strategic initiatives and directs a ministry apprenticeship program for emerging leaders.