My wife had a photo album open in our home office that had some pictures from our 1st service. Those pictures were taken 6 years ago this Sunday. I was thinking about how much I wish I could travel back in time and talk to that 26 year old kid who thought he knew everything.
Here's a few things that I would tell him if I had the chance:
#1 - Think about the long haul - I absolutely killed myself working during the 1st 3 years. In year 4, I started taking a second day off (like the rest of the normal world) and gave my mind, body, and spirit some rest. It has made a huge difference. You've got an amazing wife. Spend some time with her because someday you won't be "Pastor Bob" anymore, but you will be "husband Bob". By the way, not much gets accomplished between hours 60-80 of a work week.
#2 - Deal with your Issues - This kid has major issues. He has learned to hide them well, but in about 3 years he's going to nearly fall off the edge and get fitted for a white jacket with extra long sleeves. Most church planters and Pastors I know have major personal issues that probably require counseling. I know mine did. This has helped me more than most people will ever know and it has made me a much more effective minister. The kid in that picture thought that counseling was for people who were unskilled in the Word. Counseling is for people who need help getting through difficult issues and that is just about everyone I know (including the guy in my mirror).
#3 - Take care of your body - At 26, I was 70 pounds overweight. I kept a Mountain Dew in my pulpit on Sunday mornings the 1st year! I preached against sin and never considered my own sin of gluttony. In the last 18 months I have dropped 72 pounds and I walk an hour a day without fail. It has become my time with God, a time to listen to music, or a time to listen to messages by communicators who inspire me. The church has made food its' drug of choice. That's why there's so many Christians who are overweight and don't feel that health is important. It's because as Pastors we haven't modeled the way and I was a major contributor and I needed to repent.
#4 - Be a Thinker, not a Repeater - At 26, I had created a world of "acceptable" (Read: safe) authors, speakers, teachers, and books that I learned from. What I found was that there was much to be learned from those outside my own camp. This is the battle that I fight today with many of my peers who shoot down books and authors without ever having read them. Why? Because it's much easier to quote cliches than it is to think. And in my world, repeaters and rewarded and thinkers are rebuked. This is a sad commentary on the state of the church. The kid in my picture has the potential to be a thinker if he can get over the rejection he knows he will face.
#5 - Don't be afraid - I was afraid and I didn't even know it. I wanted so much for those that I admired to be proud of me. I let that be the fuel that drove me, and it nearly drove me over a cliff. That 26 year old kid has so much pain in store for him because he's living for someone else's approval. What he doesn't know is that none of it matters. We live for the approval of One. The One that says, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Unfortunately, that voice can be drowned out by those forcing you into their mold.
#6 - Be Yourself - Everyone is going to try to force you to be a clone. Don't do it! Even the people who tell you to "just be led by the Spirit" are going to question you if you deviate from their prescribed method. Forget methods. Learn the principles behind the methods. That's what really matters. Tell everyone else to fly a kite.
#7 - This is going to hurt - After 6 years, if I have learned nothing else, it's that leading people and teaching people hurts. You hurt when they hurt. You experience pain and loss, only to relive it every time you tell the story. You reveal much of your life only to have some of them take that information and use that against you. You'll need the skin of a rhinoceros if you're going to last. And wearing a cup will help too.
#8 - Really study - Don't just listen to other people's sermons, rip them off, and call that study. That's called "Being an echo". Study involves getting personally involved with the text. Studying scripture is about letting scripture study you. Read the commentaries, but don't just regurgitate what they've said. Communicating is about sharing your interaction with the text. People are smarter than you think and they know when you're bluffing. But they also know when you bleed what you are saying. That's what they will respond to.
#9 - You can't go beyond your relationship with God - I knew this at 26, but had no idea what it meant. I thought that meant reading the Bible and praying a lot. That's part of it. But there's some lessons that only time can teach. You can only teach on patience when you've been patient. You can only teach faithfulness if you've modeled faithfulness.
#10 - Promote based on proven character, not potential - This 26 year old kid had a keen ability to see potential in people. Unfortunately, he promoted people to places of leadership before they had proven their character. This is deadly and leads to problems and headaches. I know you don't believe this, but time is your friend. Don't be in a rush.
#11 - You're going to work with an amazing group of people - Every person who is on our staff today came from within. That might be what I am proudest of. (Most of the churches that teach leadership have all the answers to raising up leaders except they hire leaders away from other churches to lead their organizations. It tells me that many of these "answers" are just crap that sells tickets but doesn't work in the real world. If it worked, they would use it and not need to hire another church's leaders! - rant over) 2 of the staff members that will be with you 6 years later are at your 1st service. 2 others will be with you for a while and move on. That's OK. Enjoy the time you have. You're planting a church with your best friends and you're going to spend the next 3 years not realizing that you can enjoy it. Just enjoy it.
#12 - Keep Praying - At 26, you and Carey have only been trying to have kids for 4 years. It's going to be a while longer, but you're going to be a dad soon!
By the way, in six years, you're going to hate the message you're about to preach :)