Encouragement for Leaders

Written by Stephen Rawlings on Oct 22, 2019 in Encouragement

“Change is hard because we often overestimate the value of we have and underestimate what we may gain by giving that up."

Shawn Lovejoy quoted one of his mentors during a recent recording of Beyond the Call, and the words resonate with the pastoral mindset. 

Who hasn't lain awake at night, scared but excited about God's next big move? Shawn has, especially over his calling and career. But he would have never gained success in his professional life without taking some faith-based risks. 

The path to faithfulness starts with a single step. But to understand how Shawn found success, we have to examine his past.

The early years

Shawn grew up knowing he was called to lead. His mother often told him that people would follow him, but it was up to Shawn to use that influence for good. Shawn's mother spoke truth into his life, and that kind of parenting lends itself to growth and confidence. 

However, Shawn's life took a turn as he dealt with his mother's passing at the age of sixteen. Many would see this tragedy as an unfair lot in life, but Shaw saw it as a lesson. 

“Life is brief, and we have a job to do in eternity,” said Shawn Lovejoy. This world can be dark, but God takes those moments and uses them for our good. 

Time for a change

Shawn's pastoral journey had hardships from the beginning, but he learned from those hardships. In 1999, Shawn moved to metro-Atlanta to plant a church, and at his first service, he saw a promising attendance record of 185 people. 

Georgia’s population, however, does not deal well with ice, and the next two Sundays, Shawn’s church was unable to meet. That type of freezing has not happened before or since in Georgia history. 

Shawn's third week yielded an attendance of 66 people, and it was a struggle to gain back momentum. But in this hardship, God was honing Shawn to become His tool for grace. 

Just as steel hardens in the fire, God sharpens us throughout disappointment. Through these trials, God was shaping Shawn to become a tool for His Kingdom. 

Shawn’s perseverance and ability to adapt eventually will lead his church to success, and after years of first-in, last-out type service, Shawn gained the wisdom and experience he would need later in his life. 

An executive in a pastor's body

Some pastors are administratively gifted, and others find their gifts in service. Shawn always felt that he was an executive in a pastor's body.

Shawn often described himself as a good pastor, but a great coach. He felt his gifts were better suited towards encouraging those who encourage others. 

This realization meant that Shawn's life was changing again, and he felt the Lord calling him out of his pastoral role. When he left his church, they had gained megachurch status, and it was largely due to God’s grace and Shawn's leadership.

After finding success as a pastor, God called Shawn to start what is now his current endeavor, Courage to Lead. Through Courage to Lead, he speaks truth to pastors every day and helps make a difference in their lives by providing an outside perspective on their internal problems. 

For example, Shawn was recently mentoring a pastor whose ministry felt stagnant. They could not seem to get beyond their current level, but they felt that God was calling them to more. People often can't see the forest through the trees, meaning we are too close to our problems to see the solution. 

Shawn knew this pastor’s ministry on a deeper level than most. He cared for this person, and because of this, he knew that the problem was in the pastor’s leadership. Through Shawn's guidance, the church was able to navigate the rough waters of ministry, and they found a solution to their leadership deficiency. 

So, what kind of myths or advice does Shawn hear most frequently?

Pastors need to dismantle their lives to plant a church. 

Ministry is exhausting, and pastors are often working day and night to give their church the best chance of thriving in this world. However, this strain makes pastors feel that their personal lives should be sacrificed on the altar of ministry.

To this, Shawn would encourage pastors to think differently. While Shawn was pastoring his church, the most frequent commandment he broke was to honor the sabbath, and that came after his church found success. 

Of course, planting a church requires a great deal of investment and sacrifice, but this should be practiced healthily. See, 70% of rocket fuel is burned when the shuttle takes off, but the 30% left has to last the rest of the journey. The same can be said of those leading churches.

Pastors can burn out during the planting phase, but they should never forget their surroundings just because they are trying to reach the horizon. You can be a full-time pastor and parent, but you cannot define yourself only by your ministry title. 

Shawn encourages pastors to set a daily “finish line” and not to measure success by "scoreboard goals." His church's success did not hinge on the attendance rate, but rather, their hard work helped keep his membership growing.

“If things aren’t meeting my expectation, I could blame our community,” said Shawn. “I could blame the worship leader…or I could just decide that I got to get better. Most of us are waiting on Jesus to grow our church when He is waiting for us to get prepared for it.”

When Shawn encountered a problem in his church, he looked at it rationally. If they were not where they needed to be, they could get there by faith and hard work. 

Pastors are not perfect. Shawn admits he made mistakes as a lead pastor, but every week he worked to improve his church through daily goals. 

If goals are set realistically and daily, your ministry will improve over time. Remember: ministry is a race, not a sprint.

“When I get there, I will be happy.”

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side; it’s greener where you water it. Our culture tends to dictate that the easiest time of our lives to make changes will happen once we become successful. 

Shawn said that the hardest part of his ministry came after he became successful. Like many of us, he struggled with pride during his successful seasons.

Megachurch pastors seem to have it more together than the rest of us, as if they have found the secret. The money, recognition, and purpose all seem to fall into place when our church's bank accounts have more zeroes in them.

But the beginning stages of the church are pivotal, and culture is cultivated during this time. It is easier to steer a ship away from an obstacle at a significant distance, rather than right before you hit it. 

The pastor sets the spiritual temperature for the church and should lead by example. If the church is supposed to be the thermometer, the pastor acts as the thermostat. For example, Shawn showed up for set up and tear down for his church. His staff saw this, which created a culture of servant leadership and humility. 

God put you in this season of life to grow, and if something you do fails, then you were not ready for it, and that's okay. Just because a church experiences a failure doesn't mean you cannot get ready for it. Shawn advocates self-examination and awareness. 

Know who you are and what your strengths are.

Shawn felt like an executive in a pastor's body, but he did not come to that realization overnight. Put in the work, and see how many doors God will open for you. 

Leadership is your burden to bear alone

Pastors should seek God in all areas of their lives, but God created the church to live in the community. Shawn cautions pastors against purposefully isolating themselves to make tough decisions.

A pastor with only a journal and a bible paints a lonely picture; the body of Christ is meant to work together. God has called everyone to a purpose, and He has given us gifts to help us along our journeys. 

To be clear, Shawn is not talking about seeking God alone. We need to find God privately and publicly, but we should seek out coaches for guidance. 

Stop defending what's not working 

During the podcast, Shawn discusses a situation where one of his partner's sermons was timed inefficiently. Upon examining the church, Shawn discovered that the pastor's sermons were around forty-five minutes long. The pastor thought that the sermon length was indicative of a healthy Sunday experience. But, the pastor was not able to fully engage in a sermon that long. Shawn knew pastors that could captivate for long amounts of time. But this pastor's message would be better served if condensed down into thirty-five-minute messages. 

Shawn advocates transparency in your church structure. Understand your church's strengths and the areas of weakness you have. In other words, stop defending what is not working in your church. 

“When should I leave my church?” 

During the podcast, Shawn was asked what advice he would give to pastors who are on the verge of quitting. He said that they might need to consider leaving.

Either the pastor is considering leaving because he feels God calling him to another opportunity, or because he may need to shut down the church. 

Pastors typically think that that shutting a church down is synonymous with failure, but Shawn would disagree. Even if a church is forced to shut down, the work completed in those walls remains intact. 

Your church's success is not defined by the number of members that are in attendance. The value of your church is in the works that God did through it. 

Even if your little "c" church shuts down, God's big "C" church is alive and well. Your church does not need to become the next megachurch for God to call you his faithful servant. Hell cannot diminish the works of your church, and that is the legacy that has been given to you. 

If, like Shawn, you leave your church because of another opportunity, leave it well. Be healthy enough spiritually to move on when God calls you to another location, and not when you have overstayed your purpose. 

Shawn advises pastors to leave before anyone wants them to go so that your departure can be healthy, and your church can move on peacefully. 

What happens if your successor runs the church into the ground? 

That is a problem that is seen, but it is hard to avoid. Of course, pastors want their church to continue to grow beyond their life span as a pastor, but that is not always what happens.

It is also not a failure on the previous pastor's part. Every pastor is an interim pastor. One way or another, we are all called home.

Final thoughts

Shawn's life shows us what perseverance, faithfulness, and a good coach can bring us. He encourages all of his partners to lean into the season God is creating for them.

The problem is, that is much easier said than done; even pastors need teachers. That is the value in coaching, and that is the value Courage to Lead offers.

At StartCHURCH, we want you to start right and to be mindful of the administrative side of your church. But Courage to Lead offers one-on-one opportunities for personal growth and expertise that is hard to come by. 

Shawn and his associates are passionate about partnering with pastors and helping their ministries become the best they can be. 

The examined life is worth living, and to be successful, we need to explore the wisdom of the successful. Do you have the courage to be led?

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Listen to Shawn Lovejoy talk more about his experience by listening to this episode of Beyond the Call.


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