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The 10 Biggest Lessons Learned in 10 Years of Ministry

Bryan Mowrey is the Lead Pastor of Jubilee Church in Saint Louis, Missouri — a position he has held, by God’s grace, for just over a decade. Today, Bryan stops by Gospel Relevance where he shares the 10 biggest lessons learned in 10 years of pastoral ministry:

10 lesson learned in 10 years of ministry.

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1. God’s power to save people is undeniable. 

In college, God came to me in a supernatural way and his power changed my life. At the time, I thought I was unique. I thought that church and following Jesus was something that people decided one day that they wanted to do. I didn’t realize that God comes in power to people all the time. The greatest joy in ministry over the past ten years is baptizing hundreds of people because God broke into their life in powerful ways.

2. God’s power to change people is undeniable. 

Those who are parents know about the joy of watching children grow and develop. One day they couldn’t walk and now they can. One day they couldn’t talk, and now they talk back. They grow taller, stronger, and smarter. A close second to the joy of watching God save people is watching God change people. I love the people at my church and like a proud pop, I love watching them grow by the power of God.

3. It’s easy to become a professional. 

After a while, it becomes pretty easy to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it separate from any inspiration from God.  I am so thankful for the leadership wineskin that has been handed down to me through John Lanferman and other Newfrontiers leaders. A wineskin that says leaders are to be amongst the people and not separate; one that works in team and not isolation; and one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s one of the reasons why we don’t have parking spots and insist that we be addressed as “pastor ________”. Those practices are not inherently evil, but they do seem to affirm that somehow I am different or special. We are the same. I’m just the loud mouth one with a grace to lead.

4. We have all the money and the time to do what God wants us to do, but we don’t always have the desire. 

I used to think that what held the church or an individual Christian back was a lack of resources — that if we just had more money, or if we just had more time, then we would really steam forward as individuals, and collectively as a church. I am realizing, however, that it’s not true. One of the areas of faith that God has developed in me over these past 10 years is the conviction that he has given us everything we need to do what he’s asked us to do (2 Cor 9:8, 2 Peter 1:3). It’s not that we lack the resources (time, money, etc), it’s that we lack the desire. Therefore, now my leadership focus isn’t on acquiring resource or helping people “find the time,” but it’s playing my part to help cultivate the desire.

5. Having my weaknesses on display can be embarrassing but hiding them is exhausting and off-putting.

The natural, human instinct is to protect and hide weaknesses, and I am no different. Early on as a pastor, my goal was to hide my weaknesses so that people would think that I had none (or at least no glaring ones). My belief was that people don’t want to follow a leader with flaws. But over time, I came to realize that hiding my weaknesses created a wall with people and not the bridge that I hoped it would. I’m already a bit introverted, but never being vulnerable made me even less approachable. And whether I realized it or not, my weaknesses were glaring so not admitting them gave people the impression that I was not self-aware and, therefore, less trustworthy. Moreover, pretending to be something you’re not is exhausting. However, in more recent years, as embarrassing as it is sometimes, I have found it refreshing and more effective just to let people know the real me. To my surprise, people are OK to have a leader with flaws. What they don’t want is a leader who pretends as though he has none.

6. People need “two-parent” leaders. 

When I first started leading as a pastor, I was very excited to play the part of visionary, leader, preacher, builder, etc. I thought that if I just made the future compelling enough — and the path to that future clear enough — people would jump on board by the hundreds, if not thousands. That’s just thinking like a one parent leader — one who instructs, challenges and corrects, but that’s not the whole package. A few years ago, a friend showed me 1 Thessalonians 2:7 where Paul states that he didn’t come to Thessalonians as simply a challenger of truth, but also as a nursing mother. Paul understood that people need both. After 10 years, I’m beginning to understand that as well.

7. Diversity is harder than it sounds, but so worth it. 

When our church first aspired to be a diverse church, I thought “piece of cake.” After all, that’s what people want, right? They want tolerance and new ideas and progress. But that’s only true in theory. At the end of the day, we all gravitate toward people who are like us . . . the same color, age, political party, philosophy of life, economic bracket and the same education level. I also have found that church life is simpler and it grows faster if we are all the same. It’s why less than 2% of churches are defined as multi-ethnic, which is generously defined as having no more than 80% of one race. Homogeneous church life is easier but it’s not nearly as rich or reflective of the gospel.

With that said, however, I am so proud of our elders and church members who have applied the gospel in this area and have not allowed differences to divide us, but trusted in his blood to unite us. We are now, by God’s grace, technically a multi-ethnic church. We have made some progress, but we have so much further to go. It’s a difficult road that requires us to live consistently outside our comfort zone and lots of self-examination (I have found some ugly stuff in me over the years), but the payoff is huge. It’s a such a joy to experience what’s holding us together isn’t our hobbies, our race, our stage of life, or political party, but it the Holy Spirit of God who is creating for himself a new community.

10 lessons learned in 10 years of ministry.

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8. People need more of God and not more of me.

Our mission statement is to “connect people to Jesus resulting in God-honoring life change.” If I’m being honest, though, I’ve subtly thought what people need is more of me. If I preach the right sermon, create the right program and offer the right counsel, then people will experience the life change they need. I’m thankful for our mission statement because it’s a reminder to me that I am not the one who produces life change . . . that is the role of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I get to be the conduit of that life change, but I am not the cause of it. When I am living in the freedom and joy of this truth, I don’t overwork, I am less anxious, and people get what they actually need: more of God.

9. Choosing God-pleasing over people-pleasing is costly but worth it. 

Rarely will a leader ever get 100% consensus if they lead strongly in a direction regardless of the size of the group. I’ve noticed over the past 10 years, my eldership team has been in situations where we have lead strongly based on biblical conviction or clear direction from God at the expense of stepping on some toes. Those times are never fun, but 100% necessary. In those times, I am reminded of Proverbs 29:25: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” In Exodus 32, Aaron let go his convictions and fell into consensus and brought great harm on himself and the people. People pleasing is the path of least resistance but is wrought with pain. My hope is to grow in gentleness in these situations as well as strength.

10. Little things matter. 

Whoever said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” was never a pastor. Intuitively I would have thought that would make the biggest impact to people is preaching great sermons or accomplishing big projects. However, what seems to make the biggest impact to people is the notes I’ve written thanking a volunteer, it’s remembering the name of a new person or the time I listened to someone hurting and didn’t interrupt with my “great” advice. Little things do matter.

It’s been a huge honor to be the lead pastor of Jubilee these past ten years. I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, but by God’s grace, I’m learning and growing. I’m praying that the Lord will enable to continue to pastor for many years to come.

Bryan Mowrey is lead pastor of Jubilee Church, a multi-location church in Saint Louis and other parts of Missouri. He is also a part of Newfrontiers, a global church-planting movement with over 1,000 churches in over 70 nations. Bryan is married to his wife, Rachel, and they have three children. You can follow Bryan on Twitter here. 

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About David Qaoud

David Qaoud (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is associate pastor of Bethesda Evangelical Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and founder of gospelrelevance.com. His work has appeared on The Gospel Coalition, For the Church, and Banner of Truth. He lives in St. Louis with his wife and son. Learn more>

5 Replies

  1. Bryan –
    Referring to numbers 4 & 10, Jenny and I were just discussing yesterday how much we appreciate that you and a group of others are so inspiringly dedicated to the new location, and it left us wondering what else we could be doing besides praying. Thanks for taking the time to share.
    -RC

    1. Hey, Renee. That’s such a great question. I asked Bryan on your behalf, and he said the two best ways to help — besides prayer, of course — are by: 1) Inviting people, and spreading the word about the new location and 2) Asking Serving Team Leaders like (Abbie, Martha, David H., etc) on how you can serve. They should be able to provide practical details. Hope that helps.

  2. Out of Silence Now

    A very insightful post. I feel like I know more about Bryan through the lessons he shared.

    1. Me too. I thought the same thing as I read the post and made me even more grateful for all he’s endured as a leader.

  3. Mamta Sehgal

    So true…HIS benevolence on us is beyond explanation ,only we need to understand it…