The last year of my life has been a whirlwind of changes and moves and new responsibilities. As I stumbled through my first four months as the pastor/administrator in charge by myself, I learned quite a lot. Here are just a few of those lessons.
How to count – Many people must be worried that I’ve forgotten basic arithmetic because they’re constantly reminding me “You’re only one person.” Hm, one plus none is…one. Got it. I understand that you are usually trying to reassure me that it’s okay to not be superman, that you understand if I happen to do less around here than the two people before me. But sometimes I feel a little like you’re pitying me. I’m okay with being only one person. I’m still learning my limits, but I am learning them.
Power is sexy – I have the title “boss.” I’m responsible for what goes on around here. With that position comes an ego boost. I know I have the potential to directly impact someone’s job, and the employees know it, too. So when I walk in the room, they pay attention. This is something new for me. Growing up as one of six kids, I’m used to anonymity. I was never the rich kid, the beautiful kid, or the talkative kid. And as an associate pastor, I’ve always felt like my job was to help the other pastors wherever they needed me. Even in a position of authority I was the wallflower of the leadership team. For someone who’s spent most of her life not quite being noticed, to now have the attention of the entire staff when I walk in the building, well, some days I can feel like some pretty hot stuff.
My position is humbling – So much power comes with the position of being in charge that I often feel inadequate. I look around the table at a staff meeting and think to myself, “You are older than me, have more education than me, and have more experience than me. Why am I leading this meeting? Or this organization?” Employees, church members, volunteers, and community leaders come to me with the problems they see in the organization and expect me to know how to fix them. I smile and nod and think to myself, “I’m not cut out for this.”
It’s lonely – As an associate pastor, I was a peer to the other pastors. Now I serve without a peer. As an associate, I had a camaraderie with the staff, because I wasn’t their direct boss. They knew I didn’t have the real power, so they could be chummy with me. But now I’m in charge and I have a different dynamic with the staff. I still have peers, but I don’t work directly with them. I’m not complaining, I have a whole network of peers and others who can share my joys and frustrations or answer questions I have. What I miss is the quick moment of eye contact and a sympathetic glance that says, “I’m sorry that person was an idiot. They don’t understand your job, but I do.”
I can’t do it all – Being in charge has been a blow to my pride. As much as I want to hold it together and convince you that I’m just fine out here, if I told you that I would be lying. I can paste on a smile, but my work quality isn’t as good, my ‘to-do’ list is always twice as long as my ‘done’ list, and something always falls through the cracks. So I’ve learned to transition from doing my job with great certainty to managing damage control on all the projects that crash and burn.
Important things get glossed over in favor of urgent things – Because I can’t do it all, I end up having to choose which projects get my time and which ones get rushed. Turns out the important responsibilities don’t always get priority because urgent things demand my attention first. So, yes, I finally got a chance to prepare for the quick meeting tomorrow—but now I don’t have the time I had set aside to prepare for the important meeting next week. Oh well, I’ll just throw something together when I get a chance.
I can’t keep up with emails – They’re like a plague with no cure and no end in sight. They just keep coming all the time. And now I have them on my phone, so I’m expected to read and respond more quickly, but in reality, I just have another device where they can taunt me.
Figuring out who I can count on – With a leadership team, finding the right support meant a lot of trial and error. Being alone means I have to trust my support more, making it much faster to figure out who’s eager to help and who’s unreliable.
I’m stronger than I thought I was – Just as my responsibilities have highlighted my failures and shortcomings, they’ve also shown me my strengths. This position has forced me to do things and take on responsibilities I never thought I was capable of. I have a whole new understanding of Paul’s words in Philippians, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (4:13). I can’t do everything the way I think it should be done, or the way my supervisors think it should be done. But I can come into a leadership role and succeed the way Christ wants me to. It doesn’t eliminate the frustrations I have with this position, but it sure helps me rejoice in my accomplishments.