Top 3 Things I've Learned in 31 Years of Pastoring One Church (and 36 years of being married to one woman)

Bill Owen, Pinnacle Associate

Don’t get me wrong! I entered the pastorate with a fair amount of preparation. From graduate to post-graduate work, surrounded by motivated friends and a world-class faculty, it was the best of times. I had every opportunity and I loved it.

Along the way, I had the chance to apply what I was learning in “student pastorates.” I’ll never forget the good people at Dry Creek and Immanuel churches. Their patience and affirmation was just what I needed.

But it didn’t take long to understand that when it came to leading a church, formal education would not be enough. Some things can only be learned on the job. Some things take a lifetime to learn.

Same with marriage. Cindy and I have been married for 36 years.

We entered this journey prepared as well—at least we thought we were. We participated in premarital counseling. We had support from family and friends. We read relationship books.

But the harsh reality is nothing can prepare you for living with the same person day in and day out. It’s like standing in front of a well-lit mirror—spots and blemishes, sags and wrinkles!

But we have managed and we are thankful.

The truths I’ve discovered in marriage apply equally to serving in one church. Here are the top 3.

Nothing makes it easy.
It never is. We tend to think that, if you are in love, marriage should be easy. It’s one thing to “counsel” couples about shared values, communication skills, and conflict management. It’s quite another to use those tools in your own marriage. It’s not easy.

Same with leading a church—you can go to all the “leadership” conferences you can afford, subscribe to blogs and podcasts, and read from the top seller lists. But it’s takes hard work.

And there are plenty of rough spots. Tears shed because we’ve hurt each other. Sleepless nights, because I could not comprehend the actions of the other.

But together, in church and marriage, there are seasons of accomplishment and joy. But the price is a kind of monastic discipline.

Learn to listen.
I’ll never forget my first leadership meeting as pastor at Mt. Carmel. I was over-prepared, complete with a 5-year plan—carefully crafted from textbook and classroom. All we had to do was implement it!

Was I ever surprised when there were actually questions and competing ideas! It didn’t take long to realize that there would have to be an actual exchange of life and perspective, a relationship. We had to get to know one another, learn to appreciate our differences, and find a way forward together.

Listening to each other would prove our love toward the other. When I started listening, every facet of our relationship greatly improved.

Great stories aren't read, they’re written.
"And they lived happily ever after." Isn't this what we would choose? We all long for the story with the perfect ending.

You can't be passive in marriage or church leadership. Remember you are a character in the story. And in the best stories, characters grow — overcoming adversity in order to achieve the ending they so desire.

So embrace the truth that difficulty is to be expected. In the best stories, they lead to the climax when you can look back and realize the pleasure of living and leading "happily ever after."

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