By Pete Scazzero
For years I focused on pure numbers as a measurement of my success.
Sometimes this meant expanding the numbers of small groups, increasing the number of people connected with or serving in the church, planting another church, or launching another campus.
If you lead in any church context, you’ve almost certainly set one or more of these goals. And these are good goals to set and achieve.
But there’s one goal I’ve noticed over my decades of ministry experience most leaders overlook: the goal of their own spiritual maturity.
Here are three reasons this goal not only goes often unmet, but gets very little attention or effort.
1. We don’t make time.
You don’t have time not to invest in your growth in Jesus. The more you have clarity of who you are—and who Jesus is—the more your leadership is impacted. And this affects everything.
And hopefully by God’s grace, you’ll then do it for your ministry team members and the people you lead. It’ll be part of your supervision—and in their job description.
Jesus made it clear in John 15: “Unless you abide in me, you’ll bear no fruit.”
But He also makes the point that every teacher is first a disciple. Our first call as ministry leaders is to be with Jesus. But working on our own godliness is a goal we often overlook to our detriment—and ultimately to the detriment of our churches.
The most difficult person to lead the church is unquestionably yourself. Your soul doesn’t need to be destroyed if you’re leading a flourishing, growing ministry.
2. We neglect finding a mentor—or at least the right one.
People often tell me they can’t find a mentor. And sadly, sometimes we look for mentors who feed unhealthy ambitions. We need to be careful of that.
But we need to learn from other people, and we need to do it with humility. It’s a key quality of leadership. I always try to have mentors in my life—different ones for different seasons.
For example, when I was planning my succession at Life Fellowship—the church I founded and then pastored for decades—I had a few mentors who were instrumental in helping me through that uncharted territory.
A good mentorship is probably going to be painful, especially if the mentor is honest with you, forcing you to reflect on your life and ministry.
Earlier in my ministry I had one mentor, who for around two years, really confronted me—who forced me to ask some very difficult questions. It takes courage to examine the dark corners of your soul, and the right mentor can help you do that with a fruitful outcome.
One last thought on mentors: Look for people who are older. While there are people who fail to become wise as they age, no one becomes wise unless they age.
You have to live through things to grow in wisdom. We need more than just information from mentors; we need wisdom.
Who might be some mentors you need to pursue?
3. We fail to prioritize our marriage or singleness.
We live out our spirituality through marriage or singleness.
When Paul gives the qualifications of a leader in 1 Timothy 3, he talks about managing one’s own household well.
The health of your own marriage or singleness is critical, because this is going to be reflected in the ministry you’re building as a leader.
The intentionality for a healthy, mature marriage or singleness is foundational to being a disciple of Jesus.
And so for me, what will that mean to be married to my wife, Geri? What adjustments do I need to make? How do I make what’s important to her important to me?
Geri and I invest in our marriage every year. We go to a training seminar or a conference somewhere. We’re always seeking to learn what it takes to continue building our marriage. We’re always studying marriage as a couple theologically and practically.
If you’re single, take time for community and self-care and growing as a single person for Jesus. What does it look like for you to mature and grow as a single person for Jesus in this season of your life?
What kind of space do you need to create so you can mature and grow as a disciple of Jesus? What kind of space can facilitate transformation in you so you can grow in love for God, grow in love for people, and grow in compassion and gentleness?
It’s going to take structure. It’s going to take some deep thought. It may take retreats. But the number one goal you might be overlooking is the goal of growing yourself.
That is our first goal: to do the work of growth before the work of ministry. In other words, one of our greatest challenges is to possess a sufficient inner journey so that our outer journey of work flows out of a center with Jesus.
The spirit of God is leading you to grow in and trust the Holy Spirit—not just for you, but also for those you lead. Invest in yourself because the greatest gift you can give the people you lead is your own personal growth.
I encourage you to become the leader your church needs.
PETE SCAZZERO (@petescazzero) is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City. After serving as senior pastor for 26 years, Pete now leads Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, a global ministry transforming church culture through the multiplication of deeply changed leaders and disciples.
He also hosts the Emotionally Healthy Leader podcast and is the author of several bestselling books, including The Emotionally Healthy Leader and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.