WACO—Effective ministers develop habits that shape their motivation, manners, morals and methods, retired Baptist pastor Jack Ridlehoover believes.
“The maxim is true: ‘Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,’” Ridlehoover told a gathering of Central Texas pastors.
Ridlehoover addressed a conference sponsored by Waco Regional Baptist Network and Baylor University’s Center for Ministry Effectiveness and Educational Leadership, held at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Waco.
“Either we master our habits with self-discipline, or our habits master us,” he said.
Ridlehoover identified 13 habits most commonly practiced by ministers who have had effective ministries based on his observations, conversations, and studies. He insisted effective ministers:
• Maintain closeness to God through consistent Bible study and prayer. “Not only the prayers we have prayed, but also the prayers we have not prayed and the time we have not spent in God’s word have also changed our lives,” Ridlehoover pointed out.
• Develop and follow good time management habits. He suggested charting for a couple of months how time is spent, show it to someone else and together decide what changes might be made to use time more effectively. He recalled one pastor who attended a time management seminar and discovered he was the only person there who was not a businessman. “I realized my bottom line was more important than theirs,” the pastor said. While they were there to make a profit, he was there to better lead people into the kingdom of God.
Pastors also need to analyze themselves to see what time of day they are most effective. “We need to analyze what time we are most alive and give that time to the Lord,” he said.
• Habitually do common duties uncommonly well. Ridlehoover identified the common tasks of ministry as people ministry and servant submission; biblical teaching and preaching; problem solving and listening skills; open, honest communication; and hard work and presenting a good example.
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“Few ministers can do all the duties of ministry with exceptional excellence. Most of us have limited talents and abilities, but if you have a particular gift , you can grow in the other areas,” Ridlehoover counseled. He also said, “Doing common things uncommonly well is not a matter of education, training, knowledge or experience but rather a sincere, dedicated willingness to be usable.”
• Consider and devote loving attention to spouse, family and personal life. He reminded the ministers that being a minister’s spouse or child also has its challenges. “Let me say how blessed you are if you have a wife and family who support your ministry. If you have that support, recognize them for it, thank them for it, thank God for it,” Ridlehoover said.
• Continue study habits and education in order to remain fresh and current. He said that while it is estimated that only 20 percent of ministers have a planned, systematic approach to continuing education, that often leads to pastors who have to move every three years or so because preaching, teaching and leadership become stale without the influx of new ideas. “The average tenure of a pastor in a Baptist church is three years—you can’t become the pastor of a church in three years,” he warned.
• Seek the help, advice, counsel and experience of mentors in various fields— especially other experienced ministers. He offered a good definition he had read elsewhere: “A good definition of a mentor is someone who offers a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the pants when you need it.”
All of us need mentors, he suggested. “Problems abound in the work of ministry. No minister, however educated or experienced, can or should solve all these problems without assistance.”
Those mentors should come from both the laity and from other ministers. “We all need someone to push us,” Ridlehoover said.
The biggest obstacle in the area is breaking through the barrier of pride to ask for help, he said. Also, just as every minister needs a mentor, he also needs to be a mentor to someone else, Ridlehoover continued.
• Remain open, available and accessible. “Ministry is a people-centered occupation. You earn the right to be their pastor when you are there when they need you. If you have a man seriously ill in the hospital and you go there and hold his hand, he’ll never forget it. If you have a man seriously ill in the hospital and don’t go there and hold his hand, he’ll never forget it,” Ridlehoover warned.
A pastor must maintain a balance between ministry and study and neither can be neglected, he said, but it is impossible to effectively preach each week to people you don’t know. “Get out among the people, go back to the study and open God’s word, and then get in the pulpit and weld them together,” he said.
• Dream the dream, see the vision and lead their people to see the dream and the vision. Dreaming is essential, he said. “Someone said that a person who does not dream is like an oak tree planted in a flower pot—they are never capable or reaching their full potential,” Ridlehoover said. “A minister without a personal vision and a vision for where he serves is destined to dull, drab, routine activity which fails to fulfill his need for inner satisfaction in his ministry.
“Divinely inspired vision is the key to inspiration, motivation, enthusiasm and the personal spark needed to excite and ignite people to follow Jesus.”
• Lead with confidence, integrity and authentic spiritual ownership. “You don’t own the place, but you need to feel you’re responsible for it,” he said.
Authentic spiritual ownership as a leader does not mean autocratic dictatorship, Ridlehoover clarified, “but it does mean the minister accepts the personal burden, responsibility and accountability for being called God’s servant-leader in that church.”
• Guard reputation, influence and image. This covers a wide swath of areas of responsibility, he pointed out—sexual indiscretion, financial matters, laziness and professionalism to start. “Your people like to be proud of you. We need to take care of ourselves physically, mentally and in our grooming so that when they introduce you to a prospect they can do it proudly. That means we have to be on constant guard so the we can serve faithfully,” Ridlehoover said.
• Communicate positively, clearly, honestly and scripturally to their people. “We are in the communicating business—say it clearly, say it plainly and stay with the subject,” he instructed. “My sermons are 23 minutes long, and it’s harder to preach a 23-minute sermon than it is to preach a 35-minute sermon.”
It is important for ministers to analyze their communication skills and also to ask for others to do the same. They also should welcome unsolicited feedback.
“Effective ministers say what they mean, say it lovingly, say it firmly, say it candidly, say it attractively, say it prayerfully and say it with conviction,” Ridlehoover summed up.
• Follow excellent money management practices. It is not only important for ministers to use their influence to keep the church’s finances in line, it is just as important for his personal and family finances to be in good condition, he said. And a part of that is to plan financially for retirement, Ridlehoover added.
• Practice conflict resolution on a win/win basis. While conflict is an inevitable part of ministry, it is possible to sometimes anticipate its arrival and practice conflict prevention. Also, ministers should not allow small ripples of conflict to blind them to waves of support, he said.
But when conflict does arise, a win/win solution should be sought if possible. “Sometimes when you resolve conflict on a win/win basis, you eat crow. And in my ministry, sometimes I had to eat crow—feet, feathers and all,” Ridlehoover said.