I remember that time several years ago when I told a friend I wasn’t sure I’d still be in ministry once I turned 55 because I didn’t think I’d still have anything of value to contribute to the church or to the world.
Wooops. I’m now 55. And a half. 55.5 if you’re more digital than analog.
And I’m obviously still in ministry. And I’m evidently liking it better than I did when I was 45 or 35.
So what are some leadership lessons I have learned “post 50”? Here are five:
1.Improvement is not only possible, it can become inevitable. I feel like I have improved more in the last five years than in the previous ten. I’m not sure why — part of it is the encouragement from people at Abingdon Press as well as the staff that surrounds me at Good Shepherd. Another part is this very forum you are reading right now: daily blogging for the last nine years has improved both my writing and my thinking, both of which are, um, essential to preaching.
2.It’s easier to speak with honesty. I’m better able to have difficult conversations than I was in the past. These will never be my forte, but at least I no longer avoid at all costs.
3.Your body really matters. I suppose there’s a reasons our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. I’m so captured by the ancient Hebrew thinking that we don’t “have” bodies; we “are” bodies. The best way to combat aging and fatigue is to do so head on … sometimes I think that if I didn’t have my local YMCA, I might lose my mind and my motivation.
4. It never hurts to mention your reservoir of experience. This really helps in talking to families about weddings and funerals. “I’ve led a lot of these and I know from experience what works and what doesn’t.” Those words not only convey authority, but they also serve to calm the anxieties of those who are (understandably) going through these rites of passage for the first time.
5.Work on your strengths. Back in my tennis days, I made a critical mistake: because my forehand was considerably weaker than my backhand, I practiced it incessantly. All that accomplished was making me more forehand-averse AND it compromised my backhand. Years later I remember reading about how Billie Jean King, who also had a notoriously weak forehand, spent the bulk of her practice time on her serve and her backhand. The result? Six Wimbledons. Too late for me in tennis, but not in ministry. At 55, I realize life is too short for me to obsess over my myriad of weaknesses; I better spend that time growing my strengths.