Tips for the Second Generation by Pastor Joel Sims

Tips for the Second Generation Pastor
Joel Sims

Pastor Joel SimsJoel Sims has been the senior Pastor of Word of Life Church (Flowood, MS) for the past ten years. Word of Life is a church where people gather together to hear life, share life, and give life as they worship the Lord. Word of Life is thriving ministry that reaches 2,500 people every week for the Kingdom of God. Joel has been married to his beautiful wife, Peppi, for 8 years and are the parents of three children. Click here to learn more about Word of Life Church.

Hello All,

Second Generation PastorIt is an honor to be talking to you. I have gleaned much from Rev. Tony Cooke and the resources on this site. So it is a pleasure to help be a supply any way we can be. I suppose anyone in ministry could take something away from this article, but it is particularly designed for pastors taking over existing works. My name is Joel Sims and I took over the church I grew up in. In the early 1980’s, my father graduated from Rhema Bible Training center and came back to his home town of Jackson, MS where he started Word of Life Christian Fellowship.

The church started with three people in his mother’s basement. Over 20 years it grew into a church well over 1,000. Around 1999 my father purchased property to build a new facility for his growing congregation. On April 17th, 2001 my father passed away right in the middle of the building project. I was 17 years old at the time. To make a long story as short as I can possibly make it, under a set of amazing circumstances I began to pastor that church at 19 years of age.

I know what you’re thinking. “Who in the world let him do that?” To be honest I really don’t have a good answer. But nevertheless, there I was, 19 years old and the pastor of the church. At the time of assuming leadership, the church was hovering around 750 people. Under my exceptional leadership we lost about 300 people within my first two years of my pastoring. One night I came home after preaching and got down on my bathroom floor with tears streaming down my face. I felt like I was a complete failure and was tearing apart everything my father had built in 20 years. I had a mental list of people I felt like I could give the church to who could do a far better job then me. On the bathroom floor that night I prayed a prayer that changed my life. It was a simple prayer. All I said was, “Lord I need your help.”

Over the next couple of weeks I received help and the Lord gave me things to do personally as well as organizationally that not only changed the course of my life, but the church as well. I have now been pastoring 11 years in October. I am so incredibly thankful I did not give up that night. We built the building that my father was intent on building. The church has grown by the Lord’s help and we are reaching far more people for the Kingdom of God then ever before. I know for many of you the main thing you need to hear is, “Don’t get frustrated.” We are to run our race with not only faith but also with patience. Don’t get so discouraged with the present that you forget the dream you once had. Dream big again! God called you there for a reason. Delay is not always denial. Stay with it. God has great things for you. With that being said, let me give you a couple of steps that the Lord gave me.

Step Number 1: This is a personal step, a step I had to make in my own heart. The Lord dealt with me that I had a measure of unforgiveness in my heart. 

That root of bitterness was stopping some things from happening. A Scripture He gave me during that time is found in Job 17:9. It simply reads that he who has clean hands shall grow stronger and stronger. I think it easy sometimes in life, but also in ministry, to get our hands a little bit dirty. Things come up in ministry. People leave churches. Sometimes promises are not fulfilled. Sometimes people start churches out of your church. All these things can wound your heart, and that hurt can lead to unforgiveness. That unforgiveness can stop God’s best from manifesting in life. I knew in order to see my life get stronger and stronger I had to get my hands clean and let go of some unforgiveness.

There is a good rule for you to have in ministry and it is this: you can’t please everyone but you do have to LOVE everyone. There always going to be people who are not pleased with you.  Some say the music is too loud, you turn it down. Others come and say it is too low. As a pastor, many times it can be hurtful when you realize you haven’t pleased someone. But never stop that from letting you love them. Love is the greatest force in all the world. Because God is Love. Just as nothing could overtake God, nothing can overtake love. Let Love be your foundation for Life and for ministry. Keep your hands clean and watch things grow stronger and stronger. If there is anything you need to let go of or anyone you need to forgive don’t hesitate in taking that step. .

Step Number 2: Every ministry and minister needs a pace setter .

There are too many biblical examples to list. Paul with Timothy, Elijah with Elisha. You need to get around somebody or something that inspires you to reach for Greatness. I saw this principle in the life of my father. He had two ministries that he stayed close to. He gleaned not only organizational principles, but also received personal impartations from them. These things marked his ministry and improved him personally. Currently, I expect each one of my staff members to have a pace setter.  A ministry that they can look to that is doing greater things than what we are doing. Some of the pace setters we have strong personal relationships with. Others we know them but they don’t know us. But that doesn’t stop us from gleaning from them. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” What ministries or ministers can you follow, can you learn from, can you be inspired by. Make it a priority to get around Greatness.

Step Number 3: Show the people you care. 

There is an old saying I am sure you all have heard it before. But it is the absolute truth: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When taking over an existing work, you can have all the vision in the world and that is great. You can have the talent in the world, and that is good too. But if the people who are there don’t believe you care about them, it won’t be long until they are no longer there.

When you are taking over an existing work, chances are before you made your grand entrance there was some type of emotional exit. Our church’s emotional exit was my father’s passing away. Your situation could be completely different but chances are the people are in a place where they need emotional support. People will forget what you say. A lot of times they will forget the vision that you cast. But they will never forget how you make them feel. So do whatever it takes to show the people you care.

From the pulpit never show frustration. I know this easy to get frustrated. But it is important for the people especially during those first couple of months to see the overwhelming love that you have for them. I mean after all they are the reason you took the job, Right? It is amazing what people will do for you when they like you. So love the people and never forget a good shepherd should always smell like the sheep.

Step Number 4: After you have shown the people how much you care, lead with a passionate vision.

When a church has past memories that are greater than present dreams, a church is in trouble. Where there is no vision, not only do people perish, but churches do, too. It is your job as the leader of the church to give the people a vision to get excited about. They must not believe that where you are currently is as good as it gets. Don’t ever think survival, but think increase. What is next for the church? Maybe it is a new building, a new service, a new outreach, or a new program. But something MUST be next.

It is not just enough for you as a leader to have the vision. You must over-communicate the vision until your church is as excited about it as you are. Ask yourself this question once a month, “Are my people excited? Are they excited about the church?” If they are, why? If they aren’t, why not? Christianity and your church should be exciting. People should be excited about what is going on. That is what vision does; it puts passion in the people to move forward, to make advancement.

At the same time don’t try to communicate vision until you prove to the people that you care. Faith demands a target to believe for and to pursue after. Paul said, “I forget those things that are behind me and press towards the things that are in front of me.” You have to get the church to do that, to be incredibly thankful for the past, but also passionately excited about the future.

Step 5: Start building the right team.

This is such an interesting step for new and coming leader. Because I guarantee you there will be some people in leadership positions, and within three seconds of meeting them you know a change needs to be made. You will also know there are some people who are not in leadership positions that need to be. How do you handle this. Two words: BE LED.

In the Jim Collins Book “Good to Great” which I encourage you to read, he says that one of the greatest steps to building a great company is first WHO then WHAT. He says you not only need to drive the bus which is your organization in the right direction but you have to have the right people in the right seats. Navigate these waters with patience and wisdom.

Don’t make change to quick, but at the same time when the Lord deals with you to make changes don’t make excuses, make changes. This is not always easy but a church will never grow beyond the leadership team’s ability to grow. Jesus spent much time developing a team. So often we think of reaching the masses in a community, but Jesus knew in order to do that he had to build a team first. To do this he spent much time in prayer before selecting his team. I encourage you as a pastor to do the same thing.

Don’t just come in with personal preferences, but take time to get to know the people to get to know who is there, to love and care for them and then spend time in prayer about who you are to use, and then who to promote. Once Jesus selected his team he spent much time pouring his life into theirs. He grew them up. He made investments in them that later produced a dramatic return. Some people are not presently in your church.

Your time in prayer will bring the right people to you. So when it comes to getting the right people in right seats start with prayer. Prayer will help you see what changes need to be made. It will give you the grace to make those changes and it will bring the right people into the organization.

It has been my honor to spend some time with you. Before I end, I would like to encourage you to check in with Tony and his website as much as you can. He definitely is a pace setter.


Pastor Joel Sims