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Pastor Jonathan Stockstill says ministry leaders should have character, not just gifts

Megachurch pastor Jonathan Stockstill challenged hundreds of leaders at a worship conference to make sure they have the character to support their gifts.

Stockstill, a pastor’s kid who is now lead pastor of Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has led in ministry since he was 17. He said he knows by experience what it’s like to be gifted but not have the character to support his giftings.

“I had a gift, but I wasn’t as big as my gift. I’d like to tell you that when people celebrate you, they’re not celebrating you. They’re strictly celebrating your gift and you have to know that. It’s never you being celebrated,” he told pastors and worship leaders gathered at gospel singer William McDowell’s second annual Deeper Worship Intensive last week.

“There are two things that you had nothing to do with [which were] God [given],” Stockstill explained. He listed having giftings and callings as the those two things.

“The Bible says giftings and the callings of God are without repentance. Your calling is not deserved, God just gave it to you. God equipped you naturally to do certain things well,” he continued. “If you have a gift to sing, you did not give yourself that gift. If you have the ability to play or you have the ability to speak, you didn’t give yourself that. Every gift you have is simply from the Creator, the Maker, so there’s no glory in it for you.”

Stockstill is an internationally recognized worship artist who has recorded more than 10 albums and wrote over 100 songs by age 30. He used his time at the Deeper Worship Intensive to warn the many worship leaders present about the pitfalls of church fame.

“When somebody gives you praise they’re praising your gifts, and you had nothing to do with your gifts. It’s the Creator that gave you those gifts,” he reiterated. “There’s a huge distinction between your gifts and you. There are so many people who are way smaller than their gifts; their character is way smaller than their gifts.”

Stockstill shared a story about a time when he was living on his own and stayed out too late, then overslept and ran to the altar minutes before he was scheduled to lead worship. God still moved mightily that day, he said, but it had nothing to do with him.

“We had a great day of worship, but it wasn’t because I was great on the inside. I didn’t have character. I wasn’t there on time. I inconvenienced the whole worship team. I was selfish, thought only about myself. I had no character, but my gift was there,” he confessed.

“Unfortunately, in churches [today], people with gifts get positions without having the character to support it.”

Becoming senior pastor of his church nine years ago has really given Stockstill a new perspective when it comes to the people he allows to serve in his ministry.

“It’s one of the toughest things in the world to care about somebody’s true person more than their gifts. Because we [as pastors] have a tendency … if a person can sing to let them sing, if a person can play, let them play,” he acknowledged.

The minister wants leaders to understand that they need “to really be focused on who you are. Take your gifts away, are you an example worth following?” he asked.

Rather than gifts, Stockstill exhorted that greatness is determined by grounding, growth, gratefulness and grit.

“We have to grow into the bigness of our gifts. Your greatness will be determined by your grounding. When I’m looking at a person’s character, my question is: Are they grounded?” he said.

“A tree is only as great as its roots. You will never have a tree that grows bigger, greater than its roots. You may have all these crazy gifts, but you’ll be nobody in five years because you won’t have longevity because you’re not grounded. And so instead of focusing on your gifts, focus on be grounded.”

Stockstill challenged people to reflect on their biblical and worship theology, their relationships, and who they are submitted to.

“I’ve learned that ego can get in the way of great things. Everybody’s got ego, but man, egos ruin great ministry,” he said. “Your greatness will be determined by your growth. Birthdays come inevitably but growth does not. Growth is not inevitable. If you don’t have a plan for personal growth, you will not grow.”

The father of four said leaders tend to become so busy and forget to invest in bettering themselves.

“Are you growing spiritually? How so? What’s deeper about your walk now than a year ago? What are you studying in the Scriptures that are taking you to a deeper place? What conversations are you having? What revelation are you having? Are you growing relationally? Is your marriage getting better and better? Are you subscribing to marriage podcasts? Are you listening to marriage series? Are you learning how to choose better friends?” he inquired.

“Your greatness will be determined by your gratefulness. Your gratefulness is all about your attitude right now. Your attitude will determine your altitude. Pessimists do not rule the world, optimists do.

“You just gotta be happy, grateful, optimistic, positive. Bring that positivity in the atmospheres that you’re in and you will see God elevate you and doors will open and you will have opportunities. If you’re sour and you’re pessimistic, then you’re never going to become great on the inside,” he insisted.

Stockstill wanted everyone to know that the devil will be actively trying to distract, disqualify and discourage leaders. To support this, he referenced 2 Timothy 2.

“If you want to have true grit, don’t get distracted. Don’t get disqualified. Don’t get discouraged, and allow God to work in you, a bigger person,” he added. “God is for you and He wants you to become as big on the inside as everybody sees on the outside.”

The Deeper Worship Intensive took place in partnership with North Central University. Each session began and ended with worship led by various artists, including McDowell, his protegee Trinity Anderson, Travis Greene, David and Nicole Binion, and Steffany Gretzinger, among others.

Attendees who hailed from North America, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa were awarded a Professional Education Certificate in Worship Leadership signed by the president of the North Central University after completing the course.

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