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Thank you to the 1,400 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
I hope reading 
7 Questions with Michael Hilton McIlwain
helps you in your leadership.
Jonno White
7 Questions with Michael Hilton McIlwain

Name: Michael Hilton McIlwain

Current title: Pastor

Current organisation: Central Baptist Church

I am a bi-vocational pastor in SE Texas. I have been serving in churches for 35 years. I was bi-vocational for 15 years, full-time as an associate and music pastor for 19 years, and have now come full circle to being bi-vocational. I have been married to Jennifer for 29 years. We have a daughter who is pursuing her M.Div at Truett Seminary in Waco. TX. We have a 15-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter.

7 Questions with Michael Hilton McIlwain


1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?

Most challenging for me has been juggling many responsibilities as a bi-vocational pastor. I am actually tri-vocational. I am paid a small salary by my church. I work an hourly wage job 3 nights a week, and I am an insurance agent. I also have a wife and teenage children. Giving everyone the proper amount of attention has been challenging.

2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Immediately after finishing high school I joined a gospel music group and traveled on the weekends for 6 months. I began to see the need to connect with a local church again and became a member of a small church. The pastor left shortly after joining. I was asked to fill in and preach. The Lord began to deal with me about being a pastor. I was licensed into the ministry in 1988 and began to attend Bible college. I graduated and served mostly as an associate pastor, music minister, and youth minister for most of my time as a minister.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I get up and spend time in Word and prayer. I work on insurance most of the morning and early afternoon. Some days I record a video sermon and write my sermon for Sunday. I work in a restaurant from 4PM to 10 PM three nights a week.

4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger has had a profound impact on me. Being a Southern Baptist we have had some great programs and denominational emphases, but I have come to learn that the local congregation needs to develop leaders to discipline those in their communities. What works for my local group may not work somewhere else. I have come to see the great need to develop leaders on an ongoing basis.

5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

I also read Cary Nieuwhoff's articles and have come to see the need to train and empower people in the church to use their leadership gifts. I have people who can teach and preach. I have good deacons who will minister to the needs of the flock. I lead the church and serve the members as their pastor, but I am not the chaplain. They do not expect me to be present for every bump and bruise that they experience.

6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?

I evaluate people according to the APEST model. I am looking for apostles (entrepreneurs), prophets, evangelists, teachers, and shepherds. I give them training in a Sunday night discipleship core and by allowing them to serve. I also believe we learn by failing forward, so I don't panic if someone struggles for a bit.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?

I had befriended a young high school graduate who felt he was an atheist or an agnostic. I allowed him to ask difficult questions and encouraged him to do so. (Matthew 7 - ask and it will be given unto you.). After spending some time with him over a period of a few weeks I received an email saying that he is no longer an atheist or agnostic. He believes in the God of the Bible. He had been turned off by many Christians' intellectual dishonesty.

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