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Three Lessons for Pastors from Air Traffic Controllers

by Mikal Keefer

Something to consider the next time you fly: roughly 87,000 flights crisscross U.S. airspace daily, most of them shuffled into increasingly crowded flight paths.

And, at some airports, planes touch down every 45 seconds.

Which means it’s a miracle your last flight didn’t play airborne bumper car with some 747 hauling retirees down to Miami for a little fun and sun.

And for that you can thank air traffic controllers.

Throughout the U.S., domestic flights are passed from one controller to the next until your dot on their screens lands…hopefully safely.

And what air traffic controllers have discovered about communication can save us pastors from midflight collisions of our own…

1. Use a common language.

When Air Ethiopia pilots request landing clearance in Atlanta, they do so in English—the common language for international aviation. Since there’s no margin for confusion, flight control terms are clearly defined, crisply used, and then confirmed.

Lesson learned: We can’t assume when we preach, teach, or counsel that people know precisely what our words mean—especially when we’re talking theology. Let’s make it a habit to pause and be sure everyone’s on the same page.

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2. Install radar.

It’s tough to manage what you can’t see. That’s true for airplanes and equally true for people and ministries. We pastors often fly blind—at least as far as select ministries in our churches are concerned.

Lesson learned: Since you can’t be everywhere at once, pick someone in each ministry area and regularly touch base—keep programs and people on your radar.

3. Monitor what’s most important.

Controllers hate surprises—so they monitor key information constantly.

But not all information is equally important.

Your flight runs out of peanuts? Controllers don’t care. But your plane’s altitude dips a few thousand feet? That’s a huge deal.

Lesson learned: Decide which metrics matter most, and watch them closely. Is it your budget? Attendance? Community service? Whatever they are, watch those dials—and angst less about the rest.

It’s that last part that’s hardest—because every metric matters to someone.

Mikal Keefer is an ordained minister, and a nervous flyer. A very nervous flyer. Do your best to not sit next to him.

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Three Lessons for Pastors from Air Tr...

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