While I have been formally ministering in a local church in various capacities for the past 10 years, I have only been serving as an ordained minister for 4 years as of today. What, if anything, can a young man with only 4 years of ordained pastoral ministry experience possibly share with others? In this post, I would like to share some of the things that I have gleaned.
- People – People are not a distraction from ministry, they are the ministry. It is easy to get couped up in a study and neglect to spend time with your people. Pastors must remember that true shepherds smell like the sheep. When you can, have people into your home or go out to eat with them. Make it a point to share your life with others. Yes, you are expected to make time for prayer and preaching (which will be covered below), but this should not be an excuse to neglect your people. If you do not have time in the course of a week to prepare to preach or pray, then do as Jesus did, wake up early.
- Prayer – Prayer is easy to neglect and minimize. It takes focus, discipline, and planning. Pastors do not just wake up one morning more disciplined in their prayer life. If you struggle to pray, it is probably because you fail to plan for extended times of prayer.
- Preaching – While pastors dream of preaching a sermon like R.G. Lee’s “Payday Someday” or W.A. Criswell’s “Whether We Live or Die” or John Piper’s “Boasting Only in the Cross,” pastoral preaching is less about hitting a home-run sermon and more about faithful, long-term, variegated exposition. All three of these tremendous preachers have preached more forgettable, but faithful sermons than they have preached memorable, paradigm-shifting, movement-forming sermons. Pastors must trust that faithfully exposing their people to God’s Word week in and week out will produce spiritual fruit that remains.
- Patience – Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and foundational element of the three abovementioned reflections. If you don’t have patience with people, in prayer, and while preaching, you will despair. Pray patiently that God will give you more patience.
- Priorities – Pastors must realize that there are some things worth fighting for and some things that are not. And the list of things worth fighting for is not as long as many pastors assume. Swallow your pride, humble yourself, and recognize that some areas of pastoral ministry and leadership are admittedly gray areas. Not everything is a “challenge to your leadership” or an act of insubordination. Figure out the things that are non-negotiable (as clearly revealed in God’s Word) and be willing and ready to die or be fired over those areas. For all the other areas, spend some time listening to your people and other pastors. You will save yourself a lot of pastoral headaches, earn the trust of your people, and be able to lead a unified, rather than a uniform church.
- Pastoring – A phone call, a quick visit, or a brief handwritten note goes a long way. Be accessible to your people. Give people your cellphone number. Let people know that you are praying for them, and then follow-up with them on the need. In other words, demonstrate that you care for God’s people. Feed them, lead them, know them, and protect them!
- Protection – In many ways, this goes along with priorities and pastoring. From the beginning, let the leaders and members of your church lovingly know that you love your wife and children more than pastoral ministry. The roles of husband and father should come before the role of pastor. Don’t be a jerk about it, but don’t be a coward about it either. Obviously, there will be times when crises will occur and demand your full pastoral attention, but for the most part, such crises are rare. Step away from the keyboard and put your phone down. Play catch with your sons. Snuggle and watch TV with your daughter. Have some hot tea with your wife. A church can always find another pastor, but your wife and your children cannot find another you. Faithful husbands and fathers make the best pastors.
As a final reflection, I would encourage pastors to rejoice in their ministry with thankfulness. Sadly, I have heard so many pastors bemoan the difficulties of their ministry and the people that they have been called to pastor. You would think that some of these pastors had it as bad as the apostle Paul. Yet, even the apostle Paul found a way to boast in his weakness and call the most dysfunctional congregations, “saints.” Pastors, you have one of the greatest, most joy-filled privileges in all the world. Will there be difficulties? Of course, but they pale in comparison to the glory that is coming!
We are called to care for God’s people. We are employed by the God of the Universe! Let us fulfill our calling with joy and thankfulness.
So I leave you with C.H. Spurgeon and his reflections on the great joy and privilege of pastoral ministry,
I am occupied in my small way, as Mr. Great-heart was employed in Bunyan’s day. I do not compare myself with that champion, but I am in the same line of business. I am engaged in personally-conducted tours to Heaven; and I have with me, at the present time, dear Old Father Honest: I am glad he is still alive and active. And there is Christiana, and there are her children. It is my business, as best I can, to kill dragons, and cut off giants’ heads, and lead on the timid and trembling. I am often afraid of losing some of the weaklings. I have the heart-ache for them; but, by God’s grace, and your kind and generous help in looking after one another, I hope we shall all travel safely to the river’s edge. Oh, how many have I had to part with there! I have stood on the brink, and I have heard them singing in the midst of the stream, and I have almost seen the shining ones lead them up the hill, and through the gates, into the Celestial City. (from Spurgeon’s Autobiography, II, 131)
For the God’s Glory in the Church,