Hard to believe, but this past May marked my 10th anniversary in pastoral ministry. This has been a deeply gratifying and rewarding experience and I am grateful to God for His call upon my life. While in some ways I am still just a beginner in ministry, there have been many lessons learned during my first decade in ministry. Let me share a few with you.
The centrality of prayer.
Ministry makes huge demands upon the pastor and his family. There is always something more to do, and because of all the busyness, it is often prayer that gets left out. This is unfortunate and can be quite damaging over time. Therefore, the pastor must ensure that prayer is built into the daily rhythms of his life. I am very thankful for a church that holds me and my family up in prayer, along with other friends and family members that do the same. Ministry is war and without prayer the minister is headed for trouble.
People grow through the Word of God.
I guess I am a slow learner, but it took me a while to realize that the Word of God is absolutely central to our growth in Christian maturity (see Matthew 4:4 1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3). I see pastors all the time relying on gimmicks and programs and more gimmicks – things that promise to make disciples and fulfill the Great Commission, but in the end, only disappoint. Shepherds must ensure that the flock is well fed so that they can grow and flourish in the Lord. It is only through faithful and consistent Bible teaching that this can happen. There is simply no substitute! The sooner we learn that the Word of God is sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17), the sooner we will see gospel growth in our churches.
The Need for Patience and Perseverance.
I grew up on a farm and I know the importance of patience when it comes to sowing and reaping. The farmer plants his crop in the spring but has to wait several months until the fall to harvest it. If people grow through the Word of God (as we have just established) then it will require patience over the long haul. Pastors must commit themselves to diligently and faithfully teaching the Word of God year after year after year. In due time, there will be an abundant harvest, but it takes patience and perseverance. No doubt, there will be times of trial, disappointment, setbacks, and who knows what else, but we must persevere in the strength that only Christ can provide The words of Paul are especially helpful: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
The importance of one-to-one discipling relationships.
I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. When Philip found the eunuch reading Isaiah 53, he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading? And he said, ‘How can I unless someone guides me?’ ….Then beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:30-31, 35). Although this was more of an evangelistic encounter, there is no question the church needs more of this today. And it all starts with pastors. The pastor must set the tone when it comes to mentoring and discipling relationships in the church. This sets in motion what could be called the multiplication process where disciples make more disciples. Paul told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The pastor can’t disciple everyone, but he can train a few who will train a few, etc. etc.
The Church needs to be the church.
What is a healthy church? I suppose there are a few ways of answering this question, but one indispensable quality of a healthy church is love among the brethren (John 13:34-35). Plain and simple, within a healthy church, people care for one another, serve one another, love one another, etc. etc. This love that marks every true church is present because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). When we begin to understand the love of God in Christ in our own lives, we can’t help but love one another.
What a valuable asset my wife is.
Steph is my most trusted friend and counselor and has been an immense help to me in ministry. Pastors (and husbands in general), thank God for your wife and treasurer her, for she is an incalculable blessing.
Family ministry is a critical part of the Pastor’s job.
When I started off in pastoral ministry, it was around the same time that Steph and I got married. We had two years of marriage to get to know one another and settle down in life and ministry, but then the Lord blessed us with children. And not just one, but twins to nurture and care for! For those first few years of being a Dad and being a pastor, I felt a strong tension. I always felt like I needed to be at the church or out and about doing ministry but at the same time I wanted to be at home with my family. Finding the right balance was a real challenge for me.
In the providence of God, a fellow pastor gave me some wise counsel. He reminded me that an important (even critical) part of pastoral ministry is to shepherd your family. In the qualifications given for elders and overseers, Paul writes, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). What a great point the apostle makes! Paul is not suggesting we should spend all our time at home, but he is saying that key aspect of the pastors’ ministry is to his family. It is never a good idea to neglect your family in the name of “I’m just doing what God has called me to.” Clearly, that is not a way to find success in the eyes of the Lord. Rather than seeing your family as a hindrance to your ministry, see them as your ministry. This was a big paradigm shift for me, but it has made a huge difference for me as a husband, father, and as a pastor.
What a joy it has been to serve the Lord as a pastor for these 10 years. No doubt I could share more lessons, but this post is already a little lengthy so I won’t keep you any longer. God has been faithful (as always) and I praise Him for His grace to me and my family.
This article first appeared in similar form at www.pastoral-theology.com