Reflections and Advice from 10 Years of Pastoral Ministry

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In January 2003, I was extended a call to pastor a church.  Though I had been involved in ministry, this was would be the first church I would pastor.  This past January, that same church celebrated my ten year anniversary as their pastor.  Since then, I’ve spent many hours thinking about the last ten years.  I’ve thought about the past and some lessons learned, even I looked forward, dreaming about the future.  In all of this, I’ve thought what I might tell my younger self if I could write him a letter at the outset of his ministry.  I came up with a list of ten things to consider. Maybe you’ll benefit from them too.

Dear John,

As I reflect on ten years of ministry, I want to offer these bits of advice to help you as you begin your time as a pastor of God’s flock.  If there is any wisdom in these things, it’s been given by God in the midst of the pain and pleasure of ministry. I hope they might save you from making mistakes and lead you to greater effectiveness in your service to God.

1. The most important thing you can do for your people is stay close to God.  Other pastors in the past have said this, but I’ve it in the hard way over the last ten years.  Remember that you are to set an example in life and godliness.  You are to be someone the people can imitate. Therefore, stay in God’s Word. Stay on your knees. Stay close to God (John 15:1-11; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 2:20-21).

2.  Remember that God blesses men not methods.  Over the next several years, you will be hit with books and articles and movements all telling you they are the key to success at your church.  Some will be biblical and others will be garbage.  But the truth is, there is no magic bullet for ministry.  You might pick up some valuable insights from those things, but the most effective way for you to service to die to yourself, look to Christ in faith, and follow the example of the apostles in doctrine and ministry (Matt 16:24; 2 Tim 3:10-4:5).

3.  Pursue faithfulness rather than fame.  There are many good and godly men who have been ministering for years, written helpful books, and have large churches.  The odds are pretty clear that you won’t be one of them.  Therefore, don’t pursue what only God can give.  This doesn’t mean you should be lazy in ministry. No, work hard tilling God’s field.  But do not long for fame.  Instead, be content with where you are and with the people you serve (Mark 10:42-45; Phil 4:11).

4.  Remember that God’s people are sinners. You will be hurt. You will be disappointed. You will be discouraged. You will be all these things because of the sinful actions and attitudes of the people at your church. Remember you’re a sinner too and that on this side of eternity, there is no perfect church (Gal 6:1-10; 2 Tim 4:10).

5.  Remember that God’s people are saints. Despite the sinfulness of God’s people, there is the promise of growth and change.  Christ himself is seeking to make clean his bride by the Spirit and the Word.  Therefore, take hope that though the church will not be perfect, they will be growing in godliness.  This process is often slow. But patiently work the field, knowing that God is at work among his people (Rom 8:18-30; Eph 1:3-14; 5:25-27).

6.  Love the church.  Though you are called to teach, you are more than a teacher. You are called to be a shepherd. This means caring for God’s people.  This means leading then, feeding them, protecting them, and more.  Be visible among them. Be in their homes and at their hospital beds.  Take an interest in their lives.  Pray for them.  And pray for yourself, asking God to help you love them as Christ loved them (John 15:12-17; 1 Pet 5:1-4).

7. Be wary of the temptation to make doctrine secondary.  ‘Doctrine divides!’ is the call of many, and the basis of their argument to put doctrine on the back burner.  But the apostles believed that doctrine united; that it brought solidity to God’s people. Furthermore, lowering the bar for believers is never good thing.  Make doctrine important.  This doesn’t mean that you should make it hard to understand or abstracted it from life. No, just the opposite: make doctrine important, clear, and relevant to daily life.  Show that doctrine is important because God is important.  Our goal should be to help his people go deeper and deeper into the depths of his glory (Rom 16:17; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Tit 1:9; 2:1).

8. Seek change slowly.  One of the biggest mistakes ministers make is changing too fast.  Certainly, there will be times when something just needs to immediately end or begin. But that will be the exception, not the rule.  Teach the people from the Word and let God convince them of the need to change.  Be patient and prayerful as you seek to move them in different, more biblical directions (John 17:17; Rom 12:1-2).

9. Train partners for ministry.  This is something you’ve likely not heard much about, but will begin to see clearly as you study Paul’s letters. One of his key strategies was to identify men and women and begin to invest his life in them.  He trained them for ministry and wasn’t afraid to let them go and do ministry elsewhere.  Remember that your goal isn’t a more comfortable life for yourself at a church or an empire with your name on it. You are seeking to build the kingdom of God.  That means training up fellow workers to assist you at the church and be sent out when needed  (Eph 4:11-12; 1 Thess 1:4-7; Col 4:7-17).

10. Above all else, remember the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the heart of the deposit that has been entrusted to you and that you will entrust to faithful men.  It is the power of God for salvation, from first faith to final faith; from regeneration to glorification. So avoid the temptation to trust in yourself—in your wisdom, your gifts, your charisma.  Trust in the God’s power to save through the gospel.  Preach the gospel (Rom 1:16; 2 Tim 2:1-13).

May God bless your ministry and be glorified in all you do.

Grace and peace,

John

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