A letter to a young minister

Read a mother’s poignant advice to her son as he begins his journey into ministry.

Jean Weber is a pseudonym.

My dear son:

Not long from now you will join the ranks of young ministers—viewed by some with trepidation, as a source of problems. (That’s nothing new; Paul recognized that Timothy’s youth might cause others to look down on him; see 1 Tim. 4:12.) Personally, I see your generation as the hope of the church.

Fortunately, your ministerial training had a hands-on tone. You were involved in all kinds of pastoral practicums, even as you learned Greek and Hebrew, theology and homiletics. I especially think of the evangelistic campaign you participated in during your training for ministry. Yes, you slept on the floor, walked the soles off your shoes, gave scores of Bible studies, helped care for the tent, and played your trumpet almost every night. And when some of those who studied with you were baptized, how thrilled you were! What a preparation for ministry.

In this letter, I do not need to remind you how to preach and give Bible stud­ies. That you know. I will touch on only three topics: your spiritual life, your public ministry, and building a lively church.

Your spiritual life

Of all things, I want you, as a young minister, to be a man of prayer and Bible study. Set apart a specific time each day, preferably first thing in the morning, to deepen and enrich your friendship with Jesus and soak up the truth from His Word. Around this sacred time, plan your day. Let nothing interfere. Without strength obtained from a rich devotional and study life, you will not be able to successfully meet the complexities of ministry. Without being steeped in God’s Word, you could easily stray into what Paul called “endless discussion” (1 Tim. 1:6). A steady, disciplined, devotional and study life will enable you to fight the good fight, keep a good conscience, and avoid a “shipwreck of the faith” (vv. 18, 19).

At some point in your daily Bible study, you may discover what appears to be a new gem of truth. If this new idea simply enriches what you already know, give thanks to God for sharing from His vast treasure. Preach it, speak of it—without fear. However, if this new discovery conflicts with a generally accepted view, study it very, very care­fully. Then, before you start preaching your “new light,” consult some of your fellow ministers. If learned and God-fearing older-generation teachers and pastors find your new light unconvinc­ing, accept their verdict and go back to the Word. If a second time you do not succeed in convincing the leaders, you may well be wrong. For God to reveal to you alone a gem of truth and not impress others of its validity would be strange indeed. Or perhaps the time is not yet ripe. Bide your time. Remember that our strength as a church comes from marching together, under Christ, as He prayed we might (John 17:21–23).

In giving this advice, I am thinking not so much of how you can keep your job as of how you can grow spiritually. That growth will enable you to care for the flock God has entrusted to you.

Your public ministry

Speaking about your ministry, remember you are becoming a builder, not of a structure but of a loving, living community of believers. You will grow this congregation as part of God’s family on earth.

I am sure you recall how broth­ers and sisters came so willingly to the ramshackle, leaky-roofed church building where we chose to attend services and help out. They came to the Sabbath morning services, went home for lunch, did their missionary work in the afternoon, and returned for the youth meetings, often bringing visitors. They stayed for a hot drink and whatever social followed. Besides that, many came on Sunday to help repair the old building, after which men and boys played soccer on the back of the lot. Even the children came for the Wednesday night prayer meeting—if nothing else, to hear another chapter of the continued story. Those people looked forward all week to church and everything it meant to them. Church was the center of their spiritual, social, and even intellectual lives.

How do you make the church into the center of people’s lives? First, what the church offers must meet people’s needs. Your sermons, thoughtfully and prayerfully prepared—and always related to their lives—will feed the flock. Rarely do churches have only one kind of people, and so you will have to make provision for different levels of spiritual understanding. Whatever you preach should be so simple that the unschooled can benefit and yet so profound that the university graduate will go away savoring what you said. Through your preaching ministry, they will learn to study and understand the Scriptures for themselves.

The other side of people’s spiritual need involves the necessity of sharing their knowledge and experience with others. Too often this need may be left out and spiritual needs never fully met. You will need to show your members how to share, in informal settings or in structured Bible studies. You cannot take for granted that they will be able to do it just because their heart overflows with love for God.

Preaching is not enough. You will also need to be a teacher. Show your members how to study the Bible and how to share their knowledge with others. I remember Brother John, a salesman in the street market. He learned to study and share, becoming a colporteur and later a church leader and preacher. I would hardly have dreamt that!

You can help your members develop socially. For this they will also need the spiritual strength of your visits in their homes, of your prayers with and for them—especially in times of emergency. This goes along with people’s social needs for companionship.

In today’s western world, it may not be considered necessary for people to meet their social needs in church. However, we are seeing that small group togetherness helps the church grow. If the church is small enough, one group is enough. Usually, there will have to be several groups, especially when there are different kinds of people in a church: adults, youth, children, men, women, and so on. These groups work efficiently in an independent way, but when they come together, this larger gathering becomes like a family reunion—and you know how much fun that is.

The youth of the church need to do things as a group. But do not think they need to be entertained. They can entertain themselves and be useful while doing that. Help them channel their energies into useful projects. To work with young people, you need to become one of them. Help them play and execute interesting activities to which they can invite friends, class­mates, and relatives.

Building a lively church

Finally, I want to talk to you about building a strong and lively church. After all, that’s what ministry is all about: caring for the community of faith. Here are five suggestions to help you.

1.  Learning together is vital. Some church members know how to meet their need for information and knowl­edge; others do not. You can help turn the church into the center of their lives if you assist members to expand God-given mental faculties. A church is an excellent setting for all kinds of classes: Bible, witnessing, parenting, nature, health, etc. Classes offered by a church can also open a door to meet the needs of the community and make the church useful to more and more people.

2.  Make the church theirs. As a pastor you are a leader, facilitator, enabler­ never the boss. You must sow ideas, and after sufficient incubation, those ideas will come back, possibly in a new guise and now as their ideas. Graciously accept the change of ownership and let them push for their ideas.

3.  Let all members develop their individual talents. Do not feel you have to preach or teach all the time. Give your people room to grow. At our little church, I decided to turn over the teaching of the children’s Sabbath School lesson to Daisy so that she could learn how to teach. How I agonized the first month! But she learned to teach the children and became a leader. Of course, not everyone’s talents are verbal. Grandma Maria took care of sick people and made clothes out of scraps of material. Encourage everyone to do something. The more variety, the better.

4.  Keep your church family looking for others with whom they can share the love and security they have found in their church. You know the story of one beggar telling another where to find bread. Teach your church family to share; encourage them to invite friends and relatives to church activities. Make your church mission-oriented. Your church’s goal is to grow, expand; in so doing, everyone will be happier.

5.  Do not keep the children waiting to become involved in church activities. Just think what you would have missed if—at the age of 11—you had not taken over the music at our church the two weeks the other musicians were gone. At that time I think you could play ten hymns on your trumpet.

The church I am describing may seem more like a beehive than a con­ventional church. In the beehive there is continual activity. In the church the same should happen. How I wish that some young pastor work with a visionary architect to design a building that could provide classrooms, a dining room, a gym—and on Sabbath it could become a place of worship. There’s a challenge for you.

As Adventists, we have the Sabbath, a 24-hour period to nurture this family of God. We often speak of Sabbath as “family time” and do not remember that we are not necessarily talking about the nuclear family. Make the varied Sabbath activities—all tending towards proclamation, worship, fellowship, and service—the best and busiest day of the week.

If your church is a beehive of joyful sharing and service, you will not need to worry about your job. The conference president will be thrilled with you and will do his best to keep you in his field. No need to worry.

I have faith in you and your genera­tion. You can—under God’s guidance and in His power—infuse new life into the church. I can hardly wait to see it.

May God’s strength and grace abound in you and in the church you will pastor. I will be praying for you daily.

With love,

Mother


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Jean Weber is a pseudonym.

September 2014

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