A letter to student pastors
Dear student pastors,
I wish to reflect upon lessons that I hope you have gained in your churches, while matriculating at a seminary— from pastors, church members, and others. But there are many other lessons that only time and experience can teach you. The following comprise some of those lessons.
Pastoral ministry has the capacity to bring great satisfaction and a true sense of your calling. At its core, ministry is about people—relationships. Whether children, millennials, or seasoned citizens, all church members crave opportunities to bond. And the pastor functions as the fulcrum for such bonding.
The pastor has the unique pleasure of being present for so many life events: weddings, child dedications, baptisms, Communions, church socials, and funerals, just to name a few. And the common thread that runs through them is that they all bring opportunities to personally touch the lives of people in ways that many others cannot. You become the face of Christ that beautifully smiles and the arms of God that caringly embrace.
Ministry is much more than preaching. The temptation exists to elevate preaching to the exclusion of all other disciplines. While preaching is vital, it is not paramount. Other events that bring the saints together for worship (such as Sabbath School and the midweek prayer service) should receive the same amount of attention and care as most preachers dedicate to the divine worship experience and sermons. Each event provides an opportunity for God’s people to experience a fresh encounter with the Divine.
The greatest investments of pastoral time and energy are devoted to behind-the-scenes activities. Unless you are a part of a pastoral staff, life will consist of just you, a small group of local elders, other church officers, and members. Even if you are an associate pastor on a staff, your time will still be mostly spent in the tedium of detailed ministries. Pastoral ministry is not always glamorous. If you pastor the average-sized church of fewer than 100 members, you will discover that you will spend more time in addressing administrative matters than you expected. And sweeping those sometimes-problematic issues under the rug is not a viable option.
You will spend a lot of time mentoring some of your officers to attain to higher standards of excellence. You do not do this merely for the benefit of the church. You do this in order to help your church leaders be their best. In doing so, the pastors who follow you will find their load has been lightened because of your investment of time and energy. Ultimately, do this in order to edify and build up the body of Christ.
Be a generalist. While you do not have to attend to every part of church life (like repairing the roof, doing the secretarial work, operating the AV equipment), neither can you exclusively focus on one area of church life. While you must surround yourself with those who compensate for your deficiencies, you as pastor must still be aware of a plethora of things that transpire in the church. Furthermore, you must lend visible support to all areas of church life. Not showing visible support could be interpreted by some to mean that you do not care about that ministry.
Be content where God has placed you and do not move until He moves you. Many pastors seek to be well known by administrators and well loved by church members. Upward mobility becomes the order of the day. Christ’s disciples adopted earthly definitions of success; but they never truly succeeded until they dedicated themselves fully to the mission He bequeathed to them. Always remember that God measures success by your fidelity to the call He has placed in your life. This alone can bring you true joy and a sense of fulfillment in ministry.
Love people, regardless of how they treat you. Most church members will love and respect you. Eventually, however, you will encounter those members who “push your buttons.” It becomes easy to isolate them, relegating them to the sidelines. But in so doing, you say more about yourself than you do about them. Far from ostracizing them, you must love them more; because often their behavior is symptomatic of larger and deeper issues. Do not turn relationship dynamics into a power play; for in so doing, you stoop to their level. Others hold you to a higher standard, and you must live up to that standard. More than that, you must live up to God’s standards and expectations for you and your ministry.
Have a backbone. It is human nature to want people to admire you. But the leader, at times, makes decisions that displease others. You do not intend to displease them, but it goes with the territory. Involve a broad circle of counselors in your decisions. Gain a consensus before proceeding. Not everyone will like what you recommend. But if you waffle while leading, your ability to lead in the future becomes compromised. Remember that some officers think only in terms of their areas of leadership. They understandably lead in the area of their specialty. But you, as pastor, must see the big picture. You must lead with the broad view in mind.
Finally, know who you are, know Whose you are, and know Who called you. And follow Him! Be sure that every decision you authorize has the best interest of the church in mind and that every decision has impartiality as its foundation.
My prayer for you is that you will always possess humility and that your souls will be committed to caring for the flock of the living God. May you walk in His way both now and forever.
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