I am a young pastor, and I do not presume to think that I can offer up much worthwhile advice and encouragement to a new generation entering the ministry. I do think, however, that any amount of experience has its own level of anecdotal instruction that can be offered to anyone willing to listen.
This week, I have thought about what I have learned in my decade of formal ministry (volunteer and paid) and I think there are some things that are worth sharing. Some items being shared in this blog are a result of frustration that has helped to grow me as a minister. Other points are simply things I that have come to mind. Just know that none of them are meant to demean, discourage, or demonstrate anger. I just feel these things need to be said.
I love learning. Sometimes the learning involved pain, and other times it was a result of great joy.
Today, I want to share 5 Things I Have Learned As a Pastor.
People prioritize what matters
Sunday after Sunday pastors all over the world work their hardest to preach, teach, and display the Gospel in their lives. Their families often feel the brunt of the time and effort they put into sharing vision, meeting with those in need, and attending business meetings. Sometimes a pastor will give their all for a congregation who seem to look at the idea of worship as “something they will attend if they have nothing else to do”. Don’t get me wrong. Pastors are thankful that anyone shows up for worship, but we now live in a Christian culture that has prioritized other things over meeting together as was commanded of us in scripture.
Discouragement is only temporary
I’m going to let you in, behind the scenes, for a moment on what pastors talk about when they are together. Sometimes we talk about how things are progressing with the church. Other times we talk about how discouraged we are in a particular area of ministry. For some people in ministry, short seasons of discouragment end in resignation. It is easier to quit than to persevere. When discouragement comes, and it certainly will, it is always vital to lean into God and rely on His promises. The seasons of discouragement do not last forever. They can just be painful. When we tap into God’s resolve, then we find times of great spiritual wealth and ministerial progress.
There will be resistance
No matter what God has asked a person in ministry to do, resistance to that call is inevitable. Sometimes there is resistance because the author of lies is creating unnecessary conflict in the church. Other times (I am speaking to myself here) it is because personal pastoral agendas are forced and God’s will is not taken into account. Pastors are not exempt from being stubborn or having human thoughts, emotions, or actions. A consistent prayer life trains the mind and heart to more readily pick up Christ’s signals and gentle nudgings.
Lives matter to God
When looking at scripture, it is apparent that God has spent a lot of time showing humanity His love. Sure, there are times of discipline, but the way He guided the Israelites out of captivity, restored them multiple times after their transgressions. sent Himself to die, and gave us the Holy Spirit, no one can deny the energy that has gone into God’s affection for us. He calls pastors to be distributors of this love and grace. Christians in general have this call on their lives as well, and are compelled to share this message with the world. So, when someone comments that a pastor’s focus is “all about numbers”, they are actually somewhat correct. Every person matters to God, and He came to die for every single one. A pastor’s job is a response to this concept.
Often times, more energy is spent on lemurs than butterflies
Ok, so this one is a difficult topic to talk about. Now, I do not want to sound harsh or condescending, but this idea breaks my heart so I felt as if I needed to share. You may read this heading and be somewhat confused, but allow me to explain. I wrote another blog post a while ago that compared the personalities found in the church to animals that live in a zoo. Lemurs are animals that live in trees and eat berries and bugs. When there are no more berries or bugs in the tree they move on to another one that will suit their needs. Butterflies start as caterpillars, and camp out in trees or bushes. They are sheltered by the tree and allow themselves to be transformed. Often churches respond to God’s call to help those in need (in and out of the church), and sometimes it is the “lemurs” get the most attention. In the church, it is often the case that the ones that are the most helped are the first ones to leave. The church is a great place to seek transformation. No matter the result, though, we are called to serve.
Overall, I can honestly say that God has blessed me more than I deserve. His calling on my life to participate in the transformation of souls is something that invigorates me. Ideas keep me going, and His spirit not only makes up for my inadequacies, but moves me out of the way completely. He has also given me an amazing church family.
If you are a young pastor leading a church today, I implore you to lean on that calling. Don’t quit. It is a very difficult job, and it is not going to get any easier. You are not going to make millions and you may struggle to help grow the congregation you are in. Don’t be a “corporate ladder” type of pastor and just move to the next bigger church for the nice facility and salary package. There is a large family sitting in your pews waiting to see revival, and their souls need it. Be vulnerable, and build deep relationships. What if they leave? Well, then you will be deeply hurt, but don’t run away from being hurt. God’s call means more.
If we are not careful, we can begin to think that the people around us do not have deep hurts and pains like we do. Sometimes, our own suffering can be so distracting that we forget that we are not alone. As a pastor, I can look out among the faces that make up my congregation and see the struggles etched into their countenance. From confidential conversations to very public pain, I have evidence to prove that every person during any given worship service has a situation on their mind that is weighing them down.
The people “out there” are allowed to have struggles, and discouraging thoughts, but sometimes pastors believe that they are exempt from this type of human display and have no right to have similar feelings. There is a reason for this too. Many times when pastors publically express their discouragement, they are reprimanded and told they must not truly be called to ministry if they are tempted to whine about their situation.
The fact is, pastors do have discouraging thoughts. We are taught to suppress and hide them though, because it is not an attractive quality. We are treated like salespeople, and we all know that it is hard to sell a product when we are not always enthused and encouraged. This leads to silence and church leaders practically become robots. So, before going further, let’s just agree that pastors are allowed to have these thoughts. It’s okay. Yes, God has called us, and no we are not abandoning our faith, but pastors want to be considered as much a part of the congregation as anyone else. We are real people.
With that being said, I think there are 4 common discouraging thoughts pastors often have (and it’s going to be okay):
The People You Help Most Are the First to Leave
This thought can be the most frustrating. Whether we like to admit it or not, there are people who require more attention than others. In ministry, there can be only a few people who take up a majority of a pastor’s ministerial energy. Every pastor I know would agree that helping people both physically and spiritually is the biggest thrill and a reward in itself, but it can weigh heavy on our hearts when we realize that the people we have invested so much energy in are the first ones to give up on the church entirely. It could be that they were passionate about it at one time, but suddenly they just disappear.
People Just Don’t Care Anymore
Sometimes, in ministry, it is easy to believe this because pastors are not sensing an atmosphere of urgency in the hearts of the people. People become distracted with other priorities and it feels like church becomes more of a hobby than a hunger. There are seasons in which it is so difficult to motivate people to authentically listen to God’s call. Then, sometimes seemingly overnight, hearts are stirred again and momentum is restored. The time in the valley, though, can be excruciating.
I Can’t Do This…
It is easy for church leaders to run out of ideas, energy, motivation, and positivity when it feels like the proverbial walls are closing in. A pastor can sit alone and begin to lose themselves in the negative self-talk that inevitably distorts the reality that God is truly moving. The 3am calls, hard decisions, waiting, visitations, preaching preparation, conflict mediation, and other normal pastoral duties can be taxing. In these times, perseverance always proves to triumph because God then brings a great encouragement that breathes life back into their dry bones.
I’m Not Doing Enough
This is a big one for EVERY pastor I know. Sometimes no matter how much is done, and how many hours in a day are dedicated to formal ministry, the devil plays with our minds and makes us think we are not even making a dent in accomplishing the work God has called us to do. A pastor will go sleepless thinking about the concept of more meetings, visitations, or bible studies in hopes that the congregation will be inspired by their efforts. The truth is, God often does His most amazing work in the times of “stillness”.
I know I am going to get a lot of comments about this blog, but my heart wants to be open and honest. Many think that pastors should simply do the work they are called to without complaint (my intention is not to complain, but to be transparent) because “if they were really called they would be joyful about the process”. Well, interestingly enough, God only calls humans to be pastors and humans are creatures who think these things.
Despite the thoughts that ministers have, it is amazing to see how God blesses despite our fallibility. I can name time after time in which God has shown me His mercy in the valley and it has brought new life to my heart and soul.
Ministry is so rewarding. I am so glad that God has called me to it.
Love you all.
Currently, the church I pastor is seeing more and more new people each week in our worship service. On a personal note, I have been incredibly encouraged concerning the growth I am seeing and the excitement on a weekly basis. Some people have approached me after a short time of attending and have sought to become more involved in the church. This is also great!
As I have reflected on this in the last few days, I have felt the need to tell people what they should expect when joining my church. The following are the 7 things that you should expect when taking the step to become a leader or generally involved in this worship community….these things are universal and can be applied to any other church.
1. Someone will eventually hurt your feelings….Someone is going to say something to you, or step on your toes, or even blurt something out randomly that will offend you.
2. You will encounter hypocrites. Churches are full of them and many are leaving the church for this reason…..grocery stores, civic groups, concerts, political groups, bus stops, restaurants, parking lots, hospitals, call centers, parties, and family reunions are also full of hypocrites….good luck avoiding those too.
3. Someone in my church will annoy you. Fact: everyone has an annoying side.
4. My message will not make sense to you on occasion. That’s okay…perhaps God will use it in your life later.
5. The music may not connect with you this Sunday. That’s okay….perhaps God will use it in your life later.
6. There will be discouraging times in our church. You can bet on this…..we are a church full of people with problems and regular discouragements. It just makes sense that a group of people would reflect this….
7. Church will be boring at times. ….umm……..I got nothing. Sorry.
Overall, the church is not only a family but it is a redemptive and purpose-oriented community. Due to the fact that it is filled with people, not everything is going to be perfect. When we are interacting with people with wounds, hang ups, and brokenness we have to understand that grace is not just something for people on the outside but we are the prototype before distribution.
Redemptive communities require imperfection to participate.