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.
My fingers tap to the beat of a popular pop melody being played on the radio. The soft, rhythmic finger drumming is a socially exceptable form of what I wish to do, and that is stand up and shout the words at the top of my lungs. This is not because I want everyone to hear my beautiful singing voice, but so I can finally vanquish this parasitic tune from my brain. Tapping will have to do, and I notice that the chair I am sitting at in the doctor’s waiting room has distinct pitches and allow the full band in my mind to play on until the end. I hate waiting. I think that this feeling is universal.
Waiting is something that is fairly easy at first. In the depths of each of our own souls, each one of us has set a certain limit to how much waiting is acceptable depending on the circumstance. We wouldn’t expect the closing of a newly bought home to take only 5 minutes after the offer is placed, but if we are 7 minutes delayed in the expected enjoyment of a fast food cheeseburger then we must notify management of our dreadful plight.
Let’s look at the first disciples. It would have seemed as if they invented the idea of waiting. First, Jesus died. Then, they had to wait 3 days to see Him again in full glory. What happens next is both amazing and oddly frustrating. Christ spends time with His followers; then leaves again! Before He leaves, He tells the disciples and a smattering of other believers to sit, wait, and pray until He sends “round 2” of His wonderful work. These faithful few were instructed to pray. No short hail Marys or a wimpy “bless this food” type of prayer…but a converstation with God born out of desperation and spiritual hunger, with, by the way, no answer coming any time soon. So, they waited.
In the midst of the long wait, the Holy Spirit came and made all the waiting worth while. Victory was theirs, and they saw amazing fruit from their faithfulness. Then, the honeymoon phase was over. The Holy Spirit still gave the followers amazing testimonies and abilities, but Jesus also indicated that the best was even YET to come. He was talking about the end of days. The BIG finale. The final end to all of this…junk.
Well folks…we are it. Fast forward. We are the disciples that are now called to wait. He has not given us a time, day, or even specific decade, but Jesus has given us His spirit. That’s great, and I am happy but…why, then, do I feel so guilty about being impatient about this? Or, why do I sometimes secretly hope it doesn’t happen soon? I may be anxious or I may have more sinning to do.
The problem with waiting is it causes us to feel the need to keep ourselves busy. Also, the times in which we are tapping our toe force us into times of introspection and honesty. We want to fix everything ourselves and earn our Heavenly reward by our own merit, but Jesus has called us to something a little more uncomfortable…waiting…and deeper so…staying faithful.
Jesus is coming back. We must embrace the idea that this time of waiting could be an excellent time for us to make the world around us a better place. On top of that, there are people we could impact for His kingdom. Don’t give up just because impatience is a reality.
Stop tapping your toe. Get up and go! Be the hands and feet of Jesus before it is too late.
A disproportionally large amount of people (relative to the size of the community) filed into a little Baptist church in rural Missouri. The average age of this congregation can be described in one word; gray. There were a few children present, but the small town was primarily older folks so I would not have expected to see more young ones in attendance.
We were in town because my wife’s grandmother lived there and we were visiting her for the weekend. Grandma would not have let us leave town without going to church, even if we had great excuses to skip. Plus, she promised us that she was going to make her world-famous chili for lunch so that was incentive enough to humor her.
The church was small and the last time the décor was updated was sometime around the late seventies or early eighties. These were the good ‘ol days when aliens invaded the earth and felt like their main contribution to the world be wood paneling in all homes and public venues.
Every square inch of the building needed an update, and the handheld microphones had those awful bright colored covers on the microphone heads that stood out like a sore thumb. All in all, it was a place that didn’t look inviting according to a young pastor standards, but everyone had a smile on their face so I was going to keep my heart open.
You see, by this time, I already had a bachelor’s degree in ministry and was about to start seminary. I was obviously an expert in all things pertaining to leadership and was already developing a critical eye and ear when visiting churches.
The music began and, as was expected, the song lineup consisted of both songs I had never heard and ones that I remembered from my childhood. The older lady leading the music was not exactly gifted for the part but her passion was obvious. No new contemporary Christian top 40 hits were played, and, at the time, I saw this as a serious flaw.
How would they minister to people without the newest methods, songs, or a fresh look? How can they minister to people who were advanced in age when every book I have read on “church growth” tells me that the younger generation should be their laser focus? It obviously wasn’t the case here. They seemed to have a routine that many were comfortable with, and everything had a distinct rhythm.
The pastor began to preach, and the content was great but the delivery of the sermon left a little to be desired. He wasn’t even in the middle of a catchy series! This pastor had been with this congregation for many years, and most people had gone to that church for a long time. There was a comfort there that could be felt with the shepherd of this flock.
As I looked around during worship, one thing was apparent. These people were genuinely interested in what was happening in the worship service. They were responding to the sermon, singing the songs loudly, and taking notes to better absorb the message for the day. Every family had a Bible that was nearly destroyed from use, and the children that were there seemed to pay attention to every word. The bulletin recorded evidence that these people participated in missional activities in the community. Could it be that the books I was reading about ministry distracted me from a deeper truth? Is it possible that I was wrong about what church “should” look like?
Attending that church made me feel a little different about serving in ministry. In an age where so many pastors spend much of their time looking for the next “new thing”, it seemed foreign to encounter a ministry that didn’t try to fix something that wasn’t broken simply to put more butts in the seats. The back of the platform was not painted black, the lights were not dim, there were no laser lights, and there were no fog machines; yet there was something intensely spiritual about this experience. People were lifting the name of Christ, and learning how to love others more. They were simply worshiping.
I have often been intoxicated by worship experiences that were designed to put people into a spiritual trance. Experiences that were defined by scheduled perfection and rehearsed timing. I think God sees through these type of things, and I have realized that a little Baptist church in a place that is not even on the map can be as intensely faithful as the megachurch down the road with much more to offer.
I pray that all Christians will fall in love with God like this small Baptist church. If we do, we will see a genuine revival happen throughout the world.
I still have so much to learn.
Let’s get back to basics.
Love you all.
The book of Joshua records an incredible story about God’s people during a time in which the odds were against them. Joshua, who took over for Moses to bring people into the Promised Land, led the Hebrews to Jericho; a massively fortified city that was nearly indestructible. With a very low population of nervous people who believed God could do anything, they were able to make the walls of Jericho fall. Somehow, they won the battle. This didn’t happen because of their might, but because of God’s provision and protection.
In the book of Judges we find one of God’s anointed Judges, Gideon, who many would say lacked confidence and charisma, but still believed God was supremely powerful. God tells Gideon that the vast Midianite army will fall to a militia that Gideon is going to lead. Many scholars say that there were over 100,000 soldiers on the Midianite’s side, and through a series of events, God tells Gideon to send most of his troops home. He sends so many home, in fact, that Gideon is left with 300 people. This is certainly not enough to get the job done.
Fast forward: Gideon’s band of 300 easily destroys their foe.
In the book of Luke, Jesus sends out 72 of His followers to different towns for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. This relatively small group of people expend their energy and resources to make sure the good news of Jesus is spread throughout the land. These followers come back testifying of great victories and entire households being converted to faith in God. Once again, a miracle happens through faith and obedience.
In all of these cases, we see that a relatively small group of people were able to exercise their faith in God and He blessed them with disproportional abundance and victory.
There is an interesting trend that has arisen in Christian culture. Larger churches are attracting people by the hundreds and sometimes even thousands. These megachurches, in many cases, have filled a need for a community who has seen dwindling church participation over the years, and the greatest contribution they have given, in my opinion, is the participation in areas of ministry from people that were once estranged from the church.
Big churches are exciting. Many have great music, excellent preachers, and elaborate programs that keep people busy around the clock. There always seems to be something going on and people get energized when a new initiative or series is introduced.
In this context, it is easy to forget the vital importance of the small church.
The healthy small church provides a needed service to the community that larger churches cannot easily fill. In a lot of instances, Christians will see exciting things happening in a large church and their attraction to the excitement becomes intoxicating.
It’s hard to not be drawn in when these churches create an assembly line of spiritual cheerleaders who market the church every chance they get by their actions, logo wear, insider language, and testimonies of God’s work through the ministry. Big churches are great for the most part, but sometimes people do not see how the smaller church can possibly fit in the local community like a piece of the puzzle.
The healthy small church does great when it comes to getting people involved in ministry, corporate accountability, developing deep life-long relationships, and creating an atmosphere of extended family.
The common misconception is that a small church is the size it is due to failed leadership, or some catastrophic event that split the membership. In some cases this can be true, but in most cases it is not. From my experience as a pastor of a smaller church, I have noticed that there are instances in which people are getting involved in leadership in areas where they would not be able to plug into in a larger setting.
Often, for instance, in music ministry, the larger church looks for those gifted on a professional level. A small church looks for those willing and with the talent and call to participate. A person of average leadership abilities can become a leader in a small church for the purpose of sharpening their skills and growing into their call.
There are unhealthy small churches just like there are unhealthy large ones. As implied, the inverse is also true. Healthy large congregations are ones that are not interested in simply getting bigger, but multiply with purpose through smaller works.
Congregations of all sizes are needed. If you are not a part of a church, consider trying out a small church with passion and a heart for Jesus. You may need what it has to offer. With that said, don’t just look at your “church search” with a consumer mentality of what it can offer you, but truly pray about how you can get plugged into the kingdom of God and use your gifts to serve the world.
Love you all.
Teamwork makes the dream work. This is a phrase that is passed around in many circles and I have heard it used to bring light to dark situations. It is an interesting concept. The idea of becoming partners with a group for the common purpose of meeting measurable goals is something that is appealing to most. I have always valued being a part of something bigger than myself and joining with others to collectively pursue a mission. I know that I do not have all of the answers, nor do I think that my way is the best way.
I have had the opportunity, in my experience as a pastor, to talk with many pastors and church leaders from around the world. Many have shared my theological tradition and many have not. One conversation I have engaged in during my ministry with these leaders relates to the topic of Christian denominations. When speaking about this subject, it is quickly apparent that a large number of people are against the idea. The nondenominational movement is something that has gained great steam in the last several years. Church goers cite many reasons for leaving denominations and pursuing a worship community unaffiliated with a larger movement.
Personally, I am thankful that people have chosen a church to attend, so the point of this blog is not to downplay the value of the nondenominational church, because these churches are still a part of the global body of Christ and do great good. I am simply writing this to explain my view as to why I have chosen a larger movement to align myself with.
In my recent past, I have volunteered with a missions organization that has no main parent church affiliation. This ministry has established schools, orphanages, churches, food pantries and pastoral training centers around the world. They have an incredible network of churches that have bought into the vision of the organization and support it with volunteer help and financial support. People are being introduced to Jesus in large numbers because of these partnerships. They have seen success in their work because they have churches that share the passion that they display. This network functions as a denomination in their web of partnerships.
When I think about this nonaffiliated entity, my mind wanders to those who are against denominational entities. Why is this?
I get it. Sometimes it can be frustrating when the general leadership of a certain denomination sends down a decree (for lack of a better term) that sometimes doesn’t fit into the cultural context of a local community. Perhaps, even, a person may discover theological differences that don’t line up with their system of beliefs. But, in my conversations with leaders that have left denominations to pursue independence, the desire to be autonomous was the overriding factor in their decision making process.
A Christian denomination is simply a missional organization with affiliated churches. These churches share a theological identity that is not mandated, but that is shared due to common purpose and passion. In the same way, we see a fast growing movement of nonaffiliated churches that long to be connected in partnership with a missional entity. As a pastor, there is something initially attractive about being disconnected from “outside” accountability. The fact is, this mentality can’t be sustained for very long, because eventually the craving for extended community is realized.
I am a part of something larger and I have learned that I do not have all of the answers. I need my brothers and sisters who are partnering with me to help convey the message that God has given all of us. No individual congregation can do everything they are called to do in complete isolation. This is why I have chosen the path I am on. The sometimes frustrating and flawed movement that I have joined.
Love you all.
It was 101 degrees and the building had no air conditioning. Instead, the attempted remedy for this minor inconvenience was one that would not have been my first choice. Those in charge decided to open every door leading to the outside so that the wind could circulate around the room. It didn’t work. I was sweaty, tired, and somewhat hungry.
I was a teenager on a mission trip in the middle of a Navajo reservation, so I decided to take these discomforts in stride and accept the experience for what it was. It was different…and it was their way of doing things.
First…a little background: I was raised in an amazing church. One that was (and still is) known for its thriving ministries, wonderful preaching, and inspiring music. Everything was polished and perfect. No distractions other than the occasional baby crying, but no one minds for the most part. People lined the altars on a regular basis to give their heart to the Lord, and no one doubted the anointing in that place. You could (and still can) feel the Holy Spirit thick and active in that place. I have become accustomed to a certain type of experience.
The church I was sitting in on this particular Sunday morning was different. The moment I sat down, I was uncomfortable. Hot. Sticky. Tired. We were there early, so not many had arrived. To be honest, I really wanted to go to a big church; one with better programs, great music, and a dynamic preacher. I suppose, however it was only one Sunday morning, so I could survive this little church (that could only seat about 40-50 people at the most) for one Sunday.
Ten minutes before the church service started, a few more people trickled into the tiny worship space. It wasn’t until about 2 minutes before the beginning that, we as a group of teenagers, got to see the true commitment of the worshippers dedicated to that church. We saw it alright. A space that would feel full with 50 people sitting in it was packed with over 100 attendees. People were on the floor, sitting on the back benches, and standing in the doorways. There were people everywhere.
The pastor walked up to a podium. He looked like what Colonel Sanders would look like if KFC were a biker club. What he said next blew my mind (because there were so many people there)…He looked to the left and the right and asked if anyone knew how to play the piano. They needed a piano player to play the hymns for the day. One of our teens knew how to peck out a few tunes and had taken some lessons, so she was the one chosen. No other musicians were in attendance. The songs were old too…really old, but the members sang at the top of their lungs. Our poor piano player tried to keep up.
The offering plate was passed, the announcements were made, and pastor prayed a prayer. He then stood up to preach, but was less seasoned in the art of preaching than I had hoped. I started to grade his performance and delivery. Meanwhile, I couldn’t hear some of the message because so many were “amen-ing” every word he said. It was bizarre. This one room church, that could not hold many people, was overflowing with people eager to experience the love of God through worship. Then, something even more powerful happened. The pastor called the congregation to a special time of prayer. This was a time of requests, confession, and praise. The power was palpable. There were some on their knees. Others were sitting with their head bowed. A few were standing while holding their fussy babies. All were praying out loud.
At the time, my mind could not compute what I was experiencing. The music was not planned out well, the preaching was not amazing, kids were running in and out of the sanctuary, and the building was unattractive. In fact, the sign in front of the church was old and rusted so you know that this church was not heavy into marketing. There were other churches in town, too.
I realized the presence of God does not favor the polished, put together, and the talented. The presence of God favors (for lack of a better word) things like desperation, desire, and dedication.
That small, Navajo church taught me something I have never learned in any church growth book. God must be present if real impacting growth is to happen. As a pastor, I can manufacture excitement, and manipulate people to fill the seats in many different ways. I have studied enough psychology. What church, though is really worth being at if God’s spirit is not there? There must be power.
That day changed the way I look at church. It is not about an incredible experience or impressive marketing campaign. If God is real, then he can take the preparation that we are able to give, the heart we sacrifice, and the attitude that we offer, and use that to change hearts. His spirit works.
Love you all.
A couple screams at each other with words that are sharper than any battle sword. Friendships and familial ties are broken because tension pulls them apart. If we were to be brutally honest, we would openly admit that relationships in any context are sometimes extremely difficult to maintain. We see this proven practically by the concept of divorce, legal actions, and passive aggressive social media comments indirectly directed at that one person who has caused grief in someone’s life.
These interactions take work, and to keep a steady and healthy disposition means that I must have “skin in the game” emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and even physically. Even though this is true, it does not negate the fact that I (we) often succumb to the temptation to control the world around us. The desire to will things to be different. Our innate sense of self sufficiency takes over and we desire to become kings and queens of our immediate surroundings.
When we are in conflict, we often wish that we can force the other person or situation to change. Why is this? Well, probably because we, as flawed humans, have a natural aversion to the idea that we may be part of the problem. In any case, we desire change, but it is hard to desire change within us. Obviously, we can agree that this is unhealthy.
There is a healthy side to this desire, though. If we, as Christ-followers, observe people who are living in a captivity of their own design, then there should be a deep desire to see them transformed by the gospel. Or, maybe someone is far away from God, and they have seen nothing but hostility and perceived hatred from those who claim Christ as their savior. Like any other similar impulse, we want to be the hero that changes these individuals. That way, we can stand in front of God in the afterlife and be showered with praise for a job well done. Our crown, gleaming with prizes.
No matter how hard we try, we can’t change the hearts of anyone. No amount of arguing, stubbornness, convincing, or even manipulation can redirect their hearts and eternal destiny. So stop trying. When we look at this from a broad perspective, it is easy to become discouraged. We may think that we have failed at our life’s calling. This is not true. There is more to consider.
When we look at scripture, and what Jesus teaches us about being His disciple, we realize that we are still vitally important in the rescuing of lost souls. This is because there are only 2 things we can change about people. That is… 1) what they hear from our lips, and 2) what they see in our actions.
It starts with us. We must be the example. Share joy today.