Some Lessons I’ve Learned Being A Pastor…
These are neither exhaustive, definitive, nor “everything you need to know” about being a pastor. They are simply, upon prayerful reflection, some of the lessons God has taught me about being a pastor as I have pastored over the last 9+ years.
1. Utilize social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.) to share Jesus’ love/wisdom/encouragement. A tweet here, a post there of a Bible verse that has grabbed your heart, a quote that has strengthened your faith, a song that has drawn you into the worship of God, or an article that has instructed you are simple but powerful ways to disciple a congregation (and evangelize friends/strangers!) utilizing modern technology outside of weekend worship services.
2. Teach others to fish (provide user-friendly resources they can use to grow closer to God on their own). Instead of giving people great books to read, as you read a book, summarize each chapter in two or three bullet points and then pass on those points to others. If the Holy Spirit sparks a fire in a person’s hert, they can then go and read the book on their own.
3. Connect monthly with a group of trusted/high integrity/godly pastors (who do not attend your local church) for accountability, encouragement, and prayer. Give them permission to ask you really hard questions about your marriage, ministry, character, and integrity. This is not a Bible study, and it’s not a recreational time of hanging out. It’s the sometimes brutal but ever-important task of scraping iron against iron in order to sharpen us for the daily battles we face as men, husbands, dads, and pastors.
4. Allow yourself to be interrupted by people (listen empathetically to their hurts, their stories, their victories, their defeats). This is SO DIFFICULT FOR ME at times, but God has helped me over the years. At the end of the day, no matter how much you “accomplish for the LORD,” if you don’t love people, all you’ve done is made a lot of aggravating noise.
5. Focus on continuing to personally grow in your love for/faith in/friendship with/obedience to/enjoyment of the Trinity. As the lead dog pulling the sled, you will then be able to nurture the congregation as they grow closer to God. Pastoring is an art, not an equation; it is not a job but a relationship with God and His people.
6. Show people (staff, volunteers, attenders, visitors, strangers) continually that you care for them, that you are concerned for them, that you think of them. Speak your own “love language” if you have to, just speak it constantly.
7. Prioritize servanthood before leadership. Meetings, spreadsheets, and action plans are some of the ways that pastors serve a congregation. But make sure you are also staying “in the trenches” regularly–have you washed anyone’s feet lately? Just as a teacher continually updates his/her education/training, continually give yourselves opportunities to serve the congregation face-to-face, personally, and even behind-the-scenes with your sleeves rolled up and your brow damp with sweat. Jesus DID/DOES lead, but He specifically said that He primarily came to “serve…and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
8. Remember that God wants us to partner with Him in His work (but He doesn’t NEED us to partner with Him). We are NOT indispensable. The Kingdom of God began without us and will continue without us. It’s HIS-story.
9. Learn how pastors in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries were used mightily by the LORD and see which of their godly habits you can practice in your own life (don’t just focus on modern “successful” pastors of megachurches).
10. Prioritize your life: God, wife, children, church ministry, geographical neighbors, global neighbors, self. That order is imperative.
11. Write down insights that God teaches you (and share them with others!). People will be more willing to learn from you regularly when they see that you are learning from God regularly.
12. Share your struggles as much as possible/appropriate. Push yourself on this one. You are not a professional Christian, you are not more holy than the congregation, and you are not even necessarily more spiritually mature than the congregation. You are a beggar, chosen by God, to show other beggars where to get the Bread of Life.
13. You are always a pastor, wherever you go. For better or for worse, people never stop viewing you as a pastor, even if you sometimes do. Just remember that you are always representing Jesus. Always. That doesn’t mean that you always have to be religious/spiritual, but you do always have to be faithful.
14. Hold yourself to the same standard you hold the local congregation (and don’t only focus on your strengths!). Your sermons should convict yourself if they are going to convict (spur toward repentence/life-change) others. Doing this over time will cause you to grow closer to/more like Jesus WITH the congregation and will help to prevent you from merely talking at them like a parent scolding a child).
15. When teaching/preaching about God, try to remember that He is not a cadaver to be studied, dissected, and inspected. He is a Person (and His is ALIVE!) to be known more intimately than your spouse. Introduce Him to the congregation and over time they too will learn to run into Jesus’ arms and not simply think of God as a collection of facts.
16. Resist the temptation over time to surround yourself with people who think/act/minister exactly like you. Recruiting/hiring leaders who have strengths that you don’t might cause your ministry “plans/goals” to happen more slowly, but they will often happen (or not happen when necessary!) more smartly. Your team needs the freedom to be respectful nay-sayers, to humbly call you out if they spot drift in your character/words/actions. We Davids need our Nathans…
17. Though there is indeed no formula to this and it is certainly a life-long process, focus on learning how to “live by the power of the Holy Spirit.“ Too many American pastors (myself included!) are working too hard on our own strength and too weakly on the Holy Spirit’s strength. If youa re constantly working 55+ hours per week, you are probably A. doing too much, B. not delegating enough, C. not relying on the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is not about rowing harder, it’s about learning to open up our sails so the Holy Spirit can power us through His Holy wind. I am still in Kindergarten regarding this, but many pastors aren’t even registered for school…
18. Keep your heart free from bitterness against colleagues and congregation-members; this is one of the most constant battles you will face as a pastor. Jesus’ longest recorded prayer in the Gospels centered on His desire that we His people be unified. It’s important to Christ thus it is important for the evil one to try and destroy.
19. Don’t have a huge house, and don’t drive a really nice car. Seriously. No matter how successful God allows you to be, live very very modestly. Model for your congregation sacrificial giving, simple living, living for the next life, and storing up treasures in heaven. I didn’t say teach those things, I said model them.
20. Don’t worry about being relevant…focus on learning to be faithful…to Jesus, to your spouse, to your children, to the people who attend the local church where you serve, to the people God has placed in your daily path. Learn to faithfully, genuinely, consistently, and sacrificially love them, and you will be Biblically relevant even if you aren’t culturally relevant.
21. Don’t ever give up on pastoring. Never. Never. Never. Not for more money, a calmer profession, to chase your dreams of being a professional athlete, or any other reason. God has honored you with this call; do not trade it for a bowl of stew.
I pray that is helpful, my friends. I am so excited about the men God is creating you to be, about what He is doing through you now and will do through you in the future.
Your Humble Servant…