It’s hard to believe, but this May will mark my 15th anniversary in pastoral ministry. This has been a deeply gratifying and rewarding experience, and I am grateful to God for His call upon my life. In some ways, I am still just a beginner in ministry, but I have also learned many lessons during my first 15 years in the Church. Allow me to share a few.
The centrality of prayer
Ministry makes enormous demands on the pastor and his family. There is always something more to do, and because of all the busyness, pastors can often push prayer aside. This can damage the pastor’s life and ministry, especially over time. Therefore, the pastor must ensure he builds prayer into the daily rhythms of his life.
I am thankful for a church that holds my family and me up in prayer, along with other friends and family members who do the same. Ministry is war! Without prayer, the minister is headed for trouble.
The Word of God propels spiritual growth
I guess I am a slow learner, but it took me a while to realize that the Word of God is central to our growth in Christian maturity (Matthew 4:4 1 Peter 1:22-2:3). I see pastors all the time relying on gimmicks, programs, and more gimmicks – things that promise to make disciples and fulfill the Great Commission, but in the end are found lacking.
Shepherds must ensure the flock is well-fed to grow and flourish in the Lord. This cannot happen without faithful and consistent Bible teaching. There is simply no substitute! The sooner we learn that the Word of God is sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17), the sooner we will see true gospel growth in our churches.
The need for patience and perseverance
I grew up on a farm and know the importance of patience when sowing and reaping. The farmer plants his crop in the spring but has to wait several months until harvest. If people grow through the Word of God (as we have just established), it will require patience over the long haul. Pastors must commit to faithfully teaching the Word of God year after year. There will be a harvest in due time, but it takes patience and perseverance.
Expect times of trial, disappointment, and suffering, but persevere in the strength and grace that only Christ can provide (James 4:6). Also, keep in mind the words of the apostle Paul:
The importance of one-to-one discipling relationships
I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. When Philip found the eunuch reading Isaiah 53, he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading? And he said, ‘How can I unless someone guides me?’… Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:30-31, 35).
The pastor must set the tone when mentoring and discipling relationships in the church. It starts with one person discipling another, with the Word of God as the focal point. This sets a multiplication process in motion, where disciples make more disciples. Paul told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The pastor can’t disciple everyone, but he can train a few who will train a few, and so on.
Foster a loving church culture
What is a healthy church? I suppose there are a few ways of answering this question, but one indispensable quality of a healthy church is love among the brethren (John 13:34-35). Plain and simple, within a healthy church, people care for one another, serve one another, and ultimately love one another (Galatians 5:13). Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19), and now genuine love is the mark of every true church. When we begin to comprehend the love of God in our own lives, we can’t help but love one another.
Family ministry is a critical part of the Pastor’s job.
When I started pastoral ministry, it was around the same time that Steph and I got married. We had two years of marriage to settle down and get to know one another, but then the Lord blessed us with children. And not just one little bambino, but twins!
I felt a strong tension during those first few years of being a dad and a pastor. I wanted to be at the church or out doing ministry, but at the same time, I wanted to be at home with my family. Finding the right balance was a real challenge for me, and it still is.
Along the way, a fellow pastor gave me wise counsel. He reminded me that an essential part of pastoral ministry is to shepherd your family. In the qualifications given for elders and overseers, Paul writes:
Paul is not suggesting pastors should spend all their time at home, but he is saying that the home is a critical aspect of the pastors’ ministry.
Neglecting your family in the name of “doing what God has called me to do” is never a good idea. That is not a way to find success in the eyes of the Lord. Rather than seeing your family as a hindrance to your ministry, see them as your ministry. This paradigm shift was significant for me, but it has made an enormous difference.
What a valuable asset my wife is
One year our church was holding a candlelight Christmas service when my wife rescued me in a big way. Near the end of the service when all the candles were lit, and we had just sung Silent Night, I was getting ready to go up and close the service. My mind was focused on what I wanted to say in closing, and as I reached for the handheld mic, I unwittingly went to set my candle down on the pew in front of me. Thankfully, my wife, Steph, caught me and grabbed my candle just in time, saving me from much embarrassment (and possibly the church from a fire).
Steph is my most trusted friend and counselor and has been an immense help to me in ministry. She has a huge heart for women’s ministry, and deeply loves the Word of God. Most of what she does goes unnoticed by our congregation, but not by me.
Pastors (and husbands in general), thank God for your wife and treasurer her, for she is an incalculable blessing. (Proverbs 31:10-12)
Endurance leads to fruitfulness
Serving the Lord as a pastor for these 15 years has been a huge joy and privilege. I could undoubtedly share more lessons, and I know there are many more to learn. God has always been faithful, and He always will be. If you are a pastor, never forget the blessing and privilege of serving the Lord in this way. There will be days, no doubt, when you want to throw in the towel, but don’t give up! As Paul writes, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). God has promised His servants a great reward if they persevere and don’t give up (2 Timothy 4:8).
What Makes a Pastor Successful