In May of 2006 I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary ready to take on the world for Jesus! It took a couple of months for me to land at a church and begin my pastoral ministry. On September 1, 2006 I walked into the offices of First Baptist Church in Smithville, TN for my first day as their pastor. At that time, I had already been preaching God’s Word for about 9 years. I would go anywhere and say yes to every opportunity presented to me to preach. But on that day I took a title that I had never before had: Pastor.
In the 10 years since that day, needless to say, I have learned a lot, and I would like to share a few of those thoughts with you in this post. Two important notes before we begin: First, the following list is not in order of importance (or any order for that matter). Second, these are things that flow from my experience and perspective having served 2 small to medium sized churches in the last 10 years. (First Baptist Smithville from Sept 2006 until Feb 2014 & Bethlehem Baptist Crossville from March 2014 to present).
One final note: I have written this list in the format of “things I would tell myself if I could have a conversation with myself on that first day 10 years ago”
1. Being a pastor is a joy, honor, and privilege. I truly feel this way with all my heart. There’s an interesting verse at the end of Hebrews that says this…
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. – Hebrews 13:17
2. Don’t be afraid of the hard things. It’s not all easy, not even close. The Bible says we are to bring back those who wander from the faith; confront people in their sin; preach and stand on the truth no matter the cost, etc. None of those things are easy, particularly for someone such as myself: I am an introvert and very non-confrontational. But I have learned the hard stuff often bears much fruit. Obedience is best.
3. Don’t be afraid of the vocal minority. What’s that you ask? The vocal minority is a person or small group of people within the church who like to make their opinions known, often in rather intimidating ways. Thus, they are vocal. They are also a minority within the church but like to make themselves sound like they are bigger and more in number than they truly are. You can’t run a church by doing what the vocal minority wants.
4. Every sermon won’t be a home run. Most of the time I feel like I strike out when I preach. There are many Sundays I don’t like my own sermon. There are many other Sundays when I feel like the little boy offering Jesus his fish and loaves…then Jesus takes that pitiful little offering and does something huge with it. I’ve come to this conclusion: Write your sermon. Place it in God’s hands. Let him do what he wants with it. It’s not about you anyways.
5. There’s not time for Greek and Hebrew. I had 5 semesters of Greek and 4 of Hebrew in seminary. I was good at the languages in 2006. Today, most of that is gone and I rarely have time to do much beyond a word study in the original languages. It’s just reality for me as a small to mid size church pastor. And I no longer feel guilty about this because I realize that God speaks to his people through whatever language we speak. And we have some awesome English translations. Bible software has come a long way and is very good at helping you with the languages. I use Logos 6. And speaking of seminary…
6. Receiving solid biblical training at a seminary is a true privilege. At first, I thought this was just what you did. Want to be a pastor? Go to seminary. But in 2010, I did something for the first time that totally changed my perspective on biblical training. I traveled to and trained pastors in a 3rd world country. These men were just like me: trying faithfully to pastor their church. Only these men were doing so without any training and without and books or resources. We had an awesome week together. I saw how privileged I was to have been able to set aside 4 years of my life to attend a solid biblical seminary. So, now I’m hooked. I have traveled many places training pastors and it is always a huge honor to do so. I love those brothers in Christ who serve him so faithfully with so little. I also see this passage of Scripture in a new light…
Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:48
7. God has some really genuine, heart-of-gold people. In our culture, the church gets a lot of negative press for things we say, for things we do, and for things we believe. But everywhere I’ve been, I’ve met and served alongside amazing people. The difficult people are there too, but there are waaaaaay more amazing, heart-of-gold people. These people show the reality of the Christian faith in their lives everyday and prove that God can change hearts!
8. Delegation is critically important but really difficult. So, leadership is really important, and it’s really difficult. Leadership with volunteers is a very unique type of leadership. If the pastor does everything in a church then it will make the church very sick. The congregation must do the work of the ministry. My job is to equip them and empower them to do so. Delegation of ministry is difficult because many times I can do the thing I am delegating in a better or more efficient manner. But, I have learned that delegating to and empowering people is better because they feel ownership of the ministry. And the Lord always comes through!
9. Gravity pulls a church’s focus inward. Churches tend, just as people do, to focus on themselves. It’s just natural. I think one of the primary jobs of a pastor is to make sure that the church has its eyed focused upward (on the Lord) and outward (on the world around it). This makes for a healthy church.
10. Plateaued churches are not bad or dead (nor headed that way). I completely disagree with all the doom and gloom research surrounding plateaued churches, and I’m going to tell you why: It takes a huge amount of growth to keep a church plateaued because there are always people moving away, slacking in attendance, leaving your church for another, etc. It’s that simple. A plateaued church is a growing church. Plateaued churches are reaching people for Christ. Plateaued churches are doing good ministry. Plateaued churches are relevant to our world.
11. (Bonus reflection) – The church belongs to Jesus Christ. This takes the load off your shoulders pastor. Both of the churches I have pastored existed long before I was ever born. Both of them will exist long after I die. It’s the church of Jesus Christ, bought with his blood. God knows how to prosper and keep his church. As a pastor, my job is to be faithful.