The end of 2021 marked twenty-five years that I have served in pastoral ministry. The church is the bride of Christ, purchased by his own blood, and is precious in his sight. I have been reflecting on the joy of serving the church and want to share 25 lessons I have learned. These are not exhaustive, nor are they in a particular order. I may go back at a later time and write a series of posts, addressing each one individually.
1. The pastor’s identity is who he is in Christ, not in his role. Christ is enough.
2. The most important thing the pastor can do is abide in Christ and pursue him. Apart from him we can do nothing. Pray, spend time in the Word, and live out the truth of the gospel. The pastor should be able to say, as the Apostle Paul did, follow me as I follow Christ.
3. The pastor’s first ministry is in his home. If the ministry in the home is forfeited, there will be no ministry otherwise.
4. The call to ministry is what keeps the pastor’s hand to the plow. The call is internal by the leading of the Holy Spirit, and external by the affirmation of the church.
5. Ministry is difficult, but so is being a plumber, or a teacher, or a retail worker, or an engineer. Every vocation has its unique challenges.
6. People are more important than processes. The people in the church are treasured by Christ, they are not a means to an end.
7. Spiritual life is often a struggle. The pastor needs to strive to be holy and live a life of repentance.
8. We have a spiritual enemy who wants to sift us like wheat. Jesus intercedes on our behalf and advocates for us.
9. The pastor needs accountability and should welcome it from his wife, and trusted leaders around him in the church.
10. Shepherding is the biblical model for ministry. The pastor must keep his eyes on the Chief Shepherd.
11. The pastor should strive to be consistent. A church needs a pastor who is dependable and somewhat predictable. Stability is important.
12. The pastor needs to focus on and give attention to his primary field of service. We live in an age of distraction and it is easy to lose focus on primary responsibilities.
13. Tenure in the ministry should not be an idol. God’s people have always been a people on the move but a pastor and a church are like a marriage, and the relationship should be taken seriously.
14. The pastorate provides a front row seat into what God is doing in people’s lives unlike anything else.
15. Relationships are a blessing to the pastor. The joy of friendships and working together in Christ are significant. The wounds in ministry are also deep.
16. The pastor should not need people to need him. If he does, manipulation and a self-serving pattern of ministry can set in, and his ministry will eventually go off the rails. Point people to Christ. They need him far more than they need the pastor.
17. A church needs a pastor who believes in the truth and sufficiency of God’s Word. The pastor should consistently proclaim the Word in preaching and in every facet of his ministry.
18. A church needs a pastor who can capably lead. Whether it is sunny or stormy, people look to the leader at the helm.
19. The pastor needs a solid understanding of spiritual gifting and shared leadership and ministry in the church.
20. The pastor needs gratitude and should never take the privilege of serving the church for granted.
21. The pastor should be the chief encourager in the church.
22. The pastor needs courage to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said.
23. The pastor should lead the church in generosity.
24. The pastor should be a lifelong learner. It is easy to grow stagnant, and it is worth putting in the effort to stay sharp.
25. I have heard it said over the years that every pastor is an interim pastor. Meaning that none of us are on permanent assignment. Someone came before us and someone will come after us.
I want to finish well when the time comes. It matters how a pastor finishes. The pastor is remembered in large part by how he finishes his ministry and little else. The pastor will stand accountable before God for how he has shepherded the souls entrusted to him. This is a sobering reminder and reality.
A Pastor’s Prayer
Almighty God, thank you for life and for the gift of salvation. You called me out of darkness and into light. I deserved judgment but you lavished your grace on me through Jesus. I was headed for hell but you planted my feet solidly on the road to heaven. You blessed me with a wife and family to shepherd. In your sovereign will, you called and gifted me to be a pastor to shepherd your people and lead them to love you, love others, and reach the world with the good news about Jesus. Thank you for the church and the people who are a part of it. Help me to serve them well. I trust that as I share the gospel, and preach the gospel, and serve the church, that many others will be brought from death to life, for the glory of Christ.
1 Peter 5:1-4 I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.