I just celebrated my 5th anniversary as pastor of Fairview Church. I am so thankful to be their pastor, and I am blessed by how well they love our family. It’s been, honestly, a very quick time here. I stopped to reflect over that time and some of the things I have learned. Being 5 years older, I realize even more the foolishness of youth that thinks it has it all figured out. I certainly have much more to learn, and this list is neither authoritative nor exhaustive, but I do pray it will be beneficial.
- The preaching ministry is only part of pastoral ministry
I love preaching and teaching the Bible, and I wish I could say the reason our church is awesome and so many people want to be a part of it is because of my preaching. However, I am under no illusion, and you shouldn’t be either. Sorry! People don’t stay in the church because of your rhetorical skills! People stay in a church because of relationships. So, leading your church to develop great small groups is one of the key roles of pastoral ministry. People will only grow in Christlikeness if they have significant relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Spend a lot of time studying the Word and work hard to rightly divide it, but don’t ONLY do that!
- Make sure you carve out time to take vacations with your family
Pastoral ministry can we wearisome and exhausting. Waiting with families as their loved one dies, preaching the funerals of babies, and resolving conflicts in the church take their toll on you – and your family! Make sure that you plan time away with your wife and with your family where there are no distractions. You do not do “pastoral duties,” you do not answer emails, you do not make pastoral calls, and you do not leave vacation early to come home. When my wife and I went on our 10th wedding anniversary vacation, I literally turned off my phone for a few days (and the world didn’t end). I would highly recommend that. Give your family your undivided time and attention.
- Build a team and invest in young leaders
There’s a reason why NT churches had a plurality of leadership, and practically speaking, you need that in your church as well. Since you need to go on vacations where you are not distracted, you also need a leadership team in place who can shepherd and minister while you are gone. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter what size your church is, you can’t do all the ministry yourself (and you shouldn’t anyways). Spend significant time mentoring young leaders who can be raised up to be gospel ministers. Surround yourself with a team that you love doing ministry with. It makes ministry that much more fun! For example, we do a pastoral training school at Fairview called “Equip” in partnership with Southeastern Seminary. We’ve had a dozen or so young guys that have participated in it, and it has been incredible seeing how God is using them now and what he is getting ready to do through them.
- It is all a process
When I came to Fairview, David Platt told me something that another older minister had told me, “Don’t overestimate what you can accomplish in 5 years and don’t underestimate what you can accomplish in 30 years.” Shepherding takes time! Some people make the mistake of trying to change everything immediately and make a huge splash, and often churches aren’t ready for that and don’t respond well. Many church members think to themselves, “I was here before you when the last pastor rolled out a brand new vision, mission statement and core values, and now he’s gone and you are rolling out brand new stuff, and I will be here when you’re gone too.” It’s not that they aren’t willing to follow leadership; it’s just that it takes time to build trust. I’m not saying don’t change anything in your first few years. There are some things that need to be changed. But, pick your battles wisely, and have a long haul view. It took Moses 40 years to get people from Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised Land! If you are patient, love the people, and build out changes from clear biblical teaching, then you will be amazed at what God does to revitalize a church – in both 5 years and 30 years!
Be sure to stay posted for Part Two!