This week completes 20 years of serving in vocational ministry of some kind. I spent my first 8 years serving as an associate pastor in a variety of roles in several different churches (May 1995 – August 2003). These last 12 years have been spent as Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church (September 2003 – May 2015). There are several lessons to reflect upon, many through pain and suffering. Here are 20 in light of my 20 years:
1. God’s Word is sufficient to build Christ’s church.
I remember my first Sunday as Senior Pastor, I sat alone in the sanctuary wondering if the doors of this church would be open a year later. I realized in all my cleverness or worldly wisdom I could not save this church. I believed then that God, by his Spirit and through his word, was sufficient to build his church and revitalize it. Over a decade later, I have watched God do that very thing.
2. The Gospel is powerful enough to change lives.
Programs, gimmicks, or personality do not change people’s hearts. Nor do these things give life to a church that had been in decline for over thirty years. For twenty years, I have watched the gospel free people from the bondage of sin and give hope to the hopeless. I have watched the gospel unite old and young, black and white, rich and poor, and give life to our church. The gospel of Jesus Christ is enough to change lives and revitalize any local church.
3. An effective pastor is one who feels deeply.
The church has bought into this phony idea of strong biblical masculinity being a stoic, unemotional, unrattled man. The Bible paints a different picture, one in which true masculine strength is a man who feels deeply so he is able to love passionately and sacrifice willingly. Feeling deep emotion causes our heads to descend into our hearts, allowing us to empathize with hurting people. An effective pastor is one who owns his weakness, is secure in Christ enough to be vulnerable, and suffers with others.
4. Hang on to your family.
I was once told, “You can always have another ministry. You only get one wife.” I would add your children also grow up so fast and they need their dad. Make sure you balance ministry and family life in such a way that your wife and children still feel like they come first, even in the midst of the grind of ministry. I learned to take all my vacation time. I learned not to answer the phone during dinner, devotions, and my day off. Don’t forget, if you lose your family, you may lose the right to serve in ministry (1 Tim. 3:4-5).
5. Don’t underestimate the value of older members.
Because it is hard for older, existing members of a dying and declining church to accept a young pastor and a different direction, it is easy to view them as obstacles. I know this because I did. Yet, the longer I stayed at my current church, the longer both I and these long time members battled to love each other and work together. I thought I was the one being very patient with them in the early years. As time went one, I realized how patient they were actually being with me as a young pastor trying to grow.
6. Pursue being wanted, not needed.
For the first several years as Senior Pastor, I was told that I would probably be the last pastor of this church. When I left for my sabbatical a couple of years ago, my hope was to come back and realize how much I had truly become unneeded. That is what I experienced and expendability never felt so good. Yet, I still feel more wanted than ever. That should be the goal for us as pastors: that we build leadership around us so the church is not dependent on one person, and yet we are fruitful enough in ministry that we are still wanted by our church. Not the best formula for job security, but a wonderful plan for a healthy church.
7. Don’t neglect your own soul.
Paul told the Ephesian elders to, “Take heed to yourselves and your flock” (Acts 20:28). Pastors know to take heed to their flock, but often forget the call to take heed to themselves. For twenty years, the moments where I was not at my best or was batting with sin more could always be traced back to some kind of neglect towards my own soul. Pastors, cut something out and do what you must to care for your own soul. If you are not refreshed by the Lord’s grace and Spirit daily, you will not be at the right place to minister that grace to others.
8. Faithfulness is worth the harshest of criticisms.
There have been hard decisions made in every church I served. Members have been disciplined out of the church. Men who just completed seminary were counseled not to pursue ministry. Attenders were not allowed to become members. Other members were removed out of neglect. Unpopular decisions to defend the gospel in the community were mocked. I have endured many harsh words in every church position because of decisions made seeking to obey Scripture. There was a year my name was so slandered that people knew me only through those painful words spoken when I would walk into a store or coffee shop. The harshest words are worth enduring with the hope that when I stand before Christ He will count me faithful.
9. Authentic brokenness in a pastor is better than unique giftedness.
So many men are envious of the gifts of others. Pastors are no different. We tend to think we need the mind of D.A. Carson, the preaching passion of John Piper, and the charisma of Matt Chandler, or we will not serve our church well. But I have learned that a pastor who will own his brokenness, weakness, and neediness for Jesus in an honest and authentic way before his congregation is valuable and serves a church faithfully. Modeling how to walk humbly with Jesus is worth more than the most exceptional ministry gifts.
10. Training men for ministry is an unspeakable joy.
Other than seeing conversions to Christ, one of the greatest joys of these last twenty years has been training men for ministry, sending them out, and then watching them flourish in that new ministry. Although it is hard and painful to send some of your best, most gifted out from you, it is worth it and a great personal joy.
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SOURCE: Practical Shepherding