After I had graduated from seminary, I met with a local pastor to discuss my options. I had to decide if I wanted to pursue a “senior” pastorate or if I wanted to pursue a staff position. He told me to go and “cut my teeth” at my first position. What a graphic, yet accurate, description of many pastors’ first experiences.
After much prayer and other counsel, I took a staff position. It was a heart-wrenching decision, but I believe God has worked great things through it. I am so grateful for that pastor and his willingness to be brutally honest with me.
However, that was nearly five years ago, and I have just recently completed my first year at my first pastorate. I wrote this article to provide assistance to other would-be first-time pastors from the perspective of someone who just “cut his teeth.”
The points below are just the tip of the iceberg. So many other lessons could be, and should be, taught to young prospective pastors. These are three significant lessons that have impacted me greatly in ministry.
Fight only the necessary battles. Battles exist everywhere in life, and the church is no exception. We have all heard the war stories from our professors and pastors about crazy business meetings, or factions in the church taking up arms against the pastor. My father is a pastor/professor, and I’ve heard my fair share just from him.
That being said, the vast majority of battles are smaller in scope and severity. In your first year, you will feel some level of pressure to personally “handle” every disagreement and round up all the “troublemakers” and make things right. Of course, this desire to shepherd the church naturally exists and should be a driving force in ministry. However, your responsibility lies in defending and keeping the church, not always parenting all of its members.
Another pastor once told me that there are thousands of hills to die on, and you do not have to die on each and every one of them. The key to this principle is knowing which battles you must fight. Some battles are no-brainers, such as doctrinal orthodoxy or grievous sin in the church, but others are not so easy to distinguish.
Jesus says in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” This indicates that believers must be innocent in their character, but wise as to their interactions with all people. We ask God for the wisdom to know what battles must be won. All pastors should have the attitude of King Solomon when he asked God for the wisdom to lead His people well.
Seek out the counsel of more experienced men. Proverbs 15:22-24 states, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed. …” This passage has instilled itself as one of my life verses.
There is immense value in having older, wiser men alongside you in ministry. Find pastors to mentor you and meet with you regularly. They help keep you accountable, encourage you, love you, laugh with you, cry with you, and stand arm in arm with you in battles to come.
Every “Timothy” should have at least one “Paul.” If you are a “Paul” without a “Timothy,” go get one.
Give much grace, especially to yourself. Grace, or receiving a gift that you do not deserve, is the cornerstone of ministry. It is the cornerstone of the gospel, the cornerstone of practical ministry, and the foundation given to all believers. After all, followers of Christ are saved by grace through faith. If the ultimate grace has been given to us by God, we should be giving grace to others in response. None of your church members deserves the grace, and neither do you, but it is freely given by God and should be freely expressed by us.
You will make mistakes. You will say the wrong thing, at the wrong time. You will not visit a certain person when they want you to. You will preach too long. No matter what, there will be times when a little grace given goes a long way. If we treat others the way we want to be treated, and love others as Christ has first loved us, then what a gift grace is when given to us by our church members. Your mistakes will hurt much less when you exemplify a humble and grace-giving spirit to your congregation.
Lastly, give your family some grace. If you do not know now, you will soon know that being the spouse or child of a pastor can be difficult. Just remember that your family is your first ministry, and your first responsibility. Often, how a pastor treats his family can mirror how he treats his congregation. God will hold you specifically responsible for how you led and loved your spouse and your children.
Just remember, grace is not reserved only for your family and your congregation. Oftentimes, the pastor’s biggest enemy is himself. Stop looking at mistakes you have made or comparing yourself to the larger church down the road, and start looking at the greatness that God has in store. Get up the morning after that rough Sunday and love the Lord, love your family and work in the calling that God has given you. B&R