Advice to a young pastor

Searching the net, it is fascinating to see what advice experienced pastors are offering to those setting out in ministry.

Chuck Lawless, Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary, offers 20 ‘words of advice: (1) Always be a learner; (2) Learn the stories of your people; (3) Love the grandparents in your church; (4) Love the children in your church; (5) Be patient; (6) Laugh [Today the situation you face may seem unbearable. I assure you some of today’s events will be comical in the future]; (7) Invest in at least three people; (8) As much as possible, don’t do ministry alone; (9) Be willing to apologize; (10) Don’t forget your spouse and children; (11) Adore the church; (12) Don’t be afraid of numbers [You can evaluate numbers without idolizing them]; (13) Be accountable to somebody; (14) Beware of ‘lostness’ apathy [remain concerned for unbelievers); (15) Keep up with the news; (16) Work hard; (17) Seek financial guidance; (18) Keep records [of baptisms, weddings and funerals]; (19) Plan now to end your ministry well; (20) Thank God [I have NO idea why God allows me to be a leader in His church. He does, though, and I get to do something that affects eternity]

As a result of going through a tough time which caused him to leave ministry after 25 years of service Bruce Gerencser has eight ‘words of advice’: (1) Don’t confuse your self-identity with the church; (2) Don’t sacrifice your children or spouse for the sake of the church; (3) Choose which battles are worth fighting; (4) Be willing to say, ‘I don’t know’; (5) Be aware of the traps that can destroy your ministry, especially the big two – money and women; (6) Insist that the church pay you well – do not be a full-time worker for part-time pay; (7) Make sure there is an annual pay review procedure in place; (8) If at all possible, own your own home.

‘Pastor Neil’, on the verge of retirement, has just three ‘words of advice’: (1) Be professional – try to embrace your role as pastor as best you can; (2) Love your people. Don’t depend on them! [Some of your parishioners will never be happy with you]; (3) Work hard on your spiritual formation – how can you effectively nurture the souls of your people if your soul is depleted?

Without taking away from any of these words of wisdom, my own list is a little different:-

  1. Be professional – and give your very best to God.
  2. Organise your time. This is especially true of those who are ‘solo’ ministers and have no senior pastor to set an agenda. Ministers need to be good managers of themselves.
  3. If possible, work from church. This encourages efficiency and accessibility – and enables home to be home.
  4. Dream dreams. At least once a month set aside an afternoon to be a ‘possibility thinker’. To achieve great things, we must first expect great things!
  5. Work at creating a vision for your church. Dreams need to be refined into vision statements, which in turn call for appropriate strategies and detailed goals.
  6. Give a lead. A key task of any pastor is to spearhead the church’s mission and ministry. Remember too that chairing a meeting is an exercise in leadership.
  7. Prepare for meetings. Don’t delegate the creation of agendas to others, and be intentional in what you want meetings to achieve
  8. Create a job description for yourself, and identify your responsibilities, recognising that over the years your role may change.
  9. Be accountable – ask for an annual appraisal (with two deacons and an external ministerial facilitator) and find a spiritual director.
  10. Cultivate your leaders. Visit them in their homes, and frequently share with them your vision for ministry and your passion for Jesus.
  11. Be a team player – and not just a team leader. Empower others and allow others to get the credit when credit is due.
  12. Be positive. Shun negativity and never complain. Always exude a positive spirit both in the pulpit as also in one-to-one relationships
  13. Affirm your people constantly – and never criticise them. Thank them for their love and support, and express appreciation for the time and effort given by volunteers.
  14. Make friends. Although as a pastor you need to be the friend of all, it is good to have special friends for relaxation and encouragement.
  15. Practise hospitality – and encourage your people to be hospitable too.
  16. Work hard – but not too hard. Aim to average 50 hours a week, but don’t work every hour God gives – it’s not healthy for you, nor is it fair to your family.
  17. Visit all your flock. As a rule of thumb, you never know a person until you see them in their home setting. Let your people see you love them.
  18. Write up your visits and conversations. Memos can be very useful in the future when perhaps your memory is less fresh.
  19. Write your sermon early in the week – and never leave it to a Saturday.
  20. Preach on the big texts – often! Don’t forget to preach frequently on the ‘red letter’ words of Jesus. And preach expectantly!
  21. Keep reading, and so keep fresh in ministry. Aim to read at least one book a month. Suggest to your church treasurer that the buying of books is a valid expense!
  22. Establish a spiritual discipline – and remember that the church is paying you to study the Scriptures and to pray.
  23. Ensure you have a day off – and keep it sacrosanct. Death apart, never allow the church to impinge on your ‘sabbath’
  24. Make the most of holidays.
  25. Persevere – and never give up!

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