I’ve been involved in ministry since I put my faith in Christ in 2010. I’ve served as a worship leader in a 5th and 6th grade ministry. I’ve served young professionals at the Summit Church in Raleigh, NC. I’ve led a small group for two years, I’ve served as a Sunday school teacher, and I’ve led the college and career ministry of a rural Southern Baptist church.
And this February, I joined the leadership team of The Gathering Church as an elder and teaching pastor. I’ve learned a lot since I first climbed onto the stage to lead a bunch of middle school students in worship with my pitchy voice and an acoustic guitar, but the challenges that I’ve experienced in my first six months in pastoral ministry have far exceeded anything that I’ve encountered throughout the years.
Below are some of the lessons that I’m learning. I hope that my experience will help you navigate some of the challenges that you may experience in your varied positions of leadership, in the church, in the home, and in the workplace.
1. Model your faith.
“Teaching” goes beyond the pulpit or the classroom. As the old adage goes, many things in life are “caught, not taught.” What we teach with our words must be reinforced with what we teach through our actions.
For the pastor, your people need you to model your faith. They need to see how you serve. They need to see how you disciple a new generation of leaders. They need to see you fail and watch you get back up and press on.
Is this not how Jesus did ministry? His words and his actions complemented one another. He taught in both word and deed and his disciples continued serving and teaching long after the ascension.
Rather than just preaching a sermon on evangelism, preach your sermon and then invite them alongside of you as you share your faith. Rather than simply teaching about hospitality, teach them and then invite them into your home to see how hospitality is done, and then encourage them to replicate what they saw.
Put your faith on display and your people will follow long after you’re gone.
2. Show people you care.
If I may use another cliche, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
If you know me personally, you know that I’m extremely introverted. I need time to myself, so I carefully guard the time that I spend around other people.
I show my love for people through the work that I do behind the scenes, so I need to take special care to spend time with people, to listen to them, to encourage them.
To make that happen, I’ve changed my routine from serving behind the scenes on Sunday mornings to teaching our adult Sunday school class. This gives me the opportunity to spend time with our people in a way that suits my nature.
As a result, I find that people respond more openly to my preaching, teaching, and leadership. A small change in my behavior has gone a long way toward my effectiveness in leading our congregation.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
In pastoral ministry, you can’t assume anything.
You can’t assume that the first time guest who shows up to church on Sunday morning is a Christian.
You can’t assume that the smiling young woman in your congregation isn’t struggling with a deep sorrow that needs to be healed.
You can’t assume that the perfect Christian dad in your congregation isn’t struggling with a secret sin that his family doesn’t even know about.
You can’t assume that the homeless guy on the highway is there because he’s a drunk.
You can’t assume that the guy with tattoos and piercings is a “bad person.”
As we looked at above, spend time with people. Ask them how they’re doing. For people you’ve just met, ask them about their story.
Look for signs of discouragement or sorrow that they’re too afraid or ashamed to talk about.
Be gentle. Show that you care. Create a safe environment to talk about the things that aren’t easy to talk about. Most of all, ask, because we cannot make assumptions.
4. You can’t please everyone.
Shortly after my ordination, an older couple started attending our church. They had great things to say in public, but behind closed doors, it was a different story. They complained about the music. They complained about the preaching. They complained about my youth, my inexperience, the way we dressed.
To be fair, they raised some really good points and gave us some specific areas in which we could grow. But while they wanted us to change everything about what we do to in order to meet their expectations, they weren’t willing to invest their gifts and talents to serve the church.
It turns out, you can’t please everyone. In the face of criticism, look for room to grow, but keep your eyes on your goal and stay true to your calling. Don’t let yourself be influenced by people who are out for your destruction.
5. Pastoral ministry is lonely.
Pastors spend much of their time with people, but they have have very few close personal friends.
On weeks when I preach, I spend 20 to 30 hours of my time reading, studying, praying, and writing in order to prepare my sermon, and that time is on top of the time I spend leading my company and participating in regularly-scheduled ministry activities.
That time comes out of time with family and friends. Over time, people get used to hearing, “I can’t go out this weekend; I need to work on my sermon” and they stop asking you to do things.
Time is your only non-renewable resource, so guard it carefully. Be intentional in scheduling work time so that you have room to schedule time with friends and family.
Connect with people outside of your minsitry, work, and family environments who can speak into your life and encourage you. If you can afford it, invest in a coach to help you set and meet personal goals.
Most importantly, be on guard for signs of depression. Isolation and loneliness cut you off from the encouragement and support of those who care about you.
There is always something else to do—another phone call to make, another Sunday school lesson to prepare, another budget meeting to plan.
God created us to require rest to show us that we are finite. We aren’t all-powerful. We aren’t eternal. We aren’t God.
We need rest, and to take a break when everything around you seems like it’s falling apart honors God by demonstrating your reliance on Him.
I recommend pastors and leaders and their wives spend at least one weekend out of town away from the pressures of church and ministry at least once per quarter. Don’t make it a big, complicated trip. Don’t pack your itinerary full of activities. The purpose of this time is to recharge, not to cause more stress.
Schedule time for rest into your week. Take time to watch a movie with your family, or just spend some time reading a good fiction book or watching a TV show. It’s not a sign of weakness or a “guilty pleasure” but a good gift from God to help you rest.
Lastly, prioritize satisfying personal and family devotions and prayer time to connect with the Lord. Rely on the strength and power that God provides by His Spirit to recharge you and prepare you for the week ahead.
What would you add?
I could add another dozen lessons to this post, but we’ll save them for another day. In the meantime, how can you apply these principles in your leadership? In your work place? In your ministry? What lessons have you learned about life, work, and ministry?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.