Hard-Learned Advice for the Prospective Young Pastor*

When I went through the Teacher Education program at the University of Central Arkansas (Instrumental Music Education), I was convinced that – upon graduation, I was fully equipped and “ready” to take on the world. After all, I had a mind filled with knowledge, advice from those who had “been there”, and a whole semester of pretend teaching (aka – Student Teaching). I had passed the Test (newly renamed the Praxis Testing). I was A Teacher!

Then I entered the real world, where all the knowledge I thought I had garnered was only a tiny bit of what I needed to know. I entered blindsided, beaten, and bruised. It took about 5 years in the band room to finally begin to even pretend reasonably that I had a clue.

So it should not have been a surprise to find that, upon the irresistible (and boy did I try!) call of God to enter pastoral ministry, I would again find myself in the familiar, unfamiliar world of eye-opening misadventure and bruising. While many lessons learned in 14 years of public school band directing has been a great toolbox to draw from, I find myself still in awe of how totally unqualified I often feel, and how broken my heart often is. I was given very little guidance as to the “real world” life of pastoral ministry, even in my otherwise hugely beneficial Seminary work. As a relatively short-term “veteran” of the pastoral ministry pulpit, I offer up the following words of wisdom/advice to the budding “young” (either in age, or to the call itself) pastor.

1. If you can do ANYTHING else other than pastoral ministry – then do THAT! I Heard this sage advice at some point after I began my first pastorate. Too late to benefit me and my own ministry, but not too late for many others who may follow. The long-and-short: If the Lord will allow you peace with the decision to pursue a secular career, avoiding pastoral ministry altogether, then you might rightfully guess that you are not called to pastoral ministry. Pastoral ministry WILL beat you up. Pastoral ministry WILL break your heart. There is a very solid reason that the “job” among the most honorable among all (according to the Bible), is high on the ranks of those jobs filled by men with depression. So – if you are able to walk away from the perceived “call”, then do. If you are genuinely called to this avenue – God will not let you have rest.

2. Do NOT try to be a friend to the church members in your care. This is not as sad as it sounds. You should indeed love the sheep as Jesus loves them. But just as I learned early-on in the public school classroom, if you are their “friend”, it grows much harder to speak to accountability and discipline. Further, these kinds of friendships rarely turn out well (I can count on one hand the number that I have experienced myself, or have heard other pastors reflect on, that have been long-term positives). Love them. Care for them, but do not befriend them unless you are prepared to be hurt in ways you never thought possible.

3. Don’t try this at home. Or better – do everything you can to isolate your pastoral ministry from your family. Protect your family. The unfortunate reality is – pastor’s wives (and even children) are often saddled with not only unreasonable expectations, but undo and unfair scrutiny and pressures. As a pastor, you will be called on to advise adults to leave their work AT WORK, so that it does not become a divisive stumbling block in their family – listen to that advice yourself!  Love your wife and children. Be the spiritual head of your household. But do not allow the pressures of pastoral ministry attack your family. Leave them at the church office/behind the pulpit. Love your family, protect your family.

4. NEVER skimp on your time with the Lord. The book of Acts (chapter 6) begins with the calling out of 7 deacons to help take care of the issues, fires, and service needed in that early church – why?  So the pastors/elders could devote themselves to prayer and the “ministry of the Word”. As a pastor, you must constantly be filling yourself with the Word of God – both for your own protection, edification, and preparation – just as we try to communicate to our church members, but also (and vitally important to the man trying to serve as an “undershepherd”) to being a faithful “Minister of the Word”. And when you reflect back on some of the other points of advice prior to this entry, and those following, prayer and the Word of God will help sustain you when you encounter the many tribulations, trials, and temptations that will most certainly come.

5. Find a brother in the ministry, not of your own congregation, who is willing to serve to hold you accountable and for moral support. We can easily forget that the one person in a local church who has no pastor, is the pastor! Yet we are human. We need someone to help us to stay accountable, to lift us up when we are beaten, and to hold our spiritual hand in prayer as we struggle. Remember the truth of the saying “no man is an island”.

6. Watch for knives! Its a shame that those called to ministry are not given the miraculous gift of x-ray vision. Be prepared, keep your eyes open, for there will be those who will pat you on the back, give you a great big hug, then plunge a huge knife into your back as soon as you let your guard down. The most likely to do this are not the anti-church people who are openly rebelling against God outside the church, but by those who have been entrusted to your care. The knives will sometimes begin as odd comments, or maybe secretive “behind-closed-doors” meetings that you won’t know about until after (if ever). Some people just do not like to hear stuff like Hebrews 13:17 that says to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Any time there is someone in authority, there will be those (even some with good intentions) who will despite chastisement, who will not appreciate sincere efforts to lead, and who will want it “their way”. It is the reality of ministry. 

7. Preach discipline, but don’t expect the church to exercise it willingly. Church discipline as outlined by Jesus, and detailed by the Apostle Paul is really pretty easy to preach and teach on, but is one of the most rejected/ignored concepts in most churches. There is always an excuse. There is always an extenuating circumstance. Someone will not want to hurt a friend or family member’s feelings. The Lord wouldn’t include clear instructions on the matter, if it were not important! But go in with your eyes open, knowing that there will be huge resistance to discipline.

8. If you are called by a church or denominational work to lead a congregation (especially a very small one) that has been through incredible turmoil and upheaval – think long, and pray harder. How often have we heard the story of a young lady marrying a fellow with the grand and almost altruistic goal of “I thought I could change him”? Very rare is the church that goes through massive turmoil or trouble that the blow up and/or split came out of the blue and was based on nothing. There are reasons that build up to such trouble. Splits rarely actually address the issue. Further, any pastor entering behind such a painful event in a church’s history (particularly a young and/or inexperienced pastor) will be put in a nearly no-win situation (nothing is impossible with Christ, don’t get me wrong). But starting out in such a position is a significant opportunity to derail and discourage a ministry before it even gets fully launched. It takes a truly gifted person, with a very specific and specialized set of gifts to be able to successfully minister in such situations.

9. Don’t “major in the minors”. While one can rightly say that 100% of God’s Word is important, it gets really easy to be bogged down personally with matters of doctrine, theology, and Christian faith that ultimately detract us from the Gospel and from the genuine “Majors” of the faith. It is easy to get tangled in everything from eschatology (theology of the end times) to the temperature the thermostats are set on. Don’t allow the relatively “little” things overcome the most important aspects of doing ministry. Save the hair=splitting details for discussion in spiritually mature contexts. Always speak the truth. Never compromise. But don’t get bogged down to the point where you lose the whole focus of the Word of God. 

10. Know that there will be “tares” among the wheat. (Matthew 13:24-30). The sad truth is – there will be unredeemed people who are “members” of any church. It is inevitable. They will sometimes be evident by a lack of any measurable spiritual growth, while at other times their presence will be made keenly obvious by their defiance, disobedience to God’s Word, selective acceptance of scripture, an through their own offense at the Word being proclaimed. These will often be chief among troublemakers and is a reminder of why Church Discipline is important – and why we must regularly, boldly, and faithfully:

11. Proclaim the Gospel! Charles Spurgeon once said (paraphrased) that with any Biblical text he would preach, he would start at the text and preach to the cross. All of Scripture, in some way, points to Christ. All of scripture fits into the great Gospel plan of redemption God laid out before the foundation of the world. The Gospel message is timeless, powerful, and the center of all the rest of our purpose, goals, and mission as a local church.

12. There is no “perfect church” – Churches are made up of human beings, with all the failings, issues, troubles, and concerns that come with this sinful flesh. The hope and prayer is that most will be born-again, and in the process of becoming more Christ-like. But in the meantime, remember – if there were a “perfect church”, none of us would be qualified to lead it, myself least qualified of all!

Know that – when you are betrayed (not if), that Jesus was betrayed. Know that, when your heart is broken, Jesus wept over Jerusalem… Know that you will be tempted and tried (Remember Jesus). But also cling to the truth that, if Jesus has called you to pastoral ministry, He is there with you. Just be faithful, grow some thick skin, and be true to the Word.

* Garnered from years of service, church membership, and friendships with fellow laborers. No specific individuals where in-mind while writing this, though certainly were I to dwell on it, I could “name-names”. But that serves no positive, God-glorifying purpose. I have chosen to forgive and to learn. And honestly, more than likely, even with this advice, you will (as I have time and again) fail to heed it – you will love the people you serve, and will make friends. You will be discouraged, you will be hurt and battered, but the Lord is faithful – and He will sustain you and carry you through. Stay true, run the race, and be faithful.

One thought on “Hard-Learned Advice for the Prospective Young Pastor*

  1. I pray that the reader does not take this post the wrong way – it was by no means meant as a rail against, or an attack on any particular person or situation, and most certainly is not intended as a critique of my current pastorate. An intentionally-broad brush was used for a reason – as it covers the realities across pretty much all pastorates (even crossing denominational lines). Every one of the 12 points/lessons/pieces of advice have been echoed by friends in ministry, many of whom have struggled with some pretty extreme examples.Had I read this list before I entered pastoral ministry, I do not believe it would have phased me – as I keep going back to #1 on the list – I tried with all my might to “just say no”… but the Lord would give no rest. He has confirmed time-and-again. I still make mistakes – I have hurt people (though I can honestly say it has never been intentional). I bear plenty of justified blame for my words and actions. I too often fall short.


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