I’m having a difficult time believing that within a week I will be celebrating my one year anniversary of becoming a pastor. A little over two years ago I was still living life on the belief that I would never be a pastor and that ministry in a church setting was not for me. I was hoping to be an active duty Army Chaplain and if that didn’t work out maybe a hospital chaplain or corporate chaplain. Anything but a pastor. It is pretty amazing how a year changes things. Come to think of it, it is pretty amazing how doing ministry changes a person. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of ministry and that my outlook was going to be pretty static as I became a pastor. Thankfully, this year has been anything but static. It has been one of change and growth.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned this year:
1. Be ready for a context change. I spent the five years before coming to Burden as a seminary student in one of the largest metro areas in the United States. Burden is a small town in rural Kansas. While the foundational doctrines of the faith do not change, the way ministry looks does. Doing church in rural Kansas has a different “feel” to it than in a city so if you come out of seminary expecting ministry to ebb and flow like in large urban churches that will likely not be the case.
2. Be ready to be changed. I came out of roughly eight years of studying the Bible in an academic setting to a ministry setting where people are less concerned about Greek and Hebrew and more concerned about if their crops will survive a dry summer. Ministry requires flexibility. This is something I am still learning and working through daily. I also came out of seminary believing I had a pretty good heart for people and for ministering to the poor and downtrodden. Over the past year God has been changing me to have a far greater awareness and sensitivity to the spiritual and physical needs of the community in Burden. This works to motivate me as I lead the church to better minister to our community as a whole because I see all around me the lost and broken people who need Jesus.
3. Take a break. There will be weeks, especially if you are serving in a small church and you are the only staff member, where you are swamped. Look at your calendar and see if you have one of those weeks coming up. See if you can get someone to full the pulpit for you that week. Preparing a sermon is too important to not devote your full attention to it. Plus, it will do your soul good to sit in the pews/chairs of your own church and be ministered to by someone else. If we pastors run ourselves ragged and commit to doing too much everything in our lives will suffer from our families to our administration to our sermons.
4. Go to conferences/meetings/fellowships. Pastors need to fellowship with other people in the ministry. This has been especially true for me as I have regularly called on more experienced pastors for advice and counsel. Don’t try to figure it all out on your own and don’t reinvent the wheel if someone has already done it. Try to get to some conferences or meetings where you will have the opportunity to fellowship with other pastors and ministry leaders. I find these conferences helpful because they refill my well. It is a great blessing to just sit and listen to God’s Word being proclaimed. To be challenged to do church better and to be a more effective leader. Even if it means you have to get someone to fill your pulpit a couple Sundays or more each year you need to take the time off to let others speak into you.
5. Go home. There will be periods of time where ministry is intense and requires much more mental and physical energy as well as time. Make sure that during the slower times you are spending quality time with your family. If your family suffers so will your ministry. Take your wife to conferences with you and leave the kids with someone if you can. This lets you have some quality time together and also gives your wife the opportunity to rub shoulders with other ministry wives and to hear good preaching. Ministry can be and is a lonely calling. Even though we are around people all the time we carry the burdens of many and often those are things which can’t be shared with others in our congregations. Few people understand this better than other pastors and their wives. Your wife needs someone she can vent to without fear and us pastors need that as well.
I’m sure there are many more things I could add to this list but those are just a few important things that come quickly to mind. I’m sure none of them blaze new trails for most pastors but they were all new to me during this first year of ministry.