1. People do not like to follow; you have to show them why doing so is a good idea.
A pastor wrote, “You said preachers should be leaders. But what if the congregation does not want you to lead? What if they do not respond?” I answered, “Then you have a bigger job of leadership to do. The people have to be taught. Lead them to want to do something for the Lord.”
2. You start pastoring small churches in difficult locations for good reason. It is good to bear the yoke in your youth. (That’s Lamentations 3:27).
When I announced to the family God had called me into the ministry–I was 21 and a senior in college–my coal-miner dad said, “Well, that’s fine. But son, start with smaller churches so you can learn how to do it before moving to larger ones.” I type that and smile, “As though we had a choice about it, Pop.” That’s how life works. Faithful in small things, trusted with the larger (Luke 16:10).
3. If you are in the ministry as a career, get out now.
After 2006’s Hurricane Katrina brought so much destruction to our part of the world, a young pastor said to me, “I worry about what this setback will do to my career.” (Yep. He actually said that.) I said, “In the first place, as a minister of the gospel, you don’t have a career. You have a calling. And secondly, put your eyes on the Lord Jesus and He will take care of these matters.”
4. Church is not about you, whether it’s flourishing or dying all around you.
That is actually a half-truth, but the fifty percent that’s true is so dead-on accurate it needs saying. Preach Jesus, know the Word, obey Scripture, love the people. Get yourself out of the way. He must increase; you must decrease. A preacher once said that–a few days before he was beheaded for preaching the gospel. (Apparently, the Lord took him at his word.)
5. The reason some people in church hate your guts rarely has anything to do with you.
Some people sitting in the congregation will be angry at God, angry at the church, angry at the former pastor, or angry at themselves. So, try not to take everything personally. (Which is as difficult as anything you will ever do.) Learn to “love your enemies; do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:27ff). Ignore the enmity as much as possible and love will overcome evil, given enough time.
6. Members will keep making more and more demands on you until you get up the fortitude to take ownership of your own agenda.
If you don’t plan your schedule, others will plan it for you.
7. A good pastor/leader will always have someone mad at him.
You are asking people to swim upstream in a downstream world. You are calling on people to give themselves to a God they’ve never seen and to live by faith. You are demanding that church members should be generous givers, urging them to love the unlovely and unloveable, and warning that if they do not forgive others, God will not forgive them.
Pastor, many are not going to appreciate being told such. Having “itching ears” (II Timothy 4:3), they will want to hear pleasant platitudes and will throw up to you a preacher they had 20 years ago who was the sweetest and kindest man ever. Not all, thankfully, but some will do this. If you cannot handle someone being mad at you all the time, you will not make it in the ministry.
8. That doctorate may impress some people, but as a rule they’re not the kind of people you want to impress. Earn one for better reasons than this.
I’m all for theological education and have the scars to prove it. My final degree came exactly 40 years ago, but it has little to do with anything in my life today. If you want a degree just to impress people, pastor, buy you one. Or better yet, crank up your office printer and print a degree. Frame it prominently and start calling yourself Doctor. This will have almost exactly the same weight as one you earn at an accredited institution but for all the wrong reasons.
9. You will never reach a point in your life where you understand all the Bible and feel worthy of His calling.
Humility will always be in order. You must always be teachable, and willing to learn from anyone. However–and this is the good part–you will know so much more than you did at the start, and proclaiming the riches of His word will be such a delight. (What you will end up doing is preaching the parts you know and love, and leaving the rest for others. Nothing wrong with this.)
10. If you don’t protect your family, no one will. And you will live to regret it.
Do not sacrifice your family on the altar of success or denominational prominence. It’s not worth it. Clear off time every week for your family and protect it as fiercely as you do the Sunday morning hours at church. Get your kid’s little league schedule as soon as it’s released and pencil in as many games as possible on your schedule, then work other meetings and events around it. You will never regret missing a committee meeting, but in too brief a time your child will be grown and gone from home, and you will be so glad you got this right.
11. When you are young, your energy seems limitless and any kind of food sustains you. Those days are numbered, friend. Take care of your health.
My friend Sheri said, “I don’t know what the big deal is about car maintenance, Joe. I’ve had my car for a year now and haven’t changed the oil or anything, and it’s doing great.” I said, “My friend, just stick around. You will find out very soon.” Likewise, with the human machine. When you are young and healthy is the time to build great regimens.
12. Too late, you will wake up and realize electronic readers are no substitute for the experience of holding a book in your hands, marking it up, and making it yours.
It’s at this point some of our young pastors will mark me off. Fine. I’m okay with that. I may be wrong here. But I don’t think so. Time will tell.
13. Granted, you don’t pray very well. No one does. Pray anyway.
“We do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26). But don’t let that stop you. Spend specific time on your knees every morning and then stay in touch with the Lord in prayer throughout the day. Everything–literally, every single thing you do–depends on this.
14. One of the best things that can happen to you is to pastor a sick, unhealthy church early in your ministry.
You learn far more in learning to lead a sick church than you ever will leading a healthy loving congregation. Granted, a church that is too unhealthy can terrorize a young minister to the point that he is too traumatized to ever walk back into the pulpit. But few are that way. Most churches of this type are just extremely needy, run by people who have no clue what the Bible says or how church should be done, and demanding on the preacher. Learn how to lead them and you will be amazed how wonderful the next church will be to pastor.
15. If you make changes in the church just because you are bored, you are asking for trouble.
I moved a plaque from the foyer of the church. It listed the names of members who gave a certain amount of money toward the building a quarter of a century ago. I was just tired of looking at it. The phone began to ring that week. “My mama’s name is there!” We pulled it out of the closet and rehung it, although in a less prominent place.
16. It’s not that people cannot handle new things; but they should be introduced gradually.
Alvin Toffler coined the term “future shock” to describe that disoriented sense people get when change begins overwhelming them. If you think your members do not like new things, check the parking lot. There are no 1948 Packards out there. People like new cars and computers and HD television sets, so long as they have time to consider them and move in that direction at their own pace.
The church I pastored from 1990 to 2004 is the one to which I still belong. Looking at my young pastor, often in jeans and sneakers (but nice ones, cleaned and pressed!), and listening to the orchestra behind him, I remember the first time we brought the drum set into the sanctuary (some almost had a stroke) and how that each August, the men were encouraged to leave off their neckties. How things change. And I’m fine with that. I rarely wear a necktie myself these days.
17. Your inferiority or superiority complex shows in everything you do, pastor.
Or perhaps a better way of saying that is, “In everything a pastor does, his self-esteem is on display.” Your self-esteem is who you are, and if it’s defective, it taints your leadership, your counsel, and your preaching. (I am aware that this seems to conflict with #4, that “this is not about you.” However, we said that is a half-truth. This is the other half.)
18. Pastors are the mood-setters for the congregation.
This is why I believe pastors should serve as hosts of the worship service on Sunday (and not just bring a sermon at the appointed time). By his joy, the victory that he enjoys in Christ, and his love for people, he can make a world of difference in how people worship, whether they worship, and what happens when they do worship. A friend says, “We know Jesus was a happy person because children loved to be around Him. And children do not like to be around unhappy people.”
19. There are times to leave the pastor’s study and have coffee with the office staff–and anyone else who drops in–in a relaxed atmosphere. This is every bit as important as anything else in your (and their) day.
Laugh with them. Listen to their stories of children and grandchildren, how they dealt with their cranky neighbor, what happened to their husband at work the other day. When you get back to the study, you will have several sermon illustrations and be forever bonded with those terrific people in your office.
20. You will learn to forgive people who have abused you and hurt you along life’s way for two great reasons: 1) Those experiences made you who you are today; 2) Eventually, you will look back and see how you hurt people in years past and will pray that they have recovered, have forgiven you, and are doing well.
Show mercy to those who were cruel to you, because you will be needing mercy yourself, and plenty of it. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” our Lord said (Matthew 5:7).