I hate to see a young pastor get disillusioned by his first experience or two. But it happens, sad to say.
Those of us who have been in the field throughout all our adult years could wish someone had told us a few things about this work. So, assuming we are speaking to beginning pastors, here are a few things we’d love to share…
One. They might not have told you how much fun pastoring can be.
The redeemed of God are among the greatest people in the world (most of them) and they can enjoy life to the fullest. As pastor, you sometimes get to be in the thick of the fun. They love to laugh, to have adventures, and to encourage each other.
As pastor, you get to dream up programs and ideas that will affect your community, touch lives, transform homes, and reach the future–and then put it into effect with a huge corps of sweet-spirited workers as your team. How cool is that!
As for those who say working with church volunteers is not unlike herding cats, well, it can be a challenge sometimes. But that’s good also. God has not called us to a life of ease, but something difficult and good and eminently worthwhile.
Two. They probably didn’t tell you there are often unexpected financial benefits to pastoring.
The government allows ministers to receive a housing allowance but pay no tax on it. And the church can set aside money for your mileage and other ministry expenses and cover them for you, instead of their coming out of your pocket. From time to time, generous church members may give you money, for no reason other than the goodness of their heart. Churches vary on this practice, of course, but of my six pastorates, two of them had generous members who took care of their preacher in this way. It was never a large amount, but a hundred dollars here and a hundred there can make life a lot easier.
A wealthy church member once bought me a new car. And wanted me to tell no one he had done it. A couple of times when my family was leaving on vacation, another member would walk across the street to my office and give me a few hundred dollar bills to help with expenses. Once he handed me a check for a thousand dollars to be put in the church account, but which I could use to help people. He wanted no tax credit for it, and I was accountable to no one but the Lord. (Those were different days then, and now we’d have more stringent rules as to how the pastor could draw on that account. But I never abused it. Oh, and he would replenish the funds from time to time. I was disappointed for any number of reasons when he died. Smiley-face here, please.)
Three. They warned us to watch out for bullies among the deacons and eccentrics among the congregations, but no one prepared us for just how wonderful the great majority of the members would be. Some of the most Christlike and wonderful people I’ve ever known have honored me by calling me “Pastor.” And a few stop me to this day to say, “You’ll always be my pastor.” That’s about as good as it gets.
Four. They didn’t tell us that church staff members come in all shapes and varieties, that some need close supervision and guidance while others are self-starters and highly motivated without pastoral input. There is no “one size fits all” counsel for administering the work of a church staff. What worked with one may not be effective with another. That’s why the large churches will often bring someone on board just to administer the work of the church staff members. No pastor has time enough to do this with more than two or three staffers.
If your pastor is expected to administer the work of several staffers, pray for the Lord to show him how to do this. It’s difficult. Someone once told me his staff members expected him to be the CEO of the membership but their pastor, whereas the congregation wanted him as their pastor and the staff’s CEO.
Five. They told us that a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew are good, but they never told us to leave most of that out of our sermons. Just preach the good news, pastor. People are no smarter or godlier knowing that the verb here is in the aorist tense and that this is the only place in the New Testament where that word is used. Study the Word, learn all you can, and then put it into the language of the people who will sit before you on Sunday.
Six. They never told us that church members usually elect leaders based on popularity and worldly success, and not maturity, spirituality, or wisdom. Consequently, a new pastor may find himself having to deal with church leaders who see the church as a business, have no use for doing anything by faith (some actually see faith as a form of escapism), and whose personal lives are an embarrassment to the kingdom. And yet, there they are and the congregation expects you to respect them and work with them.
In time, if you will remain there long enough to gain the people’s trust, you can change the system to make sure that only the godly and mature are placed in leadership. But until then, pray a lot and do the best you can.
Seven. In fact, there is scriptural justification for saying that people will treat you in the same way they would have treated the Lord Jesus Christ. While you’re reeling from that, let me give you the texts…
–“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40).
–“The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).
Now, a word of caution here. There is no way you can ever say that to people. (Imagine a pastor standing before the congregation and saying, “How you treat me is how you would treat Jesus.” I can just hear the accusations of ego. But you can teach the scripture and indicate–as we did here–that “there is scriptural justification for this,” leaving people to deal with it themselves.) But it is also true that however we treat all of God’s children, He takes personally. See Hebrews 6:10 and Matthew 25:40.
Eight. The denomination’s leadership will expect you to take a role in their work, particularly if you have the needed skills and your church is one of the larger ones. But if you do this to the neglect of your own church’s needs, you are failing in your responsibilities. Learning to say “no” is a skill you will need to develop.
I once declined to serve a second term on our denomination’s trustee board for foreign missions. This was the most prestigious spot the SBC offered pastors, and it gave me the opportunity to meet a vast array of great people and even spend two weeks with missionaries in Singapore. However, when it became apparent to me that I was neglecting my church and my family, I opted to get off the board. That was one of my smarter decisions.
Nine. If your church is one of the larger or more influential in your area, you may not need the work of your local association of churches. But they need you and your people to be involved.
To decline to participate because “We don’t need them” is a selfish act of a large or wealthy church. When given the opportunity to preach at state conventions, I often remind those pastors that they’d be surprised how much they can learn from the bi-vocational preacher with the small congregation a few miles outside town. God has some great people in churches large and small. And it’s a wise pastor who gets his people involved locally to bless other churches.
Ten. They may not have told you when you finish with all the seminary degrees you can earn, you’re not through learning yet. In fact, just because you have a doctorate of some kind–if you do–it would be a serious mistake to conclude that gives you any kind of advantage over others. It means nothing of the kind. In my case, it simply means that in the early 1970s I did a certain amount of educational things with my seminary. Those who get the degrees and quit learning make a huge mistake.
Keep on growing, loving people, loving life, and loving the Lord’s church, pastor. It’s the greatest life ever. God bless all pastors!!