For good reason the Lord sends new, young pastors to small congregations. There’s so much to learn.
God bless all those little flocks which have to endure the green, inexperienced shepherds, many of whom go right on making the same mistakes as every pastor before them.
The patience of these saints is amazing. (Sometimes I feel like going to the first three churches I served and saying, “Would you please forgive me?”)
The first and biggest lesson every minister must learn before being able to do his best work for the Lord is this: You’re not ready to pastor a church until you get over yourself.
Being the God-sent and Heaven-anointed leader of a congregation can be a heady feeling. Suddenly people are looking to you for guidance, deferring to you as though you were somebody, insisting you take the honored place at the table. You even find Scriptural justification for your occupying the pulpit and speaking for the Almighty God. Truly amazing.
All of this is for nothing you have done.
Therein lies the trap for the unwary.
But it’s not a new thing. You’re just the latest in a long line of God’s children who have to come to terms with their own indebtedness.
God said to Israel, “When you arrive in Canaan–the land I’m going to give you–and you suddenly find yourself living in houses you did not construct, eating produce you did not grow, and drinking from cisterns you did not dig, then beware lest you forget the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)
“Look what I did!” By my hard work, dedication, commitment. By my giftedness, my eloquence, my self-confidence. By my degrees, my accomplishments, my specialness.
It’s a small step to the place where you look down at other ministers–mainly, those of smaller and (ahem) less significant churches–and say as the Pharisee did, “I thank You that I’m not as others, like this (preacher at Shiloh Number Two).”
It’s an easy trap to fall into. You get called to a large church, you are awarded a doctor’s degree, your alma mater gives you some kind of recognition, the denominational magazine features your profile.
“Look at me. I did all this because I’m so good, so talented and gifted, so dedicated and hard-working. God is honoring me for my faithfulness.”
Pride goeth before a lot of things, but in particular it precedes a fall.
The best thing that can happen to such a preacher is a comeuppance. A dose of reality. A humbling.
However, friend, you don’t want the living God to humble you. Ask Nebuchadnezzar how that worked out.
Perhaps the best advice anyone could give to young pastors is this: Get over yourself.
Woe to the young pastor who finds success and acclaim too early, before he learns his own frailties and weaknesses, before he learns that it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps and that only in Christ can he do all things!
Woe to the young successful pastor who has not had time or reason to get past himself.
I served with one pastor who had gone to a large church at the age of 27 and from there to the largest church in the state when he was 31. He was out of the ministry before he reached 40.
The young proud pastor will likely become a holy terror, brimming with pride over his accomplishments and sloshing out disdain for the other pastors around him. Those pastors of small congregations are singled out for his scoffing. If they were sharp like himself, surely they’d be more successful by now. After all, look at him. He did it.
So the Lord does the young pastor a great favor: He sends trouble his way.
That is, if he is blessed, God does.
The object is to redeem the guy and salvage his ministry.
The Lord sends him critics. Church bosses who resent a young whipper-snapper thinking his calling grants him rights to act like a pastor. Mean-spirited gossips.
He finds out the deacons are considering firing him, that some wealthy parishioner is upset at him, and a staff member is betraying him. The town gossip makes up something of which he is the centerpiece.
Maybe he writes an article of which he was proud, only to discover critics are taking it apart sentence by sentence and reading heresy into some of his best statements. He gets disinvited to speak at his seminary and overlooked by the great conferences.
His staff joins the critics. When his best efforts to grow the church yield only slight notice from the congregation, his staff begins to plot against him, and the offerings dry up.
Welcome to the ministry, son.
The Lord is still on the throne, and you will survive. If you are faithful, that is.
The Holy Spirit is trying to make you into a champion spiritual leader. That process is going to require a lot of aches and pains–which may feel to you like rejection, forsakenness, and failure.
It is good for me that I was afflicted that I may learn to trust the Lord. (Psalm 119:71)
God is forever at work refining us, defining us, confining us, maturing us, preparing us for more strategic service. Putting the gold into the fire to burn out the impurities. (See I Peter 1:7)
He’s trying to turn the young pastor into a solid preacher, one who looks to Him and answers only to Him. One who can be depended on to plant himself at the feet of Jesus, to seek His will, and to wait until he receives it, then go forth to do it.
No one is born to that privileged position. It’s the result of many things, but mostly “a long obedience in the same direction.” (If that expression is new to you, check it out. It has a great history and excellent meaning.)
So, let the young pastor determine to grow, to become more Christlike, to say with John, He must increase, I must decrease (John 3:30). By the way, in my experience, the lessening of “me” is extremely painful. So, don’t ask for it unless you mean it. The Lord will take you up on it!
And so we say to the young pastor…
Quit taking personally all that happens in the church, pro and con. True, if the church does well, you get a lot of the credit, whether you deserve it or not. And likewise, if it fails to thrive, like a coach whose team does not win enough games, some will blame you. Coaches get replaced every year because, even if the problem was in the personnel or a thousand other things, he is the one replaceable factor. Even so, the pastor must not internalize all these things.
It’s not about you, pastor.
Quit promoting yourself. Stop advertising yourself. And if the Lord leads, stop blaming yourself.
In time you will come to appreciate that this is all about the Lord Jesus Christ.
In time you will be overcome with gratitude that the Lord could use a loser like yourself.
In time you will stand amazed at the grace and mercy of Christ. You will weep thinking of the cross. You will want to drop to your knees every time you enter the House of the Lord.
It’s not a brief journey, but infinitely worth the effort to lose yourself in Him and find that He is enough. (2 Corinthians 3:5)