Twenty things I tell young pastors

(Eight years ago, I posted “One hundred things I tell young pastors,”  twenty at a time in five posts.  I’m reposting the first twenty, but tweaking them, adding to them.  Whether I’ll repost the (amended) other eighty depends on the response.) 

There was no particular order to these.  I jotted them down as they occurred.

1) In all the world there are only three Christians who love change; none of them are in your church.  This is a reminder to introduce change carefully.  I suggest you not use that word, but “experiment.”  Tell the church, “We’re going to experiment with an 8 o’clock service.”  It implies that if this doesn’t work out, you’ll try something else.

2) When you speak before an unfamiliar group, be careful what you say.  You never know who is listening. You’ll start to tell a story about some guy in your former church and his mama is sitting right in front of you.  I have scars to back this up.

3) There will never come a time when you know all the Bible and have all your questions answered.  If you cannot serve Him with some gaps in your knowledge and preach without knowing everything, you’re going to have a hard time.

4) As a general rule, your church members should submit to your leadership, but you’re not the one to tell them that. Furthermore, you should not be a one-man show, but share the decision-making and direction-setting authority with others.

5) The best way to get people to submit to your leadership is for you to humble yourself and serve them the way the Lord did the disciples (John 13).  People will trust someone who loves them that much.

6) The best way to get run off from a church is to take your eyes off Jesus and think of yourself as hot stuff who is worthy of acclaim.  From that moment on, your days are numbered.  There are other ways, too–the number is infinite–but pride takes the prize.

7) In worship services, try not to talk so much promoting events and meetings that you are worn out by the time you open the Word and begin to preach.  Best to leave those things to the end of the service anyway.

8) Only a pastor with a suicide wish will tell a story about his wife and children in a sermon without their complete and enthusiastic approval. Even then, you should go over it with them ahead of time to make sure they’re okay.  If they even hesitate, drop it.

9) Some of your biggest headaches will come from ad-libbing in your sermons, saying things “off the cuff” which you just thought of. Try not to do that until you have fully mastered your tongue.

10) If the Lord is ever to use you mightily in His service, He will first have to break you. (For most of us, this involves some failure on your part which comes to light and embarrasses you.) This will be humiliating to you and so painful you wonder if you can go back into the pulpit. However, you will survive and forevermore be thankful for what this taught you.  (Yes, I have the scars.)

11) You need to befriend other pastors, old and young. Ministers need fellowship with colleagues. Do not make assumptions about pastors by the size of their congregation. Some of the Lord’s finest pastors and godliest preachers are bi-vocational.

12) It’s not all about you. Some people will join your church and it will flourish; some will leave and your church may struggle. Some will love you and some will hate you. Very little of it has to do with you. People have their own reasons for what they do. Get over yourself.

13) Marry someone who shares God’s call into this type of work or your life will be dragged down and she will be chronically angry at the demands placed on the family.

14) A little conflict in the church can be a good thing. I heard an old preacher say once that where there’s no friction, there’s no traction.

15) One of the surest signs you are backsliding is when you no longer eagerly pick up the Bible and enjoy finding new insights. The day you find yourself thinking, “I know this Book; I’ve been there and done that,” you are in trouble.

16) If you cannot serve God by faith, you will not make it in the ministry.  You will plant a thousand seeds along the way which you will never see grow to fruition. Likewise, you will gather a crop from seed sown by others and cultivated by your predecessors.

17) If your self-worth comes from numbers and successes and awards, you are setting yourself for trouble. Jesus told the disciples not to rejoice in accomplishments, but “because your names are written in Heaven” (Luke 10:20).  This will keep you steady.

18) If you see the ministry as a career and find yourself ambitious to go on to bigger and better things, you run the risk of imposing the world’s standards on the kingdom. Serve where He sends you, no matter how small or out of the way, and you may be surprised what He can do at Podunk. Someone once asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  Let God use you here and move you there when (and if) He’s ready.

19) Get all the education you can and continue learning and growing the rest of your life.  There is no stopping place until you get home.

20) Learn to live on your income. Avoid all debt except on a house. The first few years (when your income is smallest) is the toughest; after that, it should be easier and easier.

6 thoughts on “Twenty things I tell young pastors

  1. Very good advice for young pastors and for us who have been truly blessed in serving as pastors for many years. We serve our Lord Jesus in His church!
    Our Lord is so faithful!
    Thank you for sharing your insights.
    NOBTS 1970

  2. I so appreciate your wisdom over the years Pastor Joe. I continue to read your blog faithfully and thank-you for the work you do keeping it up. I remember reading and rereading the original 100 list when it showed up in a church leaders email in my inbox. I photocopied and shared with our local ministerial. God’s continued blessings as you minister to us and to others.

  3. Fantastic advice. I would only add 1 very important one: Make sure you have been called by God to preach the Gospel. I know personally, the calling was as specific as my salvation experience. It is NOT a career CHOICE, but a calling from God to preach the Gospel.

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