On a September Sunday morning in 2013, I stood in front of a small traditional church in East Texas to preach in view of a call. I took as my text Romans 1:1-7 and preached the gospel from it. After I exited the pulpit, my wife and I stepped out of the sanctuary so the congregation could vote. A few minutes later my life would change as they voted a twenty-five year old into his first pastorate. I was given the title, pastor.
A lot of responsibility follows that title and I was encouraged to lead with humility. Yet I confess the first few months were a blur. A month after my first official day as pastor my daughter was born three weeks before her expected due date due to complications. In the following weeks, she would be placed in a hospital for breathing issues. That same week I performed my first funeral at the church. Over the past two years the church has seen people leave, several join, and a hand full of baptisms. In reflecting on the past two years there are five important lessons I’d like to share with you that I’ve learned during my time as a young pastor.
Make Jesus the Hero
Jesus ought to be the hero of every sermon. King Jesus is the climax, apex, and goal of every biblical text that is preached on a Sunday morning. The truth I’m describing about Jesus being the Hero must seep its way into every facet of pastoral ministry. From counseling, disciplining, budgeting, and planning Jesus reigns supreme over all.
During my short time in pastoral ministry, I’ve personally struggled with the sin of “ministry covetousness.” I’ve looked at other churches and pastors wanting their “success.” By His grace, He has reminded me that it is Jesus, not me who builds His Church, since He is its Head. Coming to this realization has brought me much comfort in those areas of ministry that I’ve worried about. As a result, I’ve learned that every ministry of the church, business meeting, and worship service is to focus on making much of Jesus, the Hero.
Make Prayer a Priority
In the first year of pastoral ministry, I must confess that I tried to do pastoral work in my own strength. I vividly remember one Sunday afternoon following a difficult morning where I questioned God’s call on my life. Seminary classes doesn’t prepare you for these doubts. By His grace, He lovingly reminded me that prayer must be a priority. Finding myself on my knees, I pleaded for His strength. I am so thankful for His patience with me during this times.
Daily reliance upon Christ through prayer is key for any fruitful ministry. Serving bi-vocationally is difficult, however, serving bi-vocationally in your own strength is ministerial suicide. Each morning before I start my day I begin by praying for my own heart, family, church, and community. This is a daily reminder of God’s call on my life but also points to the reality that I am completely inadequate to accomplish anything God glorying in my flesh.
Make Most of Your Time
During the first few months into the pastorate after my daughter was hospitalized, I was awake at 3am after a painful argument with my wife concerning my priorities. I was focusing so much on church and school that my relationship with the Lord and family were suffering. By God’s grace, it was at this moment I realized I needed to make significant time management changes. Having a young family, serving the church, maintaining another job, and working on a graduate degree requires time, a lot of time I might add. It is possible to maintain a balance but it required that I examine my priorities and responsibilities. Sometimes the Lord uses the difficult seasons of life to awaken us to the most neglected areas of our hearts.
Make Pastoral Friends
I didn’t do a pastoral internship or serve in leadership prior to my call to the church. Looking back I wish I would have had that experience. In God’s grace, He has brought loving and faithful men into my life not only to be “pastors to a pastor” but men who I consider friends. I know these men will pray, challenge, and encourage me to remain faithful in the assignment that God has for me. Some of these brothers are young and others have several ministry years under their belts. Many of these brothers have walked the path that I am on now. For these brothers and many others, I am grateful to God to learn from them as they speak the truth in love into my life.
Make Gospel Impact
My effort with the Holy Spirit’s empowerment I pray has resulted in one goal by His great grace – making gospel impact. The pastor’s work is grounded in Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and his goal is to preach this good news with his words and life. The pastor needs the gospel just as much as the people he is serving. Seeing my life change along with others by the power of the gospel is rewarding and causes thankfulness to well in my heart. I know several pastors who have served the same church for years without seeing any visible gospel fruit. I believe the Lord is simply reassuring me that I can’t produce change, only He can.
A Few Final Thoughts
I was talking to my neighbor who asked what I do for a living. I replied, “I’m a pastor.” After a few seconds of silence the older gentlemen look puzzled and stated, “Are you old enough for that?” This happens often because being a young pastor is somewhat of an anomaly. It goes against the stereotypical image of what a pastor should be, I guess. Yet I am just thankful that God has chosen to use me in the small way that He has in this pastorate. Honor isn’t the word I would use instead I prefer humbled. I’m humbled that God has seen fit to change my life through this particular assignment and His empowering grace to help me to do it all for His glory.