Most pastors are what I like to call “regular pastors”. They don’t pastor megachurches or preach in front of thousands. They don’t have book contracts or speak at national conferences. They don’t have impressive social media platforms or serve alongside large staffs. Most pastors are just regular. They serve small to medium sized churches. They preach and teach multiple times a week. They listen and give counsel to their people. They marry, and they bury. They visit hospitals and nursing homes. They meet with deacons and committees. They share the gospel and try to introduce people to Jesus.
I care about regular pastors. I think regular pastors and their regular churches are the heartbeat of Christianity in the United States. I know megachurches get all the good press these days. I know social media celebrates the big, the flashy, and the successful. I know it feels like big churches are getting bigger and small churches are getting smaller. I know we’ve turned megachurch pastors into a sanctified version of celebrity, much like the Pope (a development that is not healthy for pastors or Christians in the United States).
Despite these realities, I think regular pastors and their regular churches have a future in the United States. I’m not trying to bash megachurches or their pastors. I’m simply saying we need regular churches and regular pastors. I want regular pastors to succeed. By “succeed”, I don’t mean grow their churches to be megachurches. By “succeed”, I mean preach the gospel. I mean make disciples. I mean shepherd the flock. I mean direct God’s people to enjoy God’s glory. To that end, here are several pieces of advice I regularly share with regular pastors.
Love Your People
Recently I had lunch with a regular pastor who had recently accepted a call to a new church. In the course of our conversation, he told me something he had shared with his congregation before moving to town. This regular pastor told his new church, “I’m not coming to pastor the church you are today, I’m coming to pastor the church you are going to become.”
I think I know what this pastor was trying to say. But as he recounted this tale I could only think one thing, “It’s a good thing God loved you before you were lovable and didn’t wait for you to make yourself loveable before He loved you.” That’s the gospel! God loved us when we were a sinful mess.
I’m certain this pastor knows the gospel, I just think he’s failed to apply the gospel to his role as shepherd. If you are going to lead an established church, you must love your people and pastor your people regardless of the sin and disfunction that may exist within the church. Yes, your job as pastor involves leading change within your church. But when you accept a call to pastor a congregation you become their pastor today, in the present. You’re not just signing up to pastor a perfected church that only exists in your imagination.
Don’t Perfect Your Church
This is a dangerous temptation for regular pastors, especially those who are new to a particular church. For one thing, when you walk into an established church you see things that other people don’t see. You notice facility issues and scheduling issues and leadership issues that everyone else has stopped seeing. For another thing, when you walk into an established church you are also walking out of another church. Maybe you left your home church or the church you attended while at seminary. When you are the new kid on the block, it’s always tempting to compare your new church to the church you just left.
Many pastors begin their ministry with a laundry list of things that need to be fixed in their new church. Maybe it’s ecclesiology. Maybe it’s scheduling. Maybe it’s facilities. Whatever the particulars may be, there’s always a pull for new pastors to bring positive change to their church. This is a good thing! Pastors should never be satisfied with the status quo, and they should always move to address issues that need to be addressed.
If your mission is perfecting your church, you’re doomed for failure. Your job is preaching, pastoring, leading, counseling, and teaching. God’s job is perfecting. If you make it your mission to recreate a previous church experience in your new church, you’re doomed for failure. If you really think your home church or your seminary church was so great, you should go back.
Regular pastors must prioritize their family over their ministry. Period. End of story. If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the same stories repeated countless times. Some pastors fail to take care of their family because they’re too busy taking care of their church. The details change, but the basic story is the same. Some pastors neglect their family because they’re too busy looking out for their church. In the end, these pastors lose both family and church.
I’m a millennial. I don’t know how much this problem was addressed in previous generations. I do know that I’ve received a steady stream of warnings about this danger from seminary, conferences, books, and blogs. Time and time again, I’ve been warned, “Don’t lose your family by being a workaholic at church.” I think many of the young pastors I know have heard these same warnings. While I appreciate the sentiment behind the warning, I’ve also seen a disturbing trend among some of my younger pastor friends. Too often I see lazy pastors who justify their laziness by talking about the importance they place on family.
Regular pastors must work hard. You are not signing up for a forty-hour work week. This is no nine-to-five job. There is no time clock. Regular pastors work long, odd hours. Regular pastors find time to take care of core responsibilities and “miscellaneous duties”. Regular pastors work hard at church and at home.
Join Your Community
Regular pastors must think and live like missionaries. If you’ve ever been around a missionary family, you know what I’m talking about. All of the missionary families I’ve ever met have a deep love for their “people” and their “place”. They embrace the local culture. They learn the local language. They participate in the local activities. And they can’t wait to share their “people” and “place” with anyone who will listen.
Contrast the infectious joy of a missionary with what I hear from many regular pastors. All too often I meet regular pastors who wish they lived somewhere else. They say they’re called to a church, but they don’t necessarily feel called to their city. They’ll try to say nice things about their congregation, but they don’t have much nice to say about the place they live. Maybe the cost of living is too high. Maybe the culture is different. Maybe the town is too big or too small. Maybe the people are too liberal or too conservative. The complaints vary, but too many regular pastors are too negative about the place they live.
God has indeed called you to a specific congregation, but that specific congregation is located in a specific place. We would rightly question the calling of a missionary who hated living overseas and constantly complained about the local people. Why would we treat regular pastors differently? You are called to love your people and your place. You are called to be an active part of your particular community.
Pray for Wisdom
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in 2Chronicles 20. The king of Judah was a man named Jehoshaphat, and he had a problem. A three-nation army was headed straight for Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. The text tells us that Jehoshaphat was “afraid” (2Chronicles 20:3). The text also tells us that this godly king moved from fear to prayer. In fact, Jehoshaphat assembled all the people of Judah to pray for the nation (2Chronicles 20:3-4). When the king led the people in prayer he prayed an amazing prayer. My favorite part is in verse 12 where Jehoshaphat prayed, “We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
As a regular pastor, there will be times you feel powerless. There will also be times you just don’t know what to do. In these moments, pray what Jehoshaphat prayed! Then pray for wisdom! Passages like James 1 and Proverbs 2 give you rock solid assurance that God will give wisdom to His people when they ask for wisdom and seek wisdom like treasure.