A couple of days ago I found out that one of my former youth pastors had taken a church and was becoming a lead pastor for the first time. After congratulating him, he asked me what advice would I give to a young, first-time pastor. After considering the question and praying on it, I gave him my response. Later he shared that I needed to share this information with others because he felt it could help someone. I know that there are so many emotions that run through us when we start something new, but I think that first assignment as a lead pastor is something even more challenging because you realize the great responsibility that you have, not only to yourself, your family, your church but also to God. So here are a few things that might help you.
- Pray, Pray, Pray
Now I know this seems to be spiritual common sense. The truth is that many times when you are starting out in the pastorate, you are so overwhelmed with the things that you have to do that you fail to take the time and pray. Do not let this happen. Take the time to pray and pray about everything. Never make a major decision or even a minor one without first talking it over with God. You have to remember that you are working for Him and He has to have the last say in everything. Several years ago I was listening to a message that Craig Groschel was preaching on prayer, and he said something that has helped me as a pastor. He stated that he took time to be with God every day. He had a set-aside time to pray. That seems right, but the thing that helped me was that he said that he also twitted God throughout the day. Now no he does not twit God on his phone, but what he said was that throughout the day he prays short prayers to God in situations that he ran into throughout the day. The Apostle Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing.” I think they are talking about the same thing here. As a pastor, you have to have the mind of God to make right decisions, and the way to do that is to pray over everything.
- Love and serve the people
Understand that you are going to make mistakes and there is nothing you can do to stop that from happening. The thing is that people will put up with and even overlook mistakes if they know that you love them and care about them. The church needs to know that they are a major part of your life and that you are there to serve the flock of God and to do all that you can to make sure that they succeed. As pastors, we are called to help people become the best follower of Christ they can be. Loving people and sacrificing oneself is the call of every pastor. The call to ministry is one of selflessness and one of sacrifice. If you are a selfish person, then you will have a hard time being an effective pastor. In our world, people need to know that you love them and that you care about them. John Maxwell said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” People want to know that the pastor is there for them and that he/she is doing all they can to serve them. I have found that people will even respond to correction if they know that you care about them before the encounter.
Not only are you to love and serve your local congregation, but also you are called to love and serve the community around you. Paul told young Timothy who was pastoring for the first time, to do the work of an evangelist. As a pastor, we are called to go out into our community and show them the love and the care that Jesus has for them. We are ambassadors for Jesus, and we have to make sure that people understand that we are not here to pastor a church, but we are here to pastor a community. If you expect the people in your congregation to go out of the walls of the church, then you have to lead the way by being a pastor to your community. Serve God and serve others and let them see a true reflection of God’s love.
- Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.
One of the mistakes that young pastors make is trying to get their vision completed in the first few months of ministry. They try to change everything in the church and then get discouraged when the people do not go along with them. The first thing that has to happen is that you have to gain the trust of the people. This goes back to them knowing you care. That takes time. Remember God did not call you here for a moment or even a season but God called you to complete the vision He gives to you. So slow down, take a breath and realize that you do not have to do everything today, tomorrow, next week, next month or maybe not even next year. Ministry is a marathon; you are in this for the long haul so make sure you are working on God’s timetable and not your own.
When I came to Decatur fourteen years ago, it was my second pastorate, but it was the first time that I had moved from my hometown (my first church was in my hometown, and I served there for eleven years). When I first came to SDC, I wrote down a list of things that I believed God had placed in me that He wanted to see accomplished. He gave me a vision. Now if you know me, I am one that does not like to wait, and I like to get things done, done right and done right now. As I prayed over the list that God had given to me, He placed a word in me, and it was “Slow Down” and “take your time.” I did just that, and over the first five years, I begin to work on that list. Realize that you are here to build something and that does not come overnight. Set small goals that will get you to the big vision. Start small and move at God’s pace and take time to celebrate the small wins that you have along the way. Remember pastoring is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Make time to Study
Again this is one of those spiritual common sense things, but it is vital. As a pastor, you have to learn to manage your time because there will always be demands on you. In smaller to midsize churches, there is always something that needs to be done. There will be things in the building that need to be fixed, grass that needs to be cut, or people that need to be visited. For many pastors in smaller churches, these are things you have to do. Walter Brueggemann, one of the great theologians of our day, said, “Pastors should spend the majority of their time in prayer, study, and reading.” Now I love that, but I can say that he must have never pastored a smaller Church of God church because that is just not realistic. There will be things that you will have to do, but you cannot neglect to spend time in study. I was reading a study taken last year that showed the preaching has more of an impact on why people stay at a church than the music does. That means that what you do matters and the word that you preach is essential. I can genuinely say that I have never gotten through preaching and regretted studying too much for a message, but I have regretted not studying enough. The Study of God’s word is vital, and you have to make time for it. Set a time where you study and prepare for what you are going to preach and do everything you can to let nothing interfere with that time.
- Remember your Family
As a young pastor, you can become so consumed with the welfare of the church that you neglect the things that are more important, and that is your relationship with God and your family. So many PKs (pastor Kids) are hurt because they felt that they were put on the backburner or they were held to a higher standard just because their father/mother was the pastor. Listen to me, what will it be like if you save the world and lose your family? You have to take time for your family, and they have to be important. Bishop T.D. Jakes said something that I thought was awesome. When asked how he balanced all the things that he did? He said, “in my life, I have learned that in order to be great in one area means that I have to neglect another area. If I spend time being a great pastor then I was neglecting my wife, if I was being a great author then I was neglecting my kids, If I was being a good family man, then I was neglecting my church because you cannot do everything well all the time”. He said, “what I learned was that in being great in one area of your life you are going to have to neglect another area of your life, the key is never to neglect the same area two days in a row.” There are going to be times you neglect your family, and there is nothing you can do about that, but you have to bounce back and make up that time. Your family has to be a priority in your life. God called you into the ministry, but your kids are along for the ride until they get old enough to be called on their own. Do not apologize for your kids being kids. God did not make them angels just because you got ordained. They are kids, and they are going to do the same things that all kids do, and that is ok. Be their dad/mom first and then their pastor.
A family is not just about your kids, but it is also about your spouse. When I first came to SDC I did not realize that there was no real place for my wife to minister. I was so busy doing my own thing that I did not realize that she was struggling to find her place. Because of this, she went through a very hard season trying to find where she fits into this new environment. When I realized this I made adjustments and my marriage, my ministry and the church thrived because of the changes. Now, my wife is a real ministry partner in the pastorate. She uses her gifts to make the church better and together we are much more effective for the kingdom. As a pastor, it is vital to make sure that your spouse is your partner. Now every spouse is different. Some are like my wife and very involved in ministry. My wife is an ordained preacher, singer, musician, songwriter, counselor, and an author. She is very engaged in kingdom work, and God is using her in significant ways. Other spouses are not as openly involved and may be behind the scene workers. Whatever the case, make sure they have a place in the ministry.
- Take time away to relax and be you
Lastly, take time to be with your family away from ministry. I have found one of the enormous stresses in pastoring is that you are always the pastor. Wherever in the community you go, people see you as the pastor of so-and-so church. The pressure of all ways being ready and all ways being “on” can be overwhelming. That is why you need to take the time to be with your family and be you, just be husband/wife, just be dad/mom. Unwind and relax and enjoy the journey of life. I have been blessed to own my own home, and it is out in the country. I love the country. I love just going out and seeing the stars at night and all the beauty of nature. When I am at home, I am just Jay. I like to work in my wood shop, cut the grass in the yard, and hang out with my wife. As a pastor, you have to take some time away to recharge and for all of us that is different but take that time. Make time to enjoy life, and have fun. Make time to laugh, be silly, and enjoy something away from ministry.
These are some of the things that I think will help you as you start this wonderful journey of pastoring. I hope it helps.