By God’s grace I have been able to be a pastor for the last thirteen years, both as a church planter and the pastor of an established church. What follows is not everything I could say about the ministry, but are some things I have been learning and thinking about lately.
1. Find your identity in the Gospel. God the Father loves you, God the Son died for you, and God the Holy Spirit lives in you. Looking here will sustain you when looking at the fruit of your ministry will either puff you up with pride or lead you to despair.
2. Look for every little evidence of grace that God is working in your ministry. The discouragements feel bigger than they really are, so you have to work harder to see the good things happening.
3. When we talk like we have the hardest job in the world we sound ridiculous.
4. The pastoral ministry has unique challenges though, and you can whine about them or embrace with them.
5. The Gospel does have the power to transform people. Keep pointing them to Jesus.
6. You will be tempted to allow the Sunday attendance to be a barometer of the effectiveness of your ministry. This will lead you to despair when things are bad and arrogance when they are good. Don’t do this.
7. Walk with Jesus every day. The Father called you to be his child before he called you to be a pastor.
8. Be a good neighbor to the people who physically live around you. Know their names, talk to them when you see them, and help out any way you can. Don’t awkwardly try to get them to come to church the first time you meet them. If you are a good neighbor they might just invite themselves.
Marriage and Family
9. Spend time with your wife every day. Date nights are great, but there is no substitute for daily time together.
10. Choose a spot on your drive home from church where you put everything from your day behind you and ask the Lord to help you be fully present when you are home with your family. You need this and they need it too.
11. There’s a lot of different advice about whether you should tell your wife about all of the things stressing you out or not. This depends on how your wife is wired, but in general you want her to know when you are struggling and some of the reasons why. You don’t want her feeling like she’s being kept at arms length.
12. Family dinnertime is fun. Make it a priority. Tell stories, laugh, read the Bible, pray, and play games afterwards. Your kids will only be around your table for a few years, so enjoy it.
13. Do something to serve your community which has no apparent benefit to your church body.
14. Don’t trumpet every act of service your church performs. We need to take Jesus’ instruction to not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing seriously. If every act gets a social media post or a hashtag, you’re doing it wrong.
15. Over 100,000 people pay loads of money to watch Nick Saban do his job every week. You’re not a big deal because you have a church of 500 people.
16. Tattoo this across your forehead- when I am with other pastors I have nothing to prove.
Preaching, Study, and Reading
17. Get up early on Sunday mornings to look over your message. This way if there are crises to deal with when you get to church you won’t be freaking out about your sermon.
18. Get started on your sermon early in the week. If a crisis happens on Friday you won’t be freaking out about your sermon.
19. Preach the Bible. We have sixty-six books laying out the beautiful plan of God’s redemption. They are interesting, compelling and life-changing. You don’t need to add to it. Preach it.
20. Don’t apologize before your sermon if you didn’t sleep well, don’t feel well, or didn’t have enough time to prepare. Just preach. God will work through his word anyway.
21. When you have a guest preacher you don’t need to repreach his sermon for five minutes at the end. You’ll be back in the saddle next week.
22. Read good Christian biography. We need to learn from men who lived outside of our context and preached the same Gospel. Many of their thoughts on ministry rebuke the prevailing wisdom of our day.
23. Don’t copy another pastor. You are you. Learn from other godly men and apply what they do well.
24. Listen to sermons but don’t listen to the same person too much. You will hear them in your head while you are preaching. I can watch old sermons of mine and know who I was listening to the most at the time.
25. Make time to read. You will not magically find time.
26. You will not magically find time for anything. What needs to be done will only be done by making time.
27. Read theology, biography, history, literature, and cultural studies. Reading broadly will help you make sure you don’t get stuck always saying the same thing the same way.
Physical and Emotional Health
28. We don’t talk enough about the reality of depression in the ministry. Be honest if it happens and get help.
29. Physical exercise will help you ward off onsetting depression.
30. Physical exercise will save you from high blood pressure which makes you feel terrible.
31. The ministry is a sedentary job involving meetings around meals. Get physical exercise.
32. If the nice little old lady offers you a piece of pie while you are watching what you eat, you should eat the piece of pie. Just don’t eat three.
33. If you resent the people you minister to they will know it by your personal interactions and preaching. Pray the Lord would soften your heart towards people and to help you forgive.
34. The emotional stress of the pastoral ministry can be overwhelming. If you find yourself thinking you would be better off dead or have prolonged periods of darkness, you need to talk to someone immediately. There is no shame in admitting you are weak. Have you read 2 Corinthians?
35. You need sleep. Turn off screens 30 minutes before you go to bed, and then get in bed and go to sleep.
36. Take a day off. Spend time with your family. Take a nap. Read a novel, Go for a walk. Watch a movie. You need this, for you are not God.
37. Trust your the other leaders around you. They are not obstacles to be overcome but partners in a great work.
38. Whether your church is elder-led, deacon-led, or staff-led, begin the meeting by praying for each other. This reminds you that you are brothers and not adversaries.
39. Also read the Bible at the beginning of your leadership meetings. You need to remember that this is his church and should be led according to his word.
40. If there are two ways to take what someone says to you, assume the better meaning.
41. Stop looking for a magic bullet to make your church “succeed.” Pray, preach, disciple, care for people, and love your neighbors. This bears much fruit in the long run.
42. Ask people how you can pray for them and then pray for them. According to Acts 6 this is a major component of our ministry task.
43. Do not put off unpleasant conversations. By ignoring things they rarely work themselves out in a satisfactory manner.
Relating to Other Churches
44. Don’t try to increase your church’s attendance at the expense of other churches in your area.
45. Take every opportunity to speak well of the other churches in your area.
46. Many people have been laboring for the sake of the gospel in your town before you got there. Don’t act like ministry didn’t exist in your area before you showed up.
47. There will be large churches in your area who do a terrible job at pastoral care. Their members will seek you out for help and you will feel obligated. You shouldn’t feel obligated because you are not their pastor, but feel free to help them as a neighbor and a friend. Make this distinction clear up front. People often don’t understand that pastors of smaller churches are busier than the staffs of large churches because they do not have an army of people to help them.
48. Sit down and write a list of thoughts about the ministry, then repent over how often you don’t follow your own advice.