The auto-correct on my phone once tried to change the word “minister” to “monster.” Funny, yet sobering. It gave me pause. It gives me pause now.
Ministry is tough. Pastoring is, at times, a monster itself.
Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru and author of The Effective Executive, once shared what he believed to be the four hardest jobs in America:
President of the United States
The pastor is often expected to be a…
Crisis management expert
Public speaking expert
I admit this is pressure I’ve mostly put on myself over the last ten years. Speaking of which!
This weekend (almost to the day) marks my tenth anniversary as senior pastor of Grace Community Church—a wonderful, loving, growing community of people.
Prior to Grace, I had never been the pastor of a church. She has been my one and only. It’s the only church I ever hope to pastor, God willing.
I’ve reflected on lessons learned over the last ten years of being Grace’s senior pastor. If you’re a young pastor I hope you’ll find something helpful, even encouraging in this post. If you’re a congregant, I hope it will help you better understand and pray for the pastor of your church.
Here we go:
Rest in your identity. Identity is everything. If your identity is not found in the love of Christ, your peace and joy will ride on you and your church’s performance. As Tim Keller says, with Christ as your identity success won’t go to your head, nor will failure get to your heart.
So repeat after me: “Because I am the beloved of God, I can walk into the room with nothing to prove and nothing to lose.”
Pursue intimacy. Daily solitude with God is non-negotiable. Carve a wide space for meditating on the Scriptures, journaling, praying, repenting, singing, and whatever else stirs your affections for God. Sabbath is a must too.
Beware of the work of God replacing the God of the work. Your soul will shrivel up. And so will the soul of your church.
Intimacy with your spouse, intimate connections and quality time with your kids, these too are non-negotiables. Churches and pastors come and go, but your family only has you. Your church doesn’t need you, your family does.
Sacrifice ministry on the altar of your family, never your family on the altar of ministry.
Check your integrity. Integrity involves wholeness, a consistent life in public and private. A life when you’re the same person before the church and in secret. A life where you’re not one way with your congregants and another with your family.
To not be integrated in your heart and life is to be dis-integrated. In other words, you’re disintegrating.
You can still have a growing church while your integrity suffers. Because even tumors grow.
Declare Truth in love. Any preaching or teaching that doesn’t unfold Scripture’s Truth and point to Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and life is just a motivational speech. And probably a poor one at that.
If you love people you’ll tell them the Truth. And if you love the Truth, you’ll tell them with love.
As one author put it, a pastor is to bring an atmosphere of heaven to the pulpit and speak from the borders of another world. That happens through God’s Truth in love.
Just be faithful. Sometimes your sermons will soar, other times they will stink. Church attendance will ebb and flow. You’ll leave leadership meetings wondering if you’re cut out for leadership. You’ll daydream of quitting for another career because you compare yourself to other pastors, their gifting, influence, and size of their churches.
Pause. Deep breath. God calls you only to be faithful, not “successful.”
Laugh a lot. My wife Christie’s 95+-year-old grandmother (she won’t tell anyone exactly how old she is) is living a healthy and happy life. She shared with me the two secrets to her longevity: 1) See a doctor often, 2) Laugh at yourself a lot.
Don’t be so sensitive. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Laugh with your staff, your team, and your people.
If you want happy and healthy longevity in the ministry, laugh at yourself A LOT.
Get Therapy. You have issues. I have issues. You will get triggered in wounded places you didn’t know existed. You need to get those out before you take them out on your family and church. This is one of the best investments you can make in yourself, your family, and your church—seeing a trained Christian therapist to help you work through past traumas and current dramas.
Health is your wealth. A clean diet, exercise, and sleep. These rise to the level just shy of your daily solitude with God. It’s that simple. It’s that hard. It’s another non-negotiable. You can have a cheat meal or cheat day to feast on your favorite poison. But cheat your health over the long-haul, and you will poison your effectiveness and crash in ministry.
You. will. burn. out.
Take nothing personally. Not everyone will like you—your style, your voice, your personality, you’re clothes. No matter how much time passes, they’ll never really trust you. You’ll never please them. They’ll take advantage of opportunities to be passive-aggressive (or just plain aggressive) toward you. God bless ’em. Pray for them. Give more attention to your friends, not your critics.
Love. Love. Love. I tell our pastors to have a blast when they preach. I also tell them to love the people as they preach. I preach that very thing to myself. Loving the people helps overcome insecurity, performance, and fear. It’s not about impressing the people but investing in the people.
Without love, says Paul, I’m just making noise. Love trumps all—being loved by God, loving God, loving the lost from God, and loving the people of God.
God gives a pastor a special love for his people. I can feel it in my bones as I greet them, pray with them, pray for them, laugh with them, weep with them, preach to them, plead with them.
If you ever begin to lose love for your people, it’s time to take a good look at yourself before God and in the mirror.
It’s all about love.
In fact, here’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned over the last ten years: Its love that keeps a minister from becoming a monster.