In this guest post, a new pastor discusses the lessons he’s learned in his first few months in pastoral ministry.
I recently made the transition from the seminary desk to the church pulpit. It has been one of the most joyful experiences in my life, but also one of the most humbling as I have had to hit the “reset” button on my expectations and assumptions. I imagine I’m not the only seminarian turned pastor who has had to do this, nor will I be the last. So below are some of my “first impressions” to highlight things that can be neglected, but shouldn’t be.
1. Knowing the Bible: So much of the “ministry of the Word” is spontaneous and informal. It’s great (and necessary) to study and know the finer points of exegesis, but you don’t always have that luxury. Be well acquainted with the promises, commands, and threatenings of the Bible.
2. Means of Grace: Study and pray to be convinced of the efficacy of the means of grace. Reading, preaching, praying, and administering the sacraments is an act of faith!
3. Prayer: Be prepared to pray…and to pray, and to pray. Not only privately but with individuals, families, elders, deacons, in prayer meetings, hospitable rooms, and with the community—be fresh, eager, zealous, and particular.
4. Teach: In seminary we focus on preaching (and rightly so!). But teaching is an important part of being a pastor (i.e. catechism, profession of faith, prayer meeting, Sabbath schools, book studies, etc). Learn how to teach, ask questions, and facilitate discussions and not make the classroom another pulpit.
5. Recognize the wounded: I’m pretty convinced that wherever you go you’ll have to deal with sheep who have been injured by the church, or by someone in the church. In our day, it seems, most have a history with a church and many carry baggage. Learn how to gently shepherd the neglected and wounded.
6. Spiritual immaturity: Many don’t know theological distinctions or how to draw lines of contour throughout the whole of the Bible. Be prepared to shepherd a flock who need the “basic principles of the oracles of God,” and love them for it! We don’t exist for perfected saints, but to perfect the saints.
7. Avoid being opinionated: You will probably be asked your opinion on everything. It’s okay to be silent, not every opinion is worth expressing. Pray that the Lord would teach you when to speak and when to be silent. In my opinion, the more opinionated you are, the less credibility you’ll retain!
8. Be a churchman: If you’re Presbyterian, like me, you’ll be a pastor and a presbyter. You can be asked to do committee or commission work and you’re responsible to help examine, license, and ordain others for the ministry. Know how to do this by not checking yourself out of church courts in your seminary years. Attend, observe, learn, and ask questions.
9. Long-term: Don’t be nearsighted. The foundation of the church is laid, but it’s being built up. It’s okay everything isn’t perfect, people may not know like the should, elders aren’t flawless, and deacons may not be charitable. That’s the church!
10. Know your vision: You and your church exist for one reason. In the words of Cotton Mather, “Exhibit as much as you can of a glorious Christ. Yea, let the motto upon your whole ministry be: Christ is all. Let others develop the pulpit fads that come and go. Let us specialize in preaching our Lord Jesus Christ.”