I was 25 when I became a senior pastor. That was 15 years ago. Honestly, I’m a little down about this whole age thing. I’m looking back a little. Time has gone by so quickly. I have been reminiscing about life in the ministry. In looking back I have come to the conclusion that it would have been great if there were a mentor in my life to prepare me for ministry. The reality is, at that point, I was so hard headed I probably would not have listened to anyone. I was pretty independent. The only person I would have listened to was me. I wish 40 year old me had been around when I was 25. I would have listened to him. That brings me to this blog post. What would 40 year old me have said to 25 year old me?
1. You’re an idiot. I don’t think I would take that well if it came from anyone but me. After all, if anyone knows if I am an idiot or not, it’s me. As a young man I thought that I knew so much about ministry. I was wrong. I knew very little. Don’t misunderstand me, I was informed. I had a solid theological base. I was well read in the area of church growth and church health. I had attended conferences gleaning insights from powerful Christian leaders. But I was in no way prepared for the pastorate. I figured if we needed finances I would preach on giving. If we needed salvations I would preach on soul winning. Once I preached, I assumed everyone would jump on board and revival would break out. I was wrong. It took me a while to discover that I knew very little about ministry.
2. Mushrooms are cute, but you can’t hang a tire swing on one. It is easy to go to a church and start new ministries but bail when the hot sun comes out. We can decorate the landscape with our cute little ideas every two or three years. But our cute little ideas are like mushrooms. Go back to that church a year later and you can’t even tell we were there. Longevity is important. If we are going to make a difference in the life of a church we had better be in it for the long haul. Patience is necessary if we want to see a church grow for the glory of God. There is a great danger in using churches to build a resume. I think the greatest danger is to our family. Our family can become spiritually frustrated moving from place to place. We certainly aren’t helping churches when we move about too quickly. Oak trees take a long time to grow. They suffer through every season of the year many times over. Finally they become stable. When an oak tree grows it’s there for generations to enjoy.
3. People over 50 have cried a lot more than you. A 25 year old often lacks empathy. We usually haven’t buried many people. Our children are not old enough to have rebelled yet. We haven’t sent sons and daughters overseas. Most of us have not been divorced. I don’t mean to fault the younger person. It’s simply how things are. That’s a good thing. Ministry is about serving people for the glory of God. People are how they are, for the most part, because of life experiences. Serving people in the position of pastor means that you are there to walk with them through dark times. When we cry with a person we anchor a spot in their life. They remember when we mourn with them. Be careful about rushing through the heartache at church. Make the most of it. Never make light of it. The tears of your congregation are more important than you can imagine.
4. Bi-vocational is not a four letter word. It seems everyone wants to be in “full time” ministry. I have experienced the pastorate from the bi-vocational perspective. Never allow anyone to make you feel like you are a “sub pastor” because you work two jobs. The greatest freedom and joy I have experienced in ministry was when I was bi-vocational. If you do it right, you gain a respect from your congregation and a perspective of how difficult balancing church and work can be.
There is a danger of becoming trapped in a particular area or church because of finances. For the young pastor, life happens fast. Rather than being led by the Spirit we can be loaded down with our new obligations. A full time pastorate guarantees a pay check. But depending on a church, as many do, for housing, health care and income can lead to being trapped at that location. There may be a temptation to stay even when God says go. If at all possible, make sure that the church is not your only source of income. There is nothing wrong with taking a position as an associate pastor or the pastor of a smaller church.
5. Preach to people not at people. Preach the word. Do it verse by verse. But preach to people. This is another thing that can be difficult when you are young. Experiencing life through the cross makes us better preachers. For example, I’m convinced that as we get older we have more of a desire to preach on heaven. Honestly, how many young guys do we hear waxing eloquent on the celestial city? The Bible is written to people and it’s meant to be preached that way. Look at your people when you preach. I know everyone says look over their heads so you don’t get nervous. Don’t listen to that advice. Look at them when you preach. Don’t try to impress them with your passion or intellect. Take Christ from the pages of Scripture and march Him right into their lives. Identify with their weaknesses. Challenge their level of devotion. Don’t give them a speech. You’re not a speaker. They sell those at Wal-mart™. You are a preacher. People know the difference when they hear it. Sermons are not a work of art, they are a work of the heart. When you connect with people through the Word of God you will begin to see a difference in the lives of people.
6. The first to ask you over may be the first to escort you out. As young pastors we often see people in two ways: those who are for us and those who are against us. We would also like to identify those two groups as quickly as possible. When someone asks us to come to their home we assume they are for us. That excites us. Sadly, those who seemed to be our biggest fans sometimes switch teams. We feel hurt and betrayed. I have discovered that the people in church I have been closest with are often very quiet. I have a theory about this. I believe that wise people wait and watch. They are not too eager in drawing conclusions about people. We can learn a lot from them. God didn’t called you to a church to make friends. That happens, obviously. He calls you to a church to make disciples. Making disciples of Christ should be your goal as a pastor. Don’t be too eager to develop close friendships in the church. Those friendships will come. And they may be with the people you least expect.
7. Thank people. I still have to remind my kids to say “Thank-You”. Young people often have a problem with that. We have been catered to for so long I guess we just take it for granted. Know this, if you succeed as a pastor it will be because God has put some amazing people in your life. God uses His people. He has used His people to put a bag of groceries on my table, literally. He has used His people to put gas in my tank. He has used His people so I would have enough money to take my family on vacation. In the pastorate you will see God use His people, especially when you are young in the ministry. Don’t take that for granted. Thank the people that God puts in your life. Write a note, make a phone call, stop by their home, but please say Thank-You. As pastors we are often guilty of complaining about the immature and carnal in church. Let’s not let that be what people remember about us. Our testimony should be one of thankfulness.
There’s so much more I could say to 25 year old me. But I know I couldn’t handle much more than this at one time. So I’ll stop for now. These are simply a few things I needed to hear 15 years ago. I hope they help.