A few years back at our annual pastor’s conference I was sitting around a circle talking to a bunch of young guys. (I shouldn’t mention that the circle was the hotel hot tub, because our readers might not want that mental picture.) I had a sudden moment of realization sitting in that circle. I was now the old, established, voice of experience doling out advice to these young pastors.
When did that happen?
So, I’d like to invite you young whippersnappers to my virtual hot tub today to give you a little unsolicited advice. Some of you are old codgers like me – you can take the day off or perhaps add your own pearls of wisdom. I’m not going to get deep or profound here. You know that you need to study the Word of God, love your wife, be a good dad and all those big things. I’m going to play small ball for a few minutes.
I’d like to focus on a few simple pieces of advice that I believe will help you over the course ofyour ministry. All I ask you is to take a moment and listen. One of the afflictions of the young is that all-too-common arrogance that leads them to believe that their generation has the secrets that the old fogeys never figured out. Consider this, youngters. One of these days, a batch of young whippersnappers will be telling you that you got everything wrong and you need to get out of the way so they can set the world to right. That is the way it is.
The fact is, my dad’s generation didn’t get everything right. My generation has made plenty of mistakes. You young whippersnappers are not going to be any more perfect than we were, and the generation that follows you will mess up just like dad’s, mine and yours. That’s the nature of ministry by fallen, sinful pastors in a fallen, sinful world.
So, all that to say that it may be that I have learned a few things over the years, mostly through my errors, that could possibly help you. I beg your attention for a few moments as I spell some of those things out.
1) Take care of your body.
I didn’t. I was a marathon runner and athlete in my youth. As I got older, I stopped running as much and my time on the soccer field and basketball court got more sporadic, but I kept eating like the marathoner I used to be. As that happened, my waistline expanded and I found myself to be bigger than I ever thought I would be.
We joke about fat Baptist preachers, but there is nothing funny about it. In addition to the fact that it is a public testimony every Sunday of my lack of self-control, my weight affects my ministry negatively. I’m not able to do everything I could or should do, if my body were better tuned.
When I was in my thirties, I would decide to go on a diet and lose 15 pounds just by thinking about it. Every five years, it becomes harder and harder to lose weight and stay in shape. Now I have to work hard just to stay the same weight I am.
Guys, here is a nugget of wisdom for you, learned in the school of hard knocks:
It is a LOT easier to stay in shape than to get in shape. It is a lot easier to keep weight off than to lose it!
I’m not suggesting you become workout fanatics, but eat a salad now and again. Take a walk. Get a gym membership. Don’t let your body fall apart while you invest in your ministry. Your body is a tool to be used in service to God. You will be a better pastor when you are fifty if your body is in reasonable condition. It’s an act of stewardship.
2) Beware the slavery of debt
Chances are, you aren’t ever going to get rich in ministry. I am pretty well compensated by my church, but I have allowed myself to become enslaved by debt through careless spending and lack of oversight.
Debt grows exponentially. You start out a couple of hundred dollars into your credit cards and then suddenly you are drowning in a sea of red ink, being pulled under farther every month. In the last couple of years, until God worked a miracle for us recently, I spent sleepless night after sleepless night trying to figure out how to climb out of the hole I had dug.
And here’s the thing, guys. Keeping track of your finances is so easy today. When I was your age, it was hard. You had to keep receipts and records by hand. Today, I have an app on my phone with which I track receipts and mileage and keep all the receipts electronically. I have Quicken (only $26 at Sam’s Club right now) which has all my bank, credit card and other info in it. I log on, click a button and all my info updates. It is so easy to keep track of your spending now.
Do it! Just do it!
Debt will sap your ministry in ways that you can’t imagine. Don’t let it happen to you. I am not quite a “cut up your credit cards” guy, but credit cards and “easy payments” (biggest lie ever?) are a threat to your ministry and your family.
Saturday Night Live (yes, them) gave some of the best advice on finances you will ever see. You’ve probably seen it, but it’s worth watching again.
3) Remember that your critics are your friends
I’ve seen this all to often, from pastors young and old, but I believe that it is a particular tendency of the young. When someone opposes us, criticizes us, or fails to support our brilliant ideas, we treat him (or her) as if he is an enemy of God and his kingdom.
It’s nice to have some supporters and some friends in your church. But don’t treat those thorns in your flesh as if they are sons of the devil. They are sinful people with problems and you are called to love them, serve them, and help them grow in Christ. Someone can love Jesus and still not support you!
In fact, these kinds of people can be real friends. They puncture your pride (which is sinful anyway) and drive you to depend on God. They can help to reevaluate whether your thoughts, plans or strategies are really all that brilliant after all. They can keep you from becoming lazy and self-satisfied. Every church has these kinds of people. The key is not to run them off but to serve them in Christ’s name.
And that leads me to my next point.
4) You earn the right to lead with love, perseverance and faithfulness.
When you walk into a pulpit, the church gives you a six month supply of leadership bucks for you to spend, just because they hired you to be their pastor. You will spend all of those within that time. The ability to lead after that point is something you have to earn.
Feeding the people from the Word is an important part of that, but you do not earn the right to lead simply by being a pulpiteer. You earn leadership by loving people. Jesus saved us by sacrificial love and you will earn leadership the same way. People need to see that you are the real deal – a man of God, not an actor playing a man of God. They need to see you stick it out through hard times, respond with grace to insult and resistance and continue to faithfully do God’s work no matter how hard it is.
Great damage is done by men who try to force an agenda on a church when they have not earned the trust of the people, when they have not earned their leadership bucks.
I will probably think of some things I wish I’d added to this, but this is enough for now. Thanks for sitting in the hot tub with me! Hope some of what I said will sink it.