I remember when I first began to sense God was inviting (ok pushing) me into pastoral ministry I had all sorts of ideas of what that meant, looked like and would take. I was overwhelmed on the one hand, feeling totally incompetent, and on the other “I got this.” I’d lead teams and run multiple businesses, surely I could start and run a church. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that made Jesus laugh out loud too.
Fast forward. I’ve been in ministry for quite some time now. I’ve been a church planter and pastor for the last eight years and pretty much everything I started out believing about myself and ministry has changed completely. It’s been humbling and humiliating. In many areas I realized I was way worse than I naively first thought and in many others, well lets just say God was far more gracious and loving than I imagined.
Over this time I’ve met countless young men at various stages of church planting and pastoral ministry, all of whom have ideas about where they were going and what they’d face. Often they ask guys in my stage of life and ministry what we’ve learned. “What advice would you give a guy like me at this point in the game.” Over the years I’ve given multiple responses ranging from “run away” to “do this or read that” (usually just whatever I thought was working in our own church, which inevitably changed right after that because it wasn’t, but that’s another post).
I’ve settled, in the last couple years, into a few key concerns young guys considering pastoral ministry need to address. Things they should pray about, seek input on and think long and hard over. (Preferably before they are knee deep in it.) Questions I honestly think are best worked out in the context of an existing ministry; ie an internship or apprenticeship. Bible college and seminary are great and needed, but some things about soldiering aren’t answered at boot camp. It’s only in the trenches of the battlefield they’re rightly assessed. I challenge every young guy I meet, even older guys rethinking where they are and what they’re doing, to get with another guy doing what they aspire to do. A man who has answered and addressed these for himself and from other pastors and planters they respect.
I’ve listed them specifically in the order of importance I see them falling in.
1. AM I CALLED?
There will be days you want out. There will be times when others want you gone. There will be many evenings when the enemy hurls accusations and there will be nights you anxiously lay awake believing all of it. There will be tears, heartbreak, emptiness, loneliness, fear, guilt and shame. You will worship idols and wrestle with identity. You will question not only your ability, but your own salvation. You will battle sin and Satan. You will feel betrayed, abandoned and alone because a servant is not greater than his master.
There are amazing things about being a pastor. There are incredible blessings and benefits. The privilege of walking with others on their journey with Jesus can’t be beat. The Sunday’s when the sermon brings repentance and faith and midweek teaching produces growth. The instances when you witness first hand the work of the Holy Spirit. The moments when sinners turn to saints, enemies become friends and years of wounds are healed in an instant. Those days will set you on fire, renew your passion and strengthen your resolve. Those are the things you imaged ministry was mostly like.
But those days are easy and exciting. They require little “gospeling” of yourself. They don’t send you to counseling and don’t cause you to seriously contemplate quitting…life. What about those? The days that demand I know my Savior and am absolutely sure of his call.
Are you Called? Not competent, not capable and not willing – Called. Is there an unmistakable invitation from the Lord on your life? Is it affirmed by other war torn men not just your mom and youth pastor? Is there a desire to weep with those who weep, not simply stand in a pulpit and preach? Is there a fire for others to know Jesus in their souls more than your name on the cover a book? Is there a fear? Are you afraid of what it will cost? Are you scared to death of your death. Are you terrified of the toll it will take? Are you eager to rush in even so?
Is there anything else you see yourself doing? Is there another route to your reward? Take that path and save yourself some pain.
Calling gets you out of bed on Monday morning. Calling pulls you to your knees in the night. Calling enables you to have hard conversations with your family. It gives you courage to lead. It prevents you from leaving a church that’s smaller than you hoped. Calling keeps you in a town that will never host a conference. Calling brings you to your feet to take another hit. Calling gives you strength to take up your sword and endurance to wield it with skill and love. Calling brings you back from the dead.
How? Because of who has called you. The One who answered the call first. The One who loved you and gave himself up for you. The One who goes before and forever walks with. The One without whom I would not be alive. The One for whom I would gladly lay down my life and my dreams.
Before you plant a church or become a pastor, be sure about His Calling.
2. HOW’S YOUR CHARACTER?
Usually I loose guys after that talk. So if your still hear, great.
How’s your character? How are you doing with Jesus, personally, right now? A common assumption is that one’s spiritual life will get better because of ministry. That my friends is like playing chicken on a NASCAR track.
Paul told Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely for in so doing he would save both himself and his hearers. If you are going to lead others toward Jesus, you must be going to him yourself. Is what you believe affecting your own soul? Is what you aspire to teach being applied to your own mind and heart? Is the gospel growing you? Is there fruit to your faith. Ministry exposes your character faults before it helps to fix them.
Is there any unconfessed sin in your life? Are there any unresolved issues in your marriage? Planting and pastoring is not the place to work them out. Deal with it before it deals with you. Work on your character before it wrecks your own life and the lives of those you lead.
Every good disciple maker has been discipled. Every good teacher has been taught. Take some time to sit at someones feet, work on your issues and understand the gospel ahead of time. You can grow be a shepherd, but you best not skip learning to be a sheep.
Is your character becoming more like Christ? Where do you need to grow in repentance, faith and obedience? Work on who you are in Christ, before you go do things for Christ. Allow others to sharpen you, assess you and yes, correct you. Letting the bible read you before you stand and read it will go a long way toward making you a better pastor. Peter summarized his thoughts on being a pastor as “being examples to the flock.” Who you are needs to proceed what you do.
3. ARE YOU COMPETENT?
Finally, are you competent? What abilities and traits do you have? What skills have you acquired up to this point? What do you still need to learn? Too many well intentioned men skip right to the “how” of it all. At this point, after working through the first two, it’s good to get assessed. To have others help you figure out some basics traits and tools that will help prepare you for being a pastor or church planter. You can get this through internships, seminary, study and mentoring. You can read books and talk to existing ministers; there’s lots of ways to learn. Personally I like hands on. Theory is good, but it needs to be applied.
It’s good to have some of the basics under your belt. There definitely seems to be type of personality and proficiency that helps someone thrive in ministry, but there’s good news – God doesn’t call competent men and women to his work, he calls them to faith in him. Actually, and thankfully, he seems to prefer incompetent people because they best glorify him. Lots of folks start with competency first to the detriment of many a man, family and church. Character not capability earns greater respect, and calling more than ability keeps you in the race.
Yes, we want to increase in our ability and add to our skill set. We should strive to be good students and grow in our competencies. That’s just good stewardship and leadership. God invites us to shepherd, thankfully he doesn’t require us to be great. That’s his title. Lots of things are figured out along the way. We learn, we fail and grow; through the power of the Holy Spirit giving us necessary gifts and through hard work and diligence that honors him.
This is honestly the last thing that concerns me when someone asks for help. I know I’ve frustrated guys at times along the way when they ask for checklists, ideas and how-to’s and I instead press into their hearts before I equip their hands. I believe most relevant expertise comes through experience. Learn along the way and live alongside others. Find a peer group of pastors and church planters that have gone before you and will walk with you. That’s been the greatest part of being in a network like Acts 29. I’ve been able to learn from and with brothers in the trenches.
The day’s of easy ministry are over if you really want to engage and win the world for Jesus. The Kingdom needs men called and confident in Christ. Men full of the gospel not of themselves. Pastors sure of who they are in Jesus. Courageous, called, godly men who don’t have it all figured out, but who love God, love people and know they are loved by him. I am praying God raises up 100s and 1000s of new pastors and church planters. Waves of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to carry the gospel around the world and equip the church to love Jesus and live on mission for his glory and fame.
Are you Called? How’s your Character? Are you Competent?