Priceless Advice As a Young Pastor

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I came to my church in 2003 at the age of 31 — by far, the youngest pastor they had had since the early 1980s. I had not quite finished my MDiv work at Southern Seminary, but I had already received a Master of Church Music from Palm Beach Atlantic University as well as having been in the ministry since 1992.

On Sunday nights, I am meeting with four other young men who feel a calling into the ministry. During our time together, they asked my advice on a number of things. I began to recall advice I received as a young pastor (and still do). I had received no shortage of advice as I entered my first full-time pastorate. And now that I am in my fifth year as a pastor and in my 17th year of ministry, I have started to accumulate some of that advice for young pastors that I would like to pass on to you (for what it’s worth).

1. Train yourself in personal holiness and godliness.

In 1 Tim. 4:7-8, Paul tells young Timothy: “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” While a lesson here about the personal physical fitness of a pastor would apply, the fullness of personal holiness in the development of character in the pastor must not be missed. If a pastor is to serve as an “overseer” (1 Timothy 3:1) of a church, then the character we oversee in our people must also be found in ourselves (1 Timothy 3:2-7).

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. [25] Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. [26] So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. [27] But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

2. Never, ever, ever stop learning once your academic work is completed.

Even when Paul was in jail and facing the end of his life, he urged Timothy: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus and Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). Paul had an insatiable appetite for study. Why? In 2 Timothy 2:15, we see the reason for the desire: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (ESV). One of Paul’s greatest fears was getting the Word wrong. Yet his love for the Lord and his love for those to whom he preached. He knew life and death hung in the balance. He never stopped learning because he never stopped loving God or his people.

For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel (Ezra 7:10).

3. When taking the pastorate of a church, take into consideration the age and geographic location of the church and institute change accordingly.

I had one church growth leader tell me, “If you want to institute change in a young church, it’s like turning around a Volkswagen in the parking lot. If you want to institute change in a historic (old) church, it’s like turning around a battleship in the Atlantic.” When I told one pastor friend of mine the age of my church (200+ years old), he told me not to institute any change at all the first year. I will need to gain the trust of the people. My friend Mark Combs just quoted something to me from Audrey Malphurs’ book “Being Leaders” that it takes five years in the church for people to begin seeing you as the leader. Wow!

Plus, in considering geographic location, rural areas are different than suburban areas which are different from urban areas, etc. So if you implement a program developed in Chicago in a small town heartland, it will not fit. Get to know your God, know His Word, spend time with the people, and quit trying to make each church a cookie-cutter of another or implement a program that is the equivalent of a broadcast feed to a bigger, more influential church. They called you as pastor. No short-cuts allowed!

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. [9] For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you [10] always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. [11] For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— [12] that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. [13] I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. [14] I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. [15] So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome (Romans 1:8-15, ESV).

4. Your ministry must never be divorced from the people. ‘Nuff said. After all, it is a ministry … to actual people … under the calling of the living God through Christ.

5. Never enter a pastorate looking ahead to the “next gig.” You risk missing the blessing of your current ministry and deprive the people of your full attention.

Some pastors see small churches like the minor leagues. They groom and hone their talents so they can “move up” to bigger and better. They risk wanting to be influential nationally or globally rather than locally among their own community. The issue has become so problematic that smaller churches now expect young pastors who have certain gifts to move on. “Oh, we’ll never be able to keep him here,” they say.

But isn’t that what our smaller churches need: stable leadership and those who love God, love the Word, love their people? When Paul wrote the Philippian church, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5, ESV) or when we writes the Colossian church, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Colossians 1:3-5a, ESV) — we see how thankful Paul is for the people that God entrusted to his care.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, [3] remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 1:2-3, ESV).

6. Craft your preaching around the themes of the Word of God first, not the felt needs of your people.

We know that God has given us His revelation. But when people come in to church with “felt needs,” we have to understand that our feelings are tinged with the Fall and that the Word of God will always penetrate and go deeper. The high risk of topical preaching is that the preacher begins with a person’s felt need, then looks to Scriptures to deal with surface issues. Yet, the high risk of expositional preaching is that we believe we can completely remove ourselves from our people and can preach to them without the establishment of any relationship. But I will say this, I would recommend expositional preaching coupled with embracing your people. This balance shows that, again, you love the Word and take it on God’s terms, but you also love your people. That way, when hard texts are preached, they know it is coming from someone who loves them where they are — but is also on a journey with them to help them be all they should be in Christ.

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. [2] For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. [3] And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, [4] and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Young pastors, please keep in mind that you must remain diligent and invest yourself in the work that God has for you. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones, but follow His Spirit. Don’t try to look first at the latest church growth plan — God’s already given us a sufficient plan found in the Scriptures.

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2 thoughts on “Priceless Advice As a Young Pastor

    Mindy Yates said:
    March 19, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Nicely written and very true. I, obviously, am not one of the young adults who you are addressing with this post but I do like to keep up with where God is leading my “young” pastor.

    Keep you the great work nurturing our young people. They need role models like you.

    Blessings.

    Steve said:
    March 19, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    You said that people don’t trust you until after five years. I have seen some of that, being at my current church for over seven. But DON’T EXPECT IT TO GET ANY EASIER! Know what I mean???

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