I started in ministry much later in life. I was 38 when I began vocational ministry. But, I love the opportunities I have to invest in young pastors. I’m encouraged by what I see in this generation of pastors entering church work. They want to learn and grow from older leaders.
I consistently try to convince them I’m not the guy to listen to, but they keep asking for advice, so I keep sharing. One question I’m asked frequently is very generic: What advice would you give to someone just starting in ministry?
Well, there’s a bunch probably, but I have a few I go to frequently.
Here are 7 pieces of advice I give to young pastors:
Become a wisdom seeker
Fall in love with wisdom. Keep reading and studying. Keep growing personally in your walk with Christ, but also surround yourself with wise people. As a pastor, people will look to you for lots of wisdom and answers. Many times you won’t know the answer to give them at the time. Obviously, you ultimately want to hear from God, but unless you are a quicker listener than me or God speaks to you faster than He does me, you’ll be caught in the hall or in a meeting sometime where you’re presented with a situation you didn’t see coming and need immediate answers. God encouraged us throughout His Word to seek wise counsel. Make it a point to always have mentors in your life. In my 50’s I still have mentors. They are simply older now than the mentors I had when I was in my 20’s. (If you need help, read THIS POST.)
Prioritize your life
You’ll be pulled in many directions. Make sure you have a plan for your time and center it around what you want to accomplish and where you want to be in the years to come. Don’t neglect your family for the ministry or destroy your ministry for temporary pleasures of the world. (You might read THIS POST on balance in life.) Priorities should be in place before the world throws all it will throw at you. You’ll have lots of opportunities to do many things. Make sure you can look back someday and see you at least attempted to do the right things.
Learn the secret of contentment
You’ll need it. There’s a draw in ministry towards bigger and better. I believe in dreaming big dreams. You’ll never have a dream for yourself bigger than God’s dream for you. But, you’ll be encouraged to compare numbers (and I think numbers matter, but not they are not most important.). Most likely, unless your name is Stanley, or Noble — or some other we tend to compare ourselves to — you won’t have the largest church or the fastest growing church. Learn to be content with who God has made you to be and what He has called you to do. And, be thankful for where He has allowed you to be at the time. If you want to compare — compare yourself to God’s call upon your life. Are you being faithful to that call to the best of your ability?
Intentionally invest in others
You can’t call yourself a disciple-maker unless you are personally making disciples. I understand the fact that your teaching on Sunday will be building disciples, but the Jesus model involves intentionally investing in a few people at a time. Jesus concentrated most of His energy on 12 guys and even more on three in His inner circle. Shouldn’t we do likewise? Always be intentionally and personally mentoring a few. It will keep you close to people in the trenches of life and help you build more solid leadership in the church.
Keep moving forward through the disappointments of life
You will have plenty of setbacks. Life and people will disappoint you. You’re going to be a leader of people and so you’ll find plenty of critics along the way. The only way to avoid that is to do nothing — and that’s not even being a leader. At times you may fail to understand what God is allowing to happen in your life. Keep the vision of your overall calling to God in mind and push forward, regardless of the obstacles which come your way.
Ground your theology in Jesus
There are lots of theological methodologies around. Someone will be happy to shape your theology for you. I’m not suggesting you stop growing in knowledge — in the “deeper” things of God. You should always be growing. I am suggesting you never get beyond the simple child-like, overwhelming awe of who Jesus is and how He loves you and what He did for you on the cross. Center your beliefs firmly and completely around the person of Christ. Set Christ as your end goal, desire to be like Him. Discipline your life to do as Jesus would do. Invite others to follow likewise. Let the grace, glory and goodness of Jesus shape your life and ministry.
God knows best
As a pastor, there will be plenty of voices in your life. You’ll have plenty of advice from deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers and flower committee members. Someone even has an opinion about the color of paint your office should be. Just put it before the church in a survey and test me on this. Appreciate the suggestions of everyone. Be open to suggestions and even criticism when warranted. Never assume you know it all or that you are “in control” — you’re not. I believe God uses people to speak into our lives and He allows us huge latitude in making decisions for ourselves. But, in matters of huge importance, when you are making life-altering decisions, hold out for a word from God.
Of course, this is good advice for all ages (and not just pastors), but the majority of questions I receive are from younger pastors. I’m not sure what that says about us older pastors, but it is been true in my ministry that the younger a pastor is the more willing to heed advice.
What advice do you have for young pastors?