It is hard for me to believe that I’ve been a pastor now for over a decade. It feels like only a year ago that a congregation in Florida gathered on a Sunday night and voted to call me as their associate pastor. But that was the summer of 2008. And I still feel like the new guy on the block here in Nebraska, though now I’ve been the pastor for preaching at Ridgeview for over 5 years.
So what am I learning now after more than 10 years? Lots. Way more than 10 things. But 10 is a nice round number and so here are the 10 bigger lessons that I am still learning after 10 years of pastoral work.
- I’m still learning that the three main elements of good pastoral ministry are: 1) loving God, 2) loving God’s people, and 3) preaching God’s Word. Way back in my seminary days, a prof asked his students to boil down pastoral ministry into one sentence, and these three things made up my sentence. Ten years later they still do. In fact, more than ever. Since I’m still learning to be a good pastor, I am still learning these three things.
- I am still learning that loving God means being the real deal. It means seeking to make much of God with my life and ministry, and not to make much of myself. It is the opposite of platforming. It also means making war on my sin. It means loving my wife and children well. It means running from idols. For me, it means getting up early each morning to be in his Word.
- I am still learning that loving God’s people means way more than just trying to be a nice guy. Loving others often means saying really hard things for their good. It means serving God’s people for their eternal joy in Christ. It also means walking with people through hard times and deep suffering. It means knowing more about the struggles of others than one would normally want to know. It means bearing the burdens of others. I’m still learning how to love God’s people well.
- I am still learning that faithfully preaching God’s Word is one of the most significant ways that a pastor can love God’s people well. Why? Because preaching God’s Word helps people to see and cherish God, and what can be more important than that? That is why preaching has been the great labor of my life these last 10 years. And the greatest joy has been seeing God work in his people through his Word.
- I am still learning that the effectiveness of one’s ministry cannot be measured by “the numbers.” Ever. No exceptions, nuance or caveats. It is easy to see a big crowd and do a quick pat on the back, or see empty seats and wonder where you’ve missed the boat. But numbers are a poor measure of pastoral ministry. Terrible pastors can draw crowds and faithful pastors can serve few (and vice versa!). Pastors, stop doing the headcount on Sunday mornings!
- I am still learning that it takes God’s grace to save a person. As passionately as I try to persuade and win people, both in private and in preaching, at the end of the day it is God who opens blind eyes to the saving beauty of the gospel.
- I am still learning that pastors need friends and that healthy pastors pursue deeper friendships with a few people. We shouldn’t buy into the lie that pastors cannot have meaningful friendships. I’m so thankful to God that that is, in fact, a lie. Even so, I’m still learning what it means to be a good friend.
- I am still learning that the church is not about the pastor. This should be a one-and-done lesson, but the reality is that there is the ever-present danger for pastors to think more highly of themselves than they ought (just as there is for everyone else!). The church is about God, his people, and his Word.
- I am still learning that good leadership is largely good listening. When I assume to know someone’s position or motive or whatever, I am hardly ever right. I need to hear them. I am better at this than I was 10 years ago, but I still have a lot to learn.
- I am still learning that pastoral work is one of the sweetest, greatest, most joy-filled, most tear-filled, most disappointing and most satisfying paths that a man could ever take.
I love being a pastor.