A Vivid Memory
My mind’s eye can see the moment very clearly. 12/4/2022 is the date, I preached that Sunday morning then led business meeting in the evening. I can recall all of the eager faces seated around the table for the time as we went through several items of church business. As customary, I left the meeting so the church could vote, then I came back afterward to hugs and smiles as they had called me as their pastor . . . I joyfully accepted. I had already served for a year and a half as an interim pastor of another congregation and filled in at various congregations while finishing seminary. This charge at Vesta is my first and only pastorate. I hit the one year date yesterday.
Seeing as this opening year of pastoral ministry has come to a close, I wanted to share a collection of thoughts and lessons learned while they are fresh on my mind. These could be from mistakes I made, experiences I went through, or insights I was given from others. Prayerfully, all of them will be saturated in the teaching of Scripture and perhaps be of some good to another man going through his first year.
The Word of God is Sufficient
Coming into the ministry, I had a desire in my soul to stake my life and service to Christ on the foundation of His Word. If souls are to be saved it will be by the power of the Gospel. Should the church grow it will happen by the Spirit working according to the Word of God. When discipleship occurs it happens as the hearts and minds of Christians are brought into deeper submission to the teaching of Christ in the Scripture as they grow in the knowledge of Him revealed in His Word. We were blessed to host The Sufficient Word Bible Conference this year as an encouragement to our own local body and a blessing to the community at large (insert link to sessions).
There is no doubt that a year of seeing God’s Word work in my own heart and the lives of the saints around me has been such a gift. Whether it be through the study of His Word, public preaching, one-on-one counseling, hospital visits, Sunday School, or Bible studies it is a blessing to see the people of God knowing and applying the Word of God. Particularly on Sunday and Wednesday nights. Dear brother, I can tell you that I have seen more serious conversations during our evening Bible studies than in any other time over my life as a Christian. Some of our times have been an hour and a half of complete Bible study. It has nothing to do with me, I simply teach and stop periodically for questions or discussion. No, it is not me, it is Christ working in His church through the Word. Souls have shared personal battles, life trials, and asked deep questions about biblical truth. There have been times of great laughter and a few tears shed along the way. It is the beauty of God’s people coming around the pure truth of Scripture and doing life together. On Sunday nights over the first year, we went through Galatians and Colossians. I commend to you the study of these books early on as they clarify the exact definition of the Gospel and focus on Christ in all of His glory!
P.S. Bringing a few snacks on Sunday nights is not a bad idea either 😉
Coming into the pastorate, I knew my inexperienced point was that of the oversight/administrative realm. I had preached well over 200 sermons and led approximately 6 business meetings. It is plain I have growth in both realms but the disparity in experience between the two is glaring. Coming into the church we had long business meetings. Such is the case with a congregation making many plans for the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s season. In addition, we hosted a Bible conference, undertook routine church maintenance, planned fellowships and gatherings, and took a church trip together to name only a few. When we first started, or when I first started, our business meetings were well over an hour. Some of that was due to necessary conversation, but in these early days it was more so due to my needed growth in organization.
Thankfully, due to family members with business experience and pastoral mentors, I was able to shorten my initial learning curve substantially. There are times to toss out discussion periods for ideas, but I quickly found that it is good for the pastor to have clearly in mind the path to take and lead in that way, while maintaining humility if someone presents a better option. Paul charged Titus with the responsibility of putting what remained in order (Titus 1:5). That is true doctrinally, but also practically. My business meeting notes needed to reflect not three possible ideas, but a clear path that we could go which could be edited if someone came up with a good suggestion along the way. I also needed to grow in seeing the order of business points to bring up at each meeting. None of these detracted from conversation or input from the congregation, it simply cut out the extra time wasted due to my lack of vision. That’s the key, you have to have a biblical vision and put it in place. The congregation was very patient with my growth in this realm never even mentioning it to me. Order is critical to pastoral leadership, and I am grateful for God’s kindness in my continued growth.
Love And Strength
I knew that over my first year in the pastorate I would experience much in church life. Having sat down with many pastoral mentors, I have both experienced some and heard many of the blessings and trials of ministry. Truly, what I did not know was the depths of love I would experience in the life of the church. Lee Creek Baptist Church where I was a member and ordained to the pastoral ministry from is such a loving congregation and doctrinally sound. I had experienced the pure joy of the fellowship of the saints saturated in the truth as a member of that body whom I love dearly. However, I did not know what to expect whenever it came to entering the pastorate.
Instantly, after meeting the people at the church I could feel a joy, love, and care that was deeply genuine and Christlike. They welcomed me, and my family, into their family instantly. There were no cold shoulders, only a warm welcome everyday. Shortly after my pastoral ministry began my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, the church was a source of constant support and prayer. Dear pastor, don’t ever forget that you need the local church just as much as any other member of Christ’s body. We need the fellowship of the saints, the ministry of the Word, and the love of the brethren just like anyone else. The congregation truly has been and continues to be a source of such joy and strength to my own soul pointing me to the Lord. Truly, we are on a journey of growing together in Christ day by day as a local body. That is a rare blessing and gift, one I do not take for granted!
Bringing It All Home
A few practical thoughts are in order that I have personally found helpful. One is to be several weeks ahead on sermon preparation. As a pastor anything can come up at any minute of the day and change my plans. Work sometimes need extra attention, a church member could go to the hospital, or a last minute counseling need might arise. By staying ahead on my sermon prep, I am able to take care of these urgent responsibilities without neglecting the pulpit. Normally, I have written in advance; 2-3 Sunday mornings, 4-5 Sunday evenings, and 4-5 Wednesday evenings. This approach might not work for all, but I have found it helpful. Be sure to learn not to be monotone as you preach, it will save your voice from wearing out and give you more strength in your delivery. Allow your voice to express the passion that God has placed into your soul. Start your business meeting prep about a month in advance, not just a couple of weeks. Find other brothers in the ministry with whom you can pray, fellowship, and strengthen one another. I am blessed to have such a group of men, you know who you are, and you have my eternal gratitude. Lastly, be transparent with your family about what is going on in the ministry. Not everyone needs to know everything, but involving your family is good for your soul, the church, and them as well.
These are some thoughts after my first year of pastoral ministry. I am certainly not through growing, I have only begun. The point of the “Dear Young Pastor” series is not to say I am a sage on the pastorate, but rather to humbly share what I have learned as I serve Christ in this calling. My prayer is that by sharing lessons year after year others can see the mistakes I made and the triumphs of Christ’s grace and have their own souls profited. It was a joyful year my friends, I am grateful to the Lord for His kindness. I am also incredibly thankful to my church family, they are such a blessing!