If you think back over your life, there are bound to be a few days you hold as special, days that have shaped you. In my life there are a little more than a handful of days that are extremely special to me, days I will never forget.
Those days include: High School, College, and Seminary graduation. The day my wife and I were married. The birth of our two sons – Camden and Bryson. My call to the pastorate. And the day I was ordained. Those are all special days for me, days I will never forget, days that have shaped my life.
While each of those days were joyous occasions, each also brought with them new challenges. One journey that has been joyous yet challenging is the call to the pastorate. I have been extremely blessed by the people I pastor, but I have also been extremely challenged.
For the those who are thinking of entering the pastorate, or just starting out, there are three things that will help you face the unique challenges in ministry:
(1) Love Jesus
You must love Jesus above anything else in your life. When you love Jesus more than anything else, you will pursue Him more than anything else. It is necessary that you pursue Jesus because you will need Him to strengthen you for the task at hand.
There will be times when you will have to console those who are hurting, pray for those who are sick, apply godly counsel and wisdom to sensitive and difficult situations in the church, and much more. You can’t do those things in your own power, nor should you attempt to. Doing so is the surest way to set yourself and your church up for failure.
So in order for you to serve the Lord in the way He has called you to serve Him, you will need to love Jesus more than anything else in your life, so that you will pursue Him to a greater extent than anything else in this world.
When I talk about pursuing Jesus, I mean for you to pursue Him in prayer, Bible study, and worship, which are all necessary if you are going to lead and serve the church according to God's Will.
In order to know God's will, you must be in His Word as often as possible. In order to apply His will, you must pray. In order to grow in your love for God so that you will continue to pursue Him more and more in prayer and Bible study, you need to worship the Lord, so that your affections are stirred for Him more and more each and everyday.
Let me encourage you to make it a point to read God's Word as often as you have opportunity. Not just for sermon preparation, but for personal devotion. Allow God to nurture your own soul as you meet with Him daily in His Word.
Pray each and every time you have a question to answer, a situation to handle, a decision to make, or a sermon to write.
Be involved in the worship service, attentive and worshipping alongside your congregation. It is easy to find projects to complete, people to talk to, or notes to review before you step in the pulpit. Avoid doing those things and worship alongside your congregation, not only as an example to them of the importance of worship, but also for your own soul.
Take moments throughout your day to worship the Lord for the many ways He is working in your life, for the awe of His creation, and the prayers He has answered in your life and the life of your church.
(2) Love Your Church
Love is an interesting word in our modern vocabulary. People often use it to mean they have a certain feeling about someone or something, which usually arises because that something or someone makes them feel good. So for instance when I say I love coffee, what I really mean is that it makes me feel good or happy.
However, when I talk about loving the church, I don’t have that same type of love in mind. Instead I have in mind the love that Christ has for us. In 1 John 3:16, we read,
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers." (1 Jn 3:16)
Jesus' love for us is self-sacrificial, and it is not based on feelings or what we can do for Him. We know that is true because Jesus died for us while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:7-8).
It is important we have that type of love for the church because there will be times when the church doesn't make us feel good. But here is the thing: we aren't called to serve the church, to love its people, to only give of our time, money, and resources when they are making us feel good. Instead, we are called to love the church at all times regardless of how it makes us feel.
Unless you love your church with the same self-sacrificial love that Christ has for us, you will not stick in there. The first bout of controversy, difficulty, or lack of perceived success that can easily creep in will cause you to give a little less of your time, your emotions, and your heart to the people you are called to serve. It might even cause you to start looking elsewhere for greener pastures.
(3) Love Your Family
With all the demands that are put on you in the work of ministry, the one thing that is easy to do is neglect your own families. But you must love, care for, and continue to nurture them, even while you are loving and serving the church.
In fact, you should see your family as your first church. The way you love, serve, and minister to them should be a reflection of how you will love and serve your second church – the one you are called to pastor. So don't neglect your families to do the work of ministry.
This is something I have had to learn in my ministry. I love pastoring, teaching, and preaching. In the past, I have neglected my family to do those things. Thankfully, by the grace of God I learned quickly that was not the way things should be. As a result, I quickly set some parameters, parameters my wife helps me to keep.
So yes, love your church, sacrifice for and serve your church, but don't do it to the neglect of your family because your family is your first church and there is nothing more important than taking care of them.
I am convinced that if you do these three things – (1) Love Jesus, (2) Love your Church, and (3) Love your Family – you will be an effective pastor, who will serve the church well for many years to come.