I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. — 2 Timothy 4:2
Calmly Urgent Ministry
The Christian ministry is—and must be—characterized by urgency. The time is short for any given Christian’s missional work, and the stakes are eternal. The urgency of eternity is ever before us. And yet most American churches are in no danger whatsoever of becoming too urgent in their missional work. While those who do not trust in Christ walk among us and by us, too often we fail to sense, acknowledge, or address the realness of their sin, the realness of God’s wrath for them, and the realness of God’s grace for them. Added to this, the sheep in the church walk through suffering or doubt, and need help applying the truth of Scripture. They need growth and maturity as soon as possible that they might become disciples who make disciples. But too often Christians also toy with sin, treating the instrument of our former depravity much too lightly. Because of all of this, Christian churches desperately need pastors to lead them toward urgency in mission, discipleship, and holiness.
There is also the soul-calming peace that comes through God’s saving work. This is not an inactive peace, but a peace characteristic of our redeemed and obedient action. If urgency with preaching and evangelism is the melody of pastoral ministry, a trusting peace with God serves as underlying harmony as the Lord builds His church through His church by His Spirit. Urgency and a peaceful calm find no discord, then, in this beautiful and paradoxical concoction of Christian ministry. But how are church leaders to be both urgent and calm? How do we live acknowledging that the time is short and yet slow ourselves for God to work in and through our churches in His time? I see the answer in the gospel-informed patience modeled in those who have many years of faithfulness behind them.
Gospel-informed patience is one of the most common exhortations I have heard experienced pastors emphasize with new pastors or pastors-in-training. And gospel-informed patience is both calm and urgent. This patience is expressed as a characteristic of long-lasting, faithful ministry.
A Patient Pursuit of Pastoring
First, let’s acknowledge that for those who are called to ministry leadership, whether pastoral or otherwise, it can be easy to want to fast-track your way to the title you desire. Seminary students sometimes cannot help but arrive with some kind of timeline in their minds. Three or four years, get the MDiv, get hired at a church in some sort of associate role, then be lead pastor somewhere else within a few years. That’s how this is supposed to go. They may not ever say that out loud, but it plays out that way often enough to encourage them to think that’s the normal, right way for everyone. So it’s not surprising that when I ask a 23-year-old male seminary student if he could be okay not becoming the lead preaching pastor of a church until he is 40 or older, it isn’t necessarily a question he enjoys entertaining. I ask that question not because I think only those over 40 should be shepherding (not at all!), but to allow the student to test his own internal plans or entitlements in case God brings him to his calling over an extended time.
As we can all acknowledge, God’s timeline often looks quite different from our plans. Even when it comes to something as good and pure as desiring to shepherd a local flock, there may be a better route for us than the route we plot out, along which God does necessary work on us.
Think about it: if you’re going to be a lead, preaching pastor for 40 years—from age 40 to age 80, for argument’s sake—that is a lot of years. And serving under the leadership of a more experienced pastor from age 25 to 40 may be the instrument God uses to make that last 40 years possible. It may be the instrument He uses to make that last 40 years more joyful, fruitful, and consistent. These are arbitrary numbers, of course, but you get the point. One personal hope is to see pastors-in-training pursue opportunities to learn to lead under loving oversight. Another is to help pastors-in-training purge impulses for self-glory, isolation, or people-pleasing when they arise. Extended, Spirit-filled mentorship is an effective remedy for such poisons. This mentorship need not be for a set time, and it need not end when roles change.
Loving People Takes Time
Now let’s come to the most common piece of advice regarding patience for young pastors. I’ll say it this way: don’t go into any ministry role “guns blazing.” You don’t need to blow up the deacon cartel before you’ve had each one over for dinner. Giving in to the impulse to blow up every wrong thing right away is just a sign that you may not be ready to be a pastor.
There are only a few situations in which a major thing should change on day one. For instance, if the church hasn’t had biblical preaching in ten years, then your first Sunday is a great time to change that. However, there will be a ton of times you’ll be tempted to try changing things (including important ones!) as a brand-new pastor. And there will be a ton of times you need to quiet yourself down and wait. As a seasoned pastor friend told a young H. B. Charles, if you make changes too quickly, your congregation is going to “put you out.”
So before you break up the cartel and establish a team of elders to shepherd the church, before you remove a budget line, before you cull the hundreds of unsubstantiated names from the membership directory, what should you do?
Learn to love the people. Learn to love them like a good shepherd.
With prayer and patience, get to know them. And let them get to know you! Know their families, and let them know yours. Know their histories. Know their hurts, their desires, their wins, their losses. Know their godly traits and gifts. Know their shortcomings and sinful tendencies. And know God and His Word, that you may lead them in following after Him in Christ. Let them hear His voice through your voice.
The time is too short for you to rush a church into chaos. Instead, with the mission urgent, calmly and lovingly shepherd these people “with complete patience and teaching.” Jason Helopoulos says it well in The New Pastor’s Handbook:
Dear pastor, start slow. Exercise self-control in what you seek to implement. Get to know your people, and learn the dynamics in the church. See yourself as a student rather than as a teacher, and take your time; don’t launch new initiatives in the first six months. This approach will pay dividends in the long run. Invite families over for dinner and ask important questions…Use those early weeks to invest in the elders and deacons. Discover the next generation of leadership waiting in the wings…Above all, allow the church time to get to know you. They want to follow you as a leader or they wouldn’t have called you. That being said, relationships need time and opportunity to develop trust.
One more note here: If you are already married when you become a pastor or when you assume a new leadership role, you will find it of prime importance to consider the patience required of your spouse. Whatever time it is taking you to learn to love the people, your spouse is in process with it too. Forming new relationships may be hard for one or both of you, or it may be easy. But it’s a good idea to pay attention and communicate well with each other as you plant some roots.
Surviving Drought, Despondency, and Death
I love seeing our students become pastors, become ministry leaders. But my goal is not to help students simply become pastors or ministry leaders. My hope is to see them invest in a church, and then stay. I hope to see them stay in spite of difficulty because the truth of the gospel sustains them. But it’s the staying that proves most difficult, particularly for the impatient.
Young pastors need to learn patience from seasoned pastors. Times of pronounced stagnancy, or drought, may come. The evangelism may be happening, the preaching may be happening, but the new life and evident growth may seem elusive. Church members may become disillusioned or overwhelmed. Some may depart without notice or in discouraging fashion, leaving you or the church with feelings of despondency. Members in the church will experience tragedy, and members will die. In the midst of all of the beautiful threads spinning throughout gospel ministry, there are those aspects of the shepherd’s task that weather his hands, harden his skin, and burden his mind. When such things arise, it can be tempting to abandon the sheep.
The pastor needs daily renewing strength himself, and that from the Lord. The pastor’s wife and family need strength from the Lord. This is a calling in which to be faithful over the long haul, and patience will need resilience. What type of patience is necessary to continue on through the drought, despondency, and death? It is one filled with the Word and Spirit of God, of this I’m sure. And the best way I know to learn this is to find someone in whom you can watch this patience in action over time. See it modeled in those with already-weathered hands, those with already-hardened skin, those filled with years of love for the flock God has given them.
The pastor is called above all else to feed the sheep, William Still once said, “even if the sheep do not want to be fed.” This is a day-by-day, week-by-week kind of work. It’s slow and steady, though urgent and necessary. Sheep aren’t quick to learn, to move. It’s further complicated when their immediate (under)shepherd must also be shepherded himself.
Calmness helps the patient shepherd avoid knee-jerk, emotion-filled reactiveness. Urgency helps the patient shepherd see the importance of his task, and that it’s worth staying in it for the long haul. This is not a vocation for the self-centered, the quarrelsome, the easily offended, the adulterous. Pastoring is also not for the impatient. Young pastors-in-training, learn to know, love, and protect the flock of God in whatever time it takes. Pray for wisdom and ask for help, that you may be patient in the training and patient in the pastoring.
 Ref. Proverbs 27:1; Luke 13:3, 5; John 8:22–24; James 4:13–14
 Ref. Eph. 2:13–16; Col. 1:19–22; Phil. 4:4–7
 H.B. Charles, On Pastoring (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016), 89.
 Jason Helopoulous, The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015), 144.
 William Still, The Work of the Pastor, revised ed., (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus, 2010), 23.