A little over a year ago, I was installed as the Associate Pastor of our church. And what a year it has been! From preaching, to teaching, to training, to counseling, to officiating weddings, to baptizing, to comforting and weeping with grieving people, to rejoicing with and for those who are experiencing spiritual victory, to simply learning what it means to faithfully “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2), it has been an incredible privilege this past year to be spent for the sake of our flock (2 Cor. 12:15) and for the lost souls in our community.
The past year has given me an abundance of opportunities to prayerfully reflect on a variety of topics related to my still-new role as a pastor. Here are six key lessons I’ve learned in my first year of serving Christ as His undershepherd:
1. GOD IS FAITHFUL
From the opening verses of Genesis to the concluding verses of Revelation, an ongoing theme of Scripture is God’s faithfulness. God has always been and will always be perfectly faithful in His essence, His being, and His character. “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deut. 7:9). God’s faithfulness has been manifested to His people — both His original covenant people (Israel) and His people in the modern-day church age. God’s faithfulness likewise has been demonstrated in His promises. This includes His promises to build His church (Matt. 16:18) and His promise to send out His Word with power and effect (Isa. 55:10-11), resulting in the redemption of souls through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since being installed as a pastor, I have beheld the truth of what Paul said to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Tim. 2:13). Notwithstanding my own shortcomings and failures, I have witnessed God perfectly display His faithfulness in so many ways over these past year. Though I may stammer, He still saves. Though I may lack the perfectly-timed turn of phrase, He nevertheless turns hearts to Him. Though my knowledge base and wisdom is inherently limited by the curse of sin, He still uses the words that roll off my tongue to effect change in the lives of people as He accomplishes His perfect eternal plans. Indeed, O God, “Great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:23).
2. THE GOSPEL IS GLORIOUS
Before being installed as a pastor, God instilled in me a passion for reaching sin-sick souls with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since becoming a pastor, that zeal for lost souls has, by God’s grace, not ebbed. I count it my duty and honor to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Nowadays, and much to my delight, many evangelistic conversations end up finding their way to me by virtue of the office I now hold. And as gospel conversations have been sparked this past year, God has done some amazing things. I think of a certain young man who, as we were having coffee one afternoon, realized he was not a Christian and that he was desperately in need of salvation. He repented of his sins that very day and trusted in Jesus Christ to save him — right in front of me. Fast forward three months, I had the great privilege of officiating that same young man's wedding, and then, twenty-four hours after his wedding, I had the unforgettable privilege of baptizing him. Then there was the couple attending our church who had three beautiful children together, yet they were not married. After a series of gospel conversations with the two of them, they each realized they not only needed to get married, but even more important, they needed to be saved. They professed their faith in Jesus right in front of my eyes, and five days later, I had the privilege of doing their wedding in front of their natural families as well as their new church family. And a month after that — you guessed it — I had the privilege of baptizing the two of them, this newlywed husband and wife, in front of our church family. Being a pastor, and witnessing such amazing stories of salvation and transformation, has only further convinced me of the fact that the gospel is glorious!
3. SCRIPTURE IS SUFFICIENT
I am a card-carrying, certified member of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. That organization has long stood for and affirmed the biblical truth that Scripture is not only inerrant and infallible (2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35), but sufficient. As an intellectual matter, I have always affirmed that the Bible contains all the wisdom and instruction that God’s people need for living honorable and godly lives in the present age. The Bible provides answers to all of the questions that Christians need answers to. In other words, the Word of God is sufficient. Becoming a pastor, and not just a pastor but a pastor who counsels regularly has only confirmed these convictions. The sufficiency of Scripture is not a doctrine I merely assent to intellectually — it is something I witness daily as I minister the Scriptures to people coming in from all walks of life. I have witnessed Scripture’s sufficiency at the bedside of someone who is dying. I have witnessed Scripture’s sufficiency in counseling those who are young and old, male and female, formally educated and less formally educated. I have witnessed Scripture’s sufficiency as the Word of God brings hope (Rom. 15:4) to the depressed, to the angry, to the fearful, to the grieving, and to the hopeless. As a pastor, I have stronger convictions than I ever have that the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament are not merely the words of men, but truly are the perfect and sufficient Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).
4. HUMILITY IS ESSENTIAL
There exists in pastoral ministry a very real temptation to drift in the direction of pride. The publicity and praise that can be associated with the office can be a deadly trap for the man who takes on the role. To combat this temptation to pride, I have had to fiercely pursue its antidote — humility. One key way I do so is to continually remind myself that mine is a planting and watering ministry. And, as the Scripture teaches, “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). My job is to communicate truth from God’s Word — whether it be from a pulpit, across the desk in a counseling meeting, in an informal discipleship relationship, or in an evangelistic coffee meeting. My job also is to pray that those to whom I communicate truths from Scripture will either trust in Jesus Christ for salvation or (if they are already believers) to grow in maturity as disciples of Jesus Christ. My job, as I dedicate myself to this ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4), is to point to Jesus Christ whenever any type of ministry success is achieved. My job ultimately is to proclaim Him (Col. 1:28) — not me. My job is to magnify the name of Jesus Christ so that He increases, while I step out of the way and joyfully decrease (John 3:30). In a year of pastoral ministry, I have discovered that this fiercely intentional pursuit of humility must always be accompanied by the following three things: (1) a regularly-increasing intake of God’s Word (which helps me, as I behold its Author, to view myself rightly); (2) prayer for ongoing humility and for killing of the sin of pride; and (3) accountability (particularly with other pastors who face the same temptations to pride). None of these humility-directed pursuits is exclusive to the pastorate, but each is essential for any pastor.
5. WEAKNESS IS NOT WEAK
Pastors have a weighty calling. It is a calling that carries with it lasting and eternal consequences. It is a calling that requires a godly lifestyle and specified gifts. But pastors are neither superhuman nor superheroes. Like those we shepherd, we undershepherds are just as eagerly waiting for the return of Jesus Christ. We are just as eagerly anticipating our glorified bodies. We are just as eagerly awaiting a new heaven and a new earth, where there will be no more tears, or death, or mourning, or pain, or sin (Rev. 21:1-4). In the meantime, in these bodies of flesh, we get tired, stressed, and discouraged. We face anguish and grief. We get hurt. We get sick. We make mistakes. We make decisions we later regret. And yes, we sin. In other words, like anyone else who has been impacted by the original curse of sin (i.e., all of creation), we are weak. But what I have learned over this past year, and what the Scriptures affirm (Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, or David, anyone?) is that weakness is a characteristic God uses mightily in the lives of those whom He appoints to shepherd His flock. As Paul learned with respect to his thorn in the flesh, God’s power is perfected in our weakness. The weaker we are, the more God’s power and grace are showcased and magnified. “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Make no mistake — “weakness" is not a blanket excuse for a called man to give in weakly to sin. Nor is it a basis for abandoning a biblical conception of manhood and taking on the culture’s mantra of men being wimpy buffoons. However, recognizing our own weakness is the proper starting point for acknowledging where the true power lies — not with us, but with the One we have been charged to proclaim.
6. PASTORING IS A PRIVILEGE
I love our church. I love the people. I love the fellowship. I love the community. I loved each of these aspects of being part of a healthy Christian fellowship long before I became a pastor. But I can say with all sincerity that I love our church and its people all the more since becoming a pastor. In his work The Characteristic of a True Evangelical Pastor, John Flavel wrote: “The labors of the ministry will exhaust the very marrow from your bones, hasten old age and death. They are fitly compared to the toil of men in harvest, to the labors of a woman in travail, and to the agonies of soldiers in the extremity of a battle. We must watch when others sleep. And indeed it is not so much the expense of our labors, as the loss of them that kills us. It is not with us, as with other laborers: They find their work as they leave it, so do not we. Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanish before the next. How many truths have we to study! How many wiles of Satan, and mysteries of corruption, to detect! How many cases of conscience to resolve! Yes, we must fight in defense of the truths we preach, as well as study them to paleness, and preach them unto faintness.” Flavel’s diagnosis, while accurate, is no bitter pill to swallow. Instead, to “shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28) is an unparalleled privilege. To daily point souls to Christ, to feed them with the needful food of God’s Word, and to witness Christ being formed more fully in the lives of believers as they grow in holiness and sanctification, is a task with lasting, eternal consequences. Pastoral ministry carries with it many immense responsibilities, but at the same time it is an immense privilege in which I (like many who have gone before me) find immense delight and joy.