My son recently got a part-time job at Dunkin’ Donuts. Attached to his name tag, for the first few weeks, he had to wear a ribbon that said, “I’m new—thank you for being patient!” I teased him when I saw it, but then it convicted me!
Every Sunday, as I step onto the platform or shake hands in the lobby, I want to wear one of those ribbons. In fact, I want to wear it for the next five years. “I’m a new pastor, thank you for being patient with me!”
Perhaps you identify. I recently made some “top ten” lists about being the “new pastor.” Heres my first—ten ways being a new pastor has been a stretching experience:
1. Leading forward while simultaneously honoring the past. Some believe these are mutually exclusive. I do not. I believe that giving fresh vision to the future is the BEST way of honoring the past. “The way we’ve always done it…” will only keep us where we’ve always been. Fresh vision requires that we all look forward together while holding fast to the faith once delivered. When I’m old, I will be thrilled to see a younger generation carrying forward the faith I’ve handed to them—even if they don’t “do it just like I did…” Never expect a new leader to shoulder the last leader’s exact agenda or ministry style.
2. Caring for the church family while reaching out to new souls. Both are vital. Both are biblical. Both are a great privilege. Both could be overwhelming! Balancing these demands has proven to be exciting and challenging at the same time.
3. Keeping eyes on the big vision while trying to meet day to day expectations. Little stuff crowds out big stuff. Up close, little stuff looks bigger. Alone with God, little stuff looks smaller. There’s certainly enough little stuff to push aside big stuff indefinitely. As a staff member big vision wasn’t my responsibility. Now it is—and little stuff keeps calling me away from it. Over time, this could be halting to ministry progress!
4. Letting people down when you’re trying hard not to. If you care about people, you care how they feel and how they respond. You want their spiritual needs to be met. You want to edify and encourage them. Finding out you missed something, forgot something, or had a blind spot just isn’t fun. One thing for sure, good churches have to be made up of good forgivers! I’m thankful God gave me a really patient church family. They knew they were getting a “pastor in training” and they’ve encouraged me along the way!
5. Being in positions where you must make decisions that won’t please everyone. To be a church of “one mind” everybody has to be willing to put their preferences, opinions, or personal desires on hold for the greater good of the big mission. This requires real surrender. Personal selflessness. And as a pastor, sometimes I’m forced into a decision that offers two good options and people on each side who want “their way.” Thank the Lord for gracious people who are willing to follow leadership!
6. Being in positions where God has to come through, or you’re toast. It’s called faith, but sometimes it sure feels like risk! I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life as the last eight months. But that’s a good thing. God has not failed. God will not fail. Learning to rest in the face of risk—that’s the art of FAITH! Biblically, God gives seasons of predictability, rest, and assurance—but He did His most miraculous work when He called people out on a limb.
7. Sermon preparation over ministry administration. Preach the gospel. Feed the flock. Set in order the things that are wanting. Healthy churches are well-fed churches. But when well-fed churches grow, they require administration. After twenty-two years of administration, my mind gravitates to projects and task lists. But my pastoral heart senses God’s call into His presence and preparation. One thing is more needful!
8. Seeing there’s far more that you cannot do, than what you actually can do. As a staff member, my job description was limited. As a pastor, my job description is wide open. Every day there’s a river of things flowing my direction that need to be done. Reaching into that river and finding the highest value, highest priority, “will-of-God” stuff is a challenge. And every day ends with the feeling that “not enough” was done (as the river continues to rush…) It all brings a fresh awareness of my finite limitations, and how that any good thing that happens in ministry is “in spite of me, not because of me!”
9. Experiencing spiritual, soul-level warfare at a new level of intensity. This one is hard to describe without sounding like a nut case. Suffice to say, I believe Satan works over-time on the mind of a pastor. Pray for yours, and encourage him. Every word of blessing is like an oasis in the desert. Lots of people disrespect him. Plenty of people talk down to him, stab him in the back, or otherwise abrasively confront him. I guess it comes with the title. Makes me wish I had been a better encourager of my pastor.
10. Wishing you could be everywhere, for everybody, and everything that they need all the time. No surprise here—I’m not Jesus. If I try to be Jesus, I’ll not only fall far short, but I’ll hurt others in the process. I can’t be Jesus. I can only point them to Him. I can’t meet every expectation. I can only help people have realistic expectations—and place their super-human expectations upon their Saviour! He’s truly the only one that will never fail them!
“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
Pastor friend, how has God stretched you in the pastorate? How would you counsel me regarding these ten areas? Do you identify? How do you grow and get through these challenges? Take a minute to mentor me and others who might read…