7 More Key Lessons Learned In 30+ Years Of Ministry

Last week I wrote a post on “7 Things I’ve Learned In 30+ Years Of Pastoral Ministry“. Here are a 7 more. In writing these, I’m thinking of things I might tell a young pastor, but most of them apply to every believer.

Jesus calls us to be faithful not successful.

In my early years as a pastor, I was often discouraged because many of my friends pastored mushrooming churches, while we would add three people then lose two. When I compared myself to them, I felt like a failure. But I gradually came to realize that God hadn’t called me to be successful, but faithful. In the parable of the talents, the master said to each of the first two servants, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Wherever God has called you to, seek to be faithful. Be faithful in Bible intake, prayer, serving others. Just seek to be diligent in your work and God will take care of success.

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Don’t long for a huge church.

This goes along with the first point. Like I said, many of my friends pastored huge churches. I was often envious until I heard someone say that once Spurgeon was addressing some pastors of small churches and said: “Are you discouraged because your church is so small? Is it big enough to be responsible for on judgment day?” After hearing that I’ve never longed for a huge church.

All of us are really slow to change.

This is so obvious now, but in my early years as a pastor I thought I’d only have to teach something once. I’d only have to counsel a guy once. He would leave my office, brimming with my wise counsel, and be transformed. I had forgotten the signs I’d painted for a nursery when I had a sign painting business – “Bears fruit in 2 to 3 years.”

Heck, it took years for me to change. Why should I expect others to change overnight? Fruit takes years to produce. Knowing this helps me to be patient with others’ failures. Change in people and change in churches takes years. This is why I’d encourage pastors to have a long-haul mentality, and if possible stay in the same church for many years.

Don’t take things personally.

Don’t be easily offended. If you’re easily hurt or easily discouraged, don’t get into any position of leadership. First of all, you can never do things perfectly. You can’t please everyone, and you’ll make plenty of mistakes as a leader. And even if you have strong gifts, you also have many areas of deficiency which people will point out (hopefully lovingly), though sometimes people will point out your weaknesses in ways that aren’t so loving or sensitive. Listen to critiques. Don’t reject correction. But don’t be easily offended and don’t take things personally.

Don’t bring things home with you.

They’ll still be there tomorrow, just like Bob Wiley in What About Bob? Dr. Marvin: “You think he’s gone!? He’s not gone! That’s the whole point! He’s never gone!!” Don’t take things home with you. Jesus will work them out. He said he would build his church. I don’t have to. I’m grateful God has given me grace in this area. It’s partly the way he has made me, but generally I’m able to lay things aside when I go home and not think about them in the evening. (I’m probably just dumb). But we need to cast our cares on the Lord at the end of the day and give ourselves to our families and trust God to take care of each day’s problems. Jesus said don’t be anxious about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself.

Not every “emergency” needs to be solved right away.

In my early years, I felt like I had to respond to every “emergency” as soon as it happened. If someone called and said, “My wife just left me, can you come over and help us?”, I’d jump in my car and head right over. Then I heard another pastor say that marital problems develop over years, and we aren’t going to solve them in one night. Obviously we should respond immediately to real emergencies, but most things can wait till the next day or next week.

Abide in Christ.

This one seems obvious, but nothing could be more important for every believer, and especially for every pastor. Spend time with the Lord. Regularly read the Bible and pray. When we have lots to do we can be tempted to skip our times with the Lord and jump right into work. But if we do this regularly we’ll suffer. We’ll lack joy and strength which comes from abiding in Christ and his word and prayer.

I’m still learning. I think the Lord has allowed me to be a pastor for so long because I’m so slow to get these things. I can see the Lord saying to an angel, “Well, I guess I’ll have to take Mark one more time around the mountain. Maybe he’ll get it the next time.”

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.