25 Pennhurst Rd Spring City
Over the last year, I began a new ministry. I am remained a Pastor in a local church. During this past year, I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about the last 5 year of ministry; how I have grown and what I have learned. As a disciple of Christ, I am a student in the school of Jesus. This means I will always be a learner, needing to grow and understand what Christ is teaching me. Here are the 10 lessons I have learned.
1)Arrogance breeds ignorance
The first sin is pride. Adam fell because he wanted to be like God. Pride and arrogance is the condition and nature of the human heart without God. Yet even as redeemed people of God we still wrestle with pride. And in many cases, we do not even recognize the pride in ourselves. But if we remain arrogant, we will never grow or learn, continuing in our ignorance. Over the last 4 years I have seen many times where I thought I knew best. I thought I could make the best decision. I thought I knew what was needed, what should be said, what direction to go, or what must be taught. I saw arrogance produce ignorance in people around me, just as I saw this fester in my own heart. And ultimately arrogance leading to ignorance is what led to changes in life. This lesson of Christ has led me to focus on humility. Humility is a fruit only Christ can produce in me. Humility is the most important trait of God’s leaders. And the lesson of arrogance leading to ignorance has driven me to remain a humble learner of Christ and others in my life.
2)The Bible is totally sufficient for all I need
I am continually amazed at how God’s Word is all I need for life and faith. Over the last number of years, ever time I would stray from what God’s Word said and commanded, I would fail. I watched as people walked away from the faith as they walked away from the Word. I have seen divisions created, fights break out, and lives destroyed as the Word of God was twisted, misinterpreted, or forgotten. Even in my own life, days I hold fast to the Word, I have all I need. Days I place the Word on the shelf, my life was a wreck and sin won the day. The more I have served God’s people as an under-shepherd, the more I have come to learn the sufficiency of God’s holy, perfect, authoritative Word. The Bible is all I need. God through His Word speaks the only comfort and rule I need for life. As I continue to remain humble, the sufficiency of God’s Word has remained true. This lesson is one that will continue to grow, as I continue to rely on and obey God’s Word alone
What we know drives what we think, feel, and understand. What we understand, think, feel, and desire, drives what we do. As Christians our conduct is driven by our understanding of God, His Word, and the Gospel. Simply put, our theology drives our conduct. I have seen this clearly in my life. What I believe about God, His Word, and the good news of His saving my wretched soul, drives how I live for Him. But more importantly this lesson was learned through the negative. As I have seen poor and weak theology, I have watched lives fall apart. As I watched people reject the idea of theology, I have seen sin increase and arrogance run wild. But the opposite is true also. As I have seen people grow in their love for God with their mind and grow in their understanding of God’s Word, I have also seen holiness and love increase. I have come to learn, more than ever, theology matters and we are all theologians.
4)Listening is a skill that must be learned
As the first lesson points out, pride is the condition of the human heart. That means, we hate listening. We would much rather talk and make the conversation about us. Going into ministry, I thought I was a great listener. How I was mistaken. I discovered that I was a horrible listener. This led me to “try” to listen better. I came to realize though, listening is a skill that must be learned. I had to practice the skill of listening. I had to force myself to stop and shut my mouth. I had to practice and increase my skill of having open ears. Listening, I have come to realize is not something we do naturally. And I hope and pray, as I grow in life, I continue to grow as a listener. Listening is the first trait of humility.
5)A Pastor cannot lead a local church himself
When I was hired over 5 years ago to pastor a local church, I thought I was getting on a team with other leaders. I came to realize I was not on a team of leaders but was truly the only leader alone. At this point (I now know), I should have stopped and trained other leaders around me. But instead, I thought I should strive at it alone and “try” to lead the church forward. A single person, as I have now learned, can’t lead the church themselves. There were 12 Apostles. Moses had his brother, the other elders, and Joshua. Paul had Barnabas and Silas. And every leader, especially in the church, must be on a team of leaders. This was a hard lesson I had to learn. It is the stripping of pride and humbly submitting to God and others. But as the last number of years have shown, leading by yourself only creates problems, exhaustion, and eventually destruction.
6)Other local Pastor’s and friends are more valuable than gold
As a Pastor, I am called to lead, teach, shepherd, and guide Jesus people. But the relationship between Pastor and church member is a unique relationship. There are many things this unique relationship inhibits (which unfortunately I have learned the hard way). Yes, as lesson 5 shows, other Elders in the church can support the Pastor. But even the relationships of the Elders to the Pastor is different. I have come to learn, I need friends more than ever. I have learned I need friends in life who do not go to the church. I need other local Pastors who can be friends and accountability partners. I need other Godly men who can speak into situations, who can listen and encourage, and who can give advice on challenging situations. In the storm of ministry, I have found and learned that my closest friends are the anchor so that my soul is not shipwrecked by ministry.
7)Preaching is the heartbeat of the church
A Pastor spends time with God’s people in many different formats. I have grown in my love for the fellowship at home with the church members. I have always enjoyed spending time, in fellowship events and church activities, with God’s people. But I have come to realize, the greatest place for change, transformation, and the equipping of God’s people, always takes place in the Sunday sermon. The greatest way I can love God’s people is through this event. This is the time God’s Word is brought to bear on His people. This is when tension, conviction, transformation (and sadly hardening also), is done. Yes, all the other times with God’s people are important. But I have come to learn in the school of Jesus, the Sunday worship service and the centrality of His Word through the preaching of it, is the heart beat and lifeblood of His people. Preaching will steer the church, either leading it to grow or causing it to die.
8)Spiritual sin is a deep-rooted problem that takes weeks to plant and decades to uproot
I have come to learn true pastoral ministry must come with a long view. Sin is a true destructive force. It plants itself in God’s people very quickly. Yet it will take years to uproot. This lesson, at least for me, has produced two different realizations. First, I have learned, one sermon, one time of God’s Word, or one worship service is not going to fix the problem. It is a continual diet of God’s Word over years that will truly uproot the issues. Yes, miracles happen. But faithful ministry and reliance on God’s Word over decades is the way to rid the church of spiritual dieses. Second, a Pastor must be willing to sacrifice a number of years to remain in this place and fight the good fight. If he can’t or is not willing to, getting out the sooner is the better. Honestly, this is why I left my first church after only 5 plus years. Pastoral ministry is a life giving, time consuming, sacrificial venture that must have the long view of spiritual transformation. But, through faithful ministry, spent every Sunday for decades under the authority and teaching of God’s Word, life and transformation is found.
9)Bad churches can ruin good pastors
This lesson is not saying I am a good Pastor. This lesson is also not saying my first church was a bad church. But a few months ago, as I was struggling with the taxation ministry was taking on my life and family, a close mentor of mine declared a profound statement to me. He said, “good churches produce good Pastors, good Pastors don’t make good churches”. This line hit me between the eyes. I always thought good Pastor’s produce good churches. But his point was valid, especially for me in that moment. That line is a large reason where I am at today, on the doorstep of a good church, hoping and praying I can be a good Pastor to them. This lesson speaks to the reality that a Pastor, except in very miraculous situations, will not produce a good church. It is the Pastor’s job to humbly teach and submit to God’s Word and let the sovereignty of God place the chips where He wants them to fall. This lessons has led me to pray, asking God to make me a good Pastor and place me in a good church to love. By God’s grace, I hope He has.
10)The Gospel is what unifies but also what divides
John Calvin said, “without the Gospel there is no life”. I would add to Calvin, without the true Gospel there can be no unity. This final lesson is the largest lesson I have learned from pastoral ministry. Simply put, the Gospel either unifies God’s people or divides God’s people. For years, I took this lesson for granted. I grew up and went to churches where the Gospel was unifying because the whole church believed the same thing. But sadly, over the last 5 plus years, I have pastored a church that did not believe the same gospel that I did. A Pastor can’t pastor a church that does not believe the same gospel as him. All it does is create division, heartache for both parties, and ultimately leads to destruction and spiritual death. But where a Pastor and the church believe in the same Gospel, then life, transformation, and unity is found. And this leads to the beauty of the Gospel displayed. The Gospel is the good news that humanity is a depraved wretched race of spiritually dead people, who Jesus Christ came to this world to save by living a perfectly righteous life and dying a perfectly substituting wrath filled death bearing the penalty for the sin of His sheep, removing the wrath of God by satisfying the justice of His Father, so that His elect people can be saved for all eternity through grace by faith. When this Gospel is believe by the whole church, unity is truly found. But as I have learned, when the Gospel is not all believed by the church, it divides, and separation is necessary. This lesson was hard to swallow but is the greatest lesson I have learned in over 5 years of pastoral ministry.