As of today, November 21st, I’ve been a pastor for fifteen years. When I surrendered to the ministry seventeen years ago, Donna and I didn’t have a clue about our future. What we know now is that God has graciously allowed us to serve three wonderful churches.
Along the way, I’ve picked up on a few things. So, here are fifteen thoughts, insights, or just random stuff gleaned since 2004.
There is no substitute for expository preaching.
This lesson won’t shock anyone who knows me. I believe the best way to preach is through books or extended sections of the Bible. This approach allows the truths of Scripture to be revealed in their divinely inspired sequence. Also, I can’t shy away from difficult passages. What I’ve noticed, also, is that expository preaching covers the same issues as topical preaching but in a contextual and exegetical way.
There is no substitute for the gathered church.
When believers go through tough times, they respond in one of two ways. Some open up to the church about their struggles and allow God’s people to be a source of comfort and support. These people grow in their faith through trials. Others slowly walk away from the congregation and regress in their intimacy with the Lord. God gave us the church so that we aren’t living our faith alone. People should never let embarrassment or an overdeveloped sense of privacy rob them of the riches of being with the church.
There is no substitute for Bible reading.
Reading the Bible does not guarantee spiritual growth. But, not reading the Bible does guarantee no spiritual growth. God chose to speak to us through His Word. We better hear what He has to say.
Conflict is rarely about the eternal.
A pastor is equipped to handle theological disputes. After all, we spend our week studying the Bible and theology. What we are not trained to handle is arguments about scheduling the use of the fellowship hall or the size of the bulletin font. While these things aren’t unimportant, they certainly aren’t eternal. Yet, these types of conflicts can cause families to leave and churches to split. Instead, these issues are opportunities for us to put others before ourselves.
Discipleship is a long process.
I was fortunate enough to serve my first church for over eight years and my second for almost exactly six. These tenures were long enough to see what happens when a believer pursues spiritual growth. Their attitudes and service change. They mature. This growth takes time. You can’t microwave a believer.
Pastoral ministry is about presence.
People will say to me, “I just don’t know what to say at funeral visitations.” Or, “I’m not sure what to do in a hospital room.” Let me tell you a secret. Preachers don’t always know what to say or do either. It’s not about what is said or done. Pastoral ministry is about being with the congregation to show them that you love them. Just be there.
Marriage is precious and must be protected.
Please, please, please do not wait until your marriage is almost over to seek help. For married people, our relationship with our spouse is second only to our relationship with Jesus. Marriage is too important to throw away and too special not to cherish. Always be on guard. Satan hates marriage because it pictures Christ’s relationship with the church. Protect and nurture your marriage. Get help if you need it. Offer help when you know it’s needed.
Be grateful when people are there, not critical of when they’re not.
One of the men I most respect once told me that he used to criticize Easter only and Christmas only church attenders. But then he said, “You know John, I’ve finally decided to be happy that at least they’re here those days.” There’s a lot of wisdom and grace in that statement.
John is the New Testament’s most profound writer.
I’ve preached through all of John’s Gospel, his epistles, and taught through Revelation. John said more, simply, and with fewer words, than any other New Testament writer. I’m amazed every time I return to his writings.
Lost and unchurched people aren’t concerned about how we “do church.”
Y’all, an unchurched person is not concerned about traditional vs. contemporary. They don’t even know the difference. But, they can tell if we love Jesus, one another, and them.
The NASB needs to do a better job with word selection.
This is nitpicky, but there are times when it’s important to see that a writer uses the same word in several spots within a paragraph or section of Scripture. The NASB, which is my preferred translation, will often use different words to translate the same Greek word in those instances. I assume it’s for stylistic reasons. I’m not crazy about this approach. The ESV does a much better job of handling these cases. (I’ll climb down from my soap box now.)
The End Times will take care of themselves.
The more I study the end times the less I know for sure about the details. I know that Jesus is coming back bodily, that there is a resurrection of the dead, and that there is a judgment, among other things. However, I’m not going to get bent out of shape about the timing.
The “young people” will step up in their time.
There are exceptions to what I’m about to say, but they are just that—exceptions. Here’s how the conversation usually goes.
“Preacher, why is it when we have a work day none of our younger guys show up?”
“Well,” I’ll answer, “let me ask you a question. Were you at church work days when you were younger?”
The typical answer is “no I wasn’t.”
I’ll then say, “When those guys’ schedules are like yours, then they’ll be able to be here for things like this. Right now they’re at the ball field or something like that with their family. That’s where they need to be. They’ll step up in this area, in their time, just like you have.”
It’s very easy to forget that life has many stages that influence our service in the church. Be faithful with where God has placed you. He’ll take care of the rest.
Two Final & Random Thoughts
Appearances and reports are often inaccurate.
The church down the street is either growing like crazy or shedding members like my four daughters shed hair. It is rare that a church is growing or contracting like people think. Numbers are easily exaggerated. All we can do is be faithful where God called us.
Only in Heaven will we have the correct sanctuary temperature.
Admit it. Y’all know I’m right about this one.