Re-post: 10 Tips for Young Pastors

Photo Credit: "Outside the camp" via flicker.comPastoral work is demanding. It has its peculiar stresses. But, it is also deeply satisfying when done with wisdom and care. Here are some suggestions gleaned from 22-years of pastoral ministry and another 19-years as a general church overseer.

1. Ground your ministry in daily Bible reading and prayer. Pray daily for your people. Pray often through the day. Consider that pastoral labors grounded in prayer are the “gold, silver and costly stones” the Apostle Paul speaks of as durable building materials used in pastoral labors (1Cor. 3:10-15).

2. If your study is at the church, be there at a set time each work day. I suggest 8 A.M. God honors a good work ethic.

3. Spend your mornings in sermon preparations, reading, and related study. Be diligent. If you have a secretary, have her guard these hours. Don’t allow legitimate resources to become time-wasters — the Internet, TV, video games, long telephone calls, news papers, news magazines, etc.

“If in the morning you throw moments away,
You’ll not catch them up in the course of the day.”

4. Get an exercise program and stick to it, whether it be jogging or swimming or walking or exercising to a DVD. If you have no better idea, consider, as one possibility, incorporating this routine into an extended noon hour. A jog, then a sandwich, an apple, and a beverage need take no more than an hour-and-a-quarter.

5. Do not have favorites. If your attachment to one person or couple or family becomes obvious — you meet regularly for meals together, even go camping together — this will make other members feel second rate. The pastor must be pastor to all the people all the time. If you need more intimate friendships, form them outside the congregation — with a neighboring minister, for example.

6. Never, discuss church problems in the presence of growing children.  They do not have the wisdom to handle adult problems.
Their trust may be damaged, and eventually their respect for Christ and his church.

7. If division develops over some issue (whether to launch a building program, add a staff member, change the music program, etc.) give leadership through proper channels. But don’t take sides by talking informally with one faction or the other. To do so will deepen the congregational rift and likely shorten your tenure.

8. Develop a clear understanding of your boundaries and observe them — with the opposite sex, the aged, children, young people, church officers, staff members, etc. Strive to keep all pastoral relationships above reproach.

9. However modest your income, set an example of responsible stewardship. Show leadership in tithing your income. If you have debts that are out of hand, seek professional counsel. Your care with money will increase the congregation’s trust in your leadership.

10. Never ask to borrow money from your parishioners. To do so puts parishioners at a disadvantage, may reduce their respect for you, and if not repaid as agreed may create a rift that puts your pastoral tenure at risk.

Pastoral ministry is built on the ability to preach and teach the Bible. But it is also grounded in genuine godliness, basic ethical competence, good interpersonal skills, and beyond these on common sense. These ten points do not tell the whole story but they offer some time-tested suggestions about how to avoid the traps that sometimes spring and limit or even shorten a minister’s usefulness to the Lord and a congregation.

 

Photo Credit: Outside the camp (via flicker.com)

Bookmark and Share

There’s More to Church Than Just Attending

My father was not a converted man when my younger sister and I were growing up, but even so he attended church with the family Sunday morning and night without fail. I’m sure he believed in what the church stood for and felt the value of attending — at least for the children’s sake.

I will never know fully what his decision to attend contributed to my own life’s decisions. Neither of my Sunday School buddies, Fred and Howard, had fathers who ever turned up at church and both of them fell away from any church connections when they were 15 or so. Fred died of a heart attack when he was 31 and Howard had a checkered life and he, too, has been gone for many years.

As valuable as mere church attendance might be for either believers or unbelievers, it is far from the whole story when it comes to the Biblical understanding of church.

“Church” in the New Testament does not refer to a building or auditorium. The simplest translation for the word in English is “assembly.” Literally the word means “the called out” or the people of God whom he calls to assemble together. It means a gathering of believers — the “set-apart-ones.”

The Apostle Paul enhances our understanding of church when he further represents it as a body – a vital organism (1 Cor.12:12-27). This analogy indicates the living nature of the church. And just as a body has arms and legs, eyes and ears, internal organs, etc., all of which are subject to a common control center — the mind — so the church has living members who exercise special gifts in and through the assembly under the direction of the supreme head, Jesus Christ. These members thus contribute in an orderly way to the church’s communal life.

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 has much to say about exercising these gifts to give the whole body order and usefulness.

And to the church in Rome he wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Rom. 12: 6-8).

The gifts God gives to the members of his church are varied for a good reason – they are to enhance the health and witness of the whole body. But the one gift, fundamental to all else, is the gift of God’s Spirit. He awakens us with the life of God (Eph. 2:4-5). That is called the new birth. And then he “gifts” us to serve in and through the workings of Christ’s body (Acts 1:4).

From these passages it is clear especially for Christians that the central idea is to participate as a living member, and to contribute to worship and ministry!

You might wonder what became of my father’s church involvement after my sister and I left home. He responded to the gospel at age 61.

He had “attended” church for nearly all his adult life but now he had become a “living part” of the church — a member of Christ’s body. He went suddenly to be with the Lord when he was 83, leaving that comforting witness behind him.

Bookmark and Share

Why We Attend Church

From infancy onward, my younger sister, Eunice, and I were taken to church. When I was 16 I made a weak effort to declare that I was now old enough to choose when I would and would not attend. It was a trial balloon and my little English mother quickly punctured it. She put one finger on the dinner table and said, “Young man, so long as your feet are under this table you’ll go to church when church is on.”

Later, when Kathleen and I were first married we lived across the Queen Elizabeth Way from Lorne Park College, west of Toronto. On Sundays, whenever we were not away singing or preaching somewhere, we walked the long gravel lane to the main building morning and evening to join faculty and students in Christian worship. On Wednesday nights we made the same trek to attend vespers.

You might conclude that after our 64 years together we now attend church without thought and by sheer habit, and there’s some truth to that. But we have additional reasons.

We attend church because we are Christians and the Christian Scriptures compel us to do so. Look at the Old Testament sequence in developing Sabbath worship. There was the weekly Sabbath in commemoration of creation (Ex. 20: 8-11) and a reminder of the people’s release from captivity (Deut. 5: 12-15). There were also the special occasions when throngs gathered in Jerusalem to worship in remembrance of certain great events of Israel’s history — Passover, for example.

Much later the dispersed Jews built synagogues where they could meet on the Sabbath and listen to the reading of the Law. It was a weekly practice and Isaiah had even declared earlier that the keeping of the Sabbath gave assurance that God would give his people a special blessing (Isa. 58: 13,14).

On the evening of the day of our Lord’s resurrection, the disciples gathered for what became the first Lord’s Day celebration. (Lk.24:18-36). But as a second generation of believers came along, the commitment to attend worship to some seemed less important. So believers were exhorted: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day [of Christ’s return] approaching” (Heb. 10:27).

Another compelling reason why we maintain the church-going habit is that the Bible exhorts that when his people assemble the Scriptures are to be expounded for their profit (1 Tim. 4:13). Some assert that we could read them for ourselves or hear their exposition by means of television or recordings. But there’s something about being in the company of God’s people for this exercise that can’t be matched. We share a common agreement and respond with a common “Amen.”

We also experience that attending church each Lord’s Day gives a divine order to life and this plays back on the way the whole week is lived. Turning up to worship is like resetting life’s priorities or getting one’s marching orders. That may be one reason why the Psalmist said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Ps. 122:1).

Finally, we attend church because in doing so we join forces with a company of God’s people who are committed to certain ministries in community and beyond. In doing so we help to keep a Christian witness alive. For examples, we support pastoral ministries to the bereaved, the hospitalized, the shut-ins, parents of the new-born. We are instructed on how moral issues in society should engage us. We support gospel, educational, and medical ministries for the needs of people in other lands. Local churches are often the unsung heroes of the Christian mandate to go into all the world with the gospel.

What goes on in church, we admit, can become hum drum or lacking in the excitement of faith. But, as Carl Bangs once said, “So long as the Bible continues to be read in church, there is hope.”

So, as we were taught in early childhood that attending church regularly is crucially important for Christians, so now we pass on that counsel to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We say: Know the Lord; experience him in a personal way; then find a church where you can be loyal and make regular attendance and participation a key feature of your lives.

Bookmark and Share

Ushers Are Ministers Too

I once served a church nearly 50 years ago where I had the privilege of training a newly-chosen corps of ushers. For Howard, the recently-elected head usher, I drew up a sheet of instructions and expectations. The entire group of us then met in the sanctuary on a Sunday afternoon to acquaint ourselves with the plans and to rehearse.

There was enthusiasm and camaraderie. It made these men feel like what they were called upon to do was important. The following Saturday, the day before our Sunday launch, Howard hosted a steak dinner at the nearby lake for fellowship and final instructions.

The instructions included such expectations as that ushers arrive 30 minutes early, dress uniformly in suit and tie for morning service, and for the evening, in jacket and matched pants; that they refrain from such distractions while on duty as socializing with other ushers as the large congregation gathered; that they remain on duty until the congregation had dispersed; be prepared for any emergency (with details given); and notify their team leader if they were unable to serve on any particular Sunday.

As I recall, the men were divided into two teams. To serve the large sanctuary required 12 ushers, three for each side aisle and six for the center aisle. If the balcony was to be in use, that would require an extra two ushers. There were also back-up personnel to be called upon whenever needed.

I had asked ushers to face forward as they passed the offering plates rather than appearing to peer down the row as offerings were given. My rationale was that this was to be a moment between each worshiper and God.

Meanwhile, in teaching moments I taught the congregation that the time for the reception of offerings in a service was not an intermission from worship while mundane things were cared for. Instead, the offering was itself a moment of worship. And I had made the point that in that moment of worship the ushers were not “taking up collections;” rather, they were “receiving offerings.”

Because I sat near the pulpit while the ushers received the offerings I could see this team of men at work each Sunday as they seated late-comers and later received tithes and offerings. Each usher was a committed believer, respected by the congregation. They went at their assignment with conviction. I am warmed as I recall it.

During the early days of this new regimen, I was counseling with a young man who came to see me because he was distressed over his increasing doubt and fading interest in following Christ. I recall his saying several times in our visits, “I just don’t care.” He made it clear that he was contemplating abandoning the church and its faith because of his inner conflict.

As I recall, it was during his third visit on a Monday that he told me what was keeping him from following his impulses. He said, “I look at those men who take the offering and carry it forward to the communion table and I say to myself, ‘These men are not dumb. They’re intelligent, committed, and they have a real faith.’”

Just seeing them at worship in that way had arrested him momentarily. For him, it was not the moment of an instant returning. The Lord was dealing with him about issues at deeper levels. Nevertheless, he had used a corps of faithful, believing ushers to get the young man’s attention while he dealt with him.

So you see why I say that ushers, when they serve well, are ministers too.

To e-mail this post to a friend click here.

Bookmark and Share

Even Right Decisions Can Bring Pain

ChoicesWhen the invitation came we were a young couple, 35, serving a growing church in New Westminster, a beautiful city of 40,000 in Western Canada. The phone call was from a conference superintendent in the Midwestern United states asking us to come and serve a larger congregation in Greenville, Illinois – a congregation where great numbers of college students attended.

The invitation created conflict. There were reasons for us to stay where we were. We loved the people and they loved us. The growth of the church was exciting. We loved the city. Our children were settled in a good school. But I had said to a favorite professor back in seminary that I would like some day to be a college pastor, and here was the opportunity.

Day after day I wrestled with the invitation. Kathleen did the same. We talked over the pros and cons. She said she would not leave our place in Western Canada if our profoundly retarded son, John David, had to be moved from the nearby institution where he was happily situated. Apart from that consideration, she entrusted the decision largely to me.

I knew that our decision was more than a mere choice about “furthering my career.” I didn’t think of what I was doing as a “career.” I was ordained for a lifetime of ministry and we were trying to live out a “calling” — a vocation. There had to be some right direction for us that would be in harmony with a divinely-approved plan. Although in our denomination a Conference Appointments Committee assigns ordained personnel to their place of service, moving from one conference to another was usually a personal decision.

Caught in the toils of that decision, one morning I went from my study into the empty sanctuary of the church and knelt by a green pulpit chair. I had to decide. In that moment of anguish, with resolute finality I knew the answer. We would go. I told Kathleen. I phoned the conference superintendent to say that our response was, yes.

I wasn’t prepared for what followed. When we told our congregation of our decision we became acutely aware of the strength of the bond between us. There were tears. There was grieving on both sides. We began to feel forlorn. I now question from a position of greater maturity: could we have found a way to break the news to them more gradually. Pastoral relationships are far more than mere business connections to be severed.

In my distress, I phoned the superintendent who had invited us. I told him I had given my word and I would not break it, but I requested that he release me from my commitment. His response left no doubt. He would not release me. At his end, the Appointments Committee was counting on my coming. That closed a door with a thud.

My anguish increased. We were still being pulled in two directions. I was in such turmoil that I walked the streets of our city seeking respite. We both lived with this tension for a few weeks.

Then pieces of our furniture that we were selling began to disappear. The half-vacant parsonage made the reality more vivid. Finally, two of our beloved members took us and our three children, Carolyn, 12, Donald, 9, and Robert, 7, to the train for our trip across Canada where we would spend a few days with family and then go on to Detroit, enter the United States, buy a used car, and start the five hundred mile trek to our new field of service south of Chicago.

The grieving didn’t end immediately. We grieved the loss of a beloved congregation. We grieved the loss of an urban complex we had come to love. We grieved the loss of the beautiful landscape of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia ringed as it was by mountains. And it took us most of a year to become comfortable with a different sort of congregation in a very different community. But we see all of this now as the inevitable stress of making a major change.

Our move began a thirteen year ministry at a college center which brought us lifelong friendships, countless good memories, and former student/congregant connections locally, across the continent and beyond. Only last week I received communications from three former students from different places, each speaking of the help I had been to them at a crucial time of decision. From a lifetime of ministry we now have contacts with people who back then were students and now are grandparents living in retirement.

Seeking and knowing God’s will is a mysterious undertaking. Certainty of knowing his will did not in this case initially introduce calm. In retrospect we know we made the right decision, though at the time our minds were torn.

But it is some comfort to know that when we are making such destiny-shaping choices, even if the choice we make should prove to be the less desirable of two, Our Lord can take our blunders or missteps and bring good from them. That is only one aspect of his provident mercy and it is a great consolation to those who sincerely attempt to live in obedience to him by faith.

Bookmark and Share

A Pastor’s Wife at Work

When I married Don, I knew that he was moving toward some form of ministry as a life vocation, but I didn’t know for sure the specific form it would take. I knew only that he was a ministerial student and would have several years of education to finish.

I also knew from the start that I would support him in whatever work he felt called to do. That was the way most wives felt back in the forties of the last century.

I was a primary school teacher when we were married and he was a student and staff member at Lorne Park College west of Toronto, Ontario. After we lived there three-and-a-half years, we went on to Greenville College in Illinois with our two-year-old daughter, Carolyn, so Don could finish his final two years of college. From there, we went on to Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, for another three years of training.

By then it was clear that the focus of his ministry was to be the pastorate. In fact, he was assigned to be pastor of the Free Methodist church in Lexington, nearby, for his three years of seminary, and that’s when I got my first taste of what it meant to stand with him in that sort of ministry.

Besides caring for the three little children we had by then and taking as much of the burden of the household as I could while he studied, I made myself available to teach Sunday School and often entertained seminary students on Sundays so they could canvass the community with my husband.

When we went to our second church, the Free Methodist church in New Westminster, British Columbia, I discovered what standing by my pastor husband really meant. He led the church in a growth spurt that meant new prospects every Sunday, new programs to meet the needs of a growing congregation, and lots of social entertaining in our parsonage to get to know newcomers and otherwise promote fellowship and community.

One aspect of our experience stands out in my mind. We both worked hard at our assignment and my husband did lots of evening calling to follow up on new prospects and care for other pastoral duties. This usually involved two or three nights a week. During these times, I was at home alone with our four little children.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have time together. He was home for the noon and evening meals most days. We had simple, inexpensive, but good vacations together. We certainly were in touch with each other in the social life of the church.

But one night when my husband was out calling and I had put the children to bed and the house was quiet, I found myself wondering, “What is this all about anyway? I don’t like being alone so much in the evenings. There’s got to be more to life than this.”

After musing about this for some time I suddenly said to myself, “When I free my husband to be out doing the Lord’s work like this, I am really a part of that call he’s making. It is my ministry too.” That set my heart at rest. I never after that had the same feeling of personal deprivation about releasing him to work in the harvest field of the
Lord. And such mutual service has enriched our nearly 62 years together.

Bookmark and Share

A Pastor at Work

From the start of our journey together, Kathleen and I have shared a common view of the pastorate and how a pastor should apply himself to his work. We both had strong work ethics. Recently an incident from those early days came to mind that we have both chuckled over occasionally and think worth sharing.

In August 1974, we had left a busy pastorate in Greenville, Illinois, to move to Canada. I had just been elected as one of five bishops of the Free Methodist Church of North America with special assignment to give onsite leadership to our conferences in Canada, and we were getting settled in Toronto.

Church leaders here had bought a commodious house in Toronto and because the assignment was new I was setting up my office in the basement until such time as we were able to acquire a building as a Ministries Center. The finished basement was large enough to meet this need adequately.

First, the house had to be put in order, furniture properly placed, kitchen set up, curtains hung, pictures arranged, and Kathleen had to care for dozens of little details to make the place both pleasantly livable and at the same time suitable as a semipublic building.

At the same time, I had to start by moving in some office furniture, having bookcases built, getting a telephone installed, ordering stationery, making arrangements in a separate room for a secretary, and otherwise caring for the myriad of little details that go with starting an office from zero.

My work as overseer also began immediately, which meant alternating times of being at home and on the road.

We addressed our tasks with energy. Sometimes we worked separately, sometimes together, and every now and then we dropped what we were doing in house and headed out to make some purchase or acquire some service. At the same time, very soon after arriving we began visiting churches where I was to speak on weekends.

After a week or so at this, Kathleen sometimes came down to my room to ask for help with some chore that needed attention. By then I was getting settled into a demanding routine, so on one such occasion I explained to her that we should think of me as though I were on duty in an office 20 miles across the city, just as any lay person might be. It should assumed that I was at the office or out of town during working hours, and we needed to save various chores for free evenings or off-hours.

She saw the sense of that idea immediately and agreed. So we went about our tasks, she continuing to add the touches that make a house a home — painting this room, scrubbing there, cleaning windows, organizing drawers, setting out knick knacks. At the same time, I began to immerse myself in my new assignment: getting acquainted with a new constituency, communicating by telephone or mail, working with superintendents, receiving visitors, and attending to new situations needing attention near and far.

The plan she and I had agreed upon worked fine, but she added a pleasant, even a surprising wrinkle to it. After our breakfast together, at 8 a.m. I would stand at the top of the stairs and say, “I am going to work now,” and she would come running to kiss me goodbye. We laughed over it then; and now, thirty-five years later, we still chuckle when that work-a-day formality comes to mind.

Bookmark and Share