I have now been in Senior Pastoral ministry for over 10 years (15 years of total ministry). While there is always experience to be gained, there are several lessons I have learned. I in no way have it all figured out, but these past 10 years as a Senior Pastor have taught me some important truths about pastoral ministry. Here are 10 of the most significant.
1- It’s impossible to draw water from a dry well.
If your relationship with God is stagnant it will affect all aspects of your leadership. If you stop learning and growing, you negatively affect your leadership. The more you thrive spiritually and the more you learn the better chance you have to lead your congregation well.
You can’t expect your congregation to learn and grow when you aren’t.
2- Structure either furthers or hinders your ministry. It is not neutral.
The leadership and governance structure of your church will either help you do what God has called you to do, or it will hinder you from doing what God has called you to do. It is never neutral.
Spend time getting the structure right, and your ministry will reap the benefits.
3- Don’t just study to preach good sermons; study to disciple your people.
We all want to preach good sermons, but why? Good sermons are not the end goal. Life transformation is the goal. We should want our people to be discipled through our preaching. We want our people to know God through his Word.
Keep people in mind as you prepare and preach your sermons.
4- Your identity cannot be rooted in your ministry.
If you root your identity in your ministry you will be on an emotional roller-coaster. A good Sunday will give you a high and a bad Sunday will send you into depression. We can never escape these feelings completely, but if your identity is rooted in Christ, there is always reason for joy.
Pursue Christ more than you pursue ministry success and you will have more joy in ministry.
5- People won’t always understand you, like you, or support you, and that’s okay.
Pastoral leadership is leadership, and leaders have to make difficult decisions. Some people will like those decisions others will not. That’s okay. As a preacher, you must preach truth. Some people will like that truth and some will not. That’s okay. That is what pastoral leadership is.
Lead from your beliefs. Lead from conviction. Lead from a love for God, his Word, and his people.
6- When a church follows Jesus, not everyone in the church will be happy.
I’m not sure who originally said this, but it’s true. Don’t think that just because you are trying to be biblical that everyone will automatically be on board – they won’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow Jesus, it just means that you shouldn’t be naïve about the reality that people will resist it.
Follow Jesus, do right, love your people, and be willing to leave the results with God.
7- A church never accidentally drifts toward greatness.
No one ever accidentally gets in shape. It takes committed intentionality. No one accidentally breaks an addiction. It takes hard work. No one ever won a marathon accidentally. It takes discipline. Church is no different. If you allow your ministry to drift, you will never end up in a healthy, mission-accomplishing place.
Identify the goal and then constantly steer the ship in that direction, otherwise you will never get there.
8- Vision is both caught and taught.
Yes, communicate your vision and teach it to your people. But if you are not passionate about it, no one else will be either.
Teach it, talk about it, live it, and then watch your people embrace it.
9- Not all church members are believers. Evangelize your congregation.
This is a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless. In an effort to reach the unsaved outside of your church, don’t forget the real possibility of there being those who are unsaved within your church. Evangelize them as well.
Always communicate the gospel, because there are always people listening who need to hear it.
10- While each service and each sermon is important, don’t ignore the cumulative effect they have.
Pastors tend to place far too much importance on one service or one sermon. While it is certainly important, God often uses faithful ongoing ministry to soften the hearts of those in the church. So yes, make each service and each sermon as good as it can possibly be. But also understand that doing that has a cumulative effect that God can use in a great way.
Be faithful, plan well, always do your best, and trust God to use it, both in the present and in the future.
These are just a few of the lessons I have learned in my first 10 years as a senior pastor. I am excited and eager to see what God will teach me during the next 10 years.