I hate to see a young pastor get disillusioned by his first experience or two. But it happens, sad to say.
Those of us who have been in the field throughout all our adult years wish someone had told us a few things about this work. So, assuming we are speaking to beginning pastors, here are a few things we’d love to share…
1. They might not have told you how much fun pastoring can be.
The redeemed of God are among the greatest people in the world (most of them) and they can enjoy life to the fullest. As pastor, you sometimes get to be in the thick of the fun. They love to laugh, to have adventures and to encourage each other.
As pastor, you get to dream up programs and ideas that will affect your community, touch lives, transform homes and reach the future—and then put it into effect with a huge corps of sweet-spirited workers as your team. How cool is that?
As for those who say working with church volunteers is not unlike herding cats, well, it can be a challenge sometimes. But that’s good also. God has not called us to a life of ease, but something difficult and good and eminently worthwhile.
2. They probably didn’t tell you there are often unexpected financial benefits to pastoring.
The government allows ministers to receive a housing allowance but pay no tax on it. And the church can set aside money for your mileage and other ministry expenses and cover them for you, instead of their coming out of your pocket. From time to time, generous church members may give you money, for no reason other than the goodness of their heart. Churches vary on this practice, of course, but of my six pastorates, two of them had generous members who took care of their preacher in this way. It was never a large amount, but a hundred dollars here and a hundred there can make life a lot easier.
A wealthy church member once bought me a new car. And wanted me to tell no one he had done it. A couple of times when my family was leaving on vacation, another member would walk across the street to my office and give me a few hundred dollar bills to help with expenses. Once he handed me a check for a thousand dollars to be put in the church account, but which I could use to help people. He wanted no tax credit for it, and I was accountable to no one but the Lord. (Those were different days then, and now we’d have more stringent rules as to how the pastor could draw on that account. But I never abused it. Oh, and he would replenish the funds from time to time. I was disappointed for any number of reasons when he died.)
3. They warned us to watch out for bullies among the deacons and eccentrics among the congregations, but no one prepared us for just how wonderful the great majority of the members would be.
Some of the most Christlike and wonderful people I’ve ever known have honored me by calling me “Pastor.” And a few stop me to this day to say, “You’ll always be my pastor.” That’s about as good as it gets.
4. They didn’t tell us that church staff members come in all shapes and varieties, and that some need close supervision and guidance, while others are self-starters and highly motivated without pastoral input.
There is no “one size fits all” counsel for administering the work of a church staff. What worked with one may not be effective with another. That’s why the large churches will often bring someone on board just to administer the work of the church staff members. No pastor has time enough to do this with more than two or three staffers.
If your pastor is expected to administer the work of several staffers, pray for the Lord to show him how to do this. It’s difficult. Someone once told me his staff members expected him to be the CEO of the membership but their pastor, whereas the congregation wanted him as their pastor and the staff’s CEO.
5. They told us that a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew are good, but they never told us to leave most of that out of our sermons.
Just preach the good news, pastor. People are no smarter or godlier knowing that the verb here is in the aorist tense and that this is the only place in the New Testament where that word is used. Study the Word, learn all you can, and then put it into the language of the people who will sit before you on Sunday.
6. They never told us that church members usually elect leaders based on popularity and worldly success, and not maturity, spirituality or wisdom.
Consequently, a new pastor may find himself having to deal with church leaders who see the church as a business, have no use for doing anything by faith (some actually see faith as a form of escapism), and whose personal lives are an embarrassment to the kingdom. And yet, there they are and the congregation expects you to respect them and work with them.
In time, if you will remain there long enough to gain the people’s trust, you can change the system to make sure that only the godly and mature are placed in leadership. But until then, pray a lot and do the best you can.