As some of you may know, back in September of 2017, my family and I moved from Iowa to Massachusetts. I resigned as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, the congregation I had the privilege of serving for a little over four years, in order to become the Lead Pastor of Crossroads Community Church. While it’s never easy to leave a people and town you’ve grown to love, we’re confident that we’re following God’s will for our lives.
The other day as I was walking, the question popped into my head, “What have you learned the past four years?” As I’ve spent some time thinking, reflecting, and praying over the matter, here’s what I’ve come up with:
The Importance of Prayer: After I finished my MDiv, I had planned to immediately start pursuing a Master of Theology (ThM). However, as I began filling out applications, God impressed upon my heart the need to focus on my prayer life. As someone who likes to read, study, write, and accomplish tasks, it’s somewhat hard for me to slow down, ponder, think, and pray.
Pastoral ministry, however, forced me to pray. All of the pressures, all of the stress, all of the demands, literally bring you to the end of yourself.
And here’s what I learned: I can’t accomplish anything, I can’t make anything happen, I can’t grow a church, I can’t make people like me, I can’t make my sermons change lives. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t! There’s a whole bunch of things I can’t do! Ministry has taught me this. I’ve learned what Jack Miller referred to as “the impossibility of ministry.”
Because ministry is impossible, I’m driven to prayer out of necessity. These past four years have improved my prayer life immensely. And I’m thankful for it.
Ben Patterson puts the lesson I’ve learned into words: “The greatest thing we have to offer our people is not our education. It is not our good ideas. It isn’t even our gifts and abilities. It is the fruit of the time we have spent with the Savior, the utterly unique and unparalleled thing that happens to us when we are simply in His presence.”
The Importance of Emotional Health: Spoiler Alert: Human beings suck at relationships. I’m sorry if that’s too blunt. But it’s true. Early on in my ministry, I “accidentally” (Spoiler Alert #2: There’s no such thing as coincidences; God is sovereign) came across Peter Scazzero’s book The Emotionally Healthy Church and read through it quickly. He convinced me that churches need to do a better job at discipling people in the area of their emotions.
For example, how is it okay that we have people who have attended church for years, but continue to treat people poorly? How can Christians not control their anger? Why are people so eaten up with bitterness and unforgiveness? What’s going on? The church is supposed to showcase to the world what redeemed humanity looks like; we’re supposed to give people a snapshot of the new creation; we’re supposed to model for people what healthy relationships look like.
We need to do better. We can do better.
The Importance of Mentors: I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have mentors in my life. They have been a huge blessing to me. And my time in pastoral ministry has proved that they are integral to a pastor’s health and long term effectiveness. During my time in ministry, I’ve had the assistance of longtime pastors like Tim Blackburn, Jim Renke, Elton LaBree, Andy Aikens, Zack Eswine, and Steve McLean.
I praise God for each of these men, especially Elton (along with my friends A.D. Luna and Mack Elkin), who prayed for me and stood by me during my Dark Night of the Soul.
The Importance of Strong Leadership: I mean something specific here. No, I’m not referring to a pastors’ leadership abilities. Rather, I’m referring to a church’s recognized leaders that are already in place when a new pastor arrives. This is a significant point because, while a pastor may have leadership abilities, the leaders already in place when a pastor arrives can veto everything he wants to do.
As one mentor told me, “Pastors come and go, but those who are in positions of leadership before the pastor gets there are the ones who make all the difference.” Also: What your elders or deacons are is what your church will become.
And this one’s for free: Be careful who you put in positions of leadership. It’s easy to get them in and a lot harder to get them out . . . but you didn’t hear that from me.
Pastoral ministry is a joyful burden. I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything. Reading, studying, and proclaiming the eternal verities of the Christian faith is thrilling, energizing, and personally transforming. Spending time with people, hearing their stories—their tragedies and triumphs—brings a pastor into a sacred space. What a joy, what a privilege.