By Joe McKeever
Ask any veteran pastor. The most exciting, most wonderful, and scariest time of your life is your first pastorate.
Finally, you were doing what God had called you to do. And in many cases, an actual congregation was paying your salary to do it. No longer did you have to load freight or deliver packages or flip burgers.
And even though the congregation was small, you felt like Solomon who prayed, “Lord, who is able to (lead) this great people of Yours?” (I Kings 3:9).
You felt honored to be there. Keep that feeling, young pastor. The Father has shown you a wonderful kindness by allowing you the privilege of shepherding one of His flocks.
You do not deserve such an honor. (Nor will you deserve some of the slings and arrows that will be coming your way in short order, but that’s another story.)
Here are 13 things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out.
1. What you do from the pulpit is two-thirds of your assignment. So, don’t skimp there.
Learning to preach effectively will require decades of learning and growing, trial and error, conferences and criticisms, so set yourself on that course and do not veer to the right or left.
2. The personal touch with God’s people—the kindnesses, learning their names, remembering their special occasions—will cover a multitude of sins. But it will not compensate for poor performance in the pulpit.
3. The other pastors in your city are neither the competition nor your enemy, but neither are they your superiors or supervisors. They are your co-laborers, and some may become the best friends you ever had.
4. The employees of the church are theoretically under your authority and supervision, but at first you will be smart to treat them as though they are volunteers serving out of the goodness of their hearts.
Honor them and encourage them. Only gradually, as is necessary, tighten the reins and exercise the controls.
5. Keep close to the lay leadership of the church. Build the trust level by letting them learn they can trust you. Try not to surprise them with programs, special events, or changes in direction.
6. Every congregation has grains running throughout the fellowship. Some are fault-lines, others are blood relationships, while some are longstanding friendships, rivalries, and political feuds.
You will stumble across some by accident and uncover others only after years of serving that church. Pray for the Spirit to guide your steps, sweeten your words, and to prepare you for that moment when you suddenly find yourself in a stew of others’ making.
7. Start with the weekly schedule you intend to keep. At first, announce it to the key leadership and ask for their assistance in making it work.
If you intend to take Fridays off, for instance, your team will be required to help. The more they can protect your off-day, the stronger a preacher you will be on Sunday and better minister during the rest of the week.
However, remind them you are making this up as you go and changes will need to be made as life progresses.
8. When you move to the new church, take the first week to help your family get settled into the house. This church has gotten along without you for many months, so one more week won’t hurt.
Ask everyone to carry on as they have been doing (and thank them for doing so).
9. Give yourself permission to fail, to try programs that do not work out, to attend some conferences that were a waste of time, and once in a while to turn in a less-than-stellar performance in the pulpit.
Your church will handle this well if you do also and it doesn’t happen too regularly.
10. Seek counsel from veteran pastors and denominational leaders, but once in a while ask a colleague your own age for advice. It’s surprising what the Lord has already taught some freshly minted preachers.
11. Find one or two mentors. But don’t call them that until the relationship is well-established. How can you find them? Ask the Father.
As you feel God leading, call a pastor in the area and ask for five minutes to discuss an issue or question. If that short visit goes well, a couple of weeks later, offer an invitation to have coffee. Then, see where the relationship goes. Keep doing this until you find your team.
12. Stay close to your spouse. Listen to what is being said and what isn’t. Pray together for the Lord to give you good friends among other ministry couples.
13. Stay focused. Keep learning. You will never reach a point where you know it all and can afford to coast on in. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous. Wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Why these 13? I’m confident another veteran pastor would produce a different list. But in my case, I bear scars from violating most of the suggestions above. The stories I could tell.
In truth, you will accumulate your own scars. It’s how life is lived, how the work is done. And when that happens, in God’s own time you should reach back and help the young ministers coming behind you.
More from Joe McKeever at Facts & Trends:
- A Pastor’s Greatest Regret After a Lifetime of Ministry
- 13 Things a Pastor Should Never Say to a Congregation