Three years seem like three weeks. Hard to believe. Folks tell me that time only moves faster. I hear my children will grow even more. God help me. At least I can make them get jobs soon, right?
So many other positive things have happened for me, my wife, and our family in the last three years. Too many to mention, really. Suffice it to say that the Lord has blessed us more than we could have asked or imagined. One of the biggest blessings has turned out to be our time at the church. As I enter my fourth year there and look back at the last three, some of the lessons I have learned about pastoral ministry come to mind, and I would like to share them:
1) BE THERE
I once heard it said that a pastor must not plant a church in his head. For the first little while I served at St. James Church, I vacillated between a desire to stay and shepherd there and a perceived calling (see: desire to do things my way) to plant a church. In order to be a faithful shepherd to the people with whom you have been placed, you must get out of your head and into the fields with the flock. Spend time in peoples' homes. Eat lunch with the Ladies' Guild. Visit the sick in the hospitals. Go to cookouts. Have dinner with members. Pastor the people in your care, not that you dream up. Be there.
2) STAY THERE
I have come to believe that the best way to be effective in ministry is to be in it for the long haul. I have told a few of the leaders at the church that, after the Lord kindly and providentially convinced me that I was to stay and not plant a church, it would take Him calling me to leave with neon letters in the sky to move us. I no longer look so much at the way things are going now, but toward how the Lord might use the current faithfulness of His people at the church ten, fifteen, thirty, even ninety-nine more years from now!
3) LEARN THERE
I came to the church with about fifteen years of various ministry experiences. I had done itinerant preaching, student ministry, and even a stint as lead pastor before. BUT, I did not come in knowing everything for sure! I had never gone somewhere with the determination to stay long term (see #2). I also had experienced enough tough things to realize my own inadequacies. AND, I found that God's people, lay or trained, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, have a lot to offer the Kingdom and me. I have learned at least as much as I have taught about life and ministry with my German evangelical friends at church. In this process, I have figured out that when I am willing to learn from them, they are more receptive to learn from me.
4) LOVE THERE
I do not want to be a loud and irritating gong or symbol. It does not matter how much I know, how theologically sound I am, or how pragmatically apt I am, if I do not love people, none of it means jack. If I am going to be the pastor I am supposed to be, I better be in love with and loving my wife, showing my kids I love them with my time and energy, and loving people at the church. I must love them more than I love being right. I must love them even more than I love presenting the Truth to them. When I do, they will listen (at least at some point) to the Truth lovingly given.
5) PREACH THERE
The job of the pastor is to preach the Word. In season. Out of season. In mid-season. During hunting season (when the pews are a little emptier than before). When things are good. When things are bad. When babies are born. When people die. During VBS. On Sunday morning. In family devotions. When I feel like it. When I don't feel like it. The Lord works uniquely and miraculously through His Word to bring the lost to Himself and make us more like His Son. Pastors must preach Scripture for what it is. Expositionally. Systematically. Faithfully. Clearly. Lay out the meal that the Lord has provided and allow Him to fill the peoples' spiritual bellies.
6) PRAY THERE
Psalm 127: 1 says, "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." I can preach. I can love. I can learn. I can stay. I can devote myself to being there. BUT, unless the Holy Spirit of God sovereignly chooses to move in our midst, draw folks to Himself, and give the increase, it all is for naught. The best investment of the pastor's time is that of time in prayer, pleading with the Lord to work and move by His Spirit, through His Word, in His people.
I am grateful for these and other lessons the Lord has provided for me in the last few years. I pray for His continued favor in teaching me, blessing my family, and allowing me to spend my life shepherding God's people at St. James Church...