What I have learned after five years of pastoring (Tim Raymond)
On April 9, 2011, I celebrated five years as Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana. As I reflect back on these past years there are five main lessons that come to mind:
1. Pastoral ministry requires far more courage than I ever dreamed.
In Bible college and seminary I was told that pastoral ministry requires courage but I had no comprehension whatsoever as to what this really meant. To look men twice my age in the eye during a counseling session and tell them they must do this or that, or must not do this or that, is incredibly difficult. To take a stand for a personal conviction in a deacons’ meeting when all the previous pastors have done things differently is not easy. To acknowledge my own sin to a church member and ask forgiveness is humiliating. But it’s what faithfulness requires. I better understand now how pastoral ministry requires such courage, though, to my shame, I still fail far too often.
2. Expositional preaching is a far more effective medium than I ever imagined.
My approach to preaching is fairly simple. I basically read a few verses of the Bible, explain those verses, try to talk about how they apply to our lives, and then move on to the next few verses and do the entire thing over again. After about 45 minutes of this, we pray and the sermon is over. It’s not rocket science and obviously, as my life demonstrates, it doesn’t require the preacher to be a poet, a philosopher, a comedian, or a genius. Yet in five years the entire culture of our church has changed dramatically, due almost entirely to a different approach to preaching. Whereas biblical thinking and exegetical reasoning were rare when I first took this pastorate, now they are common. No longer is it uncommon for me to come across two or three guys involved in a casual theological discussion. More and more people are fleshing out this approach to the Bible in their personal lives, families, and other ministries. Ordinary Christians are meeting with unbelievers for evangelistic Bible studies; people are jumping in of their own initiative to volunteer in existing ministries and to create new ministries; people are experiencing freedom from longstanding guilt or life-dominating sinful habits; people are taking Christ’s call to radical discipleship seriously and pursuing things such as sacrificial generosity, feeding the poor in our community, and adoption or foster care; the body is increasingly becoming a community characterized by sincerity, transparency, diversity, and grace. In addition to that, the church has grown modestly in attendance, due mostly to a hunger for serious study of God’s word. I could go on and on; it’s wonderful to be a part of. I didn’t anticipate these tangible evidences of God’s Spirit, but I praise God for the life-transforming power that is unleashed through the simple exposition of His Word.
3. The temptation to quit the church or quit pastoral ministry altogether is rather frequent, but perseverance is worth it.
There have been many occasions when I’ve been tempted to throw in the towel and give it all up. I don’t recall anyone warning me in Bible college or seminary that I would face such a temptation in the pastorate. This happened more frequently in the first couple of years, but it is still not entirely uncommon. It typically follows a discernible pattern: I’ll be going through a tough spell (e.g., my sermons have been apparently boring, I haven’t been sleeping well, some project I attempted fell apart, etc.), and then there will come the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Maybe it’s some irrational criticism after a service. Or maybe it’s the news that one of our foundational families is moving away. Or maybe it’s a letter from a church member complaining about something in our church. Whatever the case, that little thing happens and you sort of temporally snap. You think, “That’s it; I’m done here; is the corn-flakes factory hiring?” Thankfully, after a day or two or ten, I calm down and realize that things really are not that bad and I should continue on despite my feelings. Each time this happens I remember the importance the Bible places on pastoring his flock. Trials are worth it in light of eternity. Though there have been difficult seasons, on the whole, this has been a wonderful experience that I would not trade for the world.
4. Neglecting important ministries is terribly easy but also deadly in the long-term.
There are plenty of church ministries that you can easily ignore for years, but over time, that neglect will be detrimental to the church’s overall health. To use an analogy, you might be able to get away with overeating for a couple of years and no one will notice. However, after three or four years, the buttons start busting off your pants and people begin to wonder where your neck went. In a similar manner, to my shame, there have been times when I have completely ignored certain ministries such as children’s Sunday school and leadership training. I was able to get away with that in the short term, but now after five years, the problems are showing. These are areas I plan to remedy in the future.
5. If there is a strong love-bond between the pastor and his flock – the congregation believes that I love them and I believe that they love me – that will cover a multitude of sins.
In five years I have done some pretty dumb stuff. I’m tempted to list off some examples, but they are too embarrassing to put in public (though I’ll say they all seemed like really good ideas at the time!). But since the church obviously loves me, it didn’t destroy my ministry. Likewise, there were some times when church people said or did things to me that positively hurt. And yet, from my perspective, I believe that what enabled us to weather the storms together was the love the congregation has for me and me for her. I really do have the privilege to pastor a wonderful church.
I hope these lessons are of some encouragement to you. Please pray for me as a pastor and my church. Keep your hand to the plow.
Tim Raymond has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Tim grew up outside Syracuse, NY and previously served at Berean Baptist Church, Nicholson, PA (member and teacher during college and seminary) and Calvary Baptist Church, Sandusky, Ohio (seminary internship location). Tim met his wife Bethany at college, and they were married in May 2001. Tim enjoys reading, camping, wrestling with his three sons, and attempting to sleep.