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Ten Lessons from Ten Years of Pastoral Ministry (Timothy Raymond)

Five years ago I had my five minutes of fame.  What happened was I wrote a blog post entitled “What I Have Learned After Five Years of Pastoring”.  It was actually my introductory foray into the world of blogging and my very first (of eventually many) piece for Credo.  For some reason Justin Taylor linked my post and within minutes it had been read by thousands of people, literally from all around the world.  I remember receiving comments from as far away as New Zealand.  (Those were on the old Credo site.  When we updated, unfortunately all comments were lost.)  Within a couple of days, I faded back into ordinary-land, but for a while there, I felt like a rock star.

StaffIn the five years since, I’ve thought a lot about that post and whether or not I would still say the same things today.  In the main, I think I would, though I’d probably word and emphasize things somewhat differently, maybe reorder some things.  Time has a way of making us look at ourselves and the things we think we’ve mastered differently.

Well, April 9, 2016, marked ten years as Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana.  The time has flown by and I honestly have a hard time believing this congregation has tolerated me so long.  To celebrate this anniversary and to give God glory for this decade, here are ten lessons I’ve learned in ten years.  The first five come from my original post from five years ago.

1. Pastoral ministry requires far more courage than I ever dreamed.

2. Expositional preaching is a far more effective medium than I ever imagined.

3. The temptation to quit the church or quit pastoral ministry altogether is rather frequent, but perseverance is worth it.

4. Neglecting important ministries is terribly easy but also deadly in the long-term.

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.

For an explanation of each, I’d encourage you to read the original post.  The latter five lessons are additional ones I’ve learned, especially in the last five years of ministry.  And since I love reading, I’ve tried to recommend some related books along the way.

6. While regular expository sermons are essential for church health and growth, the Lord never intended the sermon to carry the weight of the entire work of pastoral ministry.

This was a difficult lesson for me to learn, personally.  Early on I developed the mentality that if I simply preached amazing expository sermons, the rest of the work of the church would sort of naturally take care of itself.  After about five or six years this approach, however, I discovered some glaring holes in our ministry.  Making the requisite changes was difficult and continues to be difficult.  I wrote an entire mini-series on this point, so I won’t belabor it here, but it’s a lesson I’d commend to all pastors, especially those beginning ministry.  For more on this, see the essential The Trellis and the Vine.

7. Pastoral ministry is painfully lonely much of the time.

Part of this lesson is due to my particular situation.  I am the solo pastor of a smaller congregation with no other full-time staff. Consequently, I don’t have many with whom I can discuss ideas, brainstorm plans, share preaching responsibilities, etc.  However, I’ve discovered from plenty of conversations on this topic that even senior pastors who lead large teams of multiple full-time associate pastors still struggle with loneliness.  I suppose it’s that old “it’s lonely at the top” phenomenon they talk about in business circles.  Pastors should be intentional about seeking out friends, both within and outside their congregations, and making the most of those friendships on a regular basis.  All those made in God’s image need friends.  The best book I know on this topic is the often hilarious, often gut-wrenching Pastoring the Pastor by Tim Cooper and Kelvin Gardiner.

8. “You’ve got to fight for your right to read!”

Very simply, if pastors aren’t reading and reading a lot, they won’t have anything worthwhile to say.  If you won’t discipline yourself to read, before long your sermons and Bible studies will become stale rehashes of stuff you told the congregation six months ago.  The problem is, however, pretty much everything in modern American culture is opposed to the thoughtful reading of serious books.  So you’ve got to fight to make time to read!  Fight against TV, fight Facebook, fight Angry Birds, fight worthless political banter and get your nose in a serious book!  Again, I wrote an entire mini-series on this topic so go read that if you want further explanation and suggestions.  But I agree with whoever it was who said (I think it was John Wesley), “Read or get out of the ministry!”  Check out You Must Read.

9. After five to seven years, a local church reflects its pastor’s strengths and weaknesses.

Just like children grow up to resemble their parents, so also churches will resemble their pastors (if they happen to stick around long enough).  And just like it’s embarrassing to hear your kids repeat the inappropriate words you may have spoken in anger, seeing your weaknesses reflected in your congregation is deeply humbling.  In my case, I love biblical studies and systematic theology, so now many in my congregation do as well.  But I’ve never been an exceptional personal evangelist, and unfortunately we have few unusually effective evangelists in my church.  The wise pastor will recognize this reality and take intentional steps to counteract it.  I’m not quite sure what to recommend to read on this topic, in no small part since I haven’t figured this one out myself.  But a good all-round book on pastoring as weak, sinful, fallible humans is Peter Brain’s Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry.

10. Your ministry to your family is even more important than your ministry to your local church.

When I began pastoring Trinity Baptist ten years ago, I had one child who was six months old.  Today I have five children ranging in ages from ten to one.  It struck me the other day that if I stay another ten years at this church, my oldest will be twenty and (likely) out of our house.  That realization shocked me (since these first ten years passed in a blink) and reminded me that while I could conceivably remain pastor of Trinity for the next several decades, I only have about 18 years to intensively disciple my children.  And like Paul says, if I can’t effectively disciple my children, I really have no business being a pastor (1 Tim 3:4-5).  So what’s the lesson?  In all the busyness of pastoral ministry, despite all the deacons meetings, hospital visits, weddings, and funerals, I must continually prioritize the spiritual welfare of my wife and children.  And if I refuse to do so, I will be a spiritual failure, despite whatever “successes” I enjoy at church.  My favorite book on this topic is Voddie Baucham’s Family Driven Faith.

I hope these lessons are of some encouragement to you, my brother-pastors.  Please pray for me as a pastor and my church. Keep your hand to the plow.

Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and 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.

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