Pastoral ministry is both challenging and rewarding. For the past ten years, I served as a pastor in a local congregation. Reflecting upon those years, I believe that certain practices and attitudes should be adopted by every aspiring minister. In fact, I wish these had characterized my own ministry in a greater way. I have outlined below what I believe are some of the most important practices and attitudes that a new minister should adopt in order to pastor well. I am surprised that so many aspiring ministers fail to do some of the things that seem so obvious to me now.
1. Be a servant.
It is easy to gravitate toward the glamorous positions in the church. Too often aspiring ministers fall prey to this temptation by only pursuing roles that involve facetime in front of a small group or congregation. However, if we do not climb down into the congregational trenches and perform menial tasks or the dirty jobs, we will lack the credibility to ask our members to join us in service. We must make service fundamental to our ministerial DNA. Ministers must be willing do the things that no one else wants to do in order to lead from the front.
2. Be a listener.
Ministers are notorious for being terrible listeners. We make our living by talking, but ministers who never truly listen to the concerns, ideas, or dreams of others will fail to lead well. It is vital that we hear what people think so that we can truly know them and equip them for ministry.
3. Be a preacher.
It is shocking how many men are called to serve as the primary preaching pastor who have only a handful of preaching experiences under their belt. This is unhealthy. I recommend planting yourself in a church with a pastor who has a vision for leadership development. When I say that, many young men will automatically say, “Great! I am an intern at such and such ‘large church.’” Sadly, what that often means is that a young man has sat under the direction of a senior pastor or team of pastors and listened to lectures and read significant books on ministry and preaching, but they have not done significant pulpit work. If you are called to preach, then preach. Look for a pastor who desires to help young ministers become effective biblical preachers. Listen, learn, and practice the art. There are so many different places a young minister can practice the art of preaching. Get involved with a nursing home ministry or a jail ministry and preach. Improvement in preaching skill is only gained by actually preaching.
4. Be a visitor.
Any aspiring minister must put to death the tendency to seclude himself in a cozy office surrounded by books and coffee cups. As preachers, we enjoy learning, which usually includes isolation with a book. But in order to pastor well, we must know the people whom we pastor. That means that we must be at the hospital in times of crisis and in moments of celebration. It means that we put the books down and visit the homebound. It means we stop having our coffee alone and instead meet people for coffee. Regardless of your church’s demographics, effective pastoral ministry will always require you to be a visitor.
5. Be humble.
I am amazed at how challenging this statement is as I reflect upon ten years of ministry. Every pastor will probably preach on the topic of humility at some point, and every pastor will fail to be humble on a regular basis. The problem is that often our time spent in the Word somehow puffs us up and makes us think that we are more important than we really are. The reality is that every pastor is replaceable. We are not indispensable. Only God is necessary. We are tempted to share our opinions as if they are God’s ideas. Sometimes we hold non-essential convictions so tightly that we strangle the church. Be willing to be wrong and always be quick to apologize. A pastor who always thinks that he is right and who refuses to say “I am sorry” will likely have very short tenures and unfruitful ministries.
6. Be a disciple.
Don’t get sidetracked by strategies and long-term vision plans such that you forget to be a disciple yourself. It is so easy to be consumed by the ministry and forget that, foundationally, you are a follower of Jesus. Be preemptive about this problem. Establish healthy patterns in your life now so that you will be able to fall back on them when you are pushed to your limits and tempted with despair, lust, or frustration. Make reading your Bible an essential daily practice. Don’t use that fake line that you read the Bible for sermon prep and somehow that counts. We all know that is not the same. There is a big difference between devotional reading and reflection and the trenchwork of exegesis, exposition, illustration, and application of a sermon. Memorize and meditate on Scripture so that your well is not dry. A minister who is spiritually dry will find it incredibly difficult to quench the thirst of those whom he serves.
7. Be an evangelist.
It is odd to me how many ministers don’t share the gospel on a regular basis. Now, don’t misunderstand me—I throw myself in with that lot. Finding opportunities to share the gospel can be difficult when you are constantly surrounded by believers, whether at school or church. As ministers, though, we must lead by example. That means that you have to share Christ with lost people if you expect your people to also share with lost people. It is simple, but you must be intentional. If you don’t normally find yourself interacting with people who are without Christ, then you must expand your circles of influence. Go to the same gas station over and over and get to know the attendants. Work from a coffee shop and don’t use earphones! Talk with people around you. Find a hobby that has a social component. Whatever you do, develop new relationships and allow the Lord to stretch you into becoming an effective witness.
8. Be a praying person.
One of the easiest things to neglect in ministry is prayer. We all say that prayer is incredibly important, but if someone was to take a look at the amount of time we spend praying or how often we dedicate ourselves to the task of prayer, we would all be shamed. Prayer is essential to the minister’s life for a number of reasons, but one of those is alignment. When we pray, we align ourselves with the will of God, and God uses those opportunities to shape our vision, dreams, and plans for ministry. God gives us compassion and love for the people whom we serve as we pray for them. Prayer is vital to the development of a minister.