In my early years at my church, I’d sometimes ask longtime members about the pastors who preceded me. I wasn’t tempting them to gossip, but I was hoping to learn something about the church.
I often discovered what they value in a pastor.
Over time I noticed a pattern. Whomever I asked about the first pastor always repeated the same statement: “He was a really good shepherd.” Eventually, I read between the lines. By emphasizing his strength (shepherding), they also shared his weakness (preaching).
I wonder if he knew what the congregation thought about him. My guess is he did. People are prone to talk, especially about the pastor. But here’s a more important question: should he have known? How important is it for a pastor to be aware of his strengths and weaknesses?
A good pastor will know where he excels and where he needs to grow. Here are four reasons a pastor should be self-aware.
1. To Better Glorify God
James tells us every good and perfect gift is from above (1:17). This includes our strengths. Not only did God make you, but he has filled you with numerous spiritual gifts. If you excel in patience, it’s probably easier for you to hunker down to prepare a sermon. If you excel in joy, you may deliver that sermon with greater zeal. These skills are ultimately gifts.
Therefore, it’s not pride to note your strengths. It’s not arrogance to understand where you excel. God is the giver, after all, and he gets the praise. The better you know where you are strongest, the more precisely you can give him the glory.
It’s not pride to note your strengths. It’s not arrogance to understand where you excel.
This is true of your weaknesses, too. Paul learned to boast in his weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9). The better he understood how God could use him—flaws and all—the more he pointed to the awesome power of Christ in his life.
2. Strengths and Weaknesses Aren’t Static
It’s easy to look at your weaknesses and feel defeated. I’m such a lousy preacher. No one I counsel ever changes. I couldn’t organize a desk drawer, much less a church. It’s just as easy to look at your strengths and become arrogant. I’m extroverted, so evangelism comes easily to me. I’m a natural-born leader, so I know how to run a meeting.
Neither response is wise. Because strengths and weaknesses are not static—because they change over time—pastors must cultivate their strengths and can cultivate their weaknesses. For example, if an elder is just a so-so preacher, he can grow through prayer, feedback, and practice. Meanwhile, the man who trades on his natural, oratorical skills will likely plateau and even decline in his ability and effectiveness.
But growth will only happen if he knows where he needs to grow. It’s not easy. Growth comes at a cost. Every pastor must fight to improve—and he won’t know where to fight unless he’s self-aware.
3. The Principle of Luke 6:40
Jesus told his followers, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will become like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Pastors are teachers. They are disciple-makers. They do more than transfer knowledge—they model a lifestyle their students will reflect.
Let that sink in for a moment. If you’re a pastor, your congregation will become like you.
Can you better appreciate why it’s so important to know your strengths and your weaknesses? Whatever they are, they’ll be writ large over the congregation you serve.
If you’re a pastor, your congregation will become like you.
Is your church, as a whole, great at Bible study but milquetoast at evangelism? I know it may be hard to hear, but look in the mirror. The Luke 6:40 principle holds true. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the disciple comes to resemble the teacher.
Knowing our own strengths and weaknesses is one way to love your church. Nobody wants to look at a man with biceps the size of a tree trunk and calves the size of a twig. Churches with outsized strengths and weaknesses are just as unsightly. Again, a pastor can’t address an imbalance until he knows it exists.
4. The Command of 1 Timothy 4:16
I’ll never forget sitting in a seminary chapel and hearing Don Whitney preach on this verse. The details of the message escape me, but the thrust still rings in my ears. I have to watch my life. Pastor, know yourself. God cares about more than sound doctrine: he commands sound living. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Perhaps there’s a connection between 1 Timothy 4:16 and Luke 6:40. No, my example won’t bring salvation. The atoning work of Christ is necessary for that. Still, God uses both the teaching and life of the pastor to encourage the sheep to persevere until the end.
The faithful pastor will be—must be—a student of himself even as he’s a student of God’s Word.
Take Heed to Yourself
The 17th-century London pastor Abraham Booth knew all this well. He’s most famous for a sermon he delivered opposing the Atlantic slave trade. During his ministry, he became a pastor to pastors. In one ordination sermon, he exhorted a young minister from 1 Timothy 4:16: “Take heed to thyself.”
Booth warned him against neglecting his family, his church, and his own heart. If Satan can blind us to our weaknesses in ministry he’s well on his way toward paving the path of our fall out of ministry. Booth’s words are as warm as they are sharp:
Take heed to yourself, respecting the motives by which you are influenced in all your endeavors to obtain useful knowledge. For if you read and study, chiefly that you may cut a respectable figure in the pulpit; or to obtain and increase popular applause; the motive is carnal, base, and unworthy a man of God.
Until heaven, our motives will never be as pure as they should be. But how can we know if they are carnal unless we first know ourselves?