The struggles associated with pastoral ministry are well documented. It’s a hard job. There is ample discouragement. Pastors know this going in and learn it firsthand as we serve. Here I don’t want to point out what we already know as much something that may be less obvious.
Ministry doesn’t need to be as discouraging as you may be letting it be.
Let me give you an example from my experience. I planted the church where I serve nearly six years ago. In this context I found myself wearing a lot of hats. But in the course of studying to preach, working on the church website, developing leaders, acquiring a building, writing a constitution, and doing a fair bit of counseling, I found myself wearing one hat over and over again. I am talking about being the one designated to spark revival in the life of the guy who seems largely apathetic to the things of God. And after meetings I would only want to have more meetings; the time with them only increased my burden for them. Often I would look at my weekly schedule and feel discouraged. Wanting to develop leaders and disciple new converts, I found myself with a schedule filled with meetings with guys who weren’t too keen to talk about the Bible.
Over time I realized I was making this more difficult than it had to be. I sat down and thought about what I wanted to do in terms of one-on-one discipleship. I asked myself some hard questions and then made some adjustments. Soon I came up with four important categories that I wanted to fill my time with. And, as it turns out, it worked. I am seeing more fruit, and I am more encouraged. And, the hunch worked: I actually was able to better serve guys whose spiritual wheels may be stuck in the mud.
Here are the categories, non-Christian, young believers, leaders, and those struggling. I each explain below.
I love explaining the gospel to non-Christians. It lights me up and gives me a unique joy. But I’ve noticed that pastoral ministry does not provide many evangelism opportunities. I need to make and take these. Having a category for the non-Christian may seem like a no-brainer, but it wasn’t for me—and I bet it isn’t for some other guys. Over the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed Bible studies with non-Christians. The Lord has used their questions and curiosity to invigorate me. It also becomes a good example for others in the church. I love carving out this time.
Sometimes when I’m commuting on my bicycle I’ll get stuck behind a bus or a large work truck in traffic. The exhaust is brutal. It’s tough to breathe fresh air. When we as pastors are filling our schedules with all of the difficult meetings we miss out on the fresh air of encouragement. If we have time specifically allotted to meet with those who are just starting out as Christians or are simply new to studying their Bibles, we will find that these eager souls will bring us a breath of fresh air. Over the last few years, I have found myself feeling like I’m levitating as I come away from time reading the Bible with a newer Christians. For many of these brothers, the text is so new, every meeting is like a fresh discovery. What a joy!
As a pastor time with leaders is vital. I need to develop leaders to serve today, but I need to have a culture of leadership development to serve the church for years after I’m gone. I love the kinship I feel as brothers express a seriousness and sobriety for ministry. Teaching and training them reminds me of the beauty of Christ and his church. But it also encourages me by forcing me to keep sharp. I have to read and study myself to keep pushing these guys ahead. Our church began a residency program to train men for ministry. This has richly blessed me to see these brothers grow, serve, and be greatly used in the church. I’ve watched new elders blossom before my eyes as God grows them into even more faithful shepherds. Time with leaders puts important wind in my pastoral sails.
As I mentioned above this is not a group to be neglected. I continue to meet with people who seem to be having a hard time with the habits of grace, just need help sorting things out, or others who may need a good sanctified kick in the rear (in love). But I’ve noticed something, I have quite a bit more in the tank to give them. I love them, and I love meeting with them. The time I’ve spent with a diversified group has served to fill me in such a way that I am better equipped to serve them. And I get to tell them about others who are growing. It can help to reframe the expectations for them.
I know ministry will always be hard, but we don’t need to make it even harder on ourselves. If you are a pastor, do you fill your schedule up with only one category of discipleship? Perhaps it would serve to encourage you in ministry to build out some categories and then prayerfully consider how you might faithfully go about this intentional discipleship. I can tell you straight-up, it has been a game-changer for me.