Advice for Theological Students and Young Pastors

Twenty things I wish I knew when I began the ministry (and am still learning now):

1. Take advantage of opportunities to be taught by others. Get the most out of books, lectures, and special speakers in seminary, because soon you’ll be be doing all the putting out with few people to put it in to you.

2. Beware of closing your heart to people.

3. Be a pastor for the whole church, not just part of it (don’t be just one group’s champion).

4. Establish your priorities at the church early and clearly. I suggest: preach, pray, and people.

5. Work hard to foster deep spiritual fellowship with your closest leaders (e.g., staff, elders, deacons).

6. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Expect change to happen very slowly. Whenever possible, work for desired change by positive reinforcement, rather than by criticism.

7. While you shouldn’t attempt too much change right away, if you are forced to make a hard change or take a tough stand, do it decisively.

8. Expect people to leave your church when you come.  Be kind when they do.  Follow up, ask why they’re leaving, pray for them, then move on. Don’t let a few folks on the way out determine the plans for the rest of the church.

9. Be personal instead of academic. A conversation is usually better than a paper.

10. Beware of technology: wasting time on power points, frittering hours away on Facebook, getting bogged down in emails, doing all your pastoral communication by email instead of phone calls or personal visits.

11. If you are good at administration, don’t do too much.  If you are bad, get someone to help you immediately.

12. Plan for prayer days.

13. Learn to think in 5 year, 1 year, 6 months, and 1 month increments.  When you start out at a church you’ll feel three months behind everyone else; you need to be six months ahead.

14. Guard your day off and don’t let your work creep into your evenings at home.  You’ll be miserable and ineffective if your life becomes a rhythm-less mush.

15. Spend more time getting to know your people and less time trying to figure out the culture of your city.

16. Remember: you are not the only special person in the church. Don’t get offended if you’re not invited to a wedding or they ask the other guy to do the baptism. It’s silly to feel threatened when congregants are closer to another staff member or lay leader than they are to you.

17. Don’t minister just to keep people happy. Don’t be the pastor who does all the counseling, all the teaching, and all the praying because “that’s what people expect” and you “don’t want to let them down.” You’ll burn yourself out, stifle the gifts of others, and keep your church smaller than it needs to be.

18. Don’t compare. There are dozens of factors that make a church successful. Many of them are out of your control–most notably, God’s sovereignty.

19. Christian maturity entails more than theological acumen. Don’t assume the dudes reading Bavinck will be the most fruitful, faithful, and effective leaders. Could be, but that’s far from certain.

20. God opposes the proud but gives grace to humble. Pray this into your soul before and after every sermon.

P.S. Tomorrow I’ll list a few more things I wish I knew. I may or may not be wise, but I have made (or almost made) lots of mistakes. That’s how we learn.