In a couple months, I’ll celebrate four years of ministry at LifeWay. Looking back on the development of The Gospel Project, I am overwhelmed to see how the Lord has blessed this effort in ways that far surpass our initial expectations. We are serving nearly 750,000 participants this fall. Almost every day, we hear new stories of kids, students, and adults who are using The Gospel Project and encountering Christ through His Word.
A pastor recently contacted me. He is considering a leadership position in a Christian organization, and he’d read something I wrote six months after starting at LifeWay, a post in which I offered some reflections on stepping out of pastoral ministry. In seeking to discern God’s will for his next phase of ministry, he wanted to know if my feelings had changed since then.
In short, I affirm everything in the original post, including my comments on vocational calling being expressed through various avenues and ministry tasks. But even though I am thrilled to be doing the work God has called me to during this season, I still miss local church ministry. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Jimmy Draper used to tell people who work at LifeWay, “The day you don’t miss local church ministry is the day you should probably resign.” What he meant was this: you’re better at serving churches when your heart beats for Christ’s Bride.
So, in response to the pastor who asked, here are three aspects of pastoral ministry I miss.
1. Preaching Connected to Pastoring
I love to preach. There’s nothing like digging into the Word, discerning its truth, applying it personally, shaping its presentation, and then delivering its message to God’s people.
But the one thing I’ve learned since stepping out of pastoral ministry is that my love for preaching is connected to my love for people. I enjoy preaching at different churches and conferences. It’s encouraging to see many kinds of churches and to meet believers across the country. Still, preaching is special when your message is directed toward the same people every week, people you know and love and are committed to.
I’ve learned that, for me, it’s not just about preaching, but about people, and preaching is one of the ways you love your people. So, though I get plenty of opportunities to preach, I miss that special sense of preaching that is connected to pastoring.
2. Leading from the Front
I look at my role at LifeWay as leading churches from the side, offering resources that ground believers in God’s Word, that serve churches in their mission of making disciples. Along the way, I get lots of opportunities to help churches by offering counsel and encouragement to pastors.
In our own church, I enjoy serving as a teacher; I always want to support the pastoral staff and contribute to the church’s ministries. Since I stepped away from pastoral ministry, I’ve noticed that my leading hasn’t stopped; it’s merely shifted its direction.
That said, I do miss leading from the front, not just from the side. There are aspects of leadership that I’ve learned at LifeWay that I look forward to applying in a church setting: communicating a path forward, making tough calls, dealing with results, apologizing when I get it wrong, all the things I do in my current role at LifeWay, but not as often in local church ministry.
3. Shepherding through Seasons
I belong to a multi-generational church. I always have, even when I was a kid and my family was involved in a church plant.
As the years have gone by, one of the things I love most about Sundays is gathering for worship with people from all walks of life, all life stages. There’s something special about the senior in high school standing next to a senior adult, singing the same songs to Jesus.
When it comes to multi-generational ministry, the pastoral aspect I miss is being present at events for different groups at different stages of life. I miss the senior adult luncheons, the student ministry’s DiscipleNow weekends, counseling sessions with couples about to be married, or meeting businessmen for lunch.
Pastoral ministry hasn’t stopped since I came to LifeWay, of course. I’m still involved with these groups at different levels of intensity. But there’s something about that daily, weekly, monthly rhythm of being present among church members in all stages of life that I miss.
What about you? If you’re in pastoral ministry, what do you think you’d miss most? If you’re not, what parts appeal to you?