Lessons I’ve Learned About Pastoral Ministry from the Life, Friendship and Discipleship of Pastor Ted Christman

Preface: How we learn

Each and every person attains wisdom through three distinct natural methods:

Wisdom From Failure

The first and usually most effective method of gaining knowledge and wisdom is through personal failure. This is also unfortunately the toughest method and usually involves some sort of “cost” or “loss” in the process. One of the important aspects of learning through this method is in knowing and recognizing what failure is and what success is.

In order to understand one’s failure, the individual needs to have something to contrast it with and to measure it against. They need understand what true success looks like. You simply can’t know that you’ve failed without measuring yourself and/or your actions against something/someone that you know has truly succeeded. Further than that, you must be certain as to what “Success” looks like, because oftentimes true success isn’t what it appears to be. Sometimes we’re lead astray with a wrong description of success.

Wisdom From Observation

The second method in which people attain knowledge and wisdom is through observation. One might automatically think of the number of people out there who utilize Youtube to observationally learn how to fix an appliance or a car. Whereas observation may look to be one of the most effective and effortless ways of learning, one must also be careful at what they are observing. Our senses sometimes trick us. What we see, hear and/or feel may not always be what it seems.

We must always have an understanding of the context and the intent when observing someone or something for the purpose of learning. If not, we won’t learn what is right or true. However, through the process of observation, we can often learn what is right, and even what is wrong in many different contexts. We can watch people succeed, watch them fail, and gain wisdom from their experience without much risk involved.

Wisdom From Transference

The third method in which people gain knowledge and wisdom is through “transference”.  This method occurs through mentorship, discipleship, or intentional personal influence. One person pouring wisdom into another person; transferring what they have learned through the two methods listed above or through another person’s influence on the mentor’s life.

Insert Ted Christman

For well over a decade, I knew who Ted Christman was. I knew he was one of the pastors of Heritage Baptist Church. I knew that he was a very godly man (through the testimony of others). But that was about all that I knew until the day I finally met Ted.  I won’t get into the specifics, but my family was looking for a church to call home, and I made an intentional visit to Heritage to see if this church would be a good fit. Pastor Ted (PT as they call him) was one of the first people I met that morning, as well as one of the last people I spoke to before leaving. We had an excellent and encouraging conversation, and along with the preaching, the God-honoring music, and many other aspects of the church, I knew that I had found the place we were looking for.

What started that day was a friendship that I will forever treasure. But what also started that day was discipleship. True, undefiled, intentional discipleship.

Image of Ted Christman

Pastor Ted Christman, on one of our walks, wherein he proves his uncanny ability to have a conversation with a turkey”.

What is amazing though is this: as a part of his church, I didn’t just get a meeting with him every now and then to talk about some things that were on my mind. He became part of my life. We spoke often and spent time together. We went on quite a few walks together (sometimes even through complete strangers property). He intentionally introduced me to others in and outside of the church who would sharpen and teach me, and he spent intentional time helping me discern what God was calling me to do with my life. Then, a few years later, when that calling took me out of the fold of Heritage and into pastoral ministry, he CONTINUED to shepherd, encourage, disciple, and love me as his own. In fact, as you’ll see in the featured photo above, Ted was one of the few select men asked to speak at my ordination service.

If that wasn’t amazing enough, Ted was a man who was transparent and approachable, and I was easily able to learn from him through more than just one of the three methods I listed earlier (which is an unusual occurrence).  When I strived and failed (which happened often), Ted would graciously and lovingly pick me up, point me to what true success in pastoral ministry consisted of, and encourage me to strive toward the goal.  I was also able to watch him model what successful pastoral leadership truly consisted of, and learned through observing how he lead and walked with his sheep. And finally, his years of God-given wisdom was a treasure to me, and I soaked up as much as he would share with me through transference. It was like having three teachers in one.

With that said, it would be pretty selfish if I didn’t share just a handful of the many things I have learned from PT with the rest of the world, especially the things that I’ve learned most recently since his death. And I’d like to do this by categorizing what I’ve learned into three different sections.

What I learned from PT about a Pastor’s Priority  (and a believer’s priority):

God First: One of PT’s favorite sayings was this: “You put the first things first”.  And he didn’t simply express it for us to learn through transference, he modeled it for us to learn through observance.  Ted placed his call to Know God and to Treasure Christ Jesus above everything else.

Though he was one of the busiest people I have ever met, NOTHING came before his studies, before his prayers, and before his relationship with God. If he had to wake up early to study and pray, he would. If he went on vacation with his family, it didn’t mean he was on vacation from knowing, treasuring and pursuing God (and he’d often send folks photos of “where” he was studying – be that a beach, a lakefront, or merely a different coffeeshop). He not only instructed this, but he modeled it before others.

Family Second: After God, it is clearly apparent that his family came second. PT’s wife always took priority over his friends, fellow elders, church members, and the rest of the world. As did his children.

In one conversation a few years back with his son, Jonathan, I asked what it was like growing up with a father like PT.  His response: “It was amazing. I had the best dad growing up. He was always there. I never felt neglected” (paraphrased).  Ted knew and imparted the wisdom that one cannot rightfully lead one’s church well without first leading their family well.

The Church Third: After God and his Family, the church came next. Whereas many pastors today tend to focus on building up the church numerically by appealing to those outside the church (falsely thinking that a “big” church automatically equals a “successful” church), Ted KNEW that his job and primary focus was to be building the church God entrusted him with spiritually by loving and discipling those in whom he had been given to care for. He knew that a “Faithful” church is a “successful” church, and strived each day to encourage his members to be faithful to God and to the many things God has instructed them to be faithful to in His Word.

What I learned from PT about Loving People:

I once asked PT how he is able to connect with so many people – and most importantly – how he was able to circumvent all of the social expectations and social norms without causing a huge fuss, in order to have a conversation with people he didn’t even know.

For context sake, I asked this because Ted never met a stranger, and he would often be seen boldly walking up to others and starting conversations in the most unconventional ways.  In fact, we were at a coffee shop one day, and Ted just bolts out of the shop and walks across the street (through traffic) to talk to a guy who was standing beside a car. I asked him when he returned how he knew the gentleman, and he said quite candidly with a smile “I don’t know him…but I wanted to tell him a joke.”.

Ted GENUINELY loved people. He loved ALL people, and he loved them well because he knew that God loved them. When he answered my question above, he said “Jesus gave us two commands in scripture… to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as we love ourselves (Mk 12:29-31)…and what I’ve found is this: the more you KNOW and LOVE God, the more your heart is tuned to love those in whom HE loves.”

Ted simply didn’t care about social norms or expectations. He didn’t care what people thought of him. He merely wanted to love everyone he encountered, wherever they may be in life, so that he could one day share with them God’s love for them as well. Not surprisingly, he often stepped forward with boldness and loved people boldly, knowing and trusting that God would take care of the rest.

Personal Confession: Because of Ted’s approachable and extraverted nature, this wasn’t clearly and immediately apparent until the week of his recent death. It was then when many of his friends were able to see just the tip of the iceberg of people that he had impacted with his loving kindness over the years. This caused me to re-evaluate how I love people; to confess of my sin of not loving well, and to make steps toward repentance that would lead me to love like Ted loved – which is closer to how Jesus loved. Whereas my goal isn’t to become like Ted, he modeled what it is like to love like Christ loved, and I’ll gladly emulate him as much as I can.

What I learned from PT about Shepherding:

Surveying the time I spent with (or in observation of) Pastor Ted, it would be difficult to express everything I learned about shepherding people in such a small article. So I’d like to share with you TWO things I’ve learned from him over the past several years. The first was a piece of wisdom he imparted to me, and the second was again realized upon surveying his close to 50 years of pastoring Heritage Baptist Church.

  • First: Upon discussing what all pastoral ministry entails, he once explained it quite simply through the lens of a analogy. He explained (paraphrased herein):  “If you look at the church as a ship at sea, your job as pastor is to encourage people to see the destination; train them to hold the course, and to help them become better sailers. You don’t necessarily always hold the helm, but you give everything you have to make sure the crew, the passengers, and everyone involved know where they’re going and how to get there. You use scripture alone as your map, and rely on Christ as the Ballast who makes the journey even possible. And along the way, you pick up as many people as you can from the deadly waters. You feed them and train them, and they hopefully become part of the crew. Some people will jump overboard over the years and swim to other ships, but don’t get discouraged. It is vital to stay on the course you are given no matter what, because where you’re going is into the very presence of God. And you have to rely wholly upon Him to help you and the others aboard make it there.”
  • Second: Upon PT’s passing, it became blindingly apparent as to how intentionally he lived his life and how he shepherded others patiently, yet intentionally. No matter what he was doing (with a few exceptions), he was intently focused on his sheep and on the kingdom; on tending to the flock that God had given him to oversee. He didn’t bother with much of anything else, though he had plenty of opportunity. In the overflow (and when his sheep had been properly tended to), he would then pour into other pastors and other people of faith… but never at the expense of his church.
    Again, speaking with his son not too long ago, Jonathan and I were discussing many aspects of his father’s ministry. He put it best when explaining one of the keys to Ted’s success: “Time on Task”.  And he is absolutely right. Throughout his ministry, Ted spend a LOT of “time on task” – more than anyone I know. He was constantly keeping in touch with his people and was consistently on his phone. He would pick up the phone when someone called no matter the time or day (even if merely to say “I’m in the middle of something and need to call you back” – then he always would). He personally met with his church members and those visiting his church often, answering questions and asking purposeful questions. He put together booklets for his church to go through, and organized classes with the intent of discipling his people into a deeper understanding and a greater treasuring of God. He took notes while others were preaching, making it a practice to encourage them afterwards and give feedback when asked (for their growth, and for the betterment of the church as a whole).  Ted was ALWAYS on task – and it was a JOY to him.

Glancing back over my friendship with PT, these are probably the most impactful lessons I could have ever learned from him about pastoral ministry:  1.) Keep the First things First (Prioritize your life biblically),  2.) Love others well, and 3.) Tend to the flock God has given you with Joy.  I hope they impact you as they have me.

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