Someone asked me the other day how long I have served as a pastor, and when I told them they asked: “So, what’s it like after two years in pastoral ministry? Is it what you thought it would be?”
I simply couldn’t answer them, as I hadn’t stopped plodding long enough to think about it. Also, pastoral ministry wasn’t something I had ever thought I would be doing (it kinda snuck up on me), so I’ve never really had a base of expectations to start with (or a frame of reference). That may have been a blessing from the Lord, because I know many folks who have had pre-conceived notions as to what ministry was going to look like while they were training, and what they found when they were installed as a pastor didn’t match their expectations.
So I thought about it throughout this past week, and after a period of reflection and processing, I think I can safely share a small portion of the many highlights and lowlights from the past two years – things I never would have imagined from my comfortable seat in the pew each week. Many of these things caught me off guard, and this article is merely an attempt to give you, the reader, a peek behind the curtain of pastoral ministry. To give you a vantage point that many don’t get to see often.
To new and unseasoned pastors, this article may come as a huge encouragement. To those currently in training, it may give you an opportunity to adjust your expectations. And to some church-goers, it may cause a mix of encouragement, conviction, frustration and maybe even anger. Please know that my intent herein is honorable though, and that I sincerely hope not one person walks away offended (which is hard to do in this culture). I’m simply opening up what I’ve seen and/or experienced for the purpose of transparency and enlightenment. With that said, I’ll start with the good stuff:
Some of the Highlights
God has been gracious and merciful to me over the past few years, and here are some of the joyous things that I’ve either experienced firsthand or have witnessed through my proximity as a pastor over the past two years:
- I’ve been blessed to experience the absolute JOY of seeing people who were once lost, destined for an eternity under the wrath of God come to a believing faith in Christ Jesus. I’ve have had the privilege of worshipping with them as brothers or sisters and watching them grow. As a pastor, it’s a humble and incredible experience to watch lives change before your eyes; to see progressive sanctification play out before your eyes. Though I was able to experience this before pastoral ministry, I see it and experience it with greater occasion and joy now.
- I’ve been privileged to link arms with Godly men and women who love Christ Jesus in a real, tangible, visible way…and it’s been a great source of joy watching these folks serve Christ’s bride week-in and week-out; carrying the gospel to those who need it. Their consistent presence in my life motivates me to continue.
- Over the past two years, I’ve been able to witness various brothers, sisters, and even entire churches UNITE under the UNITY we share in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having the opportunity to help ignite and perpetuate this unity has been a joyous labor as well, because in a world that is consistently dividing over an ever-growing number of grievances and differences, we should be striving to encourage folks of different backgrounds, different experiences and different heritages to come together under the unity of (and for the purpose of) the Gospel.
- Helping people see just how glorious, majestic, awe-striking, loving and merciful our God truly is….that has been (and will continue to be) one of the great Highlights. Digging deep into God’s Word each week, searching out His very nature, and looking into His gift of science for the truths of His GREATNESS propel me each day. It’s even more encouraging when I get to see and hear the lasting impressions this makes on those we teach.
- It’s been a tremendous blessing to be given an opportunity to teach others about how EVERYTHING we do is an act of worshiping our lord, and continuously encouraging folks to “Walk in Worship” with everything He has given us to do. Getting to convene each week with these brothers/sisters for the collective worship of Him is the pinnacle of every week.
- Over the past two years, I’ve had a front-row-seat at watching God – who owns the cattle on a thousand hills – continuously PROVIDE in HUGE WAYS for a mostly impoverished church. Many folks told us initially that a church aimed at reaching some of the most impoverished and underserved people “could never sustain itself”….but the Lord has greatly strengthened my faith and has humbled me daily by showing me otherwise.
- The Lord has also been kind in helping me realize just how insignificant I am in the process of growing a church, and how sovereign He is. These lessons come often, and they’re always humbling and much needed. My prayer is that He continues to grow His church while humbling any of us who thinks we have accomplished anything in the process.
- Having the great privilege of supporting and growing with various networks and associations (both locally and beyond) has greatly encouraged me over the past two years. It has shown me what I should have already known: that the Gospel WILL continue to spread…that churches will continue to be planted and grow….that the message of the Gospel will NOT get squashed no matter how much our culture continues attempting to push it out.
Some of the Lowlights
Pastoral ministry isn’t all encouragement though…and there are weeks that take a toll on the soul. Here are some of the not-so-encouraging experiences and observations that the Lord has opened my eyes to over the past 24 months:
- Looking out over the membership/congregation each week is sometimes a near debilitating experience for a pastor – something that I didn’t realize beforehand. As a pastor, you know firsthand (through counseling and discussions) much of the brokenness within the lives of your sheep, as well as their consistent battles with sin, flesh and the powers of Satan. THIS has been the hardest thing to deal with internally, and it drives me to my knees in prayer. It weighs heavy on my heart each and every day. It makes me LONG for the day that Christ Jesus returns to rescue His people.
- Following the above point, imagine for a moment what it may feel like for a pastor to see the very folks they have faithfully taught and counseled through specific sin continue pursuing it with reckless abandonment. It’s difficult to describe how it feels when every ounce of counseling, preaching, teaching, and personal discussions of repentance have yet to made a difference on their life. Even when you KNOW in your heart through the truths found in scripture that only the power of the Holy Spirit can open the eyes and truly change lives, it still crushes the spirit at times.
- On the flip side of the point above, one mystery I’ve both witnessed and experienced (and which continues to perplex me) is how good, godly, faithful believers can continue to sit under the heretical preaching of false teachers (within this city and beyond). The bible is clear about false teaching, and when I see friends and family members who choose daily to sit under unbiblical preaching (and whom make unbiblical excuses for both their actions and the teaching of their church leaders), it is a crushing experience. It too drives me to my knees in prayer for their souls – that they don’t become deceived or lead astray.
- One area of darkness that wasn’t on my radar until I was already deep into pastoral ministry is the rampant division that continues to grow over open-handed, cultural, and non-issues. Over the past two years, I’ve watched men who proclaim to love the church (some pastors and leaders in our community) committing shameful and sinful acts for the sole purpose of dividing churches and associations further (or to continue segregating themselves over personal – not biblical – stances). I’ve witnessed many church bodies drift further apart instead of closer together, and I continue to pray that as time passes, the churches in our area can come together and UNIFY over Christ crucified. I pray that instead of pushing each other away, that we’ll join hands and support one another in reaching the lost and dying together. I pray we can grow in humility (and crush our pride) by having HEALTHY, loving and gracious discussions over the things we differ on, in order to continue sharpening one another – looking ONLY to scripture for answers to questions that seem to divide us.
- Somewhat connected to the point above, the past two years of pastoral ministry has opened my eyes to a “lacking” or “NEED” in our culture/community of PEACEMAKERS….people who will STAND UP against the things that divide the church and hold people accountable to BIBLICAL unity. I’ve noticed very little activity or willingness of many church leaders here locally to champion the difficult discussions that need to happen (both within their churches and within the community). I’ve noticed a deficit of people standing up to help strengthen and unify both the local body and the collective body. Instead, many seem to perpetuate the division for the purpose of growing their own body alone (and not the kingdom).
- I’ve unfortunately also had my eyes opened over the past two years as to how often Shepherds and Church leaders within a community (not just here in Owensboro) fight over sheep. I’ve watched pastors pursue other believers who are currently serving at other churches for the mere purpose of growing their own attendance. And because of this atrocity, I’ve watched several godly churches struggle to do the work of ministry because their sheep had been “poached” by other shepherds who are trying to make their flock look more robust.
Important Note: Don’t get me wrong – there are such things as “healthy” transitions that need to happen for good, godly purposes (such as sending folks to help revitalize or plant churches elsewhere, or warning beloved believers in heretical churches of false teaching), and I’m not talking about those such situations….I’m talking about unhealthy attempts at pulling vital parts and gifted servants from serving one body simply to “stock” them next to a plethora of others who share the same gifts in the other like-minded church.
- And finally…as a new pastor, I never would have imagined the way that folks (both within and outside of the local church) view or treat pastors in this day and time, and I too have been convicted – and have rightfully repented – as to how I have viewed my spiritual leaders in years past. Here are a few things that have witnessed (and some I have personally experienced) that have blew my mind over the past two years:.
1.) Many people think that pastors only work one or two days a week, and that pastoral ministry is an easy and carefree job. If this is your mindset, I would invite you to spend a week with your pastor just to see what pastoral ministry entails (and if it is in fact all easy-peasey, I’d highly recommend you find another church).
2.) Pastors are often asked to help with matters of spirituality, relationships, parenting, and a number of other items by folks struggling in the respected area of life. And when when the answers, advice and counsel given by the pastor doesn’t affirm the preconceived notions, recent actions or the behaviors of the person requesting such counsel (but instead points them to a more biblical understanding of the issue at hand), their counsel is often then mocked, ignored, or met with argumentativeness and disrespect.
3.) Pastors are often the subject of gossip by their own flock, and are usually the FIRST to receive blame when “the going gets tough” in a local church. I’ve witnessed this several times in the past two years, and this is unsettling in many ways. Please pray with me that those within the church would quit turning on each other in ways that divide, but instead support one another (and take up for one another) in everything we do.
4.) Some folks (mostly non-believers and non-members) feel that a local pastor MUST be available to them at ANY TIME and for ANYTHING they may feel they need. And when that is not physically possible, that pastor gets slammed on social media or other places for their perceived “failure”. I’ve actually had a person (not someone within my church, thankfully) call me past 11:00pm and demand that I give them a ride home from a bar because they were too drunk to drive home. When I said “I can’t do that right now”, they replied “I thought you were a pastor”!
Pastoral ministry is not Social Work folks – it’s Spiritual Work. The reality is this: A pastor’s SOLE job is in LEADING their fellow brothers and sisters in Holiness and Righteousness. Let me rephrase that….It’s a pastor’s job to lead you spiritually to a greater understanding of God and of scripture; to train and lead you (and the other members of the church) into daily worship of Him, and to equip you to carry out the great commission.
Theses are just a few examples of the many things I’ve noticed (and sometimes experienced) in my two short years of ministry. As with many aspects of life, the Highlights FAR outweigh the Lowlights, and the discouraging aspects merely show me that we have a lot of praying and work to do; that there is a LOT to be accomplished in both the local and the global church. In the end, the Lord has graciously sustained me and my fellow pastors, both physically and spiritually, and I’m thankful that God has placed me in a church body that continuously challenges me and whom loves my family well.
And as a final means of encouragement: Please….please continue to pray for your own pastors and for the other pastors within your city. Pray for their protection. Pray that God continues to sustain them. Pray for the church. Pray for your local, regional and national associations and networks of churches – that God would continue to break down barriers of division and build up bodies that are unified under the foundation of the Gospel.