A pastor I know recently prayed to the Lord for guidance. He was eager to be useful, he was aware that time was short, and his desire was to be faithful and fruitful in the King’s service. He was also becoming aware of his physical limitations. There was so much to do, so many possibilities, and yet less energy each day than when he first began. He asked the Lord for help to ensure that he was properly focused and appropriately deployed for the remaining years and decades of his service.
The following represents a summary of the guidance he believes he received in answer to that prayer.
Change is a form of rest. Laser focus is an incredible asset, but is difficult to maintain over the long haul. Sometimes it can be helpful to put something aside for a day or a week, or even a month, so as to give yourself more fully to other activities and responsibilities. This allows your mind to breath, bounce back and recover.
Oftentimes output in one area will lead to inspiration in another. Mentoring young leaders will reignite passion for Scripture study as the pastor is reminded what it is like to hear God’s Word for the first time. Study in the Scriptures will lead to fresh passion for preaching as an exciting insight demands to be shared. Counselling young couples will instil a sense of urgency around the need for practical application when preaching and teaching.
When pastors are promoted to a position of narrow responsibility, much of this synergy may be lost. Maintaining some breadth in your responsibilities can protect against stagnation and burnout.
Feed the flock
Pastor the people God has entrusted to your care. In today’s internet age it is tempting for a pastor to think more of the people “out there” than the people “right here”. There is nothing wrong with repackaging a sermon series into a book that could be a blessing to people in other communities, just as there is nothing wrong with writing a blog that could be helpful to people and pastors all over the world – as long as you aren’t by-passing or neglecting your primary charge.
As soon as you are talking over the heads of your people to reach other people you think are more important, you aren’t pastoring, you are posturing.
Everything you produce should be crafted with your primary audience in mind. Your people hired you. Your people need you. The internet can be a force multiplier but it should not be a focus multiplier. Your focus should always be the same: Feed the sheep. Tend the flock. Feed the lambs.
As soon as you are talking over the heads of your people to reach other people you think are more important, you aren’t pastoring, you are posturing. You are building your platform instead of building up the Body of Christ. Shepherd the flock of God that is among you.
Do not set your mind on wealth
The average age of a pastor in North America is 58 years old. As the youngest Baby Boomers retire in the next 5-7 years the demand for Gen X pastors is going to increase dramatically. For every 5 retiring Baby Boomers there are only 4 Gen Xers to replace them. This is why Gen Xers are sometimes called “The Golden Generation” by HR people. In the next decade Gen Xers in all fields are going to be highly sought after and generally overpaid.
As pastors of large churches retire many pastors who are today between the ages of 45-55 are going to be offered new positions at considerably higher salaries. While there is nothing wrong with being fairly compensated, there is something wrong with taking a position merely because it offers better compensation.
Pastoral ministry is a job, but it is first and foremost a sacred calling. There are good reasons to take a new position – better fit for your gifts and talents, more opportunity, the health and well-being of family members – but each move comes at a cost to a local congregation that matters to Jesus. Don’t be a mercenary. Do what you believe would most please and best serve the Lord.
Avoid useless controversy
Controversy is great for building the brand but it does little to build up the Body of Christ. As much as possible do work that will matter 100 years from now, should the Lord tarry.
Build into young couples. Support parents. Build a healthy church for them to raise their kids in. Teach them the Bible. There will always be issues that your congregants need help thinking through, so don’t skimp on application, but do be wary of being drawn into arguments with your pastoral colleagues that don’t really move the needle for regular people living, serving and witnessing in the public square.
Develop a checklist to help you discern when to engage with a matter of controversy. Ask yourself: Does it matter? Will it matter in 20 years? Has someone already addressed this in a useful way? Do my people need to know this to minister effectively in our current context? If you need to deal with, then deal with it, but if you don’t, then don’t. There are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a life. Spend them wisely.
Play the long game
Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God who sent Moses into the desert for 40 years. He is the God who sent David into the caves for 13 years. He is the God who sent Saul into Tarsus for 10 years. He is far more crockpot than microwave. He sees the whole board and he plays a long game.
Working for a God like that requires patience and perseverance. Don’t be in a hurry and don’t feel rushed. Just because you hear the clock ticking does not mean you are running out of time. You are a citizen of an eternal kingdom. You are not, can not and will not ever run out of time. Don’t make any short-term plays. Do what is right, believe what is true and trust in what is sure. Don’t be afraid to begin things that others will have to complete after you are gone.
So be it. Good.
Do your job, run your course, pass the baton, die and be forgotten. The race is rigged to rob all but One of fame and glory; so forget “legacy”, embrace “obscurity”; keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and carry on.
Pastor Paul Carter
If you are interested in more Bible teaching from Pastor Paul you can access the entire library of Into The Word episodes through the Audio tab on the Into the Word website. You can also download the Into The Word app on iTunes or Google Play.