5 things I learned my first year as a pastor
The Bible alone sets the standard for what a minister of the gospel does because the church is not a mere institution or organization.
Centering your ministry on the Word of God will cause you to think about successful church life differently than the latest trends from Harvard Business Review would suggest because gospel ministry is far different than simply the application of organizational theory.
Thus, our goal is not to make our churches hum (as Paul Powel suggests in his book How to Make Your Church Hum). Rather, we should be asking ourselves, “Will the Bible be the final arbiter of faith and practice in this local church?” In answering that question, ministers see that the Bible alone sets the standard for what a minister of the gospel does because the church is not a mere institution or organization. The church is the body of Christ that stands as the outpost of God’s kingdom on earth. The church is an embassy of heaven in a fallen and evil world.
This realization taught me five things during my first year in the pastorate:
1. I must lead from the pulpit.
Martin Luther famously quipped, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer . . . the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.” Friends, the Word of God does it all.
In our day people have a very low view of the church because they have a very low view of the Bible because many preachers who profess to love God seldom even reference the Bible in their sermons let alone when they think about how a church is to be governed. Many people talk about preaching the Word, but until you do it week in and week out, year in and year out, you don’t realize how difficult it is to preach the Word of Christ and to lead from the pulpit.
2. I must always bear in mind the shocking presence of sin in the church and in the world.
As the Bible would define it, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). Sin—in its various manifestations—is found in believers and unbelievers alike. The sin that survives regeneration creates great problems. How you deal with that sin is more difficult than you could ever imagine.
Gospel ministers must labor for safe places so that sinners can come and confess their sin because Jesus forgives repentant sinners (1 John 1:9). However, if you preach this way, be warned, be aware, be prepared, because sinners will come. And as you begin to listen to people, you will discover unimaginable sorrow, grief, and pain. You will see the remnants and effects of the Fall in ways that you could never have fathomed in a sterile study of harmartiology in a classroom. Pray for wisdom to steward this well.
3. I will benefit from developing the skill of the preacher as writer.
The old adage says, “Think yourself empty, write yourself clear.” Work to be a writer for the congregation you serve. Write for your people. Write for those under your charge. Write for your community.
Teach them how to study the Bible for themselves by explaining the Scripture through your sermons and through your writing in the context of your local church. Use blogs, small group questions, social media posts, and other platforms for the people you serve.
4. I must seek out and develop relationships with other pastors or friends who can encourage me.
The ministerial world is often individualistic and competitive. Far too often it resembles the corporate culture of dog-eat-dog. Resist. Satan’s darts are aimed at the pastor. You need people who will shepherd you.
Young Timothy needs Paul—this is the picture of the Bible in the New Testament. Develop meaningful relationships with people you can be vulnerable with, with people who can confront you.
5. I must pray more frequently.
It is frightening how much can be accomplished without prayer. God was, and has been, merciful to my congregation during my tenure as their pastor. After the initiatives of “the first 90 days” waned, however, I found myself in sermon prep working in the epistle through which I was preaching — Colossians. Paul’s ministry was characterized by prayer (Col. 1:3, 9).
Mine, I realized, was not. It is absolutely terrifying how much we can accomplish in our prayerlessness by means of creative ingenuity. We must resolve to pray because our Lord Jesus taught us to pray (Matt. 6:9-13) as dependent creatures crying out to the Heavenly Father (Matt. 7:7-11).
Raymond Johnson serves as lead pastor of The Journey Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He holds a Master of Divinity from Southern Seminary and is a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament. Raymond and his wife, Meghan, have three girls, and a son due in December. You can follow him on Twitter @raymondj17.