Since April of 2001 I have been a minister of the gospel, and throughout my sixteen years of life as a pastor, I have collected thoughts that I would like to share with my fellow pastors and with those who desire to be pastors someday. Of course, there are more than sixteen reflections that I have gathered, but, for the sake of brevity, let me share only sixteen.
Pastoring is a calling from God. Having a degree from a seminary is not a guarantee that you have this ministerial calling. Some people graduate from seminary but are not in the ministry, or do not stay long in the ministry, because they do not have this pastoral calling.
The God who has called you to the ministry will also provide for you. He will prepare you for the ministry. He will give you a congregation to serve. And he will sustain you throughout your life in the ministry.
Don’t accept a call to pastor a congregation unless you are convinced that the Lord is calling you to serve that church. Why? Because when problems arise from that congregation, your strong conviction of God’s calling will encourage you to continue serving that church amid difficulties. You can say, “Lord, you have called me to serve you in this church, and I know you will sustain me.”
God resists the proud in the ministry. Thus, expect God to humble you. Sometimes he humbles his servants through infirmity. All accomplished pastors that I know have a form of affliction that keeps them humble before God. God will use the ministry to sanctify you. God’s main goal in your life is to conform you to the image of his Son Jesus Christ.
Your wife can be a great help to you in the ministry. If you are a pastor and not yet married and desire to get married, look prayerfully for a godly woman who will serve with you, not hinder you. If you were already married when you became a minister, help your wife understand the nature of the ministry. You may want to consider buying her Letters to Pastors’ Wives: When Seminary Ends and Ministry Begins by Catherine J. Stewart (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2013).
Your family is your priority over your ministry. As Paul indicates in 1 Timothy 3:4–5, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” If you neglect your family, your congregation will suffer eventually.
God has called you primarily to preach his Word and pray. Therefore, learn to delegate your other responsibilities to others so that you can focus on your primary work. As Christ’s disciples say in Acts 6:2–4, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Don’t stop learning about your vocation. In the midst of your busy schedule, set aside time regularly to read books or articles that will help you become a better servant of the Lord. Attend pastors’ conferences where you can fellowship with and learn from like-minded ministers about the ministry.
Don’t underestimate the wisdom of experienced ministers. Seek their advice and listen to them. They can save you from committing mistakes or making wrong decisions. Find an older pastor who can mentor and encourage you in the ministry. A young pastor has the tendency to think that he knows a lot, but the longer you stay in the ministry, the more you will realize how little your knowledge is.
No matter how hard you try to serve your congregation, you will always have a member who will complain about your service. Remember that you cannot please everyone in the church, and you are not to please people but God. Don’t let your critics stop you from doing the Lord’s work. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
When necessary, don’t be afraid to confront a member of your congregation who has offended you (Matt. 18:15). When the offense is not dealt with, it can become worse. Keeping your resentment to yourself is not good for your heart, both physically and spiritually. So, don’t avoid confrontation but deal with it in a Christlike manner, trusting that God will bring reconciliation.
In the ministry you will encounter someone who will dislike you for no good reason. And that person can be one of your church leaders. I remember talking to a fellow pastor of another congregation. He told me that one of his elders just doesn’t like him and he did not know why. This elder treats him unfairly and negatively. When dealing with people like this elder, seek by God’s grace to always take the high road. Don’t pay these people back with evil for the evil they do to you (1 Pet. 3:9). Instead, pray for them and show more the love of Christ to them.
Don’t think that God needs you in the ministry. The truth is you need him more than he needs you. His work can continue without your help. Be thankful to God if he is using you in the building up of his church. To be a minister is a great privilege from the Lord. Think about this: you are serving the Maker of heaven and earth.
The condition of your body can affect the life of your congregation. If you are not healthy, you cannot function well in the ministry. Hence, don’t neglect your body. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep. At times ministry can be stressful. Learn to rest and relax, or else you will burn out and cannot continue in the ministry.
Pay careful attention to yourself. Realize your tendency to commit sins that can disqualify you from the ministry. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). As you shepherd your congregation, shepherd your own soul. Don’t be too busy about the ministry that you neglect the One who has called you to the ministry.
When you feel discouraged and about to quit, remember that what you do for the Lord is not in vain in him. When you don’t see the fruit of your hard work in preaching, keep in mind that God’s Word will not return to him void. His Word will always accomplish the purpose for which God has sent it (Isa. 55:11).
Therefore, my fellow pastors, let me encourage you with the words of the apostle Paul: “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Rev. Brian G. Najapfour is the pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, MI, and author of The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (2012) and Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of and Devotion to Prayer (2013). He and his wife, Sarah, have three children, Anna, James, and Abigail. He blogs at biblicalspiritualitypress.org.