I love pastors. They are unique in their calling and in the pressures they face. Unless you have ever been a senior pastor you probably can’t understand the exceptional problems and difficulties they face. Pastors will stand before God and give an account of how they led, how they taught, and the example they gave. To be sure, it is a great calling. There is no greater privilege than to pastor and lead people into their eternal destiny. However, it is a terrible job, if that is all it is to you. I can’t imagine a better calling or a worse career. It is not a career. It is a glorious divine mission.
I especially love church planters. The men who step out in faith to give birth to a baby church are pioneers, visionaries, trailblazers, and entrepreneurs. They are more than soldiers. They are Special Forces, like the SEALS, the Rangers, or the Delta Force.
If you are a church planter or are thinking about becoming one, I have a few things to say to you. This advice could save your ministry.
- Embrace your call. This is the one thing you must know beyond any doubt. You must know that God has called you to this. Knowing your calling will keep you going when you feel like quitting. It gives you staying power. It is the bedrock of your mission. I believe God has to grow a man before he grows a church. Knowing your calling gives you courage to fight the good fight.
- Fight for Your Vision. Find your vision and stick with it. Know where you are going, but be flexible on the route. There will be many temptations to go off mission. Vision comes from listening to God. You can’t lead until you listen. Dream big and take great faith steps. You will have to fight mission drift for your entire ministry.
- It is a team sport. Obviously you can’t build a church by yourself. You must have a team in order to grow. But in addition to the team within the church you must also have a team outside the church. Get into a network of pastors. Get coaching. This helps provide encouragement and keeps you from feeling isolated. Without my pastor friends and coaches I would have quit long ago.
- Do you. You will face the temptation to become a clone rather than a unique voice. That is not to suggest that you should try to reinvent the wheel. You must learn from the experiences and wisdom of others while wearing your own armor. Don’t be afraid to use other resources but find your own voice. Give yourself permission to do things the way God has called, gifted, and inspired you. Don’t feel guilty about it. It is ok if not everyone agrees with you.
- Take the long view. This will take longer than you think. Sure, there are a few that make national headlines because of their fast growth, but even then a large number does not always equal a strong church. It will take years to develop a solid, mature church. It is a marathon. You may think that there are shortcuts but there aren’t. Just because you may not grow as much as someone else in three years does not mean you won’t accomplish amazing results in thirty years. Work for strength rather than speed. You can grow a ragweed in a week, but it takes years to grow an oak.
- Faith is your most important asset. I recommend that you study everything you can about faith. God blesses strong faith and you can never have too much of it. The unexpected will happen but miracles will also happen.
- Whatever you did to get them there, keep doing it. In the first couple of years most church planters spend enormous resources and energy on reaching people. It makes sense because if you don’t reach people you don’t have a church. Once you establish the church, however, there is great temptation to focus all of your energy on things other than outreach. Don’t ever get tricked into that kind of thinking. Whatever you do to reach people keep on doing that. I’m not saying that you must use tired methods. I am saying focus on reaching those who are not here yet.
- Pay attention to your emotional health. Starting and pastoring a church is emotionally draining. You can’t be spiritually healthy and emotionally unhealthy at the same time. Plan to get counseling regularly. You are probably going to fight jealousy, discouragement, depression, and misunderstanding more than you ever thought possible. Plan to get help so that when you face these emotions you will be prepared. The most important thing in staying emotionally and spiritually healthy, however, is a strong commitment to personal devotions.
- Build your marriage more than you build your church. When my marriage is good my church is good. If my marriage is bad, then no matter how great a leader or preacher I am, the church will suffer. Determine not to have an affair with your church. Be there for your wife and children. I can promise you that even the best and closest members of your church will not care for you or protect you like your family will. If you lose your marriage and family you will lose your ministry. The church, while saddened or disappointed, will move on. For you it is not quite so simple.
- Learn the gift of goodbye. Those who start with you normally won’t stay. I really did not believe this would be true about me. After all, these people love me! I am their spiritual father. God used me to lead them to Christ, baptize them, marry them, conduct funerals for their families, minister to them while they were sick, teach them the Word of God, and counsel them through marital and family conflict. We are emotionally connected so they will never leave! Imagine my surprise when the people I poured into the most left my church for no worthwhile (in my opinion) reason. Many of them not only left but they left poorly, often questioning my leadership and character in the process. That part of pastoring never gets easier. But God has called you to love people – even your critics. Let them go. Quit chasing those who do not want to be with you. While this may be difficult, it is essential to your calling. If you don’t let it go you will become bitter. We all know of bitter pastors who become caustic toward the very people they are called to love and lead.
My prayer for you, church planter and pastor, is that you have a long and successful calling. Stay the course. I pray God blesses you more than you ever imagined. I pray God helps you reach more people than you ever thought possible.
If you know someone who may receive a blessing from this advice, then pass it along!