The Most Frustrating Thing About Being a Pastor

Shepherding a church can be an incredibly frustrating work. As a pastor you do your best to lead in accordance to God’s word. You seek his wisdom and his direction for his church. You preach your heart out week after week hoping to be catalyst for spiritual growth or even revival. Yet, the road to achieving that vision seems dark, lonely, and filled with bruises. Shepherding God’s church is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts, endurance, patience, and above all the work of the Spirit of God. I guess that is what I find the most frustrating thing about being a pastor. Despite all my efforts and all my labor, all I can do is plant or water the seed of the Gospel into the hearts of my people. I cannot cause the growth. In this since, the Pastor is impotent and unable to cause true revival and awakening in the hearts of his people, no matter how much he may long for it. The hardest part about leading a church is not the teaching, the meetings, the counseling, or the criticisms. The hardest part is waiting on the Lord.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the pastor stands before the people proclaiming the whole counsel of God to his people hoping that the seed scattered would take root and grow. Often God doesn’t work in our time table, but God works slowly over time. Revival is great and spiritual awakenings are wonderful but they are an extraordinary working of the Spirit’s work in a condensed amount of time. When it comes to revival in a local church, normally that revival comes slowly over many years of faithful Gospel teaching that exhorts, challenges, and admonishes.

The pastor cannot make spiritual growth happen anymore than he can direct the wind with a baton. The wind blows where it wishes, so it is with the Spirit. Perhaps God will move unexpectedly and profoundly in revival. Perhaps not. Yet, let us pastors not resort to gimmicks, fads, and entertainment in attempt to manufacture it. May we trust in those ordinary means of grace God has ordained to grow his church. Trust the Word to work and let the Spirit move in his time.

God’s sovereignty over the spiritual growth of our people can be so very frustrating, but so very hopeful. God’s work in our churches is not dependent upon our gifting, talents, or abilities, but rather on the omnipotent will of God. This truth brings us to our knees in prayer, trusting in God for growth not in ourselves. It gives us confidence to stand before our congregations each week and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ not knowing that at any moment the glorious light of God might pierce through the darkened veil over our peoples eyes and grant them to see the excellency of Jesus. In our frustration, may we humble ourselves before God in prayer trusting in His Word to pierce the hearts of His people, all the while having confidence in God’s ability to work in us and through us.

6 Tips for Millennial Pastors in Established Churches

I'm a young pastor.  Trust me. You don't have to tell me. I get told that every time I step into a hospital room or a funeral home. Although young pastors are not all that unusual anymore, it is unusual for a pastor in his twenties to be pastoring an established and predominantly older church.  Some how, God willed it for me to become the Pastor at Forest Hills Baptist Church.  I'm not sure if the church was crazy, but they called a young, inexperienced, guy like me to shepherd them.  I've been at my church for almost four years now – 2 years as a Student pastor, 1 year as the interim Senior Pastor, and another year as the permanent Senior Pastor.  Over the course of these past few years I've learned a lot about my self and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way.  My church has been so gracious to me as I learn and grow as a man of God and as a shepherd. I'm observing a generational passing of the baton in most churches right now.  The aging boomers are starting to retire and the millennial pastors are getting their first opportunity to lead established churches. Although many established churches are hesitant or afraid to hire any pastor under 40, more churches are open to having a younger pastor.  Being a younger pastor has its own unique sets of challenges (some of which I might outline in a future post), but for now I want to provide some council to any young pastors in establish churches.  For what it is worth, these are some things I've been learning slowly and sometimes painfully.

1. Lead with the Bible

This is absolutely essential.  As a young pastor there isn't a ton of life experience to pull from and you have little to no relational authority.  Sure you might be the Senior Pastor, but when your younger than everyone in the room, that positional authority doesn't seem to go very far.  Thankfully, the authority of the pastoral position is not tied to age but to Scripture. The authority of the pastor is not his experience but God's word.  As you lead your people, make sure you hold out the word of life through preaching, in meetings, in hospital rooms, at funerals, and any other place you might find yourself among your people.  The pastor (young or old) should always be pointing his people to follow Jesus, not him.  When leading any sort of change or initiative, you should demonstrate thoroughly from the Bible why it is necessary to go that direction. Convince your people that as they follow you, you are following Jesus.  This happens by centering your leadership on the teaching of God's word.

2. Demonstrate Humility

A lot of younger pastors get themselves in trouble because they are about as humble as Kayne West. They think they have church figured out. If only everyone would follow their plan, their ideas, and do what they say, everything would be fine.  Not only is this arrogant, it's idiotic. The painful lesson I learn each day is that just when I think I have ministry figured out, I find out I don't. Listen to criticism. Be teachable.  Demonstrate humility.  No body wants to follow a know-it-all. If you lead your people under compulsion you will not only loose any credibility to do anything meaningful and lasting in that church, but chances are you'll get asked to go elsewhere.

3. Adapt to the Culture

Contextualization is one of those buzz words out there right now.  From church planters to missionaries, everyone is thinking through how we can communicate the unchanging gospel in a constantly changing culture.  When the culture we find ourselves doing ministry is traditional, nobody throws out the importance of contextualization.  Many of the established churches are formal, traditional, and resistant to change.  Many young pastors make the mistake of ignoring the current culture of their church and forcing cultural change on the church before they are ready.  Adapt your methods to the people God has given you to shepherd.  To adapt to the culture, you must know the culture of your church.  This means you must pay attention and learn your people.

I'm not a big fan of the coat and tie. In fact, I can't stand wearing a tie. Every time I put one on it feels like I'm putting on a noose.  Yet I wear one every Sunday morning at my church to preach.  Why? I'm adapting to the culture of my people.  I do not want the fact that I'm not wearing a tie to hinder the preaching of the word of God.  I'm contextualizing to the people God has given me, reaching them where they are to teach them and instruct them. If this means that wearing a coat and tie allows them to hear the Gospel clearly, than it is no sacrifice.  This is a simplistic illustration but the point is made. Meet your people where they are,and slowly implement cultural change.  Then after many years of careful teaching maybe the tie can come off. (I'm hoping!)

4. Be Patient

Patience doesn't come naturally to anyone, especially young men. It is easy to come into an established church as their pastor thinking that the reform and revitalization they need will happen in six months.  It won't.  Leading change in established churches can be a painfully slow process over the course of many years and sometimes even decades.  It is like turning around an ocean liner. It can take a while to get on course.

Young pastors, do not let your eagerness get the best of you.  Do not lead too fast or too far in front of your people that you loose them.  The wise shepherd knows his sheep. He can sense when they are tired or worn out from the journey.  He can tell when he needs to slow down or when he can speed up.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Lead

On the flip side, you must lead. It is easy to go into an established church and get comfortable.  The salary is nice, the routine is predictable, and no one is going to get mad at you if you just keep every thing the same.  I see many pastors who are so afraid to lead that they just sit there and feed off the sheep. Pastor you are not called to feed off the sheep.  Ezekiel 34 has some pretty strong words for shepherds who do that. Rather, we are called to lead them.  Yes, we must be patient, but if you are not moving them to greater health and a deeper love for Jesus and their community than you are failing them as a pastor. Sure leadership can be painful and yes the sheep might bite back, but this is the call of ministry.

6. Love Your People

Your church is not a project to be fixed, but a people to be loved. Spend the first few years of your ministry just loving your people well.  Get to know them. Go out to eat with them. Pray with them.  Love them. It is so easy for young ambitious pastors to loose sight of this.  Not only by loving your people will you serve them well, but you will also gain relational credibility and buy-in to lead in more significant endeavors later down the line.

Great Failures are Covered by a Great Savior

As you lead an established church as a millennial pastor it will be challenging.  It can be painful, frustrating, and heart breaking.  Along the way you will experience some major leadership failures, yet despite our failures we have a great savior.  As we lean in on Jesus, and ask him to help us love our people, he will give us wisdom to shepherd wisely.  Millennial pastors do not need to abandon established churches just because it may be difficult.  As one myself, I'm excited about seeing other millennial pastors begin to take seriously the call to lead established churches, and I'm excited to see what our great Savior is going to do through young pastors.

Are you a young pastor in an established church? If so, share with us some things you have learned in your ministry context on social media or below in the comments!

4 Ways to Shatter the Super Pastor Illusion

People put pastors on a pedestal, and rightly so.  Pastors are called to be examples to their flock.  They are to lead by modeling spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness. Pastors are men who are to be above reproach. Many people look to pastors as super Christians.  Although they might struggle with sin or find it difficult to spend time in prayer, the pastor doesn’t, at least thats what people think. Many people envision that pastors have a special connection with God or even a direct line to him that normal Christians just do not have.  All of this is just hogwash. Pastors are just like every other Christians, sinners saved by grace.  Although a pastor is called to lead by example, the idea of a “super pastor” is a lie.  We struggle with personal sin. We find it difficult to love our wives and families well.  We sometimes struggle to find our joy in God. There are even times in which preaching on Sunday morning is the last thing we want to do.  If you are a pastor reading this, you know this to be true.  Yet, pastors self-inflict themselves with a demand to maintain the image of “Super Pastor”.  We think we must always have the right answers even though we do not know, and we must always seem joyful even though we are in a season of melancholy, and we must always seem righteous even though we struggle with hidden sin. Not only is this the hight of hypocrisy, the pressure to carry the weight of this projected image will one day cause our collapse.

Pastor, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our people is to shatter the illusion of “super pastor”.  We must invite people into our brokenness and remind them that we too desperately need Jesus each and every day. They need to see that you too are a real person, who sometimes struggle to follow Jesus.  They need to know that Jesus is the only savior, not you.  Here are a few ways you can help shatter the illusion of super pastor not only for yourself, but for your church.

1. Don’t Make Yourself the Hero

Its easy to be the hero in all your own sermons and to spin illustration after illustration of your own illustrious spiritual life.  Don’t do that. You are not the hero, Jesus is.  In your sermons constantly be pointing to Jesus and pastors need him too.  Share stories (where appropriate) of your own failures and struggle to obey the text your preaching from that Sunday.  Talk about your failures as a Christ follower, a husband, or a dad.  Although we want to make sure we are being appropriate and we do not want to be self-effacing to create some guise of profound humlity, we do want to be reall with our people. We want to invite them into our lives and even be vulnerable both publicly and privately.  Again, caution and discernment are important here, but we must not seek to create an image of infallibility.  We are not the hero, Jesus is.

2. Ask Others for Forgiveness

Pastor’s mess up a lot.  We make mistakes. We speak in the flesh.  We hurt other staff members in our actions. When we do sin, we must be quick to confess it and ask for forgiveness.  Own up to your error and ask your brother or sister to forgive you. Every time your confess sin and ask forgiveness you begin to shatter that illusion of super pastor, and people begin to see you too as a sinner in need of grace.  However humility in this way will not hinder your leadership, but help it.  No one wants to follow a man who thinks he’s always right and refuses to admit he’s wrong.  By displaying humility and confession not only do we shatter the illusion of our own perfection, we actually lead our people more faithfully.

3. Ask for Help

You cannot do it all.  I’ve tried, trust me. Pastors must be quick to ask for help for the demands of ministry whether from another pastor, deacon, or another church member.  When you ask others for help it encourages others to join together in the cause of ministry and helps raise future leaders.  When we ask other people in our church for help, it shows that we are not super pastors and we need the body of Christ just like every other Christian.

4. Ask for Prayer

Ask others for prayer when needed.  Again, this must be done when appropriate, but do not think so highly of yourself that you cannot ask others for prayer.  We need other people to be interceding to the father on our behalf, because we need the body of Christ!

These are just four simple ways that pastors can begin to shatter the illusion that we have it all together.  We don’t.  Pastors need the gospel just like every human being needs the gospel.  We are broken sinners whose only hope is Jesus. Pastor, make sure your people know that you are not the epitome of a Christ follower.  Any maturity in your life is by the grace of God, and continually point to Jesus as the hero, and not yourself.  The only super pastor who ever existed was Jesus Christ.  He is the one your people need.  Point them to the true super pastor.

Have you ever felt the pressure of maintaining a perfect pastor image? How are some ways we can shatter this facade?

The 6 Challenges Young Pastors Face

Young pastors face unique obstacles and challenges.  Sure they may be challenges with leading God's people, but most of the problems in my ministry are not external, but internal.  The six challenges are largely a result from my own experience.  Pastoral ministry is gloriously challenging.  If you are a young pastor, may these six challenges be helpful for you as you identify potential obstacles.  If you are a church member with a younger pastor, you can pray especially for him in these areas.  Yet, I'm sure that I will come to find that these six challenges are not unique to young pastors but are challenges all shepherds face.  So here they are, six challenges young pastors face.

1. The Challenge of Experience

When I was being considered as the Senior Pastor at Forest Hills, this is the one great concern that came up time and time again was my experience. As a 25 year old guy at the time, the concerns were not only real but valid. Thankfully my lack of experience was made up by their careful observation of my leadership and ministry the past few years.

Yet young pastors face this very obstacle; we just are not very experienced. Seminary can be a great teacher, but so can the school of hard knocks. Young pastors have to deal with crisis, problems, and obstacles for the first time. This doesn't mean they are unable to faithfully shepherd, it is just that they lack the great practical wisdom that experience can teach.

How can young pastors compensate for their lack of experience? I've discovered two ways. First, read, read, and read some more. Learning from the experience of others can help prepare you. Second, hang out with older, wiser pastors. Spend some time with some men who have been in the trenches of ministry a while and glean from their experiences. I've tried to do both of these things, and it has helped me greatly overcome this challenge.

2. The Challenge of Balance

Young Pastors tend to struggle to balance between church and family. Pastoral ministry is largely unlike any other profession in that your personal and professional life blur into one. It is impossible to separate the two into nice, neat little compartments. As a result it is easy to begin getting out of balance, spending to many hours focused on studying, visits, meetings, and emails at the expense of family. Young Pastors tend to have young families with young children. This makes the balance especially tricky.

This challenge I have yet to truly figure out (I doubt I ever will!), yet all pastors must first prioritize their personal spiritual health and the health of their family. For you young pastors out there, we must guard the church from becoming our second wife. The church is Jesus' bride, not yours.

3. The Challenge of Patience

To be young is to be impatient. Young Pastors want results and want them now. My generation is the fast food, instant gratification generation. We want what we want when we want it. Yet, people are not fast food restaurants. It takes time, patience, and diligent investment to often see spiritual fruit. May young pastors enter into a position in ministry and then give up after a year or two when things do not seem to be progressing or moving at the speed they'd like. Young pastors must be taught patience by the Spirit and seek to be consistent and have the endurance to stay in the same place.

Young Pastors, we must be patient with our people as God has been patient towards us. Sure, our people can be thick headed and hard hearted, but so are we. Be faithful in preaching the Word week in and week out. You might not see immediate fruit and results, but the Spirit is working. Give it time and you will be amazed at God will do.

4. The Challenge of Respect

A challenge young pastors have is to "not be despised for their youth" (1 Tim 4:12). It is a very really challenge, but you are not respected simply because you hold the title "pastor". Titles don't earn respect, but character does.

Young Pastor, don't feel as if you are entitled to respect just because you have the title of pastor. Earn it by watching your life and your teaching. If you are faithful seek to preach the word of Christ and live the life of Christ, you will earn the respect of your people.

5. The Challenge of Humility

Young men tend to be overly self-confident. Humility comes naturally to no human being, but is especially absent in young men. As a young pastor, you can begin to really on your own gifting, education, and ideas more than the Spirit of God.

Young Pastor, you must be teachable and humble. Be open to be corrected. Be quick to repent of your sin. Humble yourself and ask for the forgiveness of others. Pray that the Spirit would humble you and learn to think of yourself as servant to all.

6. The Challenge of Trust

It is easy to begin to doubt and question God's ability. In fact, I find myself sinfully thinking if God will be faithful in my ministry. Yet God is a God who can be trusted. More than that, he is the only one who can do anything with the mess of our ministries. All pastors should be marked by an incredible, daily dependency on God.

In your ministry you will get discouraged. You will want to quit and throw in the towel. You may doubt God's goodness and power. Yet, always trust Him. He is faithful and even though we my suffer for His sake, "rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:12).

You Will Face Challenges

Young pastors do face unique challenges and obstacles. Yet God doesn't call the qualified he qualifies the called. Be dependent on God in all things in your ministry. By his grace you will grow in these areas and may we run the race of pastoral ministry well and be faithful by the chief shepherd Jesus Christ.

What challenges have you experienced as a young pastor? Any you would add to this list?

4 Reasons Why You Should Take a Spiritual Retreat

A few weeks ago I had a spiritual retreat at the Cove in Asheville. It was a time to get away by myself to pray and seek the Lord concerning my own spiritual life and also the future of Forest Hills Baptist Church. The whole experience was profitable as I was able to completely detach and saturate my soul in the presence of God.  I plan to make this spiritual retreat an annual thing in my pastoral ministry. Spiritual retreats are profitable for any Christian, but especially for pastors. For you pastors out there, let me give you some reasons why you should prioritize an annual spiritual retreat.

1. You Need Spiritual Rest

Pastoral ministry is unlike any profession. You simply cannot fake spiritual health for long. As a pastor you are constantly and continually pouring into peoples life through the preaching ministry, counseling, and pastoral care. The pastor is a man who must always give from deep within his own soul and he must also be a man who keeps his own soul filled. A pastor must first shepherd his own soul before he can shepherd others. He cannot give what he does not have. To take a few days to for spiritual rest, restoration, and refilling can be incredibly helpful and provides needed rest.

You might be afraid of leaving your church for a few days and getting out of town on a spiritual retreat. You may not think you can afford the time! “There is much ministry to be done”, you say. Yet you cannot afford not too. Before man can be poured out as a drink offering for his people he must be filled with the great joyous love of Christ. To take time away to refill the cup again is not only the best thing you can do for your own soul, but also for the souls of your flock. A tired shepherd is quick to fall asleep while watching his sheep. Get your rest so that you may be alert and awake as you watch not only your own soul but the souls of those entrusted to you by the chief shepherd.

2. You Need Time to Plan

A key part of my spiritual retreat was to plan out the next year in ministry. Not only did I set out to create goals and plans for Forest Hills Baptist Church, I also set out to plan the preaching calendar for the next year. This sort of concentrated planning takes a great deal of time and uninterrupted focus. So often pastors find themselves moving from one crisis to the next and unable to focus on what is most important–the ministry of the Word and prayer. Many spend all their efforts working for the church they spend little time working on the church. Leaders need concentrated time to focus on the big picture.

Taking the time to prayerfully seek God’s guidance in the future of your church is good not only for you but for the church. Taking the time away is a labor of love as you plot the path you will lead God’s flock. Take the time to travel up the mountain of the Lord so that you may hear his voice so that you may return to your people with the word of God to which to lead them.

3. You Need to Be Filled

Pastors need to be filled.  Often this happens through diligent study and reading.  Although I was by myself on my spiritual retreat I had a myriad of different teachers pouring into me. From sermons from Martyn-Lloyd Jones on the four hour drive, to Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s progress, to the quaint honest soul searching of C.S. Lewis, I was in good company. Most importantly though I had the Holy Spirit as my teacher using the Scriptures to convict me of sin, grow me, and lead me. Learning, studying, and growing are life long endeavors for every Christian, even pastors.

4. You Need to Enjoy God

Pastor, be a lover of God. Long for his presence as a deer painting for streams of water. Do not be so focused on your daily ministry that you cease to delight in the one in whose name you are ministering. The labor of pastoral ministry can be fierce, demanding, draining, and exhausting. It is often in that busyness that we forget to enjoy His presence. Spending a few days by yourself will bring you to your knees. It provides focus and clarity on the lover of your soul. For who else do you have to talk to but God? Solitude ushers in a continual conversation with God as you walk with him and talk with him. Pause and enjoy the wondrous truth that the through the blood of Christ you have a relationship with the God of the universe. What a privilege it is to know him! Take the time away and be with Him.

Strength Restored

As a pastor you are limited. Even young men fall exhausted, but it is those who wait on the Lord who will find themselves with the strength of the Eagle (Is 40). As pastor you must be a man daily dependent in every season on God, yet it is appropriate to spend some extra time away reminding yourself that it is in Him that you breath, and move, and find your being.

If you have yet to take a spiritual retreat, let me encourage you to do so. The Cove is a wonderful place to go and I highly recommend it. Yet a spiritual retreat can be at any location where you can disconnect and spend extended time in solitude and worship.

Have you ever taken a spiritual retreat? Would you recommend it to others? Why or Why not? Share with us in the comments below!