I started serving as a pastor when I was 20 years old. Aside from a year serving as a church planter in Burkina Faso, I have been serving as a pastor ever since. I was recently thinking about the ways in which I’ve grown since I first started serving, and I realized that God has blessed me with some really patient churches who have shown me much grace. There are so many ways in which my ministry has changed over the years, and I wish I knew when I started, the things I know now. I wondered, recently, if 35 year old Micah could talk to 20 year old Micah, what would he say? Here are a few things that I would want to say.
1. Care personally about the people you serve as much as you do your preaching.
I love the people I’ve served. I’ve never failed to love them, but I have often failed to value enough the personal time I could spend with them. Like many of us in the tribe I’m a part of, I have always valued preaching, but I’ve also placed so much value on preaching that I have often neglected relationships with people to sit in my office and study. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret the time I’ve spent in study. I often wish I could have more time. I do regret, however, thinking that I didn’t need to necessarily invest relationally as much in people’s lives if I could just preach well. The longer I serve the more I realized that my most effective preaching occurs when I’m preaching to the people that I love and know the best. When the people I’m preaching to know me enough to trust me, the sermons I preach go much further than I could imagine.
2. Don’t just disciple corporately, disciple personally.
When I began serving as a pastor, I understood my role in discipleship to be that of a leader. I was to develop strategy and deploy that strategy among the corporate body, and God would use it to disciple a whole community of Christ-followers. That changed, however, when a mentor of mine who led a very large church, shared with me that his weekly meeting, discipling 3 men, was the most significant thing he did in ministry. I remember being more than a little shocked at his statement, until I realized where my strategy had gone wrong. I realized if I was not personally discipling anyone, I wasn’t personally fulfilling the Great Commission. I could not keep walking in my previous plan and be a faithful follower of Christ. What’s more, I found that my commitment to personally disciple others helped me to more effectively lead the church, corporately, to be a place of effective disciple making. In a way, this change was related to the first change; namely they are both rooted in the idea that people matter most.
3. Prioritize community.
The third thing I had to learn was that there was no tool in our church’s disciple making toolbox more effective than the tool of community. It’s bigger than that, though. The more I grew, the more I realized that God grows people through community, and we can build up a thousand different other means, and they may look beautiful, but nothing is as effective as community. The more people we could move into community, the more people we would have walking in Christ’s likeness. This was so important to me that I also became convinced that I shouldn’t lead a class or community group personally. I was the guy who was constantly leading others. If I was to model the importance of community, and if I was to submit to the word of God and grow myself, I needed to be under biblical teaching. Thankfully my good friends Jason & Mary Lou Meier were gracious enough to lead a Community Group in their home, and let the pastor be a part. My life was personally changed because of that community of Christ-followers.
4. Don’t do yourself what you can develop someone else to do (also known as handing off ministry as quickly as possible).
As a younger pastor, I tried to do everything. Part of that was due to serving in smaller churches where less of us were available to do more. Part of that, however, was due to my own superman complex. Like a lot of us in ministry, there have been times when I self-medicated through ministry. I like the feeling that I am constantly needed, and that no one else can serve the way I could. The more I’ve grown up, however, the more I’ve learned that is a lie that leads to burned out pastors, and inhibits churches from growing. If I could talk to 20 year old Micah today, I would tell him that you can’t hand off ministry fast enough. I would let him know that a pastor’s job exists for the “training of the saints in the work of ministry.” (Ephesians 4:12) Don’t fear the handing off of ministry, count it as ministry success. Don’t think of it as working yourself out of a job, think of it as multiplying your influence, and helping the body mature as Christ has called them to.
5. Don’t miss your family while caring for your church family.
Finally, and most importantly, I wish I could tell 20 year old Micah to spend a lot more time with his family. Your wife is the best gift God has ever given you, and your children are never the age they are today, again. Life is precious, and God doesn’t intend for ministry to rob us of our lives while we are serving others. In fact, our ability to serve well is intimately related to our ability to lead our own families well. The bible has something to say about that in 1 Timothy 3:4. Related to point #4, I spent far too much time thinking that I had to neglect my family, at times, if I was going to be a good pastor. I wish I could tell 20 year old Micah not to make that mistake. Work hard, work a lot, but make sure you take as much time as you can find to snuggle with Grace and Kessed, and spend time talking with Tracy. You won’t regret a single one of those minutes, and you will be a better pastor because of it.
So, there you have it. A few ways in which my ministry has changed over the years. I’m curious to hear from you.
In what ways has God changed your ministry? If you could speak to a younger version of yourself, what would you say?