I have recently celebrated my ten-year anniversary as the pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden, South Carolina. Ten years anywhere is a long time, but ten years at Malvern Hill was not expected by anyone. Our church had a history of short tenured pastors, but through God’s grace, I have been able to serve at Malvern Hill for much longer than I would have ever anticipated.
One of God’s greatest sustaining graces at Malvern Hill was the church’s to care well for me and my family when we arrived ten years ago. The search committee became a transition committee. They befriended us. They brought us food, helped us move our furniture, and then worked to protect us (especially my wife) from some of the forces inside and outside the church that can make ministry difficult. After a very tense and difficult meeting one night, one of those transitional team families invited me over for a midnight bowl of ice cream. That ice cream meeting did much to sustain me in that moment, and has served to remind me many times over the years that I’m not in this alone.
But, in addition to having a church filled with people to “get it” and want to see me thrive as their pastor, I’ve picked up on a couple of disciplines that have helped to sustain me. Perhaps you can benefit from putting the same disciplines into practice in your own life and ministry.
- Trust your call. I believe that serving as a pastor is the greatest privilege in the world, but it is not always easy. Long tenures are built out of successes and failures. If God has called you to a church, then he has called you to enjoy the successes and endure the hard days. If you are confident in the call God has placed on you, then you will be able to weather the storms. Trust God’s call.
- Live in the Word. Be in the Bible every day. Read it every year. Pray the Scriptures. Learn them, memorize them, and be surrounded by God’s word.
- Live by the Word. Pastor, you above everyone else must live by the Word of God. As you preach and teach, make certain that you are practicing the principles that you proclaim to others.
- Rest in Christ. When the days are dark and long, know that Jesus is enough. When it seems like everyone else is mad at you (side note: they aren’t, but the devil can almost convince us sometimes that they are), Jesus is enough. Rest in Christ. There are times when even our spiritual disciplines seem to fail us, but in those moments Christ has called us to cease our striving and be still and know that he is God. He cares for every hair on your head and he will not leave you nor forsake you.
- Love your people. God has blessed you with the opportunity to shepherd his people. They are your spiritual family. Love them. You don’t just tolerate your church and you certainly do not use them only as a stepping stone. You weren’t hired, you were called and you were called to do more than preach. Love them. Spend time with them. Eat with them, have them in your home and visit their homes. Go to ball games and recitals. Love your people. Love them enough to pray for them and preach to them, and when necessary rebuke them, but know that they will only hear your preaching and receive your rebuke when you have loved them in the other ways first.
- Let your people love you. This is closely related to the point above, but it requires a certain amount of vulnerability on your part. For your people to love you, they have to know you. They need to see you out of the pulpit and know your family. Share some of your struggles and failures, let them show Christian love to you just as you do to them.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously. Do you really need to be called Reverend Doctor? Does your staff really need to refer to you as Senior Pastor? Must you always wear that tie? God has called you to a sacred task, but he didn’t call you to be a prude and he didn’t call you to be prideful.
- Don’t take it personal. You are the pastor. When people are frustrated or sad or angry, you will often be their target. Even when you aren’t at fault, for reasons that I do not understand, people believe that the pastor is a safe and good place to direct their frustration. Don’t take it personal. They don’t hate you, they’re humans who struggle with sin (just like you). Forgive them and move on.
- Preach on ecclesiology every year. You church needs to be taught and reminded every year how to be the church. The church is counter-cultural. People do not naturally know how to live as the body of Christ, they need to be taught and instructed from the Bible. Pastor, it is your job to equip the saints to live as the church, so get busy. Preach on the things they need to know to become the kind of church you want to pastor for the long haul. The Word of God has the power to create and shape, so preach the Word of God and watch it create a people who live and love as the church is supposed to.
- Pray and preach on prayer regularly. Pray regularly and teach people how to pray. Prayer is not a task for a few, it is the privilege of all, and through it the church’s power is unleashed.
This list is not exhaustive, and there were other things I wanted to include (like exercise, rest, vacation, and time management); but, then the article would have been ridiculously long. I’m sure some people have found other disciplines that have sustained them for long tenures.
Regardless of what you do, work to stay in your ministry long enough to lead your church well. I was called as the pastor ten years ago, but in the eyes of many, I became the pastor three years into my ministry after a period of great strife. Somewhere after year six or seven, I was allowed to lead them well. It takes time to become a good leader and to establish a pastoral legacy, but doing the hard work of ministry is well worth it.