By Michael Cooper
The Lord called me to serve an average-sized church five years ago. As Paul Tripp said, pastoring is a dangerous calling.
Five years ago, I really didn’t know what I was getting into serving as a bi-vocational pastor, full-time student, young husband, and father. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out.
As a 25-year-old pastor, I was thrown into the deep end quickly by performing multiple funerals in my first few months, experiencing church conflict, and walking through deep hurts. In a sense, I was baptized by fire.
But I believe God permitted these situations for my good.
As I reflect upon these past five years, I’m humbled by what the Lord has taught me about myself, His church, and most importantly, Himself.
Here are five reflections from my past five years in pastoral ministry.
1. My Walk with Christ is Foundational to My Pastoral Ministry
I’m convinced pastors minister effectively only out of the overflow of their relationship with Christ. When I’m struggling in my walk with Christ (daily Scripture reading, prayer, meditation, worship, etc.), I find it difficult to minister to others.
If I’m not walking in a close fellowship with God, I find it challenging to speak to others about their relationship with Christ.
The pastor needs the gospel just as much as church laypeople do. Before I’m a pastor, I’m a child of God. This is why it’s of the upmost importance for a pastor to prioritize his daily walk with Christ.
2. Preaching is Only One Aspect of Pastoral Ministry
I love to preach. At Criswell College, I was trained to exegete, synthesize, and preach systematically through books of the Bible. I fully embrace a text-driven approach to preaching.
However, preaching is only one aspect of pastoral ministry. Don’t misunderstand me; preaching is an important aspect; it just doesn’t comprise all of pastoral ministry.
I’ve come to embrace other aspects such as administrative work, organizing, and leading. Also, effective pastoral ministry takes place in the hospital waiting room and in the living room.
Ministry happens at the dinner table as well as the Lord’s table. As much as I love proclaiming God’s Word before a gathered congregation, pastoring is more than just preaching.
3. God Uses Criticism and Conflict to Humble Us
I’ve read horrors stories of pastors being confronted and criticized over issues. Criticism can come in many forms including letters, texts, emails, and face-to-face conversations.
When I received my first criticism after a business meeting, I was devastated. It was a blow to my pride.
In the past five years, I’ve learned just how humbling it is to experience criticism and conflict in pastoral ministry. Some criticism is justified. In those cases, the pastoral blinders need to be lifted so I can see my mistakes.
But sometimes people are just mean.
I’ll never forget being publicly ridiculed on social media. I thought only pastors with “big ministries” experienced that kind of open bashing.
But the Lord uses such moments to humble us and conform us into the image of Jesus.
4. Serve for the Sake of Christ, Not Numbers
There’s a window in my study that faces the church parking lot. There’ve been times when I’ve sat at that window and watched cars pile into the parking lot the point of overflow.
But at other times, I’ve seen the parking lot so empty before service I contemplated changing my sermon so I could save it for a bigger crowd.
One Sunday, I got so depressed about the numbers I decided to text a few pastor friends to vent and complain. One response shocked me back into reality: “Remember, you’re serving for Christ’s sake.”
That’s exactly what I needed to hear at that moment.
The numbers will fluctuate. People will come and go. Some folks will choose the bigger church with more programs.
But in the end, as pastors, we serve for Christ’s sake. He’s the one who called us to His work.
5. Pastoring is Important, But You’re Not Jesus
When pastors go home at the end of the day, they carry work home with them. The struggles, problems, and pains of your people stay with you.
This is why we must recognize that pastoring is not our identity. We’re called to point people to Jesus, not to be Jesus.
We reflect the love of Jesus of course, but at the end of the day, we can’t be people’s saviors. Far too many of us serve as functional messiahs for our people.
Many congregations are dependent on the pastor. In five years, I’ve learned I’m a bad savior for people. There’s only One who can save to the upmost, and it’s Jesus.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
Five years in vocational ministry doesn’t seem like a long time compared to some brothers who’ve served faithfully for 30-plus years. I pray I can endure like them.
But in looking back, I’m reminded of God’s grace in calling me to serve the local church. I’m humbled He would choose me to do His work.
Through this short process, I’ve come to realize how much I need Him and how He really doesn’t need me.
Lord willing, here’s to many more years of ministry.