What to Expect When You are Expecting (to Pastor)

This is hardly a complete list, and my explanations are likely insufficient. Nevertheless, here you go (in no particular order).

  1. Never presume upon your congregation’s knowledge or understanding of the gospel, much less their ability to apply it. It’s amazing how you can both be using the same words and mean completely different things. When the topic is the gospel, the consequences for this presumption are devastating. Spend months if not more clarifying what the gospel is with your people, then never stop proclaiming it. We love to replace it.
  2. Expectations are premeditated resentments. Even if you and the congregation have the same understanding of the gospel, there is no way you have healthy expectations for one another, and there is no way either of you will perfectly satisfy those expectations.
  3. There is no enemy in the church more hostile to the gospel than religious or legalistic people. So much of Jesus’ teaching was aimed at the most religious people of His day, and they hated Him for it. The gospel preacher’s most severe enemy may very well be the most pious, respected people in the church.
  4. The most powerful idols are the ones most closely associated with Jesus. You will be amazed at people’s inability (including your own) to separate the things of Jesus from Jesus Himself … the ministries of the church from the gospel it shares. The congregation (both the individuals that make it up and the group as a whole) will not be able to let go of such idols without great pain. Brace yourself.
  5. You cannot argue with emotion. When people truly feel something to be true, reason and logic … even directly from Scripture … are no match. If you attempt to use truth, facts, reason and logic to talk people away from what they “feel” to be true, you will lose the battle and your wits.
  6. Most people in your church cannot handle the truth of church “business” or cannot be trusted with it. You will have very, very, very few people who actually understand and can handle the realities of the church you pastor. Keep things to yourself with the exception of these few, but definitely speak with these few regularly. Truth in the hands of people who cannot handle it or who don’t understand it is an extremely dangerous situation for the church.
  7. Sometimes there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you are in a cave. Just because you are seeking God, preaching the gospel, and doing the right things in humility and repentance doesn’t mean that eventually things will get better. Sometimes your obedience is meant to drive you and the congregation into the darkness so they become disoriented and finally look to God again. Sometimes, you are called to be Jeremiah.
  8. Depression is a beast that pride prolongs. I’ve written more about this here. Suffice it to say that trusting in your own abilities and strengths and taking items 1-7 personally will lead you to depression. It sucks. You will be tempted to think and do things that are well outside your character and what you know to be true, but that’s just how desperate you will feel. Trust God. Step away. Repent and recalibrate. You don’t want to live, much less pastor with a family, and be in this condition.
  9. Moments of amazing grace are not the norm, but they are amazing. God did so many amazing things in people’s lives while I served. I’m eager to write them down one day (those I can remember, and there are many). Those flashes of brilliance were just that: quick and brilliant. They were not the norm, but oh … they keep you going.

You Can’t Fix Everybody

From William Still’s “The Work of the Pastor” …

Some meddling ministers want to sort out everybody.  God is not so optimistic (that the pastor sort out everybody). There are some who will die with mixed-up personalities, and they may be true believers. (In some ways perhaps I am that, and have on hope of ever sorting myself out.  Indeed, my salvation is to live with my oddities and partly put up with them, and partly rise above them to show that grace is better employed wrestling resignedly, realistically, cheerfully with our problems than demanding from God heavenly solutions on earth.)  Don’t try to do the impossible. Know your limitations, and know what God is seeking to do in the world and what part in it He wants you to play.