Hello Graduates. Congratulations on this accomplishment.
Most of you are going to move on to serve as pastors. That means that you probably won’t amount to much, at least in the world’s eyes. Maybe even in the Church’s eyes. The majority of you will never serve at a large church in a large city. Most of you will go to a small, rural town somewhere in the Bible Belt to pastor a church that’s been around for a couple of hundred years, burned down once or twice and split four times.
You’ll be tempted to think that this is the minor leagues. You’ll want to put in your time here, maybe 12 to 18 months, and then move on to The Show. Don’t do it. Remember, Jesus died for people in large cities with progressive art communities and people in small towns where the sheriff’s office is a mobile home. Here are a few other things that you’ll want to remember.
1. Stay put.
You’re probably not going to go to your dream church right out of the gate. So do everything you can to make your first church your dream church. God may move you to another place after a few years and that’s okay. But when you accept the position, accept it for the long haul. Real ministry cannot be done in six months.
My friend’s son is in the Marines. He told me that the drill instructors told his son that they were going to teach him how to swim.
“But I already know how to swim,” he thought.
“No you don’t.”
Marine drill instructors are good at mind-reading.
You probably think you already know how to do ministry and maybe you do. But you most likely don’t know how to minister in the context where God will place you. Learning how to do this takes time and humility.
3. Love your people.
Don’t play games with them.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had several churches offer me a job and for a lot more money than I get here. But, I’ve decided to stay.”
Translation: “You’ll give me a pay raise if you know what’s good for you.”
Peter would call this “shameful gain” (1 Peter 5:2). Pastors who love their people aren’t trying to get more money out of them. But if you don’t love, you won’t care and it won’t take long for your people to know it. Good luck trying to lead people who know that you don’t care about them.
Ministry can be difficult and it will be. But it doesn’t have to be all the time. Remember, joy isn’t a sin, it’s a commandment.
Don’t be a hireling. Hireling’s shy away from difficult decisions because they’re afraid of losing a paycheck. If you’re worried about this, find another career. Leaders are willing to take risks for the glory of God and the good of his people.
6. Grow thick skin.
There are mean people out there. Some of them will say mean or dumb things to you. That’s not just a part of ministry. It’s a part of life. Learn to deal with it and be quick to forgive. Forgiveness will probably come easier for you if you think about some of the mean things you’ve said or thought.
7. Pastor your family first.
This is what Paul was driving at in 1 Timothy 3. It’s impossible to care for the bride of Christ if you can’t even care for your own bride. And if you want to raise sons and daughters who will hate God and his Church, abandon them for yet another crucial meeting. But if you really care about your wife and what kind of adults your kids will grow into, tell the local association to find someone else to work all night every night planing that big outreach event involving puppets and people doing a glow stick routine to Arise My Love.
When I first started out in ministry, I thought that theology didn’t matter that much. Just love students, play air hockey with them and keep them from getting one another pregnant. And then a student asked me what I thought about Spirit baptism. Before I could answer, another student spoke for me.
“He doesn’t know. He’s just the youth minister.”
Sadly, he was right.
Just because your church is full of people who’ve grown up there, doesn’t mean that they’ve been taught right. Take the time to know the word, live it and teach it to others.
9. Cut the grass.
Ministry takes time. You may never see the fruits of your labors here on earth. So you need to do something that gives you instant gratification. I can’t think of anything better than cutting the grass. But, for crying out loud, don’t wear church socks and sandals while cutting said grass. Just because you are a pastor doesn’t mean that you have to dress like one.
If you make the slightest attempt at doing these things most of your people will love you. And when people in small rural towns love you they try to kill you. Well, not on purpose. They really do mean well. But for many of them, their way of expressing love involves deep fried pig ears with a side of cheese casserole and a big glass of sweet tea. Enjoy. But go for a run or hit the weights as much as you can. It will prolong your ministry, help you to burn off stress and keep you from getting invited to be on the next season of The Biggest Loser: Pastors Edition.
[So this is pretty much what I would have said at graduation had I not been too busy training for my upcoming UFC title fight to accept the invitation.
Or I might have just read Oh the Places You’ll Go.]