“The early years of pastoral work become part of the wonderful process through which the Lord teaches and trains a man so that he can faithfully serve the body of Christ for decades to come. So what should he do?”
Throughout the year, young men (and sometimes older men) anxiously waiting for their first pastoral charge receive the call, pack up their belongings, and move their family to a new community. I remember that first pastorate, too. Having begun serving a small church in rural southwest Mississippi during my last year of seminary, on graduation day, a couple of the members helped load our furniture and kitchen wares onto a cattle trailer and moved us to the church pastorium (yes, I wrote pastorium; a house owned by the church for the pastor). I didn’t know what I was getting into.
Every pastor has to experience the first year of pastoring to start laying groundwork for a lifetime of ministry. So what should a new pastor focus on during that year?
Expect the Unexpected
A young pastor wrote me about the first year of ministry. I grinned widely as I read about the “firsts” that he was experiencing, and thought of my own first year. In a typical Baptist church, the first year includes experiences of first baptism, first revival meeting (the inaccurate vernacular for a protracted series of services), first wedding, first funeral, first deacons’ meeting, first business meeting (uh-oh), and first conflict. Nothing in seminary can quite get the young pastor completely ready for that series of “firsts.”
So keep handy a copy of Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry (ed. Thomas K. Ascol). Read it and re-read it. Work through C. H. Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. Refer often to Brian Croft’s Practical Shepherding series that deals with funerals, visiting the sick, shepherding the flock, etc. Make a practice of reading the 9Marks eJournal and Founders Journal for the nuts and bolts of ministry written by seasoned practitioners. Work through Timothy Witmer’s The Shepherd Leader, Conrad Mbewe’s Foundations for the Flock, Charles Bridges’ The Christian Ministry, Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching & Preachers, and John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Make arrangements to attend a good conference where you will be trained, encouraged, and exposed to excellence in ministry, e.g. National Founders Conference (in Memphis this year), Together for the Gospel National Conference, The Gospel Coalition National Conference.
One serious malady that often afflicts those freshly minted with a seminary degree is I-know-it-all-now-itis. Such a one is a card-carrying MDiv-er, who has taken a range of ministry-related subjects in readiness for pastoral work. That’s a good thing to have and it does lay groundwork for preparation. But that seminary degree only gets a pastor started. It exposes him to a lot of good things and rich truths but it will take years to solidify, hone, and in some cases, prune what he’s learned to become useful in pastoral work.