A question was submitted for the 2019 G3 Conference questions & answers session that asked the following question:
“I’m a young man who is preparing for pastoral ministry in the local church. As a seminary student, what counsel would you give to me as I prepare for the future?”
In the fall of the year just before we would move to Louisville to attend seminary the following January, my wife and I made an agreement that we would not purchase Christmas presents for each other and we would save money for the upcoming move. Without my knowledge, she wrote to several preachers asking for them to write a letter to me in order to provide wisdom for me as I prepared to move away to attend seminary. She compiled each of those letters in a nice binder and provided it to me as a gift that Christmas. I still look through it to this very day as it sits on the shelf in my study. One letter stands out to me as it states the following:
My word to you is to always remember that you are merely a vessel and He is the Treasure. Just a river bed for the river to flow. Any demands God makes on you is not on your ability but on the Christ who promised to be your sufficiency for the journey. Remember that any old bush will do if God set it on fire for His glory. May the Holy Spirit give you enough problems to keep you trusting, enough hurts to keep you broken, and enough victories to keep you praising Him. Only God can take nothing and indwell him so he can be more than a conqueror.
What great truth that I’m still thankful that I received early in the journey of ministry rather than after hitting difficulties along the way. What I would hope to do in this article is to provide encouragement and advice to a younger man who may be preparing for ministry and unaware of the fact that hardships are coming very soon. If you have a romantic view of ministry, you need to buckle your seatbelt.
I remember studying specific academic disciplines in high school and college while thinking to myself that I would never need it or use it in this life. That is not true when it comes to seminary. Study hard and read as much as you can knowing that you will need far more in ministry than you have time to learn in seminary.
Study the Bible. The calling of a pastor is to study, prepare, and preach the Word of God on a weekly basis. The original languages matter, and it’s critical to gain as much knowledge and ability as possible in order to rightly divide the Word of truth. In your rigorous study and technical development, don’t fail to read devotionally and spend time memorizing the Word for greater recall as you preach and teach through books of the Bible.
Read biographies. Learn to stand upon the shoulders of men who have gone before you in the gospel ministry. Read about their joys and the intense pain they experienced in ministry. Learn from their strengths and weaknesses in order to become a better minister of the gospel.
The ministry is not the place for laziness. There is hardly anything more shameful than a lazy preacher. Learn good work ethic. Set good patterns for your time in the text, your extra reading, your ministry planning, your staff meetings, and your care for God’s flock. If possible, learn to get out of bed early and give your mornings to God and your afternoons to men.
We expect doctors, lawyers, mechanics, and carpenters to get out of bed and work hard all day. Why should preachers sleep longer, work less, come home earlier, and go to bed less fatigued? Most preachers who are worth their weight in salt work long hours while trying to balance properly their responsibilities to the Lord in the church and their responsibilities to the Lord in their home. Why not serve God with as much energy and passion for the glory of God as do others who are laboring in the world of business or in the building of houses? Give yourself fully to God!
Never Give Up
My wife and I were on our honeymoon and we were finishing up a wonderful day with a sunset supper at a magical restaurant on the island of Aruba. Our table was in the edge of the water, our shoes were off, our feet was experiencing the gentle wake of the ocean as the sun was setting over the water. Life was perfect at that moment. Another couple nearby asked us a few questions when they found out we were on our honeymoon, and then they asked, “So, what do you do for a living?” I explained that I work for a printing company in Atlanta, but I’m preparing to be a pastor, and soon I will be going off to seminary for training. The gentleman responded, “Yes, it seems that the ministry is a popular career choice these days.”
Soon enough the honeymoon was over, and soon enough we were serving in ministry. Life did not remain perfect and ministry will test you beyond your wildest imaginations. You will begin the day preparing to read yourself full in preparation for Sunday’s sermon only to find yourself praying a man into eternity at his bedside at the local hospital before supper. You will pray earnestly for people only to find that they will earnestly slander you and degrade you. You will enter the pulpit ministry with the idea that so long as you study hard and prepare to feed the sheep each week faithfully from God’s Word that they will be satisfied—only to learn that they aren’t satisfied due to their selfish cravings. You’ll learn that people will disappoint you, betray you, make false accusations against you, and finally leave you all alone. Ministry is not for sissies.
In the ministry you will experience your greatest joys and your deepest pains. Some days you will think you’re smelling the fragrance of heaven only to wake up the following day to the smoke of hell. Ministry is hard, people are difficult, the trials are great, the disappointments are severe, the wounds are deep, they joy is sweet, the victories are exciting, the true friends you make are committed and faithful to the end, and the calling to serve God as a pastor is the greatest privilege of ten million lifetimes. Never forget that the ministry is not for sissies. The calling to be a pastor is the calling to be a man who trusts the Lord and stands firm on God’s Word. Sometimes you will be praised for standing on the Word and in other occasions you will be fired for it or even killed for it. If you have a romantic view of ministry, read 2 Timothy 4:1-5.
If you’re preparing for ministry, never forget that you need the help of God each day. If you’re a church member who’s reading this article, remember to pray earnestly for your pastors who labor to serve you through God’s Word each week.
An older wise pastor once told me, “As a pastor, you must have a tough hide and a tender heart.”