Advice from a Retiring Minister
Some words of advice for young (and old) pastors from John Samuel after 37 years of church ministry.
Love, don't lash, your people
It is relatively easy to get frustrated in church life.
Why is there so little evidence of spiritual growth, including in your own life? Why are more people not being converted? Why are numbers at the prayer meeting not growing, or not as large as you think they should be?
The temptation is to use Scripture to berate the flock and lash them with the sharp edge of your tongue, or at least send them on a guilt trip.
Love is the hallmark of true followers of the Lord Jesus. This means, amongst other things, that we give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt.
The reason they were not at the prayer meeting this week may be because they were unavoidably detained at work, or there was an urgent issue with one of their kids or an ageing parent, or they were simply exhausted. Don’t assume it is because they do not believe in prayer any more or are beginning to backslide.
We all have our struggles, you included. Let’s assume the best of one another. Treat others the way you would like them to treat you.
Feed the flock, don't fall for fads
Our primary task as pastor-teachers is to love and feed the flock. A major way we show our love is by working hard at our preaching and teaching.
Preparing the food of biblical teaching requires hard work in the Scriptures. Not just the odd hour here and there but hours and hours of wrestling with the text and crying out to God for insight and understanding.
So, week in, week out, we need to keep our nose to grindstone. And we need to beware of falling for fads.
Let’s not rely on the latest course or book. They may be helpful, but it's the unchanging gospel which saves. Let’s not rely on the latest church management technique. Yes, we need to manage ourselves and our churches well, but our primary calling is to love and feed the flock.
Restructuring our church’s management won't make an iota of difference to the spiritual welfare or effectiveness of our church. What will make all the difference is consistent godliness and persistent, correctly handled, exposition of the Scriptures.
Plod, don't sprint
Pastoral ministry is a long-distance race. So, pace yourself and do your best not to burn out. It helps no one if you do. I can remember kids at school who sprinted off at the start of a cross-country race. The rest of us soon caught up with them since they could not maintain the pace.
We need to be consistent and strict about time off: work six days, rest one. That is God’s pattern. We should not think we are wiser than God by breaking that pattern. And take your holidays.
William Carey, who achieved an extraordinary amount in his lifetime, was reputedly asked towards the end of his life what was the secret of his genius. His reply: I am not a genius. I am just a plodder.
So plod, don’t sprint.
Be part of a team, not a prima donna
I know it is not always possible in a small local church but, if you possibly can, work with an eldership. Plural local church leadership is God's way and vital for wise advice and accountability.
Ideally, this means having at least two other elders. If that is not yet realistic, pray and work to that end. In the meantime, seek a brother in arms in another local church who can be a sounding board and support.
Be willing to accept criticism. And when you receive it, even if you didn’t ask for it, don’t be demoralised, but grateful. It can help you be a better pastor. You are not infallible. Don’t act as if you were. And don’t surround yourself with yes-men and yes-women.
Exercise leadership of the team by always asking them: what does the Bible say? It is sufficient for every situation you will ever encounter.
Above all, remind yourself regularly that Jesus is the Lord of the church and the Saviour of the world, not you.
Watch your life and teaching closely (1 Timothy 4:16)
Watch yourself like a hawk and don't trust yourself! Know your weaknesses and guard against them.
For example, I know I am perfectly capable of having an affair and making shipwreck of my ministry. So, I watch myself closely.
Do not think you are an exception; or that this particular situation facing you right now is different and so you can drop your guard. Maintain your spiritual life and daily devotions. You are first a Christian before you are a pastor.
Beware the constant distraction of the internet and social media. This is a real battle for all of us.
If we watch our lives and teaching closely all our days, then by God's grace we will finish well and not bring the name of our Lord Jesus Christ into disrepute. It is his name we want to honour.
In the end, you and I are just unworthy servants of our supremely worthy Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. But we long for those wonderful words to be said to us on the last day: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things… Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23)