How Pastors Learn Through Experience
When issues in church life arise beyond our experience, we can learn by seeking the counsel of others and through training in spiritual warfare.
Learning through others’ experience
There is great wisdom in seeking counsel from the experienced, especially in pastoral ministry.
As the next generation of leaders are raised up in our churches, they can learn from the experience of those who have gone before.
I was reminded of this when I came across a letter from 2003 – written to me when I was 10 years into pastoral ministry. The letter was from an older, wiser pastor from whom I had sought counsel about pastoral problems in the church.
He wrote as follows:
“You have been much in my thoughts and prayers this morning as you anticipate the few days before you go on holiday together with the pastoral problems you shared. They remind me so much of the different situations I knew that presented similar challenges. I know it is easier said than done but do not let them worry you unduly; the wise thing to do is to deliberately cast all your anxieties upon the Lord. Strive only to quietly persevere in doing what is right and commit the outcome to the Lord. Where pastoral difficult decisions can be legitimately shared with another of the elders do so.”
What a good model of the kind of pastoral counsel needed by pastors: the experienced wisely helping the inexperienced.
How wonderful that Jesus provides wise counsellors who can help us develop as pastors and leaders.
Learning through present experience
But perhaps we forget too quickly that each challenge we face is part of the spiritual conflict in which we are engaged.
The letter continued:
“It is helpful to recognise that these challenges are inevitable and are part and parcel of the spiritual battle. Thankfully, greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.”
The early verses of Judges 3 are instructive here as we consider how the next generation learn to manage this kind of conflict:
“These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience)…They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses.” (Judges 3:1-4)
Each new generation of God’s people need to learn spiritual warfare through the experience of battle.
These verses highlight three big truths about the LORD:
- He knows about our inexperience.
- He is sovereign over the difficulties we face: in fact he uses them to train the inexperienced in spiritual warfare.
- His purpose is to test us. Will we trust and obey his unchanging commands in terms of how his people are called to live?
I don’t need to tell you that there are varied and challenging issues in local church life. But these great truths help us in pastoral ministry:
- Don’t be surprised by challenges, troubles, or difficult situations that arise that are beyond your experience.
- Trust that our saving Lord is sovereign over them and is using them to train you and the church in spiritual warfare.
- Ask the Lord Jesus to teach and train you in the battle, as you put on the full armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-18).
How encouraging that the Lord puts us into the middle of the battle so that we learn to trust him and obey his commands.