Summer of 2015 marked 10 years since some nice folks at a church in San Antonio, Texas called on the phone, and to my surprise, offered me the opportunity to serve in my first full time ministerial position.
Here are some random simple things I’ve learned, in no particular order.
1. Good teaching notes.
In my various ministerial assignments, I’ve operated in a primary teaching role. Almost always 2, sometimes 3 talks/teachings/sermons per week for 10 years. Only in the last 2 years have I kept careful electronic notes. The majority of this content is housed in sticky notes, napkins, notebooks, journals, margins of Bible, 4×6 cards somewhere in my office, or house, or car. I wish I had better notes. Reverend Ames of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead has impressed this upon me. That is another post for another day.
2. Probably always gonna be nervous.
In spite of much teaching, there is always the nervous/scared/excited/nauseous feeling. Every time. It has not abated. It takes different forms, different levels of intensity, but it is never not there. In a good way, I think.
3. Give grace.
I’ve learned that most people live their lives on the knife’s edge of managing and meltdown. And it is a fine line indeed. Most people are simply trying to do the best they can, to put one foot in front of another. Not sure where I heard this same observation first, but we should sometimes be careful with the label, “nominal Christian.” There is one who is giving you plenty of grace, so pass it along.
4. Jesus, very directly.
Because of point #3, people need to here about Christ and what he has done for them very, very often and very, very explicitly. You’d be amazed how easy it is to teach — even from the Bible — and never get there. But you have to…you just have to.
5. On paying attention.
The ultimate things can be difficult to talk about, or notice, because they are masked in the ordinary and mundane. It is all quite hidden, and thus a pastor must learn the art of paying attention to the grace of God that is all-around, always working, at all times.
6. Nothing is better than talking about the gospel with your wife and kids.
No ministry experience has been as rich and deep, in quite the same way, as this.
7. Presence at particular times.
There are some certain times when you will have a disproportional opportunity to care for a soul. Death, birth, loss of employment, diagnosis, the moment of a confession, a timely hand written note, etc. Work hard in these moments.
8. The Word does the work.
As in, it really does. I’ve written elsewhere on a pastor’s tools.
It is one thing to believe the Bible’s truthfulness, it’s another thing to believe its sufficiency. When the words are explained in reference to the Word, something happens and it is a wondrous thing in which to participate.
9. The reservoir.
An active life of the mind is essential. Study of the Scriptures and theology, reading great fiction and important periodicals, and yes, a conversant knowledge of current events will be imminently helpful. One must constantly draw from a rich and deep reservoir. To my surprise, it has been easy to neglect these habits in the everyday routine of pastoral ministry.
10. Lots to learn.
I have the privilege of knowing men and women who have been engaged in the work of ministry a lot longer than me. I’ll never forget my first day on the job 10 years ago in Texas. As a 22 year old, I was introduced to a pastor who had been at that particular church for 30 years.
I know nothing.
So these are the early years. More to come, I pray and hope.