August 12, 2015

10 Lessons From my First Year in Pastoral Ministry

by Jordan Standridge

Many times this year I would be sharing the Gospel with someone and all of a sudden it would dawn on me, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this!” It is an incredible privilege to be paid to be in full-time ministry, and its something that we should never take for granted. I learned so much in my first year and hope these lessons, (in no particular order of importance) that I am still learning, would be a blessing to you as well.

1. My seminary isn’t the only seminary

I am on a staff full of people who have not attended my seminary. In fact less than 5% have. And it’s a healthy church. A very healthy church. How could this be? The fact of the matter is that God is working all over the world, and through all kinds of people. He has raised up other churches and seminaries that are doing a wonderful job of training up elders, deacons and lay-people who love the Lord and serve Him well. While I would always encourage someone to attend the seminary I went to, I have to keep in mind that it isn’t the only seminary that God is blessing.

2. My church is not the only church

It hit me one Sunday night when my pastor recommended a book, written by a pastor who’s church was only a few miles away from ours. Why in the world would he do that? It was a big lesson for me. Pride would tell us that people are better off at our church, but there are other churches around us who love the Lord, preach the true Gospel, and have solid doctrine. Having a prideful mentality about where people should and shouldn’t go to church is divisive.

3. If you only listen to one guy you will sound like a bad version of him

We all have writers and preachers that God has used in our lives in a special way. It’s critical though that we expand our elvis-impersonator_2981567k
readership, and the sermons we listen to.

H.B. Charles says,

“I pity the congregation that only hears one preacher. And I pity the preacher who only listens to one preacher, especially if he is that one preacher! Sitting under the ministry of others will elevate your preaching. Listen to sermons by noted preachers. Read classic sermons. Hear respected preachers in person. Expose yourself to great preaching. The more, the better. Following various effective preachers will help you resist the urge to mimic any particular preacher. It is often said that there are two times a preacher wants to preach – when he hears a preacher who can preach well, and when he hears one who cannot.”

It has been a blessing to realize that I’m not as good a preacher as I thought I was. Being willing to admit that and to welcome feedback has been a game-changer.

4. You need to be a go-getter

Things don’t just automatically happen. Just like when you’ve grown up and don’t have a parent to wake you up, in ministry, although the elders may have expectations, they are not going to direct you in what to do. You need to be the one to make the phone calls, meet with people, and get stuff done. No one is going to hold your hand.

5. Shut up

Just because your church doesn’t do everything the way you think it should be done, doesn’t mean you need to go and point it shut-up-fool-514x600
out right away or ever. God allows Joel Osteen to preach every single Sunday without killing him (a la Ananias and Sapphira) so what makes me think that I need to put a stop to everything right away if ever. Nothing in your church is as bad as Joel Osteen. If it is you’re in the wrong church. Everything is not life and death. In fact, how many issues do I have that the people around me are putting up with out of love for me? We are called to If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). This begins with closing your mouth and knowing when to speak.

6. Encourage people

One thing I’ve learned from working on a staff, is that it can be easy to concentrate only on my ministry without taking the time to encourage people who serve in other areas. Its also easy to spend time always talking about issues rather than taking the time to talk about encouraging things you see in the church. People have feelings. If you’re always Mr. Negative, not only will it be discouraging, but also people will stop listening to you. Taking the time to speak uplifting words not only pleases Christ but it causes people to look forward to coming to work and to church on Sunday.

7. Take risks (under the council of seasoned pastors)

Reaching people for Christ is daunting but it is also exciting. Don’t be afraid to swing for the fences. Rely on faithful, godly men with years of experience to provide guidance and wisdom. I have tried a few things this year that didn’t go so well and others that exceeded all of our expectations. It’s easy to sit back and get discouraged by lack of numbers and converts, but we’re called to labor in ministry (Col. 1:28-29).

8. Love your family

Taking risks and working hard is important, but as my professors would always remind us “you can lose your ministry and keep your marriage, but you cannot lose your marriage and keep your ministry. You don’t realize the weight and busyness of ministry until you’re in it. It’s very easy to neglect the family, and to have a selfish mentality when coming home. As we’ve seen in many pastor’s lives, even this past year, it’s very easy to lose your family if you don’t care for it.

9. You don’t know everything after Seminary

I never took a class on how to deal with abortion, homosexuality, pornography, atheism, etc. I understand how to biblically defend why all these things are wrong, but having a conversation with someone who has just had an abortion, is a completely different thing. We never stop learning; we are never “ready for ministry”. We are in constant need of the Holy Spirit and godly mentors in our lives that can shepherd us through difficult issues. My seminary training was priceless, but it is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning.

10. Pray in everything

It would be pretty crazy to labor in ministry without going to the only One able to change hearts and bring fruit for eternity. Many churches are built upon personalities and programs, but very few upon prayer. Only the latter makes an eternal impact. How foolish would it be to spend countless hours preparing for the harvest without asking the Lord of the harvest to work?

Jordan Standridge

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Jordan is a pastoral associate at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA, where he leads the college ministry. He is also the founder of The Foundry Bible Immersion. You can find his personal blog at surrender.us.
  • Brian Morgan

    Jordan,
    Thanks for these thoughts. Number 6 can be difficult for me. After nearly ten years as an associate pastor, it is easy for me to see the areas in need of reform, and be ready to talk about those to the Senior pastor and other elder. I need to ensure I am praising God and thanking Him for the areas of strength and maturity that are indeed present. Just recently I have been reminded to be patient and trust Him for His timing in His church.
    Number 8; brother, may God give us grace to see our priorities and live by them. Our wives and children only have one husband, one Daddy, and we are it. What a pity to shepherd the rest of the congregation at the expense of the sheep closest to us. Who is discipling our children? Press in on this while your family is young, setting get patterns and habits now.
    Thanks again brother!

    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks Brian.

  • That is a helpful list and exhibits a lot of humility, Praise Jesus, brother.

    I would like to add a 5a – What I’d like to say is don’t shut up TOO MUCH. Sometimes people need to hear things. But I generally agree that shutup is the best first action.

    I would say this to someone who really wants to confront a situation but also sees their need to shut up a little – take those issues to the Lord. I have taken things to the Lord in prayer that eventually got “fixed” in my church without me mentioning it to anyone.

    So shutup for step 1, then pray. Then if you still want to say something, maybe it’s time for a heart to heart with the brethren.

    • Jordan Standridge

      Good point, but for a young inexperienced dude who has an opinion about everything, shutting up too much is better than talking too much.

  • rdrift1879

    You are doing great to come up with this list in a year. As for #1, it would have been wonderful if you had been taught that at your seminary.

    • Jordan Standridge

      I would say they taught it. It was more my narrow minded thinking that was the problem. Moving across the country has taken me out of the bubble I had created in my mind.

    • Lyndon Unger

      The seminary that Jordan and I attended doesn’t promote themselves in that way; just look at their current doctor of ministry program. They’re bringing in professors from all over.

      There is only a village guild of goofy students who spread that idea.

      In fact, the idea that our seminary is the “emerald city”, at least in my experience, comes most from people who’ve only visited for Shepherd’s conference or are loosely associated with GCC and TMS. There’s quite a few pastors/elders/lay leaders I’ve met who get starry eyed when they find out where I went to seminary.

      • Dan Freeman

        Wait, you’re saying that TMS didn’t descend straight from heaven and was not directly prophesied about by the apostle John?!

        I guess this is why a consistent literal hermeneutic is important.

        • Lyndon Unger

          Yeah. All those rumors aren’t true…well, except the one about me having an altar call in my first Homiletics lab that resulted in 9 people getting saved and another 20 recommitting their lives in a moment of tearful repentance.

          Even Montoya.

    • Karl Heitman

      In addition to what has already been said in response to you, look at the line up at the recent Shepherds’ Conference, which was branded as a TMS event. At least three other seminaries were well represented.

  • Steve Rios

    Thank you Pastor Jordan for this posting! My heart was most encouraged this morning. Looks like you have learned quite a bit within one year! Appreciate you passing this on to all of us. Points 1-3 will go a long way toward avoiding ‘scholastic inbreeding’. The body of Christ is a little bigger/diverse than we think. 🙂 Points 4-10 reflect much wisdom. A dear pastor friend of mine once explained his philosophy of ministry as Preach the Word – Love the People – Pray Hard. I know this is an oversimplification of ministry but I believe this to be very effective. Too often it can be easy to become overly fixated on other matters which can derail our ministry efforts as church leaders.

    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks Steve!

  • pearlbaker

    We are all on a spiritual learning curve, pastors and lay alike. At some point, it involves some “unlearning”…not of the truth, but of our take on it. It is encouraging to read such a humble approach as yours.

    As for No. 1, although I am not a pastor or seminary graduate, I too have had a sort of over-attachment to your seminary, as well as the associated church and its beloved pastor-teacher. God, in His perfect will and timing has had me geographically elsewhere for several years now, but it was a rough road for me due to this attachment, even though the former teacher is ubiquitous via radio, television and internet. In fact, for the first time in many years, I am now part of a church without a single grad from the aforementioned seminary. I have had to learn to stop measuring everything against what I had known (and which I still love, but now from a distance.) Instead, everything I am taught now is measured against the Word only, which, by the way, my former pastor-teacher always recommended, and I am most grateful to say my former preaching and teaching measures up quite nicely to the Word of God. But, the point is the one you made, it is not the only preaching and teaching worth our attention.

    Just one word of caution on No. 3 (it is going to be difficult to “unsee” that picture… if only it had left the building along with Elvis!) reading and listening to a very wide array of preaching and teaching can have its own set of complications. One must have a good handle on sound doctrine and must use keen discernment to determine what, and what not, to include in one’s body of theology. There have been some previously sound pastors who have been led down a primrose path to heretical thinking by some very persuasive, but false, teachers. A list of the mislead might be surprising in some cases, so beware, the enemy is adept at helping us replace one idol for another.

    • Karl Heitman

      Very good insights, Pearl. I agree especially with your second point and it’s a fair warning. I’ve heard people say things like, “I listen to John MacArthur AND Rick Warren.” There even needs to be some disclaimers when we recommend resources written/taught by our Reformed brothers, whom I very much love and esteem (i.e., paedobaptism, ect.).

    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks and good word of caution!

  • Josh Erika Seibert

    Super encouraging Jordan, thanks for writing!

    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks for reading!

  • Dave O

    The key in all this is one which cannot be taught – humility. There are many new Pastors and seasoned as well who could learn from this list.

  • Karl Heitman

    Jordan, you actually made it through seminary thinking you were a good preacher?! Wow! Man, we must have had different critics. 😉

    The biggest lesson by far I have learned in my first year as the solo pastor of a small church is this: do NOT assume anything! Anything at all about anyone. The people you never thought would surprise you will and vice versa….

    The second biggest lesson is this: do change / do not change. We were rightly warned about making changes in the first year. But what didn’t register in my mind was the extent of that mindset. If the right things aren’t changed, the pastor would be derelict. If the wrong things are changed, beware. Therein lies the wisdom required to lead a church, right?

    My third: have at least one like-minded, godly, seasoned mentor. I might have crashed and burned without having 1-2 guys to go to on a regular basis for counsel, encouragement, and correction. In your position as an associate of a big church, this comes natural, but guys like me who are lone rangers have to have, as you said, the go-getter attitude to pursue a mentor.

    There are more lessons, but I won’t list 7 more. You hit the rest of’em. Press on, bro!

    • Jordan Standridge

      Thanks Karl, all three of your points are super true and helpful.

  • Lyndon Unger

    Believe it or not, I’ve found that #3 is true with many of the popular charismaniac speakers. A guy doesn’t have 10k+ people coming out to listen to him tell stories about going to heaven if he doesn’t know the basics about presentation.

    A guy who’s a horrible theologian and an exegetical hack can still be a gripping speaker with fantastic public speaking abilities that one can learn a whole lot from: pacing, using illustrations, engaging a diverse audience, using accessible humor, etc.

    There are a whole lot of guys with decent exegetical skills and good theology that are sinfully painful to listen to.

    • Jordan Standridge

      True.

      • Lyndon Unger

        Word.

  • Jordan Standridge

    Lesson number 11 double check your pictures before you use them on a blog post!

    • Jeff Schlottmann

      To be fair, the king didn’t always look his best. Kinda hit and miss.

  • Mr. Mike

    Thanks. There is no way to unsee that first picture. I may have to drive down to Springfield so I can ask you face to face, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? I think in this case a little laying on of hands would not be unwarranted. And you’re not Unger. You can run but you cannot hide. All kidding aside (was I kidding? Maybe, maybe not) It’s very encouraging to see young men take their ministry so seriously and Scripturally. The main thing that you never want to forget, and this supersedes everything else, is that you are pastoring the Lord Jesus Christ’s sheep. And you will have to answer to Him for how you shepherded them.

  • Vinod Anand S

    This is a very helpful article for those who have Pastoral aspirations like me. Thanks for this post Jordan.

    I think point 9 reveals what is actually the starting point of learning to do ministry in real time.

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