This week marks one year since I first arrived in Korea and began to preach at the English Worship Service at Sangdang Presbyterian Church. I have to say that pastoral ministry is greatly different than I had imagined it to be, though I’m betting much of that has to do with the different kind of ministry I’m part of. I also know a little better why pastors give newbies like me the advice that they do. Here at the end of the first year, I figured I would say a few of the things I’ve learned (in no particular order).
1. Carry a pen and paper everywhere.
This has a few reasons, but the biggest is that pastors often get told the most important things as an aside halfway through a conversation. It’s a good practice to be able to write down, as soon as is practical, information you will need to remember so that you can pray for and better love your congregation. It also helps you keep straight the things people are expecting you to do. Remember to sync that information with your day planner.
2. Loving people is work.
Pastors are expected to love their congregation members, and that is not always easy. This is not just because the members of your church are sinners, but because you are at heart a sinner. Myself, I am often struggling with my desire to always be right, and holding my tongue over unimportant criticisms for the sake of the relationship is difficult for me. I often want to defend myself against (perceived) attacks, rather than see the Gospel as central. As a pastor, I am finding I need prayer and repentance more than I had expected. Honestly, it’s easier to see the grace of God now, since I know that any good done through my ministry is going to be Him.
The upshot is that pastors cannot do the easy thing and just hang out with the people who they find it easy to like. That is to be lazy, and is also a bad habit you don’t want your congregation to pick up.
3. Preach the Gospel!!!! be ready for change (and for no change).
It is the pastor’s job to, in season and out of season, preach the Gospel to people who may or may not be willing to hear it and be changed. Sometimes pastors face the difficulty of dealing with hard hearts who will simply show up Sunday after Sunday (or stop showing up). Other times, the Gospel will find soft hearts, but that is not going to be any less difficult. The Word of God changes people’s lives, and repentance can be messy.
4. Sometimes critics are your best friends.
It’s very easy to bask in the good things people say after you preach a sermon that reached them in a good way. That said, not everything you say is going to be golden, and in your congregation may be people who see your errors faster than you do. With my own ministry (with a high turnover rate), catching your errors and misstatements can be more important, since you will have a very small window to correct your mistakes.
This is also why you need to train your congregation to see God as revealed through the Bible as the primary authority, not you. Ideally, people in your congregation should be learning to ask questions of the text and of your sermons, and then seeking the answers in the Bible as they listen to you. This may mean more work in dealing with criticism that may, or may not, be well-founded, but it also means that you get to learn from the congregation and how God speaks to them.
5. Do discipleship for the Kingdom of God, not for your own personal fiefdom.
Since foreigners are only going to be in Korea for a limited time, and the Koreans have a great system of discipleship in place, it’s tempting to simply see the worship service as a stopgap while people are here for a short time. After all, the fruit of work you put into discipling people will not accrue to your own ministry, but will instead be to the various places these people go after they are with you. But the scriptures say that one plants, another waters, and another reaps the harvest. Just because you have no reason to expect to reap the benefits of your work does not mean you have the right to shirk your duty to plant or water.
Besides, unless people are growing under your care, they are dying under your care. There is no 0 movement faith. You will still need to give an account for a short time of ministry with them as with a long time.
6. Make sure you have supports.
A pastor is human. That’s not always realized by the people in your congregation. You have all the same struggles regular believers have, and so like them, you need to have the supports you tell them they need. This means that you have to put time into developing “non work” friendships where you can be real, and where you can be corrected, or just have fun. Ideally, these would be the fellow members of a board of elders, but in any case, good Christian friends are just as necessary for the pastor as for the congregation. After all, a pastor is just an undershepherd, and will sometimes need to be shepherded himself.
7. Family is very important.
This might be a little controversial, but the Bible states that an overseer (or pastor) must be able to manage his own family well. This means that sometimes the congregation will have to take a back seat to your marriage, or to your children. Some say that if you take care of the Church, God will take care of your kids. I don’t see that in scripture, and instead see the command to provide for my family.
A pastor should never model the evil understanding that a job (any job) is more important than the Gospel reflection that is marriage. A pastor must love his wife as Christ loved the Church, or he is not serving his Church well, or the Gospel.
Some would say that’s easy for me to say, as I’m a single pastor. Well, if so, it’s one of very few things made easier by being a single pastor.
8. Pastors should, ideally, be married.
This one hurts to say since I am not married (and given my present ministry am unlikely to be married anytime soon). I am not saying that every pastor must be married, or that there are not benefits to not being married (I am able to place more effort into Christian service than married pastors), but I am saying that a married pastor is probably in a better position in many ways.
In the first place, the pastor can thus better model in his life what a Christian family should look like, and also get the sanctification that comes from being married (having a spouse means having someone who will know all your sin, so you won’t as easily be able to hide it, and thus will have to face it for the sake of the marriage). A wife is also a complement to your ministry, as she would ideally provide the emotional support a pastor will often need, as well as the sympathetic ear and a person who you can be perfectly honest with. Note: I am not saying that she needs to perform ministry duties in the Church beyond what other Church members provide. She should be a committed Christian, and thus a member of the Church, but there is no church office of “Pastor’s Wife”.
I don’t think this is a type of “grass is always greener” syndrome, as I am aware that marriage adds many stresses (and children many more). Nor do I think I am saying that being a single pastor is wrong (or else I’d resign). I am just saying that a godly marriage is usually beneficial for a pastor.
Anyway, that’s all the reflections for the moment. Comments anyone?