To the Young Pastor
by Ron Gleason
Being a pastor has been the most humbling, challenging, fulfilling, and wonderful calling of my life. It was in the pastoral ministry that I learned — and still am learning — that true success is not measured by the size of your salary or your level of notoriety. It is measured by the faithfulness you exhibit in serving Christ and His church. I wouldn’t trade being a pastor for anything, and I’ve learned that scholarship’s best place is in the pulpit. Because the pastorate is not a temporary address or a “jumping off place” where a man waits for bigger and more glorious personal opportunities, a pastor learns to be God’s servant and his own man. As pastors, it is our job to do the Lord’s bidding where He calls us, according to His purposes, and for as long as He requires our services there. In general, here is what I’ve learned thus far:
Preach expository sermons from both the Old and New Testaments. The preacher’s foremost task is to preach the Gospel. Many voices in Christianity today tempt us to forget this. They encourage us to do what will attract the unsaved. Nevertheless, the pastor is primarily called to proclaim the riches of Christ through the preaching of the Word and the clear exposition of Scripture. In this manner, he both equips the saints and prepares them to present the true, pure Gospel to the lost. Expository preaching has three decided advantages for any pastor: First, it takes the congregation through a book of the Bible so that they are able to observe and understand the various covenantal themes contained in it. Second, this type of “series” preaching protects the congregation from the pastor’s “hobby horses.” Therefore, rather than preaching on a number of his favorite topics, he is bound by the text to preach and teach the variety of doctrines found in the Word of God. Moreover, in the history of preaching it has been this expository approach that has proven to be the most spiritually beneficial to God’s covenant communities. Third, this will solve the problem for the younger pastor of choosing a text every week. Being guided by the text and your exegesis, you know what you’re preaching on next week.
A faithful pastor takes worship seriously. For Christians, how we worship God is a key consideration. To worship God rightly means to worship Him scripturally. The pastor and his congregation must pay careful attention to what God requires in His Word. If God’s people are to worship Him in spirit and in truth — and they are — then we must look to Scripture both to form and inform our worship style. By using the ordinary means of grace God has given us, worship gives the opportunity to preach the Word, sing the Word, pray the Word, and read the Word. True worship is Christ-centered and Word-centered.
Manage your time to the glory of God. This is a crucial, essential component of the pastor’s life and calling. Far too many pastors waste precious time performing ever-nebulous “networking.” Time, once spent, cannot be regained. Therefore, how we use our time matters greatly. Since we are accountable to God, pastors should have an exemplary work ethic. Among other tasks, the pastor must make time for theological study and keeping his use of Greek and Hebrew, he must be fully conversant with the contents of Scripture, taking the requisite time for sermon preparation and delivery, and setting aside time for prayer and reading the Bible devotionally for himself and for his own instruction and edification.
The pastor must also lead his own home well. This requires a disciplined life. He pays attention to his marriage and the spiritual instruction of his entire family. He is a good friend and neighbor. He builds solid relationships with his session and deacons, and other church members who serve in various other leadership positions.
Maintain office hours and be approachable. There are fewer things that put me off more than an aloof and unapproachable pastor. One way to remain approachable for your congregation is to keep office hours. Most churches provide adequate studies for their pastors. Make good use of your study and be available by phone, for personal visits, or a spontaneous “hello.” My study door is almost always open and I enjoy people sticking their head in and saying hello.
Each person is a little bit different in this area. My day off is Friday. My wife and I have a “date day” for breakfast outside at the beach, and we take a long walk every Friday morning simply to be together. This means I get in early on Monday morning and I have a written schedule of what I’ll be doing every day. Thursday is sermon-making day and no one gets through to me except my family, my elders, or a bona fide emergency. No interruptions on Thursday!
Visit the flock. Pastors and their fellow elders need to visit the congregation, and congregants should expect their spiritual leaders to visit them and inquire about their spiritual well-being, including their Bible reading, prayer life, family devotions, and catechism memorization, only to mention the most important and obvious things. Home visitation reaps rich spiritual rewards. It is a time of personal accountability, equipping, and teaching that is so often missing in today’s churches. Grieving members, members in the hospital, and the elderly members need pastoral visits and should not be neglected.