Before becoming a seminary dean and LifeWay president, I served four churches as pastor. The churches were in Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, and Alabama. Now, I have served about a dozen churches as interim pastor since those four pastorates, but I don’t really count them. Being an interim pastor is like being a grandparent – you are well loved because they know you will be leaving soon.
A Brief Self-Assessment
Can I really be objective in evaluating myself as a pastor? I doubt it. Self-awareness is elusive.
Let me give it my best shot. On a scale of 1 to 10, I guess I would rate myself as a 5, right at average. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit too generous. A 3 or 4 would probably be more accurate. Forget it. I never liked those scales anyway.
The fact of the matter is that I really messed up a lot as a pastor. It’s one of the toughest jobs in the world. I would not wish it on anyone unless he knew he was really called by God to this ministry.
Five Changes I Would Make
This list is not comprehensive. My mistakes in ministry comprise a much longer list than a brief blog can contain. In fact, I would need a long book to write all the dumb things I did. Actually it would need to be a multi-volume series. Anyway, here are five of the biggest changes I would make.
1. I would spend more time in prayer. It’s cliché, but a pastor’s work is never done. Sometimes I was just too busy to pray. Now that really sounds dumb. I was too busy to spend time with God, my Creator, and the One who sent His Son to die for me. I so desperately needed His power, but I shamefully neglected time with Him.
2. I would spend more time in the Word. Too many times my sermons were void of power because of my busyness in matters of lesser importance. I needed to be more like the Twelve, who refused to let the demands of the church take them away from the prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).
3. I would spend more time loving my critics than worrying about their criticisms. I am too thin-skinned. I often let critics bother me too much. Certainly there are times when criticisms against me are valid; there were many of those times when I served as pastor. But most of the time someone was dealing with an issue and I was the most convenient target. They needed more love; I often gave them greater neglect. I just wanted to avoid them.
4. I would spend more time with the people of the church. I love to watch those pastors who have mastered the art of “hanging out.” They love the people they serve. They want to spend time with them. They are truly like shepherds in their concern and love. Being with the members of the church is not a burden to them – it is a joy. I needed to be more like those pastors.
5. I would spend more time with the unchurched. My most effective evangelistic times as a pastor were not the result of a new program, as helpful as that program may have been. I was most evangelistic when I had friends and acquaintances who were unchurched. I needed to get outside the walls of my Christian cocoon and get more into the culture of those who don’t know Jesus.
The Point of It All
I am not wallowing in self-pity, nor am I on a guilt trip for my many mistakes. I do regret them, but I can’t change the past; I can only live in the present. The point of these words was to show my many deficiencies as a pastor for those who are currently in that role. Perhaps something I wrote might help a pastor today. Perhaps my mistakes will not be his.
But then again, I wrote these words for those who aren’t pastors as well. Pastors have an incredibly tough job. Check that. Pastors have an impossible job. It can’t be done without God’s strength and power.
Pray for pastors. Encourage pastors. Love pastors.
That could very well be the most important ministry of your life.